Friday, October 15, 2010

ALCS Game 1 Preview: Battle Of The Initials

Pitching Matchup: Sabathia (1-0) vs. Wilson (1-0)


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

TX (Most Likely): Andrus- SS, Young- 3B, Hamilton- CF, Vlad- DH, Cruz- RF, Kinsler- 2B, Francoeur- LF, Treanor- C, Moreland- 1B

3 Things To Watch For:

1) C.J. Wilson's Ability To Throw Strike 1

C.J. Wilson is a good pitcher, no doubt about it.  If the Rangers can't have Cliff Lee on the hill to start a series then he's the clear cut 2nd best option.  But the guy does have trouble finding the strike zone sometime, evidenced by his AL-leading 93 walks in the regular season and associated 4.1 BB/9 rate that goes with it.  Part of Wilson's issue in the regular season was his inability to throw strike 1.  His 1st-pitch strike percentage of 54% was 5 points below the MLB average of 59%.  For the record, his overall strike percentage of 60% was also below the MLB average of 63%.

The Yankees are a patient team and showed how they can wear down pitchers and drive up pitch counts against the Twins in the division series and those guys all throw strikes like it's going out of style.  Wilson's tendency to lose the zone and fall behind in counts plays right into their hands, so it's important for him to throw strike 1 early and not after a 2-0 or 3-0 count.  The Yankees are most likely going to be taking all day the first time through the lineup, so Wilson can get ahead if he willingly throws first-pitch fastballs for strikes.  If he doesn't or can't do that, don't expect the Yankees to change their approach, as they've already touched him up a few times this year following their usual formula.

2) CC's Slider

By now we've covered CC's struggles with his command in Game 1 of the ALDS and attributed it to the long layoff between starts.  He faces another long layoff before hitting the rubber tonight, but he tried to counteract that by throwing an extra bullpen session.  We all know that CC likes to use his fastball to set everything up, so that will be priority number 1 for him to establish.  But when his slider is on, it's a devastating, almost unhittable pitch for anybody, dropping off and away to lefties and sweeping down hard to the back foot of righties.  In Game 1 against the Twins it was not devastating at all.  In fact, I don't think he threw a single one for a strike in that struggle of a 6th inning when he started walking everybody.

Pay attention early to how many sliders CC throws and where they are locating.  In Game 1 he was either to far up in the zone with them where they were being fouled off or hit into left for singles or they either started so low in the zone that they were already balls by the time they started to break closer to the plate.  If he has it tonight, it will start about thigh-to-knee high and then drop off the table late.  If that's what the slider is doing and he has it early, expect to see it a lot as his out pitch and expect a long night for the Ranger hitters.

3) C-Grand's Hot Streak

Curtis Granderson was arguably the MVP of the ALDS.  He went 5-11 for a .455/.500/.727 tripleslash with 2 XBH, 2 runs scored, 3 RBIs, 1 BB, and a SB for good measure.  He handled righties, lefties, and probably could have gotten a hit off a guy throwing 2 balls at him at once.  He saw the ball incredibly well, laid off every bad pitch, and swung at the good ones, making solid contact almost every time, even on the outs he made.

The question is, can he keep that up in this next series after having almost a week to cool off?  He looked good against the Twins' lefties but Wilson and Cliff Lee are different pitchers and C-Grand has no history of success against either.  If he's still seeing the ball well and being patient at the plate, we'll be able to tell early tonight against Wilson.  If he's keeping his hands back and staying with the ball through the zone, then he's still locked in.  If he's reaching and his timing is off, then he's up there guessing.  Granderson staying hot will be a big boost to the lineup and will give the Rangers' righties something to think about for Game 2 and Game 4, so it's important for him to keep the momentum rolling and get off to a strong start tonight.

Player To Watch: Josh Hamilton

Josh Hamilton is the best player on the Texas Rangers, the likely MVP of the American League, and possibly the best all-around player in baseball.  When he's on, he's next to impossible to get out.  But he went just 2-18 in the ALDS against Tampa and certainly didn't look like himself.  His timing was off at the plate, most likely due to his extended absence with the rib injury, and he was beat constantly on off-speed stuff away.

I believe he is still suffering some effects of the rib injury and that explains why his swing is off, so pay attention to both the swing and how CC approaches him tonight.  If he's feeling better and his timing and swing are back, he can put any pitch anywhere in the park, and if we see that from him at the plate tonight, it's a big boost for the Ranger lineup and a big obstacle for the Yankees to have to deal with going forward in the series.  I would stick with a lot of off-speed stuff away since it worked for David Price and try to take away his pull power by forcing him to go the other way, at least until Hamilton proves he can do something with it.

So it's CC against C.J. in Game 1, another lefty-lefty pitching matchup.  Each team went 2-0 in those type of matchups in the ALDS so something has to give tonight.  It's the most decorated team in baseball history with the most championships against a team who is just coming off their first postseason victory in franchise history, and it starts in the Texas heat so let's fire this sonofabitch up.