Archive for Texas Rangers
The Yankees and Rangers have quite a bit of recent history, most notably the 2010 ALCS. If you stretch the definition of recent — hey, the Rangers franchise has been around for 40 years now — you can go back to the the three ALDS matchups in the late-1990s. Texas took two of three from New York back in April, but now they’re in the Bronx.
What Have They Done Lately?
The Rangers have won two in a row, four of five, and eight of eleven. At 67-46 with a +82 run differential, they’re in a dead heat with the Yankees for the title of Best Team In The American League. Texas has a comfy seven game lead in the AL West.
With an average of 5.1 runs per game, the Rangers are the highest scoring team in baseball. They’re a touch behind the Yankees with a team 107 wRC+, but they will not have Mike Napoli (105 wRC+) for the next two weeks because he was just placed on the DL. He hasn’t exactly lit the world on fire this year anyway.
The offense is led by Josh Hamilton (142 wRC+), who remains one of the most dangerous hitters in the game despite a prolonged slump. He’s going deep at some point this series, just accept it now and await the inevitable. Adrian Beltre (117 wRC+) and Nelson Cruz (111 wRC+) give them two more power bats while Ian Kinsler (110 wRC+) does a little bit of everything. Elvis Andrus (108 wRC+) is the speed guy, then you have some excellent platoon bats in David Murphy (122 wRC+ vs. RHP), Mitch Moreland (131 wRC+ vs. RHP), and the speedy Craig Gentry (149 wRC+ vs. LHP).
Franchise icon Michael Young (68 wRC+) is having the worst season of his career and appears to be at the point where Derek Jeter was last June — just not hitting anything with authority and looking pretty close to done. The Cap’n rebounded, but so far Young has not. The catching duo — Geovany Soto (67 wRC+) and Luis Martinez (one whole plate appearance) — is hardly a threat with Napoli on the shelf. The Rangers are carrying 13 pitches, so the only other guy on their bench is the recently-recalled super-prospect Mike Olt (79 wRC+ in limited time). Texas went through a pretty brutal RISPFAIL funk last month, but this team can score runs with the best of ‘em.
Monday: RHP David Phelps vs. RHP Ryan Dempster
The Yankees looked into acquiring Dempster prior to the trade deadline, but the Rangers ended up swinging a deal for him with moments to spare. The 35-year-old right-hander has had one awful (eight runs in 4.2 IP) and one good (three runs in 6.2 IP) start with Texas, and overall he’s pitched to a 2.65 ERA (3.62 FIP). Obviously most of that came in the NL with the Cubs. Dempster currently owns his lowest strikeout rate since 2001 (7.41 K/9 and 20.3 K%) as well as his lowest walk rate ever (2.42 K/9 and 6.6 BB%). His 42.0% ground ball rate is a touch below his career average. An extreme slider pitcher, Dempster has thrown the mid-80s pitch more than 40% of the time this year. He’ll also feature two and four-seamers in the upper-80s as well as a low-80s split-finger. The Yankees faced Dempster in interleague play last season and he held them to three runs in 5.1 innings.
Tuesday: RHP Hiroki Kuroda vs. LHP Matt Harrison
A first-time All-Star this year, the 26-year-old Harrison was part of the Mark Teixeira trade and has pitched to a 3.31 ERA (3.84 FIP) this season. He’s a low-walk (2.58 BB/9 and 6.9 BB%), high-ground ball (51.2%) guy who won’t miss many bats (5.34 K/9 and 14.3 K%). Harrison relies heavily on a sinking low-90s two-seamer, but will also mix in a low-90s four-seamer and the occasional mid-80s cutter. His two offspeed offerings are a low-80s changeup and an upper-70s curve. Harrison has a huge split — righties have a .340 wOBA against him this season, lefties just .232 — so this is a good game to stack the lineup on that one side.
Wednesday: RHP Freddy Garcia vs. RHP Scott Feldman
Feldman, 27, has had to step into the rotation due to injuries and has posted a 4.64 ERA (4.00 FIP) in 83.1 innings. He doesn’t strike hitters out (5.94 K/9 and 15.5 K%) or get ground balls (40.2%), but he won’t kill himself with walks (1.94 BB/9 and 5.1 BB%). Feldman is a sinker-cutter guy, and both pitches sit right around 90. He’ll also throw a mid-70s curveball and a mid-80s changeup. He’s been pretty good of late, allowing no more than two runs while throwing at least seven innings in three of his last four hitters.
Thursday: RHP Ivan Nova vs. LHP Derek Holland
It’s been an up and down season for the 25-year-old Holland, who spent some time on the DL with a shoulder issue and has otherwise pitched to a 4.92 ERA (4.91 FIP). His strikeout (7.41 K/9 and 19.9 K%), walk (2.89 BB/9 and 7.9 BB%), and ground ball (41.8%) numbers are solid, though he will give up plenty of long balls (1.72 HR/9). Holland does throw hard, sitting in the low-to-mid-90s with his sinker. He’ll back it up with a low-80s slider and a mid-70s curveball, though his mid-80s changeup is a seldom used fourth offering. The Yankees pounded Holland back in April (7 R in 6 IP), but the southpaw is just as capable of throwing a gem as he is a total stinker.
Manager Ron Washington was able to give his core relievers a nice rest in yesterday’s semi-blowout win, so closer Joe Nathan (2.80 FIP) and setup men Mike Adams (2.76 FIP) and Alexi Ogando (3.04 FIP) come into the series fresh. Rookie left-hander Robbie Ross (3.69 FIP) has appeared in each of the last three games, so we’re unlikely to see him tonight. Fellow lefty Michael Kirkman (4.61 FIP) pitched yesterday and is more of a long man-type than a specialist. The rest of the bullpen includes right-handers Roy Oswalt (4.09 FIP), Mark Lowe (3.68 FIP), and Tanner Scheppers (5.21 FIP). Everyone in this bullpen throws hard and can miss bats, and frankly Oswalt is probably the weak link despite his reputation.
Joe Girardi had to use four relievers yesterday due to Phil Hughes‘ short start, and one of those four (Ryota Igarashi) is ticketed for a return to Triple-A today once the Derek Lowe signing in made official. The Yankees are in pretty good bullpen shape, but check out our Bullpen Workload page for exact reliever usage. For the latest and greatest on the two-time defending AL Champs, we recommend Baseball Time In Arlington and Lone Star Ball.
By using this link, you can save up to 50% on tickets to the final three games of the Rangers series and 25% on tickets to the Red Sox series via ScoreBig. Just click the link, sign up, and find a seating section.
The Yankees and Rangers have quite a bit of history with each other, dating back to the three late-1990s ALDS matchups and more recently the 2010 ALCS. You can even include the race to trade for and then sign Cliff Lee in there. The Yankees won seven of nine games against the two-time defending AL Champs last season, including two of three in Arlington.
What Have They Done Lately?
At 13-3, the Rangers have the best record the best record in baseball. No club is within 15 runs of their +52 run differential, confirming that Texas has been baseball’s best team through at least the first three weeks of the season. They just took two of three from the Tigers in Detroit, losing only to Justin Verlander. They’d won eight straight prior to that loss, including a two-game massacre of the Red Sox in Boston last week.
Given the injuries to Jacoby Ellsbury and Carl Crawford, there’s really only one team in baseball that can hang with the Yankees offensively at the moment, and that’s the Rangers. Texas has scored 94 runs through 16 games while the Yankees have scored 90 in 15 games. No other AL team has scored more than 78 runs. At 134 and 128 wRC+, the Yankees and Rangers have the first and third best offenses in baseball, respectively.
Texas has power up and down the lineup, starting in the leadoff spot with Ian Kinsler (156 wRC+). Elvis Andrus (80 wRC+) gives the pitcher a bit of a breather in the two-hole, though he always seems to annoy with bunts and infield hits. Josh Hamilton (223 wRC+) has been the best hitter in baseball not named Matt Kemp this year, and then you’ve still got Mike Napoli (170 wRC+), Nelson Cruz (170 wRC+), and Mike Young (165 wRC+). Napoli recently had a five-game homer streak end thanks to Verlander. Platoon bat David Murphy (135 wRC+) has hit well in limited action, but Craig Gentry (57 wRC+) and Mitch Moreland (28 wRC+) have not.
The Yankees are catching a little bit of a break this series because Adrian Beltre suffered a hamstring injury over the weekend. He’s currently listed as day-to-day but will have an MRI at some point. Beltre hasn’t done much against the Yankees in recent years — just .234/.260/.340 in 28 plate appearances since the start of 2010 — but he’s a great player and having him on the sidelines is a plus for New York. Young or utility infielder/former Yankee Alberto Gonzalez will fill in at third for the time being. Texas is second to the Yankees in homers and third behind the Athletics and Yankees in steals. It’s a great offense and New York is really, really going to need its rotation to settle down.
Monday: LHP CC Sabathia vs. LHP Derek Holland
When you throw a two-hit shutout in the World Series, people will take notice. In reality, Holland’s march to stardom began in the second half of last season as he pitched to a 2.77 ERA with a 3.1 K/BB ratio in his final 15 starts. He’s performed similarly in his first three starts of 2012, including seven innings of two-run ball against the Red Sox in Fenway Park last week. Holland is a fastball heavy southpaw, using his low-90s sinker roughly 70% of the time. His changeup, curveball, and slider make appearances when he’s ahead in the count, allowing him to miss plenty of bats (8.85 K/9 and 25.3 K%). Holland’s allowing some more fly balls (34% grounders) this year but he’s also limiting walks better than ever before (2.66 B/9 and 7.6 BB%). The Yankees hit the eclectic left-hander pretty hard three times last season, but that was before things clicked and he went on that huge second half run.
Tuesday: RHP Hiroki Kuroda vs. RHP Yu Darvish
Something tells me this game is going to be a pretty big deal in Japan. Lots of people are going to be late for work on Wednesday morning. Anyway, Darvish has been up and down in his first three MLB starts, allowing five runs to the Mariners in his first start (5.2 IP), two runs to the Twins in his second start (5.2 IP), and one run to the Tigers in his third start (6.1 IP). He’s had the same problem that plagues most Japanese pitchers when they first come over, and that’s nibbling too much and not challenging hitters. Darvish has walked at least four in all three starts and his 13 free passes currently leads the league. His K/BB ratio is nearly 1.0 thanks to his 14 strikeouts. His stuff is as expected, a 90-96 mph fastball with a knockout mid-80s slider and a slower mid-70s curveball. He’ll cut and sink his fastball as well. With all due respect to Detroit, the Yankees will be the best lineup Darvish has ever seen in his life.
Wednesday: RHP Phil Hughes vs. TBA
They haven’t officially announced it yet, but the Rangers are likely to start Scott Feldman in this game after Saturday’s rain out threw a wrench into their rotation schedule. He figures to be on a relatively short leash after throwing no more than 20 pitches in either of his two appearances this season, though he did work as a starter and get stretched out in Spring Training. I can’t imagine he’s good for 100+ pitches, though. Anyway, Feldman has used five different pitcher as a starter in the past, including two fastballs (cutter and sinker), two breaking balls (curveball and slider), and a changeup. He’s more of a low walks/ground ball type, though his strikeout rate has ticked up with more bullpen work in recent years. The Yankees have hit him very hard in the past, but that doesn’t really matter now.
Other candidates to start Wednesday’s game are left-hander Robbie Ross and right-hander Alexi Ogando. The Rangers could always call up a minor leaguer as well, but that seems unlikely. Feldman is the clear favorite for the spot start. For what it’s worth (next to nothing), two of the three best starts of Hughes’ career — based on Game Score — have come in Texas.
Yesterday’s rain out gave the Yankees’ bullpen an impromptu day off, so they’re pretty well rested. David Phelps needs at least one and probably two more days off after throwing 66 pitches on Saturday, but everyone else is good to go. Mariano Rivera, David Robertson, and Cory Wade have each had two straight days off.
The Rangers played a doubleheader on Saturday and extra innings yesterday, but their bullpen is actually in pretty good shape because Neftali Feliz threw an eight inning, complete game loss in the second game of the double dip. Koji Uehara threw 25 pitches in the first game on Saturday, and yesterday the end-game trio of Ogando, Mike Adams, and Joe Nathan each threw no more than 18 pitches. Ross threw 13 pitches as well. Mark Lowe hasn’t pitched since Tuesday, and I have to think Feldman is off limits for the first two games of the series so he can start the finale.
Overall, the Texas bullpen owns a 2.33 ERA and a 2.39 FIP, both top five marks in baseball and right there with the Yankees. Nathan has absorbed two of the team’s three losses and hasn’t been the old, automatic version of himself since coming back from Tommy John surgery last year. For the latest and greatest on the Rangers, I recommend checking out Baseball Time in Arlington and Lone Star Ball. Both are high-quality reads.
The Yankees have claimed right-handed reliever Cody Eppley off waivers from the Rangers, the team announced. He’s been assigned to Triple-A Empire State and effectively replaces the traded George Kontos on the relief depth chart. The Yankees had an open 40-man roster spot, so no other move was necessary.
The 26-year-old Eppley is a big tall guy (listed at a 6-foot-5) with a low arm slot, replying on an upper-80s fastball and a sweepy upper-70s slider. He has a history of crushing right-handed batters, holding them to a .217/.301/.279 batting line with a 26.7% strikeout rate in Triple-A last season. In his big league debut with Texas last season, he gave up eight runs in nine innings. Here’s some video.
The Red Sox and Rays will be the Yankees’ primary competition this season, but the American League also boasts three more powerhouse teams. With only five playoff spots available for these six teams and greater emphasis placed on winning the division, it’s going to be a pretty hectic summer around the so-called Junior Circuit.
The team that knocked the Yankees out of the ALDS last year got better this offseason. The Prince Fielder contract — nine years and $214M — is completely ridiculous, but he and Miguel Cabrera now form the best three-four lineup combo since David Ortiz and Manny Ramirez circa 2004-2006. A full year of Doug Fister makes then better as well, though I seriously doubt he will pitch as well he did after the trade over a full season. The Tigers won the AL Central by 15 games last year and only improved while no other club in the division got appreciatively better. I think the gap between Detroit and the second best team in the division is greater than any of the other five divisions by far.
As good as the offense and rotation is, the Tigers will probably field the worst defensive team in baseball if they stick with Cabrera at third base. Austin Jackson in center field is more than fine and Ramon Santiago will be solid on the days he plays, but otherwise you have bad glovemen at first (Fielder), short (Jhonny Peralta), third (Miggy), and the corner outfield spots (Delmon Young and Brennan Boesch). I don’t think they’ll be 2005 Yankees bad, but there are going to be a lot of balls in play not converted into outs that extend the inning and overly tax that quality rotation. With a shaky bullpen beyond cardiac closer Jose Valverde and dynamite setup man Joaquin Benoit, losing outs from the starting staff could be bad news. I just don’t think it’ll be nearly enough to sink their season.
Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim
No team grabbed headlines quite like the Angels this offseason, who hired a new GM (Jerry Dipoto), imported an MVP candidate (Albert Pujols), and stole an ace-caliber pitcher away from their division rival (C.J. Wilson). The top four of the rotation — Jered Weaver, Dan Haren, Wilson, and Ervin Santana — is the best of the game and the clear strength of the team. The defensive unit is solid overall and only figures to get better once Mike Trout wrestles playing time from Vernon Wells. With a favorable home park, the Halos should be among the best run prevention units in all of baseball.
On the other hand, the lineup around Pujols is sneaky bad. Howie Kendrick is a very good hitter and the return of Kendrys Morales would be a significant addition, but Wells, Torii Hunter, and Bobby Abreu are teetering on the edge of disaster. They’ll score enough runs, but it’s not a powerhouse offense. Scott Downs and Jordan Walden make for a fine end-game tandem, but the rest of the bullpen is retread city, I’m talking Jason Isringhausen, LaTroy Hawkins, and Hisanori Takahashi. Rich Thompson is quite underrated, however. Starting pitching depth is also an issue beyond top four, with prospect Garrett Richards and the former prospect Jerome Williams the best bets for the fifth spot. The Angels made some major improvements this offseason, but Pujols and Wilson mask some serious deficiencies.
Call me a homer if you want, but the two-time defending AL Champs are the only club that can give the Yankees a run for their money as the most complete team in baseball. They did take a gamble by replacing a known quantity in Wilson with an unknown but potentially great hurler in Yu Darvish, but they do have pitching depth to spare. Alexi Ogando and Scott Feldman would be the third and fourth starters for most teams but are Texas’ sixth and seventh starters behind Darvish, Derek Holland, Colby Lewis, Matt Harrison, and Neftali Feliz. That is certainly enviable.
The bullpen also offers depth and high-end performance. Joe Nathan isn’t the guy he once was in the ninth inning, but he’s still effective and is more than capable of replacing Feliz as closer. Setup men Mike Adams and Koji Uehara will be around for a full season, and Ogando gives them another power arm. Michael Kirkman will likely replace the reliable Darren Oliver as the lefty specialist and is probably the weak link out in the bullpen. Feldman, Mark Lowe, and screwballer Yoshinori Tateyama fill out the rest of the relief corps.
Offensively, this team can do pretty much everything. They get power from Josh Hamilton, Nelson Cruz, Ian Kinsler, Adrian Beltre, and Mike Napoli. Kinsler, Elvis Andrus, and Craig Gentry provide the speed. Michael Young does a little bit of everything in the classiest of ways. Hamilton, Kinsler, and Gentry are strong defenders while Beltre and Andrus are flat-out elite. If you want to highlight the negative, it’s durability. Hamilton and Cruz never make it through a season without a DL stint and up until last year, the same could be said of Kinsler. Feliz hasn’t started in more than two seasons and Darvish will have to adjust to a five-day schedule and the Texas heat. The Yankees and Rangers are the two best teams in baseball as far as I’m concerned, and you’re free to quibble about who’s first and who’s second.
A couple hours from now, the Texas Rangers will make the first attempt in franchise history to win the World Series. They’re one win away from title, one year after beating the Yankees in the ALCS to send the team to their first ever Fall Classic. With young players all over the roster and a smart, progressive front office, the Rangers are quickly emerging as one of baseball’s powerhouses. The Yankees have been one of those powerhouses for more than a decade now, but that doesn’t mean they can’t take a look at the Texas squad and learn a few things. Here are four ways the Yankees can mimic the Rangers, each with the possibility of having a big impact.
Don’t Take The Catching Depth For Granted
Yesterday we heard that the Pirates are prioritizing a catcher this offseason, leading to speculation about the Yankees being a possible trade match. With Russell Martin entrenched behind the plate for at least another year and Frankie Cervelli, Jesus Montero, and Austin Romine all that Triple-A or above, the Yankees have the luxury of depth at a position where most teams have none.
Three seasons ago, the Rangers were the team with that catching depth. They had Gerald Laird at the big league level, plus Jarrod Saltalamacchia, Taylor Teagarden, and Max Ramirez all on the cusp of the show. Laird was traded that offseason for no one in particular (Guillermo Moscoso and a Single-A pitcher that still hasn’t made it out of Single-A) as Texas dealt from what they felt was a position of strength, but less than two years later, that depth was gone. Ramirez couldn’t catch, Salty couldn’t stay healthy, and Teagarden couldn’t hit. They ended up trading for Bengie Molina at least year’s deadline before signing Yorvit Torrealba to a two-year deal this past winter.
Catchers, probably more than any other position, can experience growing pains early in their career. It’s not just hitting and standing in the right spot or throwing to the right base, it’s learning a pitching staff and dealing with nagging injuries. Matt Wieters has all the talent in the world and he’s struggled with it. Catching depth has a way of disappearing quickly, so the Yankees shouldn’t take what they have in Martin, Montero, Cervelli, and Romine for granted. That’s not to say they can’t or shouldn’t trade any of them, but they can’t just trade one of them for the sake of making a trade. A deal would have to bring real improvement to the MLB roster, not prospects.
For the second consecutive year, the Yankees are not playing in the World Series this fall (oh what a horrible drought!), but that doesn’t mean they’re an afterthought. There are Yankees ties to both the Cardinals and Rangers, thanks in part due to the age of free agency and non-stop transactions. Texas knocking the New York out of the playoffs last year is another connection as well, but that’s not really the angle I was planning to take.
Two players on the Cardinals once suited up for the Yankees, and two current Yankees helped get the Rangers to the Fall Classic in consecutive years by virtue of their departures. Let’s dig in…
More than anything, Berkman is the reason why I’m pulling for the Cardinals in the World Series. A platoon DH for the Yankees late last year, Puma hit a respectable .255/.358/.349 in 123 regular season plate appearances (.298/.404/.417 in his final 99 PA) before emerging as the team’s third best hitter in the postseason (.313/.368/.688). He became far more important than expected in the ALCS thanks to Mark Teixeira‘s hamstring injury in Game Four.
One of the conditions of the trade that brought Berkman to New York was that the Yankees could not exercise his $15M option for 2011, which was perfectly fine because he had all the look of a declining and increasingly injury-prone player. Fat Elvis signed a one-year deal with the Cardinals, had a monster season (.402 wOBA) that won him Comeback Player of the Year honors, and will bat cleanup behind Albert Pujols in the Fall Classic. Go Puma go.
There’s not a direct Yankees-Rangers relationship here, but there’s no doubt that current Yankee Mark Teixeira helped the Rangers get to where they are today. Less than a month after reportedly turning down an eight-year, $140M extension offer, Tex was traded by Texas to the Braves (along with Ron Mahay) for a five-player package that included starting shortstop Elvis Andrus, closer Neftali Feliz, and likely Game Four starter Matt Harrison. That’s some haul, the gold standard when it comes to trading elite hitters.
A-Rod‘s connection to the Rangers and their success is a bit more concrete than Teixeira’s, at least from the Yankees point of view. When the Yankees acquired Alex in exchange for Alfonso Soriano and
Robinson Cano Joaquin Arias in 2004, Texas gained more than $112M worth of financial flexibility through the 2010 season. That money was redistributed in a multitude of ways; some of it went to Michael Young and his long-term deal, and some was invested in prospects via the draft and international free agency (Derek Holland, Mitch Moreland, Alexi Ogando). Who knows how they rest was spent. That money wouldn’t have been available to the team if the Yankees hadn’t taken A-Rod off the Rangers’ hands.
There’s not much connection here, especially since Dotel has seemingly played for all 30 teams at one time or another, but the right-hander did appear in 14 games (10 IP, 18 H, 13 R, 11 BB, 7 K) for the 2006 Yankees. They signed him off the scrap heap following his Tommy John surgery, rehabbed him for the first half of the season, then stuck him in the bullpen for the stretch run. It didn’t work out. Five years later, Dotel is still slinging it at age 37, this time in middle relief for the Cardinals.
* * *
There are a few other very loose ties (Cards backup catcher Gerald Laird is Brandon’s brother), but those four up there cover most of it. Berkman is the most obvious connection, but I think it’s clear that the Tex and A-Rod stuff will have more impact in this World Series in the grand scheme of things.
We’re down to the final day of the regular season, and we still don’t know the wildcard team for either league. That makes for what should be a very exciting night, but there is still something else that has yet to be determined, and that’s the Yankees ALDS opponent. The only thing we know for sure is that Game One of that series will be this Friday night in Yankee Stadium, and CC Sabathia will be on the mound. Everything else is kind of up in the air.
As of this moment, the Yankees would play the Tigers in the ALDS. However, if Detroit wins tonight and the Rangers lose, the Yankees will play Texas. That’s the only scenario in which the Yankees would play a rematch of the 2010 ALCS in the 2011 ALDS. Anything other than a Tigers win and a Rangers loss results in a rematch of the 2006 ALDS. We could argue about which team we’d rather see the Yankees face from here until first pitch on Friday, but the bottom line is that both of those teams are really, really good. They’re not in the playoffs by accident.
If you want the Yankees to face the Rangers, it’s likely because you like the way the Yankees matchup against Texas’ left-handed starters and/or fear the duo of Justin Verlander and Doug Fister. If you want them to face the Tigers, then it probably has to do with the Rangers’ prodigious offense and the general shakiness of Detroit’s pitching staff behind the two guys at the top of the rotation. There’s a million other factors we can consider as well (the Rangers’ bullpen, Miguel Cabrera, etc.), but here’s the thing to remember: it’s a five-game series, and five-game series are very prone to volatility.
That’s why I’m not all that concerned about who the Yankees face in the ALDS. It’s going to be a tough assignment either way, and the best possible matchup isn’t guaranteed to manifest itself in a short series. Sure, the Yankees might do really well against Texas’ left-handers across 162 games, but anything can happen in a best-of-five. Verlander is likely to pitch to a sub-3.00 ERA across 34 starts, but one bad pitch in the ALDS changes everything. It probably sounds like a cop-out, but it’s true. Weird things happen in baseball all the time, and the impact of the weird stuff magnifies in short playoff series.
If you’re going to put a gun to my head, I guess I’d rather see Yankees-Rangers than Yankees-Tigers. I’d prefer to have New York play as many games in hitters’ parks as possible, in part because that’s how their team is built. Verlander (and to a much lesser extent, Fister) is phenomenal, but he’s not unbeatable, and I’m pretty confident in the Yankees scoring runs against pretty much anyone. Just keep that in mind when you’re scoreboard watching tonight, there’s no such thing as a great matchup in a short series*.
* Unless the Yankees are playing the Twins.
For the third and final time this season, the Yankees will get a chance to exact some revenge against the team that ended their season last October. Sure, a bunch of regular season wins won’t ever make up for an ALCS loss, but it’s all we have right now. The Yankees have already won four of six games against the Rangers this year, taking two of three at home in April before doing the same in Texas in May. What does the June series have in store?
What Have The Rangers Done Lately?
The first time these two teams met, the Rangers were arguably the hottest team in baseball. The second time they met, the Rangers were stuck in a crazy tailspin. This time around, Texas is sort of in between a hot streak and a slump, winning just two of their last seven games but also winning ten of their last 16. Their lead in the division is just 1.5 games over the Mariners, but their run differential is third best in the league and 38 runs better than anyone else in the AL West.
Rangers On Offense
The Yankees got lucky the first two times they played Texas this year because Josh Hamilton was on the disabled list for both series, but now he’s not. His .363 wOBA is nothing special and he’s hitting a 2011 Robinson Cano-esque .268/.307/.512 since coming off the DL last month, but you know what? I don’t care. Hamilton is still one of the best players in the world and can absolutely mash anything no matter how poorly he’s performed over the last month. He’s a game changer on the same level as Miggy Cabrera or Adrian Gonzalez or Jose Bautista; he impacts the game just by standing in the on-deck circle.
Nelson Cruz was also on the shelf the last time these two clubs met, and he’s hit just .241/.259/.590 since coming back. He’s also struck out a dozen times in his last 30 at-bats, a rate that would make Mark Reynolds blush. Michael Young is actually batting cleanup these days, and he destroyed the Yankees in their six games this season (.435/.480/.696). He’s cooled off considerably of late (.241/.288/.315 in his last 118 PA), but I can’t imagine he’ll be an easy out. Hamilton, Young, and Cruz occupy the three, four, and six lineup spots, respectively, while Adrian Beltre slots in at the five-hole. He’s hit a gaudy .293/.353/.496 since the last time these two teams met, so that’s one lefty and three dangerous right-handed batters right in the middle of the lineup. I guess that’s better than four lefties given Yankee Stadium’s dimensions.
Atop the order is Ian Kinsler, who has one hit in eight at-bats since coming back from paternity leave on Saturday. His .349 OBP and .166 ISO are fine numbers, but he doesn’t hit for average at all (just .231). Elvis Andrus is coming into the series pretty hot (.327/.364/.442 in his last 13 games), but manager Ron Washington pulled him off the field on Sunday for a lack of effort. Mitch Moreland (.396/.433/.566 in his last 15 games) and Yorvit Torrealba (.367/.375/.467 this month) are coming into the series hot while David Murphy (.211/.269/.284 in his last 30 games) most certainly isn’t. The new center field platoon of Endy Chavez and Craig Gentry has been hot (.286/.435/.596 in 64 PA) and cold (.235/.361/.294) in limited playing time, respectively. The Rangers’ .334 team wOBA is a distant third to the Red Sox (.352) and Yankees (.349) in the AL.
Rangers On The Mound
Tuesday, RHP Alexi Ogando: We’re all waiting for this two pitch (fastball, slider) reliever turned starter to regress, but it just hasn’t happened yet. Ogando’s 3.57 FIP (2.10 ERA) is propped up by a stellar walk rate (1.99 BB/9) and decent strikeout (6.64 K/9) and homer rates (0.89 HR/9). Of course a .210 BABIP and a 8.1% HR/FB ratio (just 36.5% grounders too) help matters, as does an 88.2% strand rate. Don’t get me wrong, Ogando’s been very good for Texas this year, just not as good as his ERA suggests. The Yankees hung five runs off him in 6.1 IP back in April, though a blister kept him out of the May series.
Wednesday, LHP Derek Holland: A personal fave, Holland is the opposite of Ogando in that he’s been better (4.05 FIP) than his ERA (4.41) would lead you to believe. He gave up five runs in 7.1 IP against New York back in April, then four runs in three innings (five walks) in May, so I’m sure he’s hoping the third time is a charm. Holland is a fastball-changeup guy with two usable breaking balls (both curve and slider), and he gets a good amount of strikeouts (7.71 K/9) and ground balls (46.9%) while limiting walks (3.20 BB/9). He’s just inconsistent like most young starters.
Thursday, LHP C.J. Wilson: As good as Wilson was last season, he’s been even better this year. His upped his strikeout rate a bit (7.78 K/9) while shaving a full walk off his walk rate (3.09 BB/9), though he’s paying for a decreased ground ball rate (46.4%) with more homers (0.75 HR/9). Still, a 3.47 FIP (3.04 ERA) is excellent. Wilson is a (rare) legitimate six pitch pitcher, using three low-90′s fastballs (two-seamer, four-seamer, cutter), a changeup, a curveball, and a slider at least 10.0% of the time each. The Yankees haven’t seen Wilson yet this year, though they did put 18 men on base and score nine runs off him in a dozen ALCS innings last autumn.
Bullpen: With some help from yesterday’s off day, the Rangers’ bullpen is pretty well rested. Neftali Feliz has seemingly gotten over his control problems to post six straight walk-free outings, though he’s still been touched for five hits and two runs in 6.1 IP during that time while striking out four. Feliz is righting the ship, but a guy with his stuff really should miss more bats (8.3% whiff rate). Darren Oliver (3.12 FIP), Mark Lowe (3.60), and Arthur Rhodes (5.96) handle the majority of the setup duties.
Derek Jeter punching bag Dave Bush (4.81 FIP) handles the majority of the long relief work, and southpaw Michael Kirkman (5.10) fills in the gaps. The new addition since the last time the Yankees saw Texas is Japanese import Yoshinori Tateyama, a 35-year-old righty with the traditional Japanese hesitation in his delivery even though he’s more of a sidearmer. He’s struck out eight and walked none in 10.2 IP since being called up, using his fastball-curveball combination in low-leverage situations. The Rangers’ bullpen has an MLB worst 4.90 FIP, more than a quarter of a run higher than anyone else. With any luck, the Yankees will see lots of these guys these next three days.
Thankfully out of Detroit, the Yankees are heading to place of recent heartbreak: Arlington, Texas. They won just one of five games played there last season, and that doesn’t include two losses in three ALCS games. The Bombers’ 2010 season ended in this stadium, as you surely remember. The Yankees already beat the Rangers in a three-game series at Yankee Stadium a few weeks ago, and they could really use another series win right now.
What Have The Rangers Done Lately?
Remember when Texas started the season with nine wins in their first ten games and looked like the best team in baseball? They’re 8-15 since then, and have lost eight of their last eleven games. The Rangers have lost five or their last six series as well, so yeah, they’re struggling.
Rangers On Offense
No Josh Hamilton and guess what? No Nelson Cruz either. The outfielder has a tight quad and hasn’t played since Tuesday, and he definitely won’t play tonight. The Rangers are hopeful that he can go tomorrow, but that’s not a given. Considering that he’s hitting just .219/.303/.438, I’m not sure if his absence is a good or bad thing for New York.
Michael Young killed the Yankees earlier in the season in Yankee Stadium, and he comes into the series with a modest six game hitting streak and a .327/.351/.500 line in his last 13 games. Ian Kinsler has been warm of late, with seven hits (four doubles) in his last 25 at-bats. Julio Borbon has five hits in his last ten at-bats following a 12-for-55 start. I’m guessing the last few games are the outlier. Elvis Andrus keeps singling opponents to death; he’s got 13 hits in his last 38 at-bats, but just one extra base hit (a double). Those four make up Texas’ hottest hitters at the moment.
Adrian Beltre has just 13 hits and five unintentional walks in his last 62 plate appearances (.241 AVG, .306 OBP) and David Murphy has hit an empty .235 over the last two weeks or so (.316 OBP, .030 ISO). Certified pain in the ass Mitch Moreland is roaming right field in Cruz’s stead, and he’s cooled down considerably of late: .212/.333/.391 in his last 39 plate appearances. Mike Napoli (two for his last 22) and Yorvit Torrealba (four for his last 22) aren’t doing much of anything, and personal fave (but Grade-A hacker) Chris Davis has five hits in seven games (playing part-time) since being recalled, though two are doubles and one went over the fence. The top of the lineup – Kinsler, Andrus, Young – is the minefield that must be navigated, though the cleanup hitting Beltre is always tough as well. At least against the Yankees.
Rangers On The Mound
Friday, LHP Matt Harrison: Same three pitchers that we saw three weeks ago, when the Yankees took two of three in the Bronx. Harrison’s scorching hot start (1.23 ERA in his first three starts, including that double play fest against the Yanks) has been followed by disaster: he’s got an 11.12 ERA in three starts since. Last time out against the A’s, he allowed four runs in just 1.2 innings. The start before that featured seven runs in three innings. The Yankees have to be patient, Harrison’s walked five batters and struck out just two in those last two starts. He’s still throwing gas, and backs it up almost exclusively with a changeup.
Saturday, LHP Derek Holland: Two earned runs in seven innings against Oakland followed three starts with exactly five earned runs allowed, including one against the Yankees. I liked Holland as a breakout candidate coming into the year, and his 3.71 FIP with a 50.4% ground ball rate looks a whole lot better than his 4.66 ERA. Another fastball-changeup heavy lefty (with the occasional slider), Holland held the Yankees in check until the late innings a few weeks ago, not getting hurt until his pitch count was well over 100. Will Ron Washington make the same mistake twice? History says yes.
Sunday, RHP Alexi Ogando: Aside from that five run, 6.1 IP effort against the Yankees a few weeks ago, Ogando has yet to allow more than two earned runs or throw fewer than six innings in any start. I don’t get it either. He’s almost exclusively a fastball-slider pitcher, and the Yankees’ lefty bats predictably did damage after seeing his shtick the second and third times through the order. Hopefully they’ll be able to jump on Ogando a little earlier since they’ll be seeing him again in a relatively short amount of time.
Bullpen: Just the Yankees’ luck, Neftali Feliz is expected to be activated off the disabled list in time for tonight’s game. That pushes Darren Oliver out of the closer’s role and back into middle relief, which he shares with Arthur Rhodes. Righty specialist Darren O’Day is out for a while with a torn labrum in his hip, but he’s been replaced with another sidearming righty: Cody Eppley. He’s appeared in four games so far, walked two and striking out three in 5.2 innings of work. Like most guys with that arm slot, Eppley is fastball-slider heavy, with an occasional changeup.
The rest of the bullpen is patchwork at the moment. Mark Lowe is the best of the bunch but he’s nothing special, and Dave Bush handles long relief duties. They also have old buddy Brett Tomko on the roster, which is good news for the Yankees. Hard throwing former top prospect Ryan Tucker is also in the mix, but these aren’t exactly Washington’s go-to relievers in big spots. The more we see of these guys this weekend, the better.
For years, the Angels were the one team in baseball that gave the Yankees fits. For whatever reason, Mike Scioscia’s team just had their number. Now that the Halos are getting older and are heading down baseball’s power rankings, they’ve apparently handed the torch of “AL West team the Yankees can’t beat” to the Rangers. After sweeping Texas in a three-game series at Yankee Stadium in April, Joe Girardi‘s team lost four of their five remaining regular season meetings, all of which took place in Arlington. The ALCS was a completely one-sided affair; that the Yanks forced six games is a minor miracle.
But this is a new season. There’s no Cliff Lee looming nor is there an Andy Pettitte to fall back on. Vlad Guerrero has been replaced by Adrian Beltre, Lance Berkman has been replaced by Russell Martin, things have changed. The weather looks to be gorgeous but a little chilly this weekend, when the Yankees take on their toughest opponent to date in 2011.
What Have They Done Lately?
The Rangers started the season looking like baseball’s best team, and reality they probably are at the moment. They won their first six games and outscored their opponents 42-20 in the process, but they’re just 3-3 since. Prior to Thursday’s off-day, Texas dropped back-to-back games against the Tigers, losing the first on a Miguel Cabrera walk-off single and the second on a Brandon Inge walk-off homer. For whatever reason, Neftali Feliz was nowhere to be found in either game. Their +32 run differential is the best in baseball and nearly two times greater than the second best mark in the AL (Toronto’s +17). If there’s such a thing as momentum, the Yankees would appear to have it. They’ve won their last two while the Rangers lost their last two in demoralizing fashion.
Rangers On Offense
The Yankees caught a very big break this series, both literally and figuratively. By now you’ve heard that Josh Hamilton, last year’s AL MVP, broke his arm sliding head first into home during Tuesday’s game and is expected to miss six-to-eight weeks. It was a weird play, Hamilton was on third when a pop-fly went into foul territory, but no one covered the plate and he broke for home after the catch. After the game he threw third base coach Dave Anderson under the bus, though he later apologized. Bottom line: The Yankees won’t have to face arguably the best player in the league this weekend.
Of course, Texas’ offense is still extremely good. Designated Yankee killer David Murphy (.418 wOBA in limited action) steps in for Hamilton, and Nelson Cruz’s boomstick is still fully operational (.451 wOBA). Ian Kinsler torched the Red Sox in the first series of the year, but he leadoff guy is hitting just .152/.243/.273 in the nine games since. Adrian Beltre has hit .350/.381/.750 with two doubles and two homers in his last five games after a very slow start to the season, while Michael Young owns a .474/.476/.579 line over the same time. Mitch Moreland is a perpetual pain in the ass near the bottom of the lineup (.389 wOBA), though Elvis Andrus (.291), Julio Borbon (.297) and Yorvit Torrealba (.275) haven’t done much yet this season. I’m willing to bet Andrus gets his fair share if crap infield hits this weekend like he did in the ALCS. Mike Napoli looms on the bench as a lefty-masher, though that should only come into play when CC Sabathia starts on Sunday.
Rangers On The Mound
Game One: Matt Harrison, LHP: Part of the Mark Teixeira trade back in the day, Harrison has been in straight up Beast Mode in the early going this year. He held the Red Sox and Orioles to one run over seven innings in each of his first two starts, allowing just seven hits and three walks total with seven strikeouts and 50% ground balls. He’s not some soft tossing lefty either. Harrison’s four-seamer has averaged 93.7 mph this year and has topped out at 97 while the two-seamer sits about a mile-per-hour or two below that. He uses each about 30% of the time. A low-80′s changeup is his next best offering and he doesn’t have a real knockout breaking ball, but will throw both a slider and curveball and the occasional cutter. If Joe Girardi was ever going to employ Danks Theory, this would be a good game to do it, taking that changeup away. Harrison has gotten smacked around pretty good in five career appearances (two starts) against the Yankees (7.53 ERA, 4.40 FIP in just 14.1 IP), but that was before he showed up to camp this year bumping 97.
Game Two: Derek Holland, LHP: You probably remember Holland from his stellar relief work in the ALCS (5.2 scoreless innings), but now he’s back where he belongs in the rotation. He allowed three runs in six innings to the Mariners in the first start before shutting the O’s down for six frames last time out. He’s very much like Harrison in that he’s fastball-changeup heavy, sitting 93.2 with the former and the mid-80′s with the latter. Holland’s slider is a quality third offering though, a pitch he can use to get swings and misses. He’s another guy the Yankees have crushed in the past (9.49 ERA, 8.07 FIP in 12.1 IP) but again, that’s no guarantee of future success. Holland’s a dynamite young pitcher.
Game Three: Alexi Ogando, RHP: In the rotation only because Tommy Hunter strained some fat at the end of Spring Training, Ogando was never a full-time starter until the Rangers stuck him in that role in Spring Training. Sure enough, he fired six shutout innings against the Mariners two weeks ago and followed that up with seven shutout innings against the Tigers earlier this week. Ogando has allowed just four hits and three walks in those 13 IP, striking out eight. It doesn’t make sense, but for whatever reason it just worked. The right-hander sits 93-94 with the fastball and mixes in a few 95′s and 96′s, but he’s a two-pitch pitcher. If you don’t get the heat, your getting the slider, that’s it. His changeup is an afterthought. Ogando made just six relief appearances against the Yankees last year (four regular season and two playoffs), throwing a total of 4.2 IP. For all intents and purposes, they’ve never really seen him before.
Bullpen: Well, at least Feliz is well rested. He hasn’t pitched in four games, but at we also know that Washington won’t use him in a tie game on the road. Score one for the good guys. Yankee favorite Arthur Rhodes joins Darren Oliver to give the Rangers not one, but two lefties that are a handful of outings away from a forced retirement. Darren O’Day is a sidearm/submarining righty specialist, and Mark Lowe (a throw-in in the Lee trade) throws hard and that’s about it. Rule 5 guy Mason Tobin is unspectacular, and Pedro Strop is essentially another Lowe. It’s not exactly a bullpen that strikes fear into opponents, but you’ve got to get to them before the ninth inning. Otherwise you’re probably out of luck.