Only three teams in baseball have a better record than the American League West-leading Texas Rangers. The Yankees, who have the game’s best record, are of course one of them, which makes this week’s two game set in Arlington both very compelling and simultaneously disappointingly brief. That’s now further complicated by the fact that Mark Teixeira is currently on paternity leave from the team in anticipation of the birth of his third child. So as much as we might like to build up this series, I don’t think we can consider it a true playoff preview.
Still, the Yankees haven’t played the Rangers since the second week of the season, so this will be a chance for Yankee fans–not to mention their players, coaches and scouts–to get a good look at a potential playoff rival. That the Yankees will get, as they’ll be facing the Rangers’ top two starters, July addition Cliff Lee and converted reliever C.J. Wilson, both left-handers. So much for the Yankees “avoiding” Lee when he was traded prior to his scheduled start against them in Seattle just before the All-Star break.
Lee, who starts against Javier Vazquez tomorrow, has made six starts for the Rangers, four of which were dominating (minimum eight innings pitched, maximum two runs allowed, and a total of one walk and one home run allowed against 31 strikeouts). In his other two he also went deep (he’s completed at least eight innings in all six of his Rangers starts), but gave up a few too many runs along the way, taking the loss each time. Surprisingly, Lee has received just 2.5 runs of support on average since joining the Rangers, that after leaving the worst run scoring team in the majors for one of the top four.
Wilson, who faces A.J. Burnett tonight, has been very impressive in his transition to the rotation. He posted a 1.48 ERA in his first seven starts before experiencing a four-start slump (possibly a dead-arm period). After pulling out of that, he posted a 2.54 ERA over his next starts before turning in a three-inning stinker his last time out. Wilson has been hit-lucky (.255 BABIP), but his low line-drive rate suggests that has been a bit more than luck. Still, he leads the AL in walks and is close to doubling his innings total from last year. Wilson wasn’t moved to the bullpen until arriving in the majors in 2005, but entering the year, his career high in innings was the 136 he threw as a 21-year-old minor leaguer in 2002. He enters tonight’s start having thrown 136 1/3 innings this season and one wonders when and if he’s going to hit a wall and what effect that will have on the Rangers’ postseason rotation and postseason chances.
As for Burnett, he was scratched from his start on Sunday due to back spasms, which is a new item in his career-long list of minor aches and pains. Prior to that he had been lit up by the Blue Jays, coughing up seven runs in a disastrous fifth inning on August 2. Since opening the season 4-0 with a 1.99 ERA after six starts, Burnett hasn’t gone more than two starts without a disaster outing and has posted a 6.33 ERA over his last 16 starts, but at least he’s only 33 and signed for three more years. Oy.
With Teixeira away and Robinson Cano out with a cold, Joe Girardi is running out this lineup against the lefty Wilson:
R – Derek Jeter (SS)
S – Nick Swisher (RF)
R – Marcus Thames (DH)
R – Alex Rodriguez (3B)
R – Austin Kearns (LF)
S – Lance Berkman (1B)
R – Francisco Cervelli (C)
L – Brett Gardner (CF)
S – Ramiro Peña (2B)
Let’s just say I’m not too optimistic about this game. The bright side is that this is so far from what the Yankees will likely look like in a potential playoff series as to be meaningless beyond tonight.