The Texas Rangers have won their first playoff series ever in what was their fourth try. Now they must face the team responsible for their failures in their previous three series: the defending champion New York Yankees.
The Rangers are known to be a slugging team. With Nelson Cruz, Vladimir Guerrero and MVP candidate Josh Hamilton in the mix, Texas can get runs in a hurry. What is perhaps forgotten in the midst of this is that the Yankees were actually the better team in 2010 when it comes to runs scored, home runs, slugging and OPS. Robinson Cano is also in consideration of AL MVP and though both Alex Rodriguez and Mark Teixiera had relatively down years, Texas should be weary of them regardless.
When it comes to pitching, it would be a mistake to assume that Cliff Lee is Texas’ only powerhouse at the position. Both C.J. Wilson and Colby Lewis have pitched well this season, and Wilson in particular is one of Texas’ workhorses. Wilson strikes out plenty, and he does not give up very many home runs either, giving up one fewer the entire season than Cliff Lee has in just half a season in Texas. The bullpen wasn’t exactly on fire during the ALDS against the Rays, however they will also not be overworked with Lee, Wilson and Lewis taking up most if not all of the innings in a given game.
The Yankees are pretty much in the same boat when it comes to pitching. C.C. Sabathia isn’t as dominant as a Cliff Lee, but he pitches more than well enough for New York’s offense to take over. Phil Hughes had a strong start against the postseason-hapless Twins but he’s had his ups and downs throughout the season. Andy Pettite pitched seven solid innings against those same Twins coming off of injury but he is also an unknown factor for this series. Its unknown as to whether the Yankees will use A.J. Burnett as a fourth starter or if they’ll resort to using a three man rotation that did well for them in 2009. In any case, New York’s bullpen is one of the stronger bullpens in the AL, especially with Mariano Rivera having the 9th inning – and sometimes the 8th inning – on lockdown.
Overall, I think the Rangers will have the edge in this series. To say that Cliff Lee’s two or three starts in the series are guaranteed wins for Texas is silly, but Texas has an excellent chance to win those starts alongside Wilson’s and even Lewis’ starts. New York’s starting pitching, Sabathia in particular, is a bit overrated but if they do hold on the bullpen will likely shut Texas down.
Expect a long series, one that Texas wins in seven games.
This season has been known as the year of the pitcher, and the NLCS will feature quite a slew of them. Roy Halladay has had a perfect game and even no-hit the Reds in the NLDS. Roy Oswalt has been stellar since arriving from Houston. Cole Hamels has pitched extremely well in the past month. Tim Lincecum is the two-time defending NL Cy Young. Matt Cain pitches nearly as well but gets far less attention than Lincecum. Jonathan Sanchez threw a no-hitter once albeit not this season but he can shut down the opponent if need be, and Madison Bumgarner has been one of the Giants’ pleasant rookie surprises.
The starting rotations for these two teams are pretty even, if not slightly advantaged towards San Francisco (as Philly’s fourth starter in Joe Blanton doesn’t really compare at this point though he too is capable), and San Francisco’s bullpen was the best in the NL in ERA. Brian Wilson threw a league high 48 saves in 2010 and had a 1.81 ERA in doing so, though he did get roughed up a little by Atlanta in the NLDS. Philadelphia’s bullpen isn’t as strong and some may still question whether Brad Lidge is both ready and healthy to carry the Phillies to another World Series, but if he is, he is among the league’s best closers when he’s “right”.
The biggest difference between the two teams center around their offenses. Looking at season stats one may think there isn’t that much of a difference as the two are very close in slugging and other power categories, but the Giants fall behind in production categories like Runs and RBI, which indicate that the Giants have trouble getting hits with runners in scoring position, or other such clutch situations. With the Phillies rolling out Halladay, Hamels and Oswalt, the Giants can ill afford to continue such trends. In addition, the Phillies were riddled with injures for good chunks of the season. Jimmy Rollins has been out for nearly the entire season but now he’s back. Chase Utley and Placido Polanco were also out for awhile but their returns not only help offensively but defensively as well.
San Francisco is not offensively inept, however. Buster Posey is in contention for NL Rookie of the Year with a .305 average and 18 home runs in four months of play. Former Phillie Pat Burrell has some pop to his bat still, as does Juan Uribe. All it may take in these games is one home run, and the Giants are perfectly capable of doing that.
Games in this series will often be low-scoring affairs, with spectacular pitching matchups (most notably Halladay vs Lincecum). Most games will be decided in late innings, and I think the Phillies offense will do just enough to get the job done. Philadelphia wins in six games.