Wednesday, October 13, 2010

ALCS Breakdown: Benches & Bullpens

Yankee Bench:

Should be more of the same of what we saw in the division series, which wasn't much.  Whoever isn't in the lineup from the Marcus Thames-Lance Berkman DH platoon looms as a big late-game situational pinch hitter possibility, and that's really the extent of the major contributors.  Ramiro Pena is only there for injury insurance and Greg Golson will be the token "late-game RF defensive replacement/ pinch runner" guy and neither should see an at-bat if all goes to planned.  The one guy who could see some more time is Francisco Cervelli.  He caught A.J. today in his simulated game session and since we already know A.J. is getting a start, that gives Cervelli a chance to be in the lineup when he pitches.  If that happens, expect Jorge to DH that game and both Thames and Berkman will be on the bench to pinch hit for Cervelli late.  If Austin Kearns makes the cut for this round I would be shocked. 

Texas Bench:

This crew is a little deeper and a little more talented than the Yankee bench if you do a side-by-side comparison, and also received more playing time in the division series.  Ron Washington tinkered with his lineup almost every game and as a result 13 of the 15 position players on the ALDS roster got at least one at-bat.  Murphy, Borbon, and Francoeur are a 3-man platoon in left field with none being definitively better than the other.  Jorge Cantu could step in at first base for Mitch Moreland if Moreland struggles as he has far more experience and some past success as an everyday player, and Matt Treanor is a capable backup catcher.  The Rangers would be insane to only carry 10 pitchers for this series, so expect to see Andres Blanco or Esteban German or both off the roster for the ALCS.

Yankee Bullpen:

The pecking order has been clearly established after the ALDS.  Mo is at the top of the food chain with Kerry Wood slotted into the 8th-inning role, D-Rob and Boone Logan acting as the 6th- and 7th-inning bridges, and Joba being the next in line depending on situation and who is being rested.  Mitre will still be the main long man and Dustin Moseley will be the "use only in case of emergency (or blowout loss)" guy.  As we discussed here yesterday, adding Royce Ring or Ivan Nova for more depth would be a good move.

Texas Bullpen:

After being strong all season, the Ranger 'pen was more than a little shaky in the division series.  Only right-hander Darren O'Day had any success to speak of (2 IP, 0 runs allowed, 4 Ks).  Darren Oliver is a veteran the Yankees have seen before who they can use for one batter or multiple innings if needed, although his stuff isn't what it used to be.  Righty Dustin Nippert is a walking batting practice pitcher whose crummy regular season peripherals (1.68 WHIP, 1.38 K/BB ratio) translated over into his one disastrous ALDS appearance, and Alexi Ogando is an unknown commodity in terms of handling pressure situations.  Lefty Derek Holland has had a tough time transitioning from being a starter to a reliever so far, allowing 6 hits in 4.2 innings of work.

But perhaps the biggest question mark of all is closer Neftali Feliz, who has not looked sharp in either of his outings so far this postseason, walking the first 2 batters he faced in Game 1 of the ALDS and then completely melting down and blowing the lead in Game 3 before being taken out after retiring only 1 batter.  He also has the memory of his blown save and loss on August 11 against the Yankees to chew on while he tries to get his shit together for this series.  Feliz's recent struggles and the lack of a dominant lefty to match up with the Yankees big lefty hitters should both be huge causes for concern for Ron Washington and Ranger fans.

I'd Like To Say I'm Surprised...

... but with the way A.J.'s season has gone this year, it almost feels like I should have been expecting this to happen: 

"Pitching this afternoon in a simulated game in The Bronx, Burnett hit the first batter he faced, teammate Greg Golson, in the arm." (via the NY Post)

Jesus Christ on the cross, you have to be kidding me.  I might leave work early today to start stocking up on beer for A.J.'s start, be it Game 4 or 5.  Something tells me a standard 6-pack or even a 12er ain't going to be enough.

 ** UPDATE- 4:13PM: "It doesn’t more real than this: A.J. Burnett plunked two batters today. He got Greg Golson early, then he hit Austin Kearns late." (via LoHud)

And the list of beer to be purchased continues to grow.  If I don't blog anything after Burnett's start, you'll know why...

ALCS Breakdown: Lineups & Rotations

Thanks to Cliff Lee and Ian Kinsler we now know who the Yanks have to face to get back to the World Series.  If the regular season was any indication, it should be a very close series.  Let's take a look at the matchups, eh?

Yankee Lineup:

We all know the drill now after the last series.  The Yankee lineup is deep, talented, patient, and has the flexibility to match up well with any pitcher, regardless of which hand he throws with.  There really are no weak spots or easy outs anywhere 1-9, and even with Derek Jeter and Brett Gardner not showing a lot of pop in their bats in the ALDS, they can still work counts, they can still put the ball in play, and they are both adept at going the other way.  When you can do those things well, there is always the potential for good things to happen.  The Yankee lineup also showed it's ability to score runs however they have to, either by mashing (Teix, Berkman, Thames) or by playing smallball, stealing bases, sacrificing, and stringing hits together (C-Grand, Gardner, Jeter).  And if The Horse gets hot in this series, watch out. 

Texas Lineup:

One of the few lineups that can stack up with that of the Yankees in terms of power and talent, the Rangers can run out a 1-6 that is just as dangerous on paper as anybody's with Elvis Andrus, Michael Young, Josh Hamilton, Vlad Guerrero, Nelson Cruz, and Ian Kinsler.  But the Ranger lineup does have a soft underbelly when you get to the 7-9 spots, as the combination of Mitch Moreland, David Murphy, Julio Borbon, Jeff Francoeur, Bengie Molina, and Jorge Cantu doesn't strike fear into the hearts of anybody and didn't hit particularly well against Tampa.  When you look at the numbers, there really wasn't a lot of production from the Texas lineup as a whole outside of Cruz and Kinsler, who combined to go 16-38 with 2 2Bs, 6 HRs, and 9 RBIs in the division series.  Hamilton, Guerrero, and Young will need to pick it up if the Rangers plan to hit with the Yankees over 7 games. 

Yankee Rotation:

 We know it's going to be CC, Andy, Phil, and A.J. in some combination, most likely from one of these 2 scenarios, and we know CC will be starting Game 1.  He was the weakest performer of the 3 that started in the division series, but should rebound against Texas, especially if he pitches on shorter rest, something he has excelled at throughout his career.  If Pettitte and Hughes can come close to matching what they did against Minnesota, that should be enough to overcome the potential A.J. meltdown in Game 4 or Game 5 that will linger over this series like a burrito fart in a small apartment.  These 4 had mixed results against the Rangers in the regular season, so it will be interesting to see how they approach the Ranger lineup.

Texas Rotation:

Thanks to their series against Tampa going the distance, the Yankees won't have to face Cliff Lee until Game 3.  The downside of that, though, is that he would line up to pitch Game 7 if it came to that.  The rest of the Texas rotation (C.J. Wilson, Colby Lewis, and Tommy Hunter) pitched well in the ALDS, but didn't provide a whole lot of length.  Wilson lasted just 6.1 innings despite being very effective, and Lewis and Hunter only combined for 9 innings in their 2 starts.  All 3 have swing-and-miss stuff, but aren't particularly efficient.  They will make mistakes in the zone and they will walk people, which are 2 things that get you in big trouble against the Yankee lineup.  It will be interesting to see what Ron Washington does with Cliff Lee if his team faces elimination in a Game 6.