By Sean McAdam
ARLINGTON, Texas -- When it comes to pedigree, the American League Championship Series is no contest: The New York Yankees have won an astounding 40 American League pennants while the Texas Rangers are fresh off their only postseason series victory in franchise history.
Still, past accomplishments aside, this figures to be a compelling series. During the regular season, the two teams split eight games.
The Rangers will have home-field advantage, though the exact edge gained there is questionable. In their respective Division Series, the Rangers lost both home games and won all three road games while the Yankees won their two road games.
A look at the keys for both teams:
THREE KEYS FOR THE YANKEES:
1) Have CC Sabathia dominate.
Sabathia was the unquestioned MVP for the Yankees last October, when he continually took the ball on short rest and pitched the Yanks to a title.
The Yankees won't be asking as much from him this year, but his starts are still must-wins for the defending champs because of the uncertainty surrounding the rest of the rotation.
Andy Pettitte seemed to answer any remaining questions about his effectiveness with his start in the first round, but Phil Hughes is a relative unknown on this stage and who knows what -- if anything -- the Yankees will get from the enigmatic A.J. Burnett.
That means Sabathia's starts are virtual must-wins if the Yanks are to return to the World Series.
2) Continue to hit left-handed pitching.
If the ALCS goes the seven-game disance, the Rangers could start four of the seven games with lefty pitchers.
Even though their lineup features righty bats (Derek Jeter, Alex Rodriguez) and switch-hitters (Mark Teixeira, Jorge Posada and Nick Swisher),the Yankees had difficulty against lefty pitching during the regular season. Even MVP candidate Robinson Cano hit 50 points lower against lefties than righties during the season.
Things got better in the ALDS, as the Yankees posted wins against Francisco Liriano and Brian Duensing of the Minnesota Twins.
It helps that Curtis Granderson has come around against lefties, showing a much better approach in the final month of the season.
3) Limit the exposure of all relievers not named Rivera.
The Yankees need innings from their starters. Sabathia and Andy Pettitte are proven postseason horses, which is a good thing for the Yanks. They'll want their starting pitchers to take them at least through the seventh, so they don't have to rely much on the set-up crew, which is largely unreliable.
If the Yanks can shorten the bridge from their starters to Mariano Rivera, their chances to win the series will grow expontentially.
THREE KEYS FOR THE RANGERS:
1) Get Cliff Lee the ball twice.
This will be, of course, easier said than done.
Thanks to his start Tuesday night in the Game Five clincher in the ALDS, Lee won't start until Game Three in New York, meaning he probably wouldn't start again -- at least not on full rest -- until a Game Seven.
Lee has been huge in the postseason (6-0, 1.44 ERA in seven career starts) and certainly won't melt at Yankee Stadium. (Remember Game One of
the 2009 World Series?)
The trick will be getting at least two more good starts from the rest of the Texas rotation to get him the ball a second time -- potentially, a winner-take-all Game Seven, in Arlington.
2) Run on Jorge Posada.
Remember the final series of the season between the Red Sox and Yankees? The Sox ran unchecked on Posada, tying a club record at one point for most stolen bases in an inning.
Under Ron Washington, the Rangers have turned into an ultra-aggressive team. The first three runs in their 5-1 victory over Tampa Bay Tuesday night were the result of taking the extra base.
If the Rangers continue to put pressure on in this series, it will likely pay dividends. Pettitte, who has an outstanding move to first, will make it tough to run on him, but the other starters are vulnerable and the Yankees' bullpen has allowed 51 stolen bases in 54 attempts.
3) Have Josh Hamilton rebound.
Hamilton is the Rangers' best player, but thanks to a rib injury, missed most of September and didn't return to the lineup until the final weekend of the regular season.
He looked rusty in the Division Series against Tampa, collecting just one RBI in the five games.
There are others in the Texas lineup who can do damage -- Elvis Andrus at the top, and Vladimir Guerrero in the middle. But for the Rangers offense to click, they need more sock from Hamilton, who is likely going to be named the American League MVP next month.
Yankees in six games.