Keys to the series
WORK AROUND CLIFF LEE. The Rangers’ lefty is now undefeated in seven career postseason starts. Just as they did last year against Lee’s Phillies in the World Series, the Yankees have to be cognizant how important is it to win the games Lee doesn’t start.
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LENGTH FROM THE BIG THREE. The Yankees will operate on a short leash with Game 4 starter A.J. Burnett, so they need their relievers to be as fresh as possible heading into that contest.
About the Yankees
BIG PICTURE: The Yankees stomped on the Twins, 3-0, in the American League Division Series, quelling many of the concerns with which they concluded their regular season. Virtually nothing went wrong during the sweep. The lingering question is, were the Yankees that good, or were the Twins that bad?
STRENGTHS: The lineup doesn’t have an obvious resting point for opposing pitchers, and it features an imposing mix of power, speed and proficiency from both sides. The bullpen has developed a groove, with closer Mariano Rivera fixing whatever plagued him in September. Their playoff experience is off the charts.
WEAKNESSES: Huge concern looms over A.J. Burnett’s Game 4 start. Jorge Posada’s defense behind the plate — not only his throwing arm, but his receiving — is a point of vulnerability. The Yankees’ middle relief pitchers could be weak, if needed.
INTANGIBLES: No, these aren’t the 1996-2001 Yankees, but they’re starting to take on that sheath of indomitability. The presence of CC Sabathia atop the rotation provides a sense of reassurance to go with stellar pitching, and Alex Rodriguez’s slaying of his postseason demons has taken away that pesky headache.
About the Rangers
BIG PICTURE: By ousting the Rays via the unconventional path of winning three ALDS road games, Texas recorded its first postseason series victory in its 50-year history. This club has been through owner Tom Hicks’ bankruptcy (and financial aid from Major League Baseball) and manager Ron Washington’s disclosure of cocaine usage, among other travails.
STRENGTHS: The Rangers beat out the Yankees for Cliff Lee, and that’s why Texas has such a strong starting rotation, with C.J. Wilson and Colby Lewis complementing Lee nicely. Centerfielder Josh Hamilton might be the best player in the series. The team’s defense is excellent.
WEAKNESSES: The Rangers don’t draw many walks, and against lefthanders they’re especially susceptible to quick innings with free swingers Jeff Francoeur and Jorge Cantu joining Elvis Andrus and Bengie Molina. Their bench doesn’t inspire much confidence, and fourth starter Tommy Hunter had a rough start against Tampa Bay.
INTANGIBLES: With Cliff Lee ready to go in Games 3 and 7, and with recent success against the Yankees, these Rangers don’t figure to be intimidated (as did the Twins). They’re also the rare team that can draw on-the-field inspiration from their president, Hall of Famer Nolan Ryan.