UPDATE: Boy, what a difference a few days makes, huh? Well now that we know who all is playing whom and where, and all that good stuff, it's time to hunker down and get amped up. I appreciate input from all fans, even Yankees' fans. Obviously, this article was written when I thought the Rangers would not get HFA and would play the Yankees in the ALDS. So, take out "ALDS" and insert "ALCS" and this article is still relevant! Hooray!
Even with only a handful of games remaining in the 2011 Major League Baseball season—and with each Division's Champions already crowned—there remains a pretty intense battle for the AL's last playoff spot between the Tampa Bay Rays, Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim and the Boston Red Sox.
Although very unlikely, should the drastically overachieving Angels manage to usurp the Red Sox, then the playoff picture will look pretty bizarre. That possibility plus the chance that the Tigers or Rangers might have the second-best record in the playoffs, adds a melee of murkiness to the playoff picture.
For now, let's look at the scenario that seemingly everyone wants to see (aren't we all a little sick of watching the Red Sox and Yankees matchup ad nauseam anyways?) and that is Yankees vs. Rangers.
These two teams certainly have a bit of a history in the playoffs. Quite a history from the Rangers point of view—every time the Rangers have made the playoffs, they've faced the Yankees.
And since the recent history is certainly more palatable—at least for the Rangers fan—then why even utter the 1-9 postseason record against the Yankees in the late-'90s?
Pettitte at his most effective moment during last year's ALCS.
The argument can be made that each team's starting rotation isn't quite as good as what they featured during last year's playoff run.
Clearly, it's easy to say that the Rangers' rotation has suffered the most since some guy named Cliff Lee decided to yank both the Yankees' and Rangers' chains before taking the ninja-like offer from the Phillies. And he did it so that he can just relax, not have to be an ace, and still get paid like the world's best athlete.
Nope, no bitterness here friends.
It's clear that both teams needed his services for this year desperately. Maybe the best question to ask is, Who needed him more?
Well, now that both teams are set to dip into the postseason waters, we need no crystal ball to see which team was hurting the most without Lee. I think it was the New York Yankees. Easily could have been the Rangers, too.
I feel that the loss of another playoff-savvy lefty is what hurts the Yankees the most—no Andy Pettitte.
And the emergence of C.J. Wilson as a true, bona fide ace as well as the maturation of Matt Harrison and Derek Holland make the Rangers' rotation a tad bit better than the Yankees'.
Alexi Ogando was fantastic in the first half, and he'll have a fine career as a starter; but he'll most likely be in the bullpen which is a good thing as well.
Really, after CC Sabathia, what do the Yankees have? Well, aside from the "who's who" of late-'90s ace-types in Freddy Garcia and the ridiculously rotund Bartolo Colon, they have A.J. Burnett, the rich man's Rich Harden—electric stuff that's as nasty as it is erratic; and Phil Hughes, yeah, really nothing else needs to be said here.
Ivan Nova is an outstanding young pitcher. He's coming off of an excellent season and should be pretty good for years to come. But his story sounds too similar to the Hughes story from this time last year, though.
And the Rangers absolutely ate his lunch without offering him any of his own dessert—8.2 innings pitched, seven walks, six strikeouts and an ERA of 11.42, coupled with his 0-2 record, during last year's ALCS. Josh Hamilton won the ALCS MVP in 2010, but Phil Hughes might have been the Rangers' co-MVP.
You just never know how a young pitcher like Nova might handle the postseason, especially since he's had problems against the Rangers during the regular season (4.67 ERA).
"Senor Octubre" couldn't do it all by himself.
As mentioned earlier, when it comes to Rangers vs. Yankees in ALDS meetings, to say that the Yankees have dominated is like saying that the Internet is marginally successful.
The Texas Rangers of the late-'90s were basically the portrait of the steroid era—all offense all the time. I guess that the juice didn't work as well with their pitching staff.
Things are looking up for the Rangers, as they have an offense that is more efficient than even the best of the '90s squads, and they have a pitching staff that is far superior (yes, even without Cliff Lee.)
If the Texas Rangers can beat the Yankees in the ALCS (which still sounds strange, but it did happen) then they should have no problem dispatching the Bombers in a best-of-five series.
Granted, it won't be easy—I feel that the winner of this series is probably going to be the eventual American League Champion—but the Rangers have enough pitching, and a red-hot offense capable of plating enough runs to pull it off.
Ultimately, this is a playoff matchup that favors the Texas Rangers.
When you look at intangibles, it seems as though the Rangers might have the advantage as well. According to many, the Yankees Mystique has eroded, seemingly in proportion with Derek Jeter's skill set. Perhaps it's the new stadium, or maybe it's just that the team is getting older, and much of the new talent—very good talent—might not be ready to step it up on the grand stage of the playoffs.
And this isn't last year's Texas Rangers. Last year was a group of young overachievers that were just happy to be in the postseason. This year, the staff is solid, even without Lee, and the offense has a few added pieces that possibly would have enabled them to win it all had they been on the team a year ago (Mike Napoli, Adrian Beltre, a bolstered bullpen.)
Plus, don't underestimate the experience from last October for these Texas Rangers. Most of them, aside from Matt Harrison, who was left off of the postseason roster, have had experience on the biggest of all platforms—the World Series.
If the Yankees and Rangers end up playing each other in the ALDS—which starts this Friday—it won't be like their previous ALDS matchups—in all likelihood, it will be closer to last year's ALCS, when the young upstart Rangers stunned the Yankees.
This time the Rangers won't startle the Bombers—you can't sneak up on a team after dispatching them just a year ago. They'll simpley outplay them with their talent-laden tenacity.
It should make for a great series. Now, let's just hope the Angels-Rays or Red Sox don't mess things up for us.