Sunday, October 17, 2010

Wait, They're Actually Playing Game 3? You're kidding.

According to the media and general public perception, no. Because Cliff Lee is pitching the Rangers have already won the game.

I could go one of two ways in discussing Games 1 and 2. I could boil it down to the one major theme to emerge from each game. Or I could write a novel breaking down every single thing that happened in these two compelling games. I'll opt for the former.

Game 1 was all about the Yankees flexing their postseason might, introducing a less experienced team to the way they do business in October. Just as they did in Game 1 against the Twins. It was one of the five or ten greatest single-game comebacks in MLB playoff history. Down 5-0 with 9 outs to go and 5-1 with 6 outs to and having been dominated by C.J. Wilson all night, 7 consecutive Yankees reached base before an out was recorded in the 8th inning, plating 5 runs in the process. The Yankees got an awful performance from their ace, were largely asleep against a pitcher that was not the other team's ace for 7 innings, and yet they still won the game. It was a bigtime statement.

Exactly the type of statement, in fact, that had you wondering before the series if the Rangers would be able to rebound from. The type of statement that made the Rangers a potentially more attractive match-up than the Rays because you knew the Rays would not be overwhelmed by such left hooks from the Yankees. Overwhelmed the Rangers were not, and get up off the mat in impressive fashion they did in Game 2. They jumped on the Yankees' starter for the second time in as many games, lighting Phil Hughes up early and often. It was the early part that was most impressive, because the Rangers showed no ill-effects from their implosion the night before. Considering it was the Yankees on the other side, this was evidence of the mentality the Rangers have and just how much they are not intimidated in this series. It was a bigtime statement of their own.

Exactly the type of statement, I'm sure, they wanted to make before Cliff Lee ever got into this series. They are talking about it being a five game series now with Cliff Lee potentially pitching in two of those games, and you can tell they feel good about that. And they should. Cliff Lee is a great pitcher, one of the best pitchers in baseball.

However, the Yankees did split on the road. It is in fact now a five game series, and they have home field advantage. No, it is not fun thinking about facing Cliff Lee. But as far as I know they are actually going to play the games he starts, not just give the game to the Rangers. And as far as I know Game 3 is in the Bronx, one of the tougher October environments, in front of a home crowd (myself included) that understands how big of a challenge facing Lee is, which usually makes the Stadium crowd even louder and more into it. It will be different than facing Lee in Game 1 of the World Series last year, when everyone involved with the Yankees was less acquainted with him. I expect the approach tomorrow - from the Yankees and from their fans - to be more like facing Pedro in his prime. It will take a huge effort but at least everyone knows it. Finally, as far as I know, Andy Pettitte, MLB's postseason career wins leader, is pitching tomorrow. He's had a playoff start too, I think, opposite one of the game's best pitchers and against one of the game's tougher lineups (Sidenote: man, can the Rangers hit or what?). A tough combination for sure, but this isn't his first rodeo. There is a chance he could pitch well too.

Of course, none of this will necessarily make facing Lee any easier. But getting up for challenges like this is what makes sports great. A lot of people may already have this game won, but the Yankees shouldn't. They've beat pitchers as good and even better than him before, and there is no reason they can't do it again just because he's had their number. Doing so would be the biggest statement delivered in a series that has been built of statements thus far, because you can tell that the Rangers feel just as invincible behind Lee as everyone is making them out to be. The Yankees should take complete and utter advantage of that tomorrow night.

8 comments:

The GM said...

Rasheed,

Thank you very much for writing this post. Someone needed to say it. I have never seen the entire baseball-watching world jump on someone's D like they have jumped on Cliff Lee's the last 13 months, nevermind the last 14 days.

I have written this already twice this postseason, but I still just do not trust this guy. I think he's a good pitcher, and I think he's got a hot hand right now. I also think Roy Halladay had a hot hand last night when he lost. While I do think the Yankees will probably lose Monday night, I do firmly believe it's in Andy Pettitte's hands. And from what I've seen from NY starting pitching the last two nights (which is what I thought I'd hear about tonight - and what I would have if the World Series victory hadn't mellowed you out, Rasheed), I'm not expecting brilliance.

But as I am in the middle of a study break, I just read that the Yankees have won 109 games out of their first 162 in NYS. Their lefty- and switch-hitter-heavy lineup has given them a homefield advantage that no other team except for maybe the Red Sox have. Cliff Lee could jam a Yankee hitter and still surrender a home run, this Massarotti article suggests.

The onus tomorrow is undoubtedly on Andy Pettitte. I think you're right about the Rangers' riding the momentum, even despite a disgusting game on Friday that made us all continue to wonder why Darren Oliver is a major league baseball player. But the offense is too good to get completely blanked by Cliff Lee. They'll give Pettitte some room to work. Pettitte just has to execute.

Anonymous said...

PF/DV

Cliff Lee is just as good a starting pitcher as we've seen in the playoffs in some time. He's getting a lot of the same hype that Josh Beckett got in 2007. Beckett dominated that October and hasn't been anything exciting since. I think there are a lot of people who have the same feeling with Lee--not that he's necessarily Mr. Right, but that he is Mr. Right Now. And you can ride a guy like that in the short term and go a long way. However, everybody has to remember that Cliff Lee wasn't even on the Indians playoff roster in 2007 and posted an ERA over six that year. He certainly gives the Rangers their best chance to beat New York, but like everyone else who has ever pitched in the majors, he's not a lock to win.

The bigger question I have is for Pat--what's going on with CC Sabathia? And who is he as a postseason pitcher (or is it too early to tell)? Last year the guy was an absolute champ. 2007 he was garbage. 2008 he was horrible (admittedly worn out) in his one start. And this year he has really struggled. I know there are more important issues right now because CC won't start again until Game 5, but I thought it was worth mentioning.

--the Gunn

Patrick said...

dv -

"The Yankees got an awful performance from their ace..."

"They jumped on the Yankees' starter for the second time in as many games, lighting Phil Hughes up early and often."

what more, exactly, would you have liked me to have said before the 2009 world series? there are only so many ways you can say those two things. for an oldest brother in a household, you are little brother annoying.

dv/gunn -

the game is in andy pettitte's hands. he needs to put up zeros in the first few innings (particularly the first), give the game a chance to settle in and give the yankees a chance to put a crooked number on the board. the rangers have scored in the first inning in both games this series. you never want to play from behind and you definitely don't against cliff lee. he'll be even more empowered to attack and the rangers will start to play even more like they can't lose behind him. if i like up after the top of the 3rd and see a zeros for texas i will feel good about this game. if i don't, i won't. that simple.

offensively the yankees need to be aggressive. you don't get cliff lee out of games by working the count, which goes against the yankees strength. there is no working the count against him because he only throws strikes. you get him out of the game by stringing together hits, making him work out of the stretch, moving baserunners along, and scoring runs off of him. the way the yankees are being treated in this game is insulting, and i am sure they are insulted by it. i hope they play accordingly.

gunn -

too early to tell is probably the most reasonable answer, as 12 playoff starts just isn't that much. what we do know is that the answer, one way or another, has nothing to do with "the pressure of october". pressure is pressure and a lot of times september (or other games) can provide games with just as much pressure as october. between what he did for the brewers in september '08 and the yankees october '09, that's out. what's a legitimate question is whether the regular season workloads make october tough on him. last postseason would work against that, but maybe he was just locked in/pumped for his first postseason with the yankees? i don't know. but he has by far (by far) pitched the most innings of any pitcher in baseball the last 4 years playoffs included and it shouldn't surprise anyone if that takes its toll. what i can tell you is that this year it's been a case of being too strong. he has his stuff and he's not shying away, he just can't spot his stuff, particularly the fastball. it's just too strong. the yankees opted to give him extra rest and as of last friday he was making his second start in 17 days. that's a long time for a player in a rhythm by the end of the season. in playoffs prior to '09 he was likely gassed. '09 was probably the one happy medium, and there were good results. with that said, being gassed is tough to overcome, but being overly rested is something you'd like to see a pitcher of cc's caliber overcome. he has not so far this postseason. his next start will be a massive one no matter what happens between now and then, and he'll be on regular rest. that start will certainly be important data to add as we figure out what kind of postseason pitching career he's going to have. with that said, you and i both know you mostly get remembered for what you did at your peak if you go big. josh beckett was abonimable in '08 and bad in '09 but he'll largely get remembered for what he did in '03 and '07. same with cc and '09. very tough to look past those type of takeover performances, and rightfully so.

Patrick said...

dv -

109-53 in the first two regular seasons at NYS, 117-54 if you count the 8-1 the last two postseasons to date. that is SIXTY THREE games over .500 in their first 171 games in this building. that's ridiculous. it might be a new house, but the yankees have already made in their house. that doesn't mean they'll beat cliff lee tonight. but, amongst other things, it should definitely give them a chance, which is more than many are giving them.

Ross Kaplan said...

I'm not a fan of just laying down in front of an elite starter, but you have to accept the fact that the Yankees (besides Cano) are a team who have struggled mightily against Wilson and Lewis, neither of whom can hold Cliff Lee's jockstrap. I honestly think our best hope is for Pettitte to go out and give one of his signature 6-7 IP, 3 or less earned runs performance, work the count against Lee which admittedly will be difficult to do against a guy whose issued 14 walks all season and hope for the best against Texas' bullpen.

the gm at work said...

Ouch! Where did that one come from? I actually liked this post a lot - it was much better than an assassination of the starting pitching and Girardi for not having his starters fresh and un-rusty. I was not disappointed to miss that, and I guess really not that surprised because they ended up splitting the two games instead of losing both.

Gunn, that's a good call on the Josh Beckett comparisons. Too early to tell on CC - could be rust, could be running out of gas. I know he had a lot of time between his last start and each game 1.

The Texas bullpen - woof.

TimC said...

I think tonight's game represents a real opportunity for the Yankees- this one has basically been marked down as a loss for them (and rightfully so, I think). The opportunity is there because a loss tonight does not mean that the series is over but a win would almost certainly be the end of the Rangers. Down 2-1 in New York with Lee two wins away, I see no way back into it for Texas. Given that, having Pettite on the mound is a big bonus for the Yankees because he knows exactly how to get through tough spots and work against an elite starter for the other side.

As for the game itself, sometimes it is very simple. As has already been said, the keys are to not give up early (or cheap) runs, work the count, and extend the game into the last three innings where the both talent and experience favors the Yankees. In fact, given how game 1 went, if this game is still tight when the first Texas reliever gets into the game I think it would be very hard for the Yankees to lose. Should be compelling stuff while I agonize over my fantasy football season coming down to Kenny Britt and Mike Sims-Walker.

the gm at work said...

Agree with Tim on both accounts there. This is a must-win game for the Rangers, moreso than it is for the Yankees. But if the Yankees do what has made them successful - working counts and forcing the bullpen to play baseball - that's how they win. The Yankees should anticipate Darren O'Day Time like the gentlemen on Jersey Shore anticipate t-shirt time.