After edging out the Tampa Bay Rays in the ALDS, the Texas Rangers came into the ALCS looking like a hobbled gunslinger gearing up for a showdown with the fastest gun in the American League. In the end, the Yankees didn’t even get their gun out of their holster. Let’s take a look at what we learned about the new AL champs in the 2010 ALCS:
-Cliff Lee is a god. Okay, we may have already known this, but in the most over-hyped pitching performance of his career, Lee delivered. The lead-up to Game 3 was so over-the-top that the soft-spoken Arkansan was almost set up for failure. Instead he delivered. Lee only knows what a face-off with Tim Lincecum will be hyped up to.
-Josh Hamilton is just fine. The worries that his ribs weren’t 100% were valid and may have even been true, but the point seems to be moot now: the ALCS MVP had an otherworldly series (.350/.536/1.000 with 4 HR and 7 RBI). The Rays managed to shut him down in the Division Series by feeding him a steady diet of offspeed stuff and breaking pitches, a strategy the Yankees periodically attempted to emulate, but Hamilton proved this time that there’s not a glaring weakness in his game right now. The man even managed to wreak havoc when being intentionally walked. That’s domination.
-Starting pitching is still a concern. Starters not named Cliff Lee held the anemic Yankee offense to a 4.34 ERA in 29 innings of work, which isn’t bad, especially with the Rangers explosive offense, but that number is the result of a couple bad games and a fantastic one. You don’t get a trophy for averaging a good number, you get a trophy for winning games, and the Rangers starting pitching staff hasn’t shown they can shut down a lineup.
The two C.J. Wilsons that showed up in this series were the ones you saw in the regular season: when he can get the ball over the plate, he’s terrific. When he can’t…he’s A.J. Burnett, and the Rangers know just how beatable that guy is. Tommy Hunter was Tommy Hunter and kept his team in the game when he left it, while Colby Lewis was shut-down in his last start, but not in his first. Working in the Rangers favor? They don’t have to face the Yankee lineup in the World Series, so maybe their rotation can turn in more good performances than bad.
-The bullpen is resilient. In order for the Rangers to win this series, they needed something with the Yankees to go wrong. In Game 1, they got it: CC Sabathia wasn’t pitching like the ace the Yanks needed him to be. It just wasn’t the best series for guys with abbreviated first names. One bullpen meltdown and twenty Ron Washington trips to the mound later, it looked like even when something went wrong the Yankees were still going to win.
After the meltdown, the bullpen was on lockdown, giving the Yankees the Mariano Rivera treatment for the rest of the series, surrendering only 1 run in 16 innings of work for a 0.56 ERA. Wow. Before the series, Ron Washington’s decision to stock the bullpens with more lefties than a Nancy Pelosi lookalike contest was widely panned, but he used them early, often, and effectively to shut down the Yankees, especially leaning on the 24 year-old Derek Holland, who did not give up a run in the series. If that bullpen success can continue into the World Series, the Rangers will have no problems. But that’s tough to sustain unless you are Mariano Rivera, and even his ERA balloons to 0.73.
-The Rangers have a good chance. The road they had to go through was tough: two of the fiercest, best teams in the AL with playoff experience and success, but they came through the other side victorious. Now pitted against the Giants in their franchise’s first playoff run, the Rangers will look to feed off of the energy they’ve tapped into so well so far and continue their improbable run.