September 29, 1998
Playoff Preview - New York vs. Texas
Our Appraisal of the Yankees/Rangers playoff
The #1 and #2 teams in runs scored in the AL meet in a best-of-five. The Yankees have fewer holes in the lineup, although look for Joe Girardi to get at least one more start than he deserves, hampering its effectiveness; the Yanks get the nod here for completeness (no Clayton, Goodwin or McLemore; the latter two in particular have reverted to their proven mediocrity after strong starts). However, Joe Torre seems intent on giving Texas a shot, naming Andy Pettitte to start game two over David Cone or Orlando Hernandez. Check this out:
Texas vs. LHP: .316/.379/.506 Texas vs. RHP: .278/.349/.445While Texas does have some good left-handed production in Will Clark and Rusty Greer, they have really smacked left-handed pitching around for a few years now. To go with a struggling Andy Pettitte over David Cone is a bit inexplicable to me, and could really backfire if the Rangers pull out the first game.
Overall, the Yankees have the better lineup, but both teams can put runs on the board.
A mixed bag for both teams. Texas' midseason trade brought them Royce Clayton, an excellent shortstop, and Todd Zeile, a notional third baseman. Featuring Clayton, along with Ivan Rodriguez and Tom Goodwin, the Rangers have a strong interior defense. Juan Gonzalez is not an asset, however, and Will Clark has been worn down the last few years. Goodwin's arm can be run on all day.
The Yankees have some overrated defenders in Derek Jeter, Paul O'Neill and Tino Martinez. However, Scott Brosius is a very good third baseman and Jorge Posada has an excellent arm (although he blocks the plate even worse than Girardi, if that's possible). Overall, the teams' defenses are a wash.
There's been plenty of ink and oxygen wasted on the "resurgence" of the Texas rotation, primarily thanks to their sterling performance (25 IP, 2 ER) against the Angels in the last week of the season. But this is really the Rangers' soft spot. Stottlemyre is hitting his stride, but Rick Helling and Aaron Sele, despite good Septembers, are way past their previous career-high workloads and were ridden hard down the stretch. Not to mention that they really haven't been all that special to start with. John Burkett shouldn't be starting.
The Yankees' big advantage all season has been their rotation depth, something that, again, loses its luster in a best-of-five. They don't have a Pedro Martinez or Randy Johnson, a pitcher who you fear facing twice in five games, but they do expect a quality outing each game. Solid advantage here for the Yankees, with the caveat that all it takes is a few bad innings to give it away.
Two years ago, the Yankees beat the Rangers in the Division Series on the strength of their middle relief, while beating up on the Mike Hennemans and Ed Vosbergs the Rangers were dragged in with them. If this series is decided in the middle innings, the Yankees will again have a clear advantage, as they bolster a solid pen with rotation leftover Hideki Irabu. The Rangers have upgraded their relief, and the underrated Tim Crabtree was very effective down the stretch, but this is not where Texas can count on winning games.
As we pointed out a few weeks back, Texas' bench has been a relatively unheralded key to the team's success. In fact, they're one of the few teams with stronger bench than the Yankees, who have chosen to populate the dugout with Joe Girardi and Luis Sojo (Homer Bush, a frequent target of abuse, is actually well-suited to his pinch-runner/blowout caddy role, making him a relative asset.)
That said, in a short series in a DH league, bench strength is not a very large factor. Aside from each team's DH platoon, don't expect Johnny Oates or Torre to make many in-game moves.
Predicting a best-of-five series is folly. The Yankees should win, but throwing two lefties to start the series gives Texas a better chance than you'd expect. I'm going to stick with Yankees in three, because I think the games will be high-scoring and won with the bullpens, but I'd like to be more confident in the prediction.