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September 29, 1998

Playoff Preview - New York vs. Texas

Our Appraisal of the Yankees/Rangers playoff

by Joe Sheehan

OFFENSE

Yankees
Chuck Knoblauch 2B
Derek Jeter SS
Paul O'Neill RF
Bernie Williams CF
Tino Martinez 1B
Chili Davis or Tim Raines DH
Darryl Strawberry LF
Jorge Posada C
Scott Brosius 3B

Rangers
Tom Goodwin CF
Mark McLemore 2B
Will Clark 1B
Juan Gonzalez RF
Rusty Greer LF
Pudge Rodriguez C
Lee Stevens or Mike Simms DH
Todd Zeile 3B
Royce Clayton SS

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/.445
While 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.

DEFENSE

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.

STARTING PITCHING

Yankees
David Cone
Andy Pettitte
Jumbo Wells
Orlando Hernandez

Rangers
Todd Stottlemyre
Rick Helling
Aaron Sele
John Burkett or Esteban Loaiza

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.

BULLPEN

Yankees
Mariano Rivera
Ramiro Mendoza
Hideki Irabu
Jeff Nelson
Graeme Lloyd
Mike Stanton

Rangers
John Wetteland
Tim Crabtree
Xavier Hernandez
Danny Patterson
Eric Gunderson
Greg Cadaret

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.

BENCH

Yankees
Tim Raines or Chili Davis (whoever isn't starting), Chad Curtis, Shane Spencer, Joe Girardi, Luis Sojo, Homer Bush

Rangers
Mike Simms or Lee Stevens (again, whoever isn't starting), Luis Alicea, Roberto Kelly, Bill Haselman, Domingo Cedeno

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.

OVERALL

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.

Joe Sheehan is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Joe's other articles. You can contact Joe by clicking here

Related Content:  Texas Rangers,  Yankees,  Texas

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MORE BY JOE SHEEHAN
1999-02-26 - AL East Notebook
1999-02-24 - Breakout and Flameout Review
1998-10-06 - Playoff Preview - Cleveland vs. New York
1998-09-29 - Playoff Preview - New York vs. Texas
1998-09-28 - Prospectus Notes
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