Las Vegas bookmakers have the odds for the Yanks-Rangers ALCS at 8-5 Yankees. That sounds about right to me. Gambling is one of the world’s oldest forms of crowd sourcing, and when there’s too much optimism or pessimism it presents an opportunity for smart money to come in, just like what happens with the stock market. From the bookmakers perspective, they just want to keep the money even on both sides of the bet and don’t really care what the number is, so odds tend to reflect the conventional wisdom on whatever it is people are gambling on.
It’s tough to bet against the Yanks. The Yanks have appeared in 13 ALCS series since its inception in the 1969 season, and they’ve won 11 of them. The two losses are easy to remember, the most recent being the 2004 Red Sox series that needs no recounting. The other was in 1980, when the Yanks were swept 3-0 (best of 5 back then) by George Brett’s Kansas City Royals. The Yanks were a 103 win team that year under Dick Howser, who was promptly fired by George Stienbrenner for having the audacity to lose 3 in a row at the worst time possible. George was pilloried for the move both locally and nationally for firing the popular Howser, and he never lived it down.
Since the Yankee failures have been so few and far between, it’s easy to be complacent and overconfident. I think that’s a big mistake for this series. The Rangers have an excellent lineup, an outstanding bullpen and feature a pitcher in Cliff Lee whose postseason dominance has been well documented. You don’t have to take any great leaps to envision the Yanks losing the series, a single loss in the first two could set off a chain of events that the Yanks may not recover from. Yanks split the first two in Texas, lose to Cliff Lee in Game 3 and now either start the highly unreliable and ineffective AJ Burnett or go on short rest with a 3 man rotation the rest of the way.
I think the key to this series is avoiding the 3 man rotation, and that means either find a way to beat Lee or take the first two in Arlington. If the Yanks are down 2-1 in the series, I don’t see any way they will pitch AJ Burnett. I don’t worry about CC on 3 days rest, but I don’t like Hughes or Pettitte on short rest at this time of the year. Hughes is already well past his career innings high and we saw how hittable he becomes when he’s fatigued this year. In that stretch of games before the All Star break from June 13-July 4 he gave up 12 Runs in 24.1 IP and had all sorts of trouble putting away hitters. His fastball tends to straighten out when he’s tired, and when that happens hitters get much better swings off him. With Andy, you have a 38 year old coming off a bad back and a groin injury, the last thing I want Andy to do is pitch on short rest.
The Yanks and Rangers are evenly matched. The Yanks led all of Baseball in Runs Scored this year, while finishing 3rd in (AL) Bullpen ERA and 7th (AL) in overall team ERA. The Rangers finished 5th in Runs Scored, 2nd in (AL) Bullpen ERA and 4th in (AL) overall team ERA. But the Yanks have faced many outstanding teams in their 13 ALCS series, and found a way to win most of them. There’s something to be said for the difficulty of going all the way that first time around, and having the veteran presence of guys with rings in your clubhouse who’ve been there and done that. Neftali Feliz showed some uncharacteristic shakiness in the ALDS, and some of the errors Texas made is something they won’t get away with facing the Yanks. I’m cautiously optimistic heading into this series, but if anyone thinks this series is going to be a cakewalk then they’re just not paying attention.
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