McAdam at the ALCS: Lee expected to dominate

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McAdam at the ALCS: Lee expected to dominate

By Sean McAdam
CSNNE.com

NEW YORK -- It would seem impossible to be a bigger postseason focal point than Cliff Lee has become in the last two weeks.

While Saturday's NLCS matchup between Roy Halladay and Tim Lincecum had some wondering if that constituted the greatest playoff pitching pairing in modern history, Lee seemingly doesn't need a prime opponent to command attention.

In July, before he was dealt from the Seattle Mariners to the Texas Rangers, he was the object of a half-dozen team's affections. Three months later, set to start Game Three of the ALCS Monday night against the New York Yankees, he is again the center of the baseball universe.

Lee will be opposed Monday night by Andy Pettitte, who has only won 19 postseason games, more than anyone in the history of the game. But matched against Lee, Pettitte is relegated to a bit player.

That's because Lee's performance in the postseason has been the stuff of legend the last two years. Pitching for the Phillies, he beat the Yankees in Game One of the 2009 World Series.

Two weeks ago, he opened the Rangers' ALDS against Tampa Bay with a stunning seven-inning outing in which he allowed a single run on five hits while striking out 10 and walking none.

In the decisive Game Five of the ALDS, with the Rangers seeking the first playoff series victory in the franchise's history, Lee was, if anything, even better, tossing a complete-game six-hitter and fanning 11.

In seven career postseason starts, Lee is 6-0 with 1.44 ERA. In six of those seven starts, Lee allowed either a run or no runs at all.

Lee's dominance is such that the Rangers' postseason fate seems inexorably tied to him. Unavailable for the first two games of the ALCS thanks to his start in Game Five of the ALDS, Lee can pitch just twice in this series -- Monday night, and should the series be extended, Game Seven. The thinking around the Rangers is that the club need only figure out how to win two of the other five games.

"There's been talk about Cliff Lee before he even started this series,'' noted Yankee manager Joe Girardi, "and people were talking about Game Three.''

It's as if Lee's scheduled starts are widely seen as de-facto wins for Texas.

That sort of pressure might overwhelm, but not Lee, who appeared relaxed and confident in meeting with the media.

His manager, Ron Washington, worries that too much is expected of him.

"He has good stuff and on any given night, if it's working, he can be successful,'' said Washington. "But he's human . . . I don't think he can do anything about the hype.''

While Lee has exceptional stuff, it's not his stuff which enables him to toy with All-Star lineups. Rather, it's his otherworldly command. In his seven career postseason starts, Lee boasts a 54-to-6 strikeout-to-walk ratio.

Hitters often find themselves in a no-win proposition. If they take a selective approach against the lefty, they quickly find themselves behind in the count and even more at Lee's mercy than usual. If they're more aggressive, swinging at pitches early in the count, they're doing Lee a favor of another sort, since he seldom offers anything to hit in the heart of the strike zone.

"It's pick your poison with that guy,'' marveled an American League scout recently. "Either way, he's got you.''

That Lee is about to face the Yankees is more than a little ironic. In July, New York GM Brian Cashman was confident he had put together the right package of prospects -- led by highly-touted catcher Jesus Montero -- that he told several associates that Lee was Bronx-bound.

At the 11th hour, however, the Mariners withdrew, either spooked by an injury to another prospect in the deal, or won over by an improved package offered by the Rangers.

Part of Cashman's motivation to land Lee at the deadline, quite apart by the obvious allure of adding a pitcher of Lee's caliber, was the desire to not face him in the postseason.

Now, three wins shy of repeating as American League champions, that's precisely what the Yankees must do Monday night as the ALCS shifts to New York.

Moreover, unless the Yanks can fit those three wins into the next four games, they face the even more unattractive prospect of facing Lee a second time in the series -- this time, in a winner-take-all Game Seven, in Texas.

Adding further intrigue is the game-wide assumption that Lee, who has been with four teams in the last 16 months (Cleveland, Philadelphia, Seattle and Texas), will sign with the Yankees when he becomes eligible for free agency next month.

In an otherwise thin free agent class for starters, Lee is clearly the biggest prize. His postseason success is only further enhancing his market value -- to the degree that's possible.

The Yankees, thwarted in July, are not about to be denied a second time this winter, especially if the pursuit is only about dollars.

But that's for later. Monday night, Lee again has the spotlight. There's a good chance it will remain on him as long as his team remains in the postseason.

"He's Cliff Lee,'' said Washington. "He's that guy that people expect to throw amazing ballgames.''

And anything else, fair or not, will be seen as this postseason's biggest upset.

Sean McAdam can be reached at smcadam@comcastsportsnet.com. Follow Sean on Twitter at http:twitter.comsean_mcadam.

New MLB labor deal: All-Star Game no longer determines home field in World Series

New MLB labor deal: All-Star Game no longer determines home field in World Series

IRVING, Texas -- Baseball players and owners reached a tentative agreement on a five-year labor contract Wednesday night, a deal that will extend the sport's industrial peace to 26 years since the ruinous fights in the first two decades of free agency.

After days of near round-the-clock talks, negotiators reached a verbal agreement about 3 1/2 hours before the expiration of the current pact. Then they worked to draft a memorandum of understanding, which must be ratified by both sides.

"It's great! Another five years of uninterrupted baseball," Oakland catcher Stephen Vogt said in a text message.

In announcing the agreement, Major League Baseball and the players' association said they will make specific terms available when drafting is complete.

"Happy it's done, and baseball is back on," Los Angeles Dodgers pitcher Brandon McCarthy said.

As part of the deal, the experiment of having the All-Star Game determine which league gets home-field advantage in the World Series will end after 14 years, a person familiar with the agreement told The Associated Press. The person spoke on condition of anonymity because the deal had not yet been signed.

Instead, the pennant winner with the better regular-season record will open the Series at home.

Another important change: The minimum time for a stint on the disabled list will be reduced from 15 days to 10.

The luxury tax threshold rises from $189 million to $195 million next year, $197 million in 2018, $206 million in 2019, $209 million in 2020 and $210 million in 2021.

Tax rates increase from 17.5 percent to 20 percent for first offenders, remain at 30 percent for second offenders and rise from 40 percent to 50 percent for third offenders. There is a new surtax of 12 percent for teams $20 million to $40 million above the threshold, 42.5 percent for first offenders more than $40 million above the threshold and 45 percent for subsequent offenders more than $40 million above.

Union head Tony Clark, presiding over a negotiation for the first time, said in a statement the deal "will benefit all involved in the game and leaves the game better for those who follow."

Key changes involve the qualifying offers clubs can make to their former players after they become free agents - the figure was $17.2 million this year. If a player turns down the offer and signs elsewhere, his new team forfeits an amateur draft pick, which usually had been in the first round under the old deal.

Under the new rules, a player can receive a qualifying offer only once in his career and will have 10 days to consider it instead of seven. A club signing a player who declined a qualifying offer would lose its third-highest amateur draft pick if it is a revenue-sharing receiver, its second- and fifth-highest picks (plus a loss of $1 million in its international draft pool) if it pays luxury tax for the just-ended season, and its second-highest pick (plus $500,000 in the international draft pool) if it is any other team.

A club losing a free agent who passed up a qualifying offer would receive an extra selection after the first round of the next draft if the player signed a contract for $50 million or more and after competitive balance round B if under $50 million. However, if that team pays luxury tax, the extra draft pick would drop to after the fourth round.

Among other details:

-For a team $40 million or more in excess of the luxury tax threshold, its highest selection in the next amateur draft will drop 10 places.

-While management failed to obtain an international draft of amateurs residing outside the U.S., Puerto Rico and Canada, it did get a hard cap on each team's annual bonus pool for those players starting at $4.75 million for the signing period that begins next July 2.

-There is no change to limits on active rosters, which remain at 25 for most of the season and 40 from Sept. 1 on.

-Smokeless tobacco will be banned for all new players, those who currently do not have at least one day of major league service.

-The regular season will expand from 183 days to 187 starting in 2018, creating four more scheduled off days. There are additional limitations on the start times of night games on getaway days.

-The minimum salary rises from $507,500 to $535,000 next year, $545,000 in 2018 and $555,000 in 2019, with cost-of-living increases the following two years; the minor league minimum for a player appearing on the 40-man roster for at least the second time goes up from $82,700 to $86,500 next year, $88,000 in 2018 and $89,500 in 2019, followed by cost-of-living raises.

-The drop-off in slot values in the first round of the amateur draft will be lessened.

-Oakland's revenue-sharing funds will be cut to 75 percent next year, 50 percent in 2018, 25 percent in 2019 and then phased out.

-As part of the drug agreement, there will be increased testing, players will not be credited with major league service time during suspensions, and biomarker testing for HGH will begin next year.

Negotiators met through most of Tuesday night in an effort to increase momentum in the talks, which began during spring training. This is the third straight time the sides reached a new agreement before the old contract expired, but a deal was struck eight weeks in advance in 2006 and three weeks ahead of expiration in 2011.

Talks took place at a hotel outside Dallas where the players' association held its annual executive board meeting.

Clark, the first former player to serve as executive director of the union, and others set up in a meeting room within earshot of a children's choir practicing Christmas carols. A man dressed as Santa Claus waited nearby.

Baseball had eight work stoppages from 1972-95, the last a 7 1/2-month strike in 1994-95 that led to the first cancellation of the World Series in 90 years. The 2002 agreement was reached after players authorized a strike and about 3 1/2 hours before the first game that would have been impacted by a walkout.

The peace in baseball is in contrast to the recent labor histories of other major sports. The NFL had a preseason lockout in 2011, the NBA lost 240 games to a lockout that same year and the NHL lost 510 games to a lockout in 2012-13.