Scouting the ALCS: Four Key Matchups for Rangers vs. Yankees
From a scouting standpoint, these clubs present interesting challenges for each other. There will be numerous matchups that could swing this series one way or another for either club. Let's examine some of those potential matchups.
Phil Hughes vs. Texas
Hughes put the Minnesota Twins to sleep in Game 3 of the Division Series primarily on the strength of his fastball. Odds are he won't be able to use a similar approach against the Texas Rangers. The good news is, he is perfectly capable of changing his approach. Texas did most of its damage against Tampa Bay on the fastball and didn't miss too many mistakes over the heart of the plate.
Hughes gets a lot of outs on his fastball, which sneaks up on hitters at 92-94 mph with his short arm action and big life through the zone. That fastball still won't be an easy task for the Rangers bats, but his curveball and changeup will have to play a much bigger role. There is one particular hitter in the Rangers lineup that right about now would love to see a pitcher primarily throwing fastballs, and that's Josh Hamilton.
If Hamilton doesn't see a steady diet of breaking balls and changeups from Hughes, he is going to do damage. No matter how many bats Hughes can miss with his fastball, Hamilton doesn't miss too many. Despite Hughes' excellent outing against the Twins, his curveball was not dominant like it can be and he went to his changeup only two or the three times. Against the Twins' lineup, that approach works just fine. But Josh Hamilton and the Rangers will be a much different story.
C.J. Wilson vs. New York
You could make the case that C.J. Wilson is the top X-factor in this series, period. Texas has a good shot at taking two games simply on the strength of Cliff Lee's performances. If Wilson can pitch up to his potential and neutralize the Yankee lefties then suddenly the Rangers have a very legitimate chance to steal the whole thing.
Wilson did a superb job following Lee's lead against the Rays, using many of the same patterns, particularly against their right-handed hitters. He'll be facing New York this time around, and he'll have to keep his command in check if he's going to succeed. Most importantly, he has to prove very early on that he can throw his slider and changeup for strikes.
Against most lineups, you can get away with throwing strikes with your fastball and making hitters chase secondary offerings down and out of the zone. It's not quite that simple against the Yankees. Wilson of course doesn't have the pinpoint command of Lee, but he'll have to be very fine with those secondary pitches to keep New York off his fastball.
Texas Bullpen vs. A-Rod
Alex Rodriguez, at this stage in his career, is not catching up to the fastball like he once could. Rodriguez has always been a mistake hitter that would crush the soft stuff, but now more than ever he is especially vulnerable to the good fastball. It just so happens that the Texas Rangers are absolutely loaded when it comes to power arms out of the bullpen.
While still capable of doing damage at any moment, Rodriguez is not the overall force he was last postseason. His hips and lower half are not involved enough in his swing mechanics anymore and he relies far more heavily on his hands and upper body strength at this stage. Because of that, his hands are still good enough on their own to react to mistake off-speed pitches. But if the powerful Texas relievers can pound him along the belt line with the fastball, he's going to have a very difficult time turning them around.
There was also once a time, last year in particular, when throwing a fastball on the outer half to A-Rod was asking for a home run ball into the right-field seats. He doesn't have the luxury of waiting back on those pitches anymore, so there's a bit more of an opening out there now. You'll see the breaking ball from time to time to keep him honest, but expect a steady diet of fastballs from guys like Neftali Feliz and Alexi Ogando to A-Rod throughout the series.
Neftali Feliz vs. New York
This one could cost Texas some games. As usual, what sets the Yankees apart from other clubs is having the presence of Mariano Rivera in their bullpen. Feliz is as talented as they come and has done a fantastic job as a rookie closer this year. But the Yankees are not a favorable matchup for him.
As patient and methodical as the New York lineup can be, they are going to force Feliz into the strike zone with the fastball. They've done a good job in his past appearances against them of making him work and staying off his breaking ball out of the zone. The Yankees do a tremendous job recognizing the breaking ball out of a pitcher's hand, and typically arms that give them trouble are pitchers with changeups or other offerings that make it more difficult to read the spin out of the hand.
If you're going to beat these guys, quite often it takes a higher dose of craftiness rather than overwhelming stuff like Feliz's. This is where the Yankees often do their damage -- late in the ballgame. Feliz will have to be spot on with his fastball command at all times or the ninth inning could consistently be a scary one for the Rangers.
Frankie Piliere spent the last three seasons working as a scout, most recently in the professional scouting department for the Texas Rangers in 2009. He now serves as the National Baseball Analyst here at FanHouse.