If five years ago, you told a casual fan that the two-time American League champions would be playing in a Yankees-Rangers series in 2012, I would be shocked if that fan would have guessed the Rangers were the victors in 2010 and 2011. The Rangers had been to the playoffs only three times in their fifty-year franchise history before 2010 and they had won only one playoff game (thanks to the late-'90s Yankee dynasty), but surprisingly enough, they went all the way to the World Series in consecutive years in '10 and '11. For a second straight year, they lost one of their finest starters in the rotation (
Hipster C.J. Wilson, to a division rival, no less), but they are an unquestioned contender for another World Series berth in 2012, and the Yankees will likely have to go through Texas if they want to get back to the World Series themselves.
Through 16 games, the Rangers have shown no signs of slowing down; at 13-3, they have the best record in baseball early in the season. Obviously, there is still a ton of season to be played (90.1% to be more precise), but they have looked great so far. The rotation has looked fantastic thus far without Wilson, and their big free-agent signing, Yu Darvish actually has the highest ERA and FIP on the staff so far at a perfectly fine 3.57/3.90. The pitching staff has allowed only 2.62 runs per game (best in baseball), and the offense has scored 5.88 runs per game (second-best in baseball). That combination will lead to a lot of wins in a short amount of time. Despite their early-season success, this team is not indestructible. One of the keys for the Yankees to take this series will be to win the game that their ace is starting, which happens to be tonight: CC Sabathia against World Series hero (and recent recipient of a five-year, $28 million extension) Derek Holland.
Follow the jump to see what the Yankees need to do to beat Holland and get an early on edge on the three-game series at
The Ballpark in Arlington Rangers Ballpark in Arlington.
Monday, April 23, 7:05pm: CC Sabathia vs. Derek Holland
Tuesday, April 24, 8:05 pm: Hiroki Kuroda vs. Yu Darvish
Wednesday, April 25, 8:05 pm: Phil Hughes vs. Scott Feldman
If the Yankees can take tonight's game, then they will be in a good position to take the three-game series. Darvish is still quite early in his major-league career so no one really knows what to expect from him. The punchless Mariners hit him hard in his first start, and the Twins fared well against him too. However, in his most recent start, he held one of the best offenses in the league, the Tigers, to two hits and one run in 6.1 innings. He's a fine pitcher, and it certainly wouldn't shock me to see him do well against the Yankees, especially given the high press attention that game is going to get in Japan and his love of the spotlight. I expect Kuroda to be up to the task as well.If Hughes does indeed pitch on Wednesday (I'd rather they go with Nova since I think the Texas offense and a hitter-friendly park is bad news for Hughes, but alas), I think the game will be a battle of the offenses since Feldman is not exactly a formidable pitcher either. The Rangers have some great hitters, but it's hard to pick against the hard-hitting Yankees in a matchup like that. Regardless, it's safe to say that those two matchups are toss-ups that will probably come down to close plays late in the game.
The game tonight however, is in the Yankees' favor. CC Sabathia hasn't had a bad regular season outing against the Rangers since 2008 and he has shown the ability to handle formidable offenses before. Some fans bring up his shaky 2010 ALCS performance against the team, but while he did not pitch well then, the fact that those games were so late in the season after nearly 250 innings pitched surely had something to do with it. He will be pitching in a warmer climate, where he thrives, and he will not have the many innings on his arm that he did in 2010. Regardless of who he's facing, it's hard to pick against CC Sabathia.
Holland was one of the breakout starts of the 2011 World Series against the St. Louis Cardinals, and his Game 4 pitching performance was one of the finest in the World Series history. Not shabby for a 25-year-old, though he needs to ditch the 'stache. However, while he was great in the World Series, he was not that impressive against the Rays in the ALDS, and he got knocked around twice by the Tigers in the ALCS. He's pitched well in three starts so far, limiting the White Sox, Mariners (lol), and Red Sox to seven runs on 12 hits in just over 20 innings pitched (for those keeping score at home, that's one average offense, one crap-tastic offense, and one good offense). His main pitch, a fastball that's averaged 93.3 mph thus far, generates a lot of strikeouts (8.85 K/9 so far, though it was down to 7.36 K/9 last year).
The Yankees happen to be a good fastball-hitting team though (wFB/C of 1.71 thus far and a still-good 0.8 last year if you want a larger sample size; remember, almost every hitter is the same), and the trio of Derek Jeter, Robinson Cano, and Mark Teixeira have hit him quite hard in limited action (combined .396/.400/.792 in 50 plate appearances). Holland has clearly been a fastball-pitcher in his career thus far (67% fastballs), but unless the Yankees are having a bad day, he's going to need help beating them with his secondary pitches, the curveball and changeup. If he can get them working, it might help against the Yankees, but righties have hit his curve and changeup fairly well to a .272/.339/.426 clip. Since the Yankees are throwing a lineup at him that features only two lefties (Cano and Curtis Granderson), that does not bode well for Mr. Holland.
The Rangers are not an unbeatable foe. The Yankees can make a statement and take an important early-season series against one of their biggest league rivals; the best way to get started on that is to follow the gameplan and beat Derek Holland while their ace is on the mound.