As you know, the Yankees square off against the Rangers in the 2010 American League Championship Series beginning tomorrow night. This will be the Yankees’ 14th appearance in the ALCS, which was created in 1969 (though not expanded to its current seven-game format until 1985), and the Rangers’ first. The Yankees are 11-2 all-time in the ALCS, with their only losses coming in 1980 against the Kansas City Royals, and 2004 against the Boston Red Sox.
We’ve already taken a look at the two teams’ overall numbers in the regular season, along with the numbers for the players that will actually be playing on the teams’ 25-man rosters. Now we turn our eyes to the starting pitching match-ups.
The Yankees threw a bit of a curveball upon announcing their rotation Wednesday night. While many expected — myself included — that the Yankees would go CC Sabathia-Andy Pettitte-Phil Hughes-Sabathia-A.J. Burnett-Pettitte-Sabathia, it turns out the Yankees intend to go with the following rotation:
Game 1: Sabathia
Game 2: Hughes
Game 3: Pettitte
Game 4: Burnett
This means Sabathia would pitch Game 5, Hughes Game 6 and Pettitte Game 7. While I don’t despise this rotation, it’s definitely not optimal and I think we have to assume it’s going to be flexible after Game 3 based on where the Yankees stand in the series. For one, if the Yankees are down 3-0 there’s zero chance Burnett would still get the call in Game 4. Even if they had a 2-1 lead, assuming they were coming off their expected Cliff Lee loss in Game 3, wouldn’t the team want to get right back on the winning track with their ace, not to mention line their best starter up to pitch Game 7 if need be? Sabathia’s here for one reason and one reason only: win. He’s proven that he’s not bothered by short rest; only utilizing him twice in a seven game series seems like a waste. I do applaud the Yanks being willing to go with Hughes in Game 2 on the road. Given his superior road numbers, this is probably a shrewd move.
The Pitching Match-Ups
Game 1, Friday, October 15, 2010 at 8pm: CC Sabathia vs. C.J. Wilson. As we all know, the biggest repercussion from the Rays-Rangers series going the distance was that it bumped Cliff Lee back to a Game 3 start in the ALCS. While Wilson had an excellent season (he and rotation-mate Colby Lewis were tied for 9th-most valuable pitchers in the AL, both worth $17.6 million and 4.4 fWAR, per Fangraphs), he’s also not CC Sabathia, and on paper this game certainly favors the Yankees. As noted the other day, between the Rangers not having seen Sabathia since April 16 (a game in which he tossed six innings of rain-shortened one-run ball), and Wilson’s second-worst-in-the-AL BB/9 mark, the Yankees really need to take this game, and should win.
As Moshe at TYU noted, Wilson was far from dominant against the Yankees in his three outings against them this season, posting a 5.65 ERA, 1.88 WHIP, 1.67 SO/BB, .300/.408/.350 line in 14 1/3 innings. Additionally, as Stephen at TYU noted, Wilson is incredibly tough on lefties, but that platoon advantage is mostly negated by the Yankees, who can feature six righties in the starting lineup, not to mention Robinson Cano, who doesn’t have a platoon split.
Here’s a link to how the Yankees have historically fared against Wilson.
Game 2, Saturday, October 16, 2010 at 4pm: Phil Hughes vs. Colby Lewis. As mentioned before, Hughes was tabbed to start Game 2 in Arlington due to his superior road numbers. After watching him air it out in Game 3 last week, I’m starting to believe Hughes can do anything, uncharted innings territory be damned. In addition to his elite road performance in 2010, another small advantage Hughes may have here is that the Rangers only saw him for one relief inning in September this season, and shouldn’t be particularly familiar with Hughes-the-starter.
On the other side of the ledger, Lewis had a phenomenal season, but didn’t face the Yankees at all. I don’t really know what to make of Lewis, who was knocked around for parts of five Major League seasons before turning his career around in Japan. Fangraphs has his fastball worth 7.6 runs above average, good for 17th-best in the AL. He also had the 4th-best sl
ider in the AL per Fangraphs, at 13.6 runs above average. His change was also a plus pitch, at 1.7 runs above average. Lewis doesn’t throw overwhelmingly hard (average fastball 90.1 mph), which could spell trouble for the Yankees.
Still, I just can’t quite bring myself to totally get on board the Colby Lewis bandwagon. Probably because I really haven’t seem him pitch, and if he’d had one of those Brett Cecil-esque outings against the Yanks this year I’d probably be peeing my pants in terror, but he doesn’t strike me as a guy who’s going to be particularly dominant. Once again, as the always-impressive Stephen noted in the aforelinked Wilson/Lewis preview, “When Lewis’ pitch count is between 76-100, batters are hitting .303/.347/.551 against him with 10 home runs.” This should play right into the Yankees’ grind-it-out gameplan, and while we may not see many fireworks through the first few innings of the game, it sounds like the Bombers should break through against Lewis around the 5th or 6th inning.
I like the Yankees in this one as well, and it’s rather critical that they take these first two on the road, as they’ll be facing the greatest postseason pitcher of all time in Cliff Lee in Game 3, a prospect that would be much easier to swallow with a 2-0 lead than a 1-1 split. Not to be a nervous nelly, but if the Yankees manage to drop the first two games and then have to come home and face Lee, this series could be over pretty quickly, so the Yankees must take care of business in Arlington.
Here’s how the Yankees have historically fared against Lewis. It’s basically a nonexistent sample.
And here are the numbers for the Rangers who have faced Hughes.
Game 3, Monday, October 18, 2010 at 8pm: Andy Pettitte vs. Cliff Lee. The Yankees are of course no stranger to Cliff Lee, having faced him five times in the last calendar year (twice in the World Series), and looking pretty foolish in doing so almost every time. Lee’s only “bad” outings against the Yankees in that time frame were 6 1/3 innings of four-run ball on August 11 and 7 innings of five-run ball last November in Game 5 of the World Series. He of course demolished the Yankees in Game 1 of that very same World Series, pitching a one-run complete game; killed them again this past June 29 at the Stadium with another complete game and three earned runs; and ate them for breakfast, lunch and dinner on September 12 in Texas to the tune of eight innings and one run. That’s a 3.21 ERA, which isn’t quite Felix Hernandez-level dominance, but it’s also inflated by the two substandard outings.
Regardless, at this point no one is expecting Cliff Lee to do anything but dominate the Yankees. As if his regular season wasn’t incredible enough (an AL-leading and jaw-dropping 2.58 FIP and 7.0 fWAR), his heroics in Games 1 and 5 of the ALDS are vaulting him even further into rarefied air. If the Yankees didn’t already want this man on their team bad enough, “fever pitch” won’t even begin to describe the hysteria in New York if the ALCS goes the distance and Lee comes up huge in Games 3 and 7.
Now of course, with the Yankees electing to toss Andy Pettitte against Lee it’s not as if they’ll be throwing Andy Hawkins out there, but Pettitte will have to be even better than he was in his Game 2 ALDS outing for the Yankees to have any chance at beating Lee. Like Sabathia, Pettitte also only saw the Rangers one time this season, on April 18, and threw eight innings of two-run ball. In any event, as much as I love All Day Andy Pettitte, I expect Texas to win this game.
Here’s a link to how the Yankees have historically fared against Lee.
Game 4, Tuesday, October 19, 2010 at 8pm: A.J. Burnett vs. Tommy Hunter. Though A.J. Burnett is currently scheduled to start this game, as mentioned earlier in this post it seems unlikely that the Yankees would do this unless they had a 3-0 or 2-1 series lead.
If Burnett does end up making this start, then it’s pretty much a complete toss-up in my mind. Though Hunter had a decent year, he was actually pretty mediocre after June, posting FIPs of 5.83, 6.15 and 4.85, respectively, in the final three months of the season. He also doesn’t fare all that well against lefties, yielding a .763 OPS compared to .708 against righties, though surprisingly his FIP against righties was worse — 5.20 to 4.82. Hunter saw the Yankees once and limited them to two runs over 5 innings in a rain-shortened outing, but the Yankees hit him hard and appeared to be on the verge of breaking through before the weather intervened.
Burnett sucked against every
one this year, though oddly enough, of teams he made at least three starts against in 2010 he allowed the lowest OPS against Texas (.621). Given A.J.’s generally disastrous season I’m not sure this is anything to hang one’s hat on, but the Yankees are surely aware of this and are hoping for more of the same. Burnett pitched seven shutout innings against Texas at home back in April, 7 innings of three-run ball on August 10, and four innings of rain-shortened two-run ball on September 11. As others have noted, Burnett was also a better pitcher at home than on the road this year (.809 vs. .834 OPSa), not to mention also much better at home than on the road in last year’s postseason, so perhaps the adrenaline of pitching at Yankee Stadium in the playoffs will factor positively into Burnett’s outing.
If Good A.J. actually does show up to this game, this could end up being a steal of a win for the Yankees.
Here’s how the Yankees have historically fared against Hunter.
Here’s how the Rangers have historically fared against Burnett.
Game 5, Wednesday, October 20, 2010 (if necessary) at 4pm: CC Sabathia vs. C.J. Wilson. If I wasn’t already outraged enough about the unnecessarily early start time that will result in Yankee fans with office jobs possibly missing more than half this game, the fact that Sabathia is slated to start this game and not Game 4 on short rest also has me slightly irritated.
That being said, if the Yankees do manage to pull out a Game 4 victory behind Burnett, then starting Sabathia on full rest with the potential to ice the series in Game 5 starts to look a lot more prudent. If this game is indeed Sabathia vs. Wilson, the Yankees have to win this one, especially since Sabathia would be unavailable for the remainder of the series except perhaps some late-inning bullpen work in Game 7.
Game 6, Friday, October 22, 2010 (if necessary) at 8pm: Phil Hughes vs. Colby Lewis. A Game 2 rematch, with Phil Hughes potentially needing to save the season or put the series on ice. Nothing new to say here, other than that I’d prefer the series doesn’t go this far.
Game 7, Saturday, October 23, 2010 (if necessary) at 8pm: Andy Pettitte vs. Cliff Lee. And I really hope it doesn’t go this far. The Yankees haven’t had to play a Game 7 since the 2004 ALCS, and we all know how heartbreakingly awful that experience was. Though they did play a winner-takes-all game the following year, the 2005 team really wasn’t all that good and not even a season-ending loss to the Angels stings quite the same way as one to the Red Sox. While Pettitte vs. Lee isn’t completely lopsided, and there are few I’d rather have on the mound for the Yankees, given Lee’s outrageous postseason success thus far not to mention ability to just completely dominate the Yankees, this would be Cliff Lee‘s game to lose. I suppose if the season did have to end here you can say you went down with one of your best, but for the sake of my emotional well-being I really hope the Yanks wrap it up before it comes to this.
Please also be sure to check out Will at It’s About the Money’s preliminary take on the starting pitching match-ups.
Also, in case you missed parts 1 and 2 of Yankeeist’s ALCS preview, please click on the following:
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