Cliff Lee: Could the Texas Rangers Face a First-Round Exit Without Their Ace?

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Cliff Lee: Could the Texas Rangers Face a First-Round Exit Without Their Ace?
Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

A few weeks ago, the Editors at the Bleacher Report asked me to write a piece on why getting Cliff Lee was going to make the Texas Rangers World Series participants.

Now, with Lee's struggles and his recent back injury, I have been asked to write a contrasting piece on why Lee's recent struggles are going to derail the Rangers' World Series push.

In his last five starts for Texas, Lee is 0-3 with an 8.28 ERA, allowing 44 hits in 29 innings. He has walked only three and struck out 35, but allowed 10 home runs over this span.

Don't worry, Nolan Ryan, your ace will be fine.

There was much talk last season, too, about Lee and his struggles midway through his tenure in Philadelphia. After a glowing 5-0 record in his first five starts following the 2009 trade from Cleveland, Lee was pummeled in his next three starts.

Those first five starts last year saw Lee throw 40 innings, allowing 24 hits and three earned runs while walking six and striking out 39. In his next three starts, he lasted 15 innings total, allowing 29 hits, 16 ERs, walking none and striking out 12.

Even though he struggled his last two regular season starts, too, Lee eventually figured everything out and was very Christy Mathewson-like in the 2009 postseason.

He will be fine again, but he must learn to read my writings and adjust to the league's hitters.

I wrote a piece two weeks ago about Lee going to New York next season. I mentioned his struggles, and said one reason might be the approach other teams might have towards Lee.

Lee is a control pitcher. He does not throw 95-plus and needs to locate his fastball, change, and curve ball in order to be successful. One of the big things talked about with Lee this season is that he does not walk batters. He has only 12 walks this season in 184 innings, a walk rate of 0.6 per nine innings.

That is too few walks. That's right. Lee does not walk enough people. He throws too many strikes—about 72 percent of his pitches this season have been strikes. Knowing that he is always around the plate, teams are now looking to swing the bat against him early and often in the count.

Don't take a strike, don't get behind in the count, and don't let him use that devastating change-up while ahead.

Now other baseball analysts have gotten into this fray.

Look at the above stats. In the two bad stretches when he was getting hit, Lee did not walk anybody and still got his strikeouts. But he was lit up like the Rockefeller Christmas tree. Sometimes hitters need to attack early, and they were against Lee.

There is a reason why guys like Catfish Hunter, Robin Roberts, and Bert Blyleven (all really good pitchers, but only two are Hall of Famers), gave up a lot of home runs.

They were always around the plate.

Lee is giving up a lot of home runs now with Texas, but only 15 total this season, not that much different from 2009, when he allowed 17.

Also, Lee has now begun to complain of a sore back. He has taken shots in the lower back to alleviate the pain, but Lee is not centering his struggles on the recent back pain. With a substantial lead (now eight games) in the American League West, it might be best for the Rangers to rest Lee and not throw him until he does feel 100 percent.

Even if Lee is not at his best entering the postseason, the Rangers will be okay. They have a potent offense led by MVP candidate Josh Hamilton, plus Vladimir Guerrero and Micheal Young, a stellar bullpen led by Rookie of the Year candidate Neftali Feliz, and good, young starters in C.J. Wilson and Tommy Hunter.

And with the return of second baseman Ian Kinsler, the Rangers offense just got better.

Kinsler's return to the lineup and the great bullpen can compensate for any lack of starting pitching the Rangers may develop.

Similar to last season, Lee will be good to go during the postseason, and even if he is not 100 percent, the Rangers have other weapons to take them forward.

Unless Hamilton's chronic bad back, gimpy knee, or recently banged up rib gets more troublesome.

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