Monday, October 18, 2010

ALCS Game 3 Preview: Lefty-Lefty And Lee's Audition

Pitching Matchup: Pettitte (1-0) vs. Lee (2-0)

Starting Lineups:

NY: Jeter- SS, Swish- RF, Teix- 1B, A-Rod- 3B, Cano- 2B, Thames- DH, Posada- C, C-Grand- CF, Gardner- LF

TX (most likely, even though I haven't been right once yet): Andrus- SS, Young- 3B, Hamilton- CF, Vlad- DH, Cruz- LF, Kinsler- 2B, Francoeur- RF, Molina- C, Moreland- 1B

3 Things To Watch For:

1) Which Struggling Power Hitter Breaks Out

While there have been plenty of timely hits on both sides so far this series, there are still a number of guys who haven't looked sharp.  For the Rangers it's cleanup hitter Vlad Guerrero, who is just 1-9 through the first 2 games with 3 Ks and 0 RBIs.  He's been fed a steady diet of away stuff from the Yankee staff and hasn't been able to come up with a counterattack to it yet.  For the Yankees, Mark Teixeira has started off 0-8 in the first 2 games with a strikeout and 0 RBIS and he's looked awful doing it, swinging early in the count and putting a lot of bad swings on a lot of hittable pitches.  Also worth noting is that the combination of Jorge, Swish, and The Horse are 4-24 so far with just 2 RBIs (both on A-Rod's Game 1 single) and 8 Ks.  One of these guys has to break out eventually, and if it can happen tonight it will be a big boost to either team as runs should be hard to come by.

2) Andy's Cutter

Andy wasn't particularly sharp early in his Game 2 ALDS start, but after retreating to watch tape with Dave Eiland after the 2nd inning, he was a different pitcher for the rest of the game, establishing great command of his fastball and cutter and utilizing them both to get ahead in the count and set up his slider as his out pitch.  As a pitch that can be very effective against righties and lefties, the cutter will be the key to Pettitte's success tonight.  If he can team it up with his fastball and locate it to both sides of the plate, it will help mix up his approach and keep the Rangers' hitters guessing.  If he doesn't have command of it, it's one less pitch they have to be concerned about and they can key in on the fastball and slider depending on the count.

3) Yanks' Aggressiveness Against Lee

By now the Yankees and everybody else in the world should know what to expect from Cliff Lee.  He, like Pettitte, mixes his pitches well and works both sides of the plate.  He also throws a lot of strikes early in the count to get ahead and set up his out pitches, so if you don't swing early, chances are you aren't going to get anything good to hit later on in the at-bat.  Here's how his numbers against look from the regular season depending on the count:

- at 0-0:     .348 BA, .825 OPS in 115 ABs
- after 1-0: .219 BA, .613 OPS in 237 ABs
- after 0-1: .223 BA, .563 OPS in 462 ABs
- after 1-1: .227 BA, .592 OPS in 283 ABs
- after 0-2: .158 BA, .394 OPS in 215 ABs
- after 2-0: .231 BA, .782 OPS in 52 ABs

What that tells you is that the earlier you swing against Lee, the better off you're going to be.  Hitters were effective swinging on the first pitch against him, and there was much more success swinging in 1- or 2-ball counts (which were far fewer than their 1- or 2-strike counterparts) than when Lee was able to throw an early strike.  Once he has 2 strikes on you it's pretty much over from there, and his numbers in 3-0 or 3-1 counts aren't worth mentioning because he rarely makes it to that count, so clearly it behooves the Yankees to swing early in the at-bats tonight rather than sit there patiently and let Lee kill them with early strikes.  Both the hitters and Joe Girardi have talked about their approach against Lee tonight and how they know they have to take their hacks against him, it's just a matter of them doing it.  The numbers show that if you do it early, you have a chance against him.

Player To Watch: Mark Teixeira

After a strong start to the postseason in Game 1 of the ALDS, Teix's swing and production have abandoned him and he's off to an 0-fer so far in the ALCS.  He's only struck out once in 8 at-bats and also has 2 walks to his credit, so it's not like he's not seeing the ball or getting fooled, his timing and balance at the plate just seems a bit off.  Teix has gotten some very good pitches to hit and hasn't been able to do anything with them other than pop them up, a sign that he's reaching a bit too much in his swing and his hands and hips are not in tune.  I'm sure Kevin Long has noticed this too and hopefully they worked on getting everything back in unison on the off-day workout yesterday.  The Yanks need Teix to produce moving forward, especially with everybody else not named Robinson Cano struggling in the middle of the order.  He's getting turned around to hit righty tonight, but watch his swings early.  If he's putting good wood on the ball, even if he makes outs, that'll be a good sign that he's starting to get back to where he needs to be to do some damage in this series.

It's another lefty-lefty pitching matchup tonight, and so far the Yanks are 3-0 in those this postseason.  This one tonight features arguably the greatest postseason pitcher of all-time against arguably the greatest postseason pitcher of the last few years.  Pettitte is the Yankee stopper and Lee is the Yankee killer, and underneath the importance of tonight's outcome is the "Lee to the Yankees in 2011" storyline.  If Lee comes out and dominates again, it could be the tipping point in them deciding to go all out for him in the offseason.  A.J. got his big contract on his pitching well against the Bombers in the past, so there is something to be said for the Yankee brass being enamored with guys who kick their ass.  In any case, tonight could be a classic pitchers' duel, with both guys using similar methods to gain success.  Whoever can execute that method better should put a "W" up for his team.

That Answers That Question

I'm a little late on this breaking news, but I guess we can all put the rumors about who's starting Game 4 and Game 5 to bed now.

The forecast is now looking better for Tuesday night. So A.J. Burnett is your Game 4 starter, barring something unforeseen at this point.
“He’s going to get the ball,” Brian Cashman said. “He’s capable of doing a good job and we believe he’s going to do a good job.”
Cashman said no discussions about changes have taken place since the rotation was set for the series. The Yankees don’t want to have to push up everyone else on short rest. (via LoHud)

Cashman also said he believed in the existence of the Tooth Fairy, Santa Clause, the Easter Bunny, the Loch Ness Monster, Bigfoot, and the Chupacabra.  He also said he believed that there was no second gunman on the grassy knoll, the moon landing was faked, Diet Dr. Pepper really does taste just as good as regular Dr. Pepper, and the Jews and aliens from another faraway galaxy are secretly working together to run the world.

It's easy to say that A.J. is getting the start today, before Game 3 has been played, but color me unconvinced for now until we see how Game 3 plays out.  Are Cash and Joe really willing to let A.J. go out there with a 2-game lead or deficit in the series on the line?  I know I sure as shit wouldn't be.