Davidoff: Forget about Lee and A.J.; Yanks will beat Rangers
Cliff Lee dominates this American League Championship Series like the sun does our planet, and word on the street is "America's Funniest Home Videos" might produce a whole episode just to document A.J. Burnett's Game 4 start.
Which is all fine, but it obscures the primary reason why the Yankees should win this series.
Thanks to their deep, dominant lineup, the Yankees are equipped to prevail in this Texas shootout. In this garish stadium's first-ever ALCS game tonight, the Yankees' garish lineup - fueled by their unseemly payroll - gives them the edge. Especially when you realize this series will be played in two hitter-friendly stadiums.
"Going into the end of the season, I felt good about the way everyone looked," Yankees hitting coach Kevin Long said Thursday at Rangers Ballpark. "We seemed to carry that over into the first round."
"They will make sure that pitchers throw the ball over the plate, and if you don't, you can be in trouble," Rangers manager Ron Washington said. "Because throughout the lineup, they have guys that can punch the ball out of the ballpark.
"Along with that, they have a lot of experience. They have speed. They can beat you in a lot of ways."
When we look at the Yankees' ALDS sweep of the Twins, we of course examine a tiny sample size. Nevertheless, they represent the Yankees' most important games of the season so far. And the Yankees absolutely ravaged Minnesota's pitching staff.
A .351 on-base percentage. A .514 slugging percentage. At least one hit and at least one RBI from everyone who started a game, and all but Derek Jeter scored at least one run.
"We went 6-for-9 with runners on third and less than two outs," Long said.
Alex Rodriguez, discussing the Yankees' versatile offense, thought Mark Teixeira's advancement from second to third on a wild pitch in the sixth inning of Game 1 - which helped set up a four-run rally - served as one of the series' most important plays.
In all, the Yankees, who led the major leagues with 859 runs, overwhelmed the Twins and showcased how dangerous they can be even to a pitching staff as impressive as Texas'.
"That's the problem with playing the Yankees," a scout who watched the ALDS said on the condition of anonymity. "Somewhere along the line, they're going to hurt you. Somehow you get through 5, 6, 7 in their lineup and you think, 'Oh, thank God.' But 8 and 9 are dangerous, too. You can't underestimate anybody."
Lee probably ties with Philadelphia's Roy Halladay as the pitchers who make Yankees hitters reconsider their vocational choice. Yet as Long said of the Rangers' ace, "He's not invincible. He's not the Messiah." The Yankees have touched up Lee a few times in the last two seasons.
You might remember the consternation that surrounded the Yankees' universe last offseason when they let late-inning magicians Johnny Damon and Hideki Matsui depart via free agency. Brett Gardner and the designated hitter platoon of Lance Berkman and Marcus Thames might not generate as much warmth in the Bronx as those two guys. So far, however, they have shown themselves to be extremely capable in helping to crank out runs.
The Yankees won their 27th championship last year despite receiving subpar numbers from Robinson Cano, Nick Swisher and Teixeira in the postseason. Friday night, we'll see if that trio, along with everyone else, can maintain the offensive pressure after five days off.
The bet here is they will. That they'll work enough counts and exhibit enough strong baserunning to diminish Lee's impact.
We're not talking about hitting now, but that's about to change.