And if the Yankees are going to defeat the two-time defending American League champions when they meet in the ACLS, then Andy Pettitte and Brett Gardner have to be healthy and contributing.
No disrespect to the Los Angeles Angels or any other AL teams that make the playoffs, but the Yankees and Rangers are the best all-around teams in baseball with solid starting rotations, shutdown bullpens and imposing starting lineups.
Difficult as it may be for Yankees fans to believe, the Rangers would probably be favored if the teams met in the playoffs especially if they have the home field advantage.
The Yankees need Pettitte for his big-game experience. He has more postseason victories than any pitcher in history, and while that may be attributed in part to the expanded playoff format, it still shows how he rises to the occasions when it matters most.
Gardner gives the Yankees the element of speed and outfield defense that they will probably need in the postseason, when pitching tends to be more dominant and every run matters. With the exception of Robinson Cano and Derek Jeter, these Yankees don't hit for average and don't play station-to-station baseball.
They have been pounding opponents into submission, but that could all change when the stakes are raised. The Rangers, with Nelson Cruz, Adrian Beltre, Ian Kinsler, Mike Napoli and Josh Hamilton, have plenty of power and also hit for a better average. The Rangers lead the AL with a .278 team batting average; the Yankees are sixth with a .265 average.
The Yankees lead the league with 146 homers while the Rangers have 107.
The Rangers have stolen more bases, but that's where Gardner is a factor. He led the AL in steals last season and is the one Yankee who can divert the attention of Rangers pitchers when he is on base. With Gardner in the lineup the Yankees have more options on offense and can manufacture runs when they are going through a power outage.
In the field, Gardner tightens the team's outfield defense and can save runs with his glove.
Although the Yankees and Rangers might put up pinball scores if they meet, don't be surprised if pitching determines the winner.
That is where the Yankees have a slight advantage if Pettitte is healthy. The Rangers have gotten plenty of experience playing in the last two World Series, but they don't have a true ace. Yu Darvish is as good as advertised but has never pitched in the postseason.
Matt Harrison, Derek Holland and Colby Lewis have now been around the block a time or two in the playoffs, but none of them as yet emerged as a playoff stopper.
Roy Oswalt may be an X factor, and all bets are off if the Rangers acquire Zack Grieinke, Cole Hammels or Matt Garza at the trade deadline.
Sabathia and Pettitte give the Yankees the edge when comparing starters. Chances are they will not pitch back-to-back because both are left-handers, which means that Hiroki Kuroda, Phil Hughes or Ivan Nova will have to come up big in Game 2 of a series.
The Rangers—with Cruz, Kinsler, Beltre and Michael Young hitting from the right side—are a challenge, but Pettitte has the savvy to neutralize those bats.
If he isn't healthy or pitching well, however, the burden falls on Sabathia's shoulders to be the stopper.
Pettitte also gives the Yankees innings, which enables them to get to David Robertson and Rafael Soriano in the bullpen. If, by some chance, Joba Chamberlain comes back before September, the bullpen gets that much stronger.
It will have to be because Alexi Ogando, Mike Adams and Joe Nathan have given the Rangers one of the deepest bullpens in the league.
And the Yankees' chances of unseating the Rangers improves a great deal with Gardner and Pettitte in uniform.