1) How the Rangers handle a playoff atmosphere
Yes, the Rangers are clearly the class of the AL West this season, but that's like being the blind person with the best eyesight. It's one thing to beat up on the Mariners and A's and Zombie Angels in half- to three quarters-full ballparks knowing you're light years ahead of them in the loss column, it's quite another to face the Yankees in a packed house in what could be a preview of the ALCS.
The Rangers roster isn't exactly chock full of guys who have been around for a long time, and certainly not full of guys who have playoff experience. The only vets who know about what it's like to play in big high-pressure games are Vlad Guerrero, Darren Oliver, and Cliff Lee, the last legitimate Yankee killer left. And Lee's track record only goes back to last season, so again, not a lot of pressure-situation experience here to fall back on.
The Rangers have the benefit of playing this series at home, but it's still worth asking how the Elvis Andruses, Ian Kinslers, and Nelson Cruzes of the world will hold up against the Yankee starters and how the Texas bullpen will fare facing the Yankee lineup in a close game.
2) How the Yankees handle the 2 Ranger lefties, C.J. Wilson and Cliff Lee.
The Yankees have a winning record against lefties this season, but recently they have been handcuffed in their last 2 lefty outings by Ricky Romero and Jon Lester. And of course the previously mentioned Cliff Lee has done his fair share of kicking the Yankees in the apple bag, so will their struggling offense be able to get on track against what has been their kryptonite of late?
Turning Teix and Jorge around is certainly to the Rangers' benefit, and guys like Berkman and C-Grand have done next to nothing against lefties this year, so there's some lineup juggling that should be done to try to get the lineup going. Which brings us to our last point...
3) What Joe does with the lineup against the 2 lefties
I don't know about you, but I'm done watching Curtis Granderson flail around helplessly like a baby bird at the plate, especially against lefties. At this point, he's more of an offensive liability than a defensive asset when there's a southpaw on the mound, so I would bench his ass for Austin Kearns and stick Brett Gardner in center for these 2 games. If the Yanks have the lead late Joe can stick him in as a defensive replacement and slide Gardner over to left, but there is no reason to have Granderson hitting against lefties with what he's shown this season.
The same could be said for Berkman, despite the fact that he started swinging the bat better at the end of the Boston series. He just doesn't have the numbers to justify being in there against Wilson and Lee, and Marcus Thames has done nothing but mash lefties all year. Thames should get the nod here.
But then comes the issue of Cervelli already being announced as the starting catcher for both games of the series and the bigger issue of Teix being out of the lineup tonight unless his old lady can pop that kid out with the quickness. Frankie catching almost automatically pencils Jorge into the DH spot and Teix being MIA means The BFP is probably in at first. All this adds up to bye-bye, Marcus and means tonight's lineup will look something like this:
Not exactly the A-Team out there but what can you do? If Teix can go, you slot him in at 3 and bump everybody else down 1 to their normal spots until you cross out Berkman at 6. Joe could take a risk and stick Thames in LF to get his bat in over Kearns', but I would hope by now he has learned the lesson of never putting Thames in the field.
I personally would like to see Jorge at first tonight if Teix can't make it and Thames at DH. Now you've got your full compliment of righties in the lineup and Granderson and Berkman on the bench where they belong. I'm sure that won't happen because of all the concerns about Jorge's health, but fuck that. I would want to send a message this series that these cute little upstart Rangers haven't won shit yet and still aren't on the Yankees level. And if that means Jorge takes a liner off his bad knee and the Yanks have to call up The Jesus after to fill in and rake, so fucking be it!
But that's just me...
** Bonus 4th Thing to Watch For: How A.J.'s back holds up tonight.
I know I wouldn't be all that upset if he tweaked it again and had to make a DL trip. Is that wrong to say? Probably. But with Ivan Nova wasting away in Triple-A, I'd rather see him come out and get shelled and chalk it up as a learning experience than watch A.J. get shelled and have to chalk it up to him being a candyass. **
Friday/ALCS Game Five open thread
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