Rangers Run Past Yankees?

Whether or not his team actually beats the New York Yankees, I have to start this by standing up and applauding Ron Washington’s primary gamble.

He has in large part been forced into it by the reality of the fifth game against Tampa Bay, but there were other options and he chose the one in which unless the ALCS goes seven, he will only start Cliff Lee once. This means that one of the three key figures in this series will be not Lee, but C.J. Wilson.
Thus a lefthander will start Game One against the Yankees, and another one would start Game Seven, and because they are so scheduled, they would also each start a game in Yankee Stadium. Lefties in Yankee Stadium – your best bet to beat them. Provided they are good lefthanders.
The Yankees’ switch-hitters are all more powerful against righthanders. Their lefthand bats (Cano, Gardner, and Granderson) tend towards bad splits against southpaws. And Alex Rodriguez has mysteriously lost much of his punch against lefties (he hit .214 against them during the regular season). 
But is Wilson a good lefthander, or a bad one? Consider what the seven susceptible Yankee bats (Cano, Gardner, Granderson, Posada, Rodriguez, Swisher, Teixeira) did against the Twins’ southpaws:
Versus All Minnesota LHP                  11-39  .282  two 2B, two 3B
Versus Fuentes & Mijares                     1-7   .143
Versus Duensing & Liriano                  10-32  .313

Admittedly it’s a small sample (two starts and five relief appearances) but there are some indicators. Though Marcus Thames tattooed Brian Duensing for a home run, none of the Yankee Seven hit a long ball off any of the lefties, even though Posada, Rodriguez, Swisher, and Teixeira all batted righty against them.

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The inference, I think, is not a very complicated one. The entire Yankee line-up save for Jeter and Thames are stymied by effective lefties and merely slowed down a little by bad ones. We can pretty well guess to which category Cliff Lee belongs (although the second time the Yankees faced him in the World Series last year they beat him up for five runs, even in defeat). The question is, which kind is Wilson (the guess is: the good and improving kind). The indeterminable is whether either of the Rangers’ righties steal a win against New York, which would obviously reduce the Texas reliance on their former closer and their mid-season acquisition.
I described Wilson as one of the three key figures in this series. Given that Manager Washington tipped his hand against the Rays, the other two are Francisco Cervelli and Jorge Posada. The Rangers were the runningest team in the first round, and they are now facing the team with the fewest caught-stealings in the major leagues in 2010. Cervelli, Chad Moeller, Posada and the Yankee pitching staff stopped just 23 out of 155 would-be thieves during the year.
Minnesota didn’t try to swipe one bag in its cameo against the Yankees. Texas tried seven (and succeeded six times) against Tampa. Rays’ catchers had nailed 25 percent of runners during the season. The Yanks only caught 15 percent.
I think you see where Washington is going with this. Try to at least slow the “Susceptible Seven” down with Wilson and Lee, to say nothing of Darren Oliver in relief. But much more impressively, run the Yankees crazy. Five Rangers stole 14 or more during the regular season, Josh Hamilton had eight, and Jeff Francoeur had eight while with the Mets.
The Rangers may literally steal this series. I think the Yankees are utterly unprepared for this kind of onslaught, and if you think there’s a Plan B about swapping Cervelli in for the decreasingly mobile Posada, think again. Posada may have only caught 13 of 85 bandits, but Cervelli only got nine out of 64.
As suggested here when New York swept a series which I thought they’d lose, the Yankees are vampires. Manage passively against them as Ron Gardenhire did, let them up off the mat for a second, and you lose. But Ron Washington has already shown an absolute unwillingness to sit back, and that aggressivenes won him Game Five against Tampa. Take the chance with me. Rangers win, and might just get to hold Mr. Lee back to start Game One of the World Series.

3 Comments

The reason why the Twins lost the series is because they managed only two hits with RISP during the sweep and both came in Game 3. You can steal as much as you like but you still need a hit to drive them in.

As for CJ Wilson, he’s going to have to prove he can throw strikes since he had 93 BB in 204 IP. I certainly don’t think if the Rangers will win in 6. The only pitching edge they have is when Lee pitches.

It isn’t so much that Wilson is a good LHP, it’s that he’s murder on LHB. His 400 OPS against vs. LHB was first in the majors (40 IP minimum), and he didn’t allow a HR. The rub here is that the guys who were 2nd and 3rd were Brian Duensing and Francisco Liriano. The Yankees pounded Duensing and handled Liriano just fine. Kevin Long has done tremendous work with the Yanks on their lefty vs. lefty approach, particularly with Curtis Granderson, so this feels a little bit like the immovable object versus the irresistible force. I like Wilson a lot, but it will be interesting to see if the Yanks have an answer here.

It is also worth pointing out that Lee has a reverse differential; he was actually stronger against RHB this year than versus LHB. He was slightly better against LHB from 2007-2009, but he isn’t a “lefty-killer” like Wilson is.

Didn’t Granderson get a big hit off a lefty? Not a home run, sure, but it was a key hit. Another thing I noticed was how Dan Johnson, who was horrible in the regular season (especially against lefties), was able to draw some walks and then come up with a big hit, all against lefties. I remember it because I was surprised Joe Maddon didn’t replace Johnson with a pinch-hitter. I believe Carlos Pena also got a key hit in Texas off a lefty, and Pena had the lowest batting average in the majors (for those qualify for the batting title, or its sad opposite) and was especially bad against lefties. Also, too much is being made of the Rangers’ running game. Look at the Rays: Carl Crawford is the best base stealer in the league but he didn’t do much damage– because he was kept off the bases. What Andrus, Cruz and Vlad did in Game 5 was largely due to bad decision-making and execution by the Rays’ defense. The Yankees have great defensive instincts and don’t panic. I can’t imagine Tex letting a baserunner score from second on a groundball to first. If the Yankees lose I see it coming from a bad start from one of their top three pitchers, coupled with two Lee wins and maybe a blown save by Mo in a tight one. Objectively speaking, this series is just to decide who loses to Philly anyway. But– Go Yanks!

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