The Yankees (87-53, 1st place in the AL East, 2.5 GA) and Rangers (1st place in the AL West, 77-63, 7.5 GA) square off for the third and final time in the regular season this weekend in Texas, though the two teams may very well meet next month in the postseason. If the season ended today, it would indeed be a Yankees-Rangers ALDS for the first time in 11 years, so this weekend could hypothetically serve as something of a playoff preview.
However, similar to last month's two-game set in Arlington, the Yankees will once again be seeing two of the top pitchers in baseball -- including future Yankee Cliff Lee, who hasn't pitched since August 31 due to back problems -- while Texas will be facing two Yankee starting pitchers who may not even make the postseason roster. Of course, Texas may be without presumptive AL MVP Josh Hamilton and his world-leading 7.9 fWAR, so they could be at a slight disadvantage on offense. Regardless, if the Yankees can somehow manage to pull two out of three from this series given the rather hilarious trio of starters the team is sending to the mound this weekend it could be a fairly large psychological blow to the Rangers, who haven't won a playoff game since 1996.
In tonight's game, Home Run Javier Vazquez (5.23 ERA; 5.54 FIP; 4.84 xFIP) takes on C.J. Wilson (3.10 ERA; 3.59 FIP; 4.28 xFIP), the 11th-best pitcher in the American League in terms of fWAR (3.8). This is a ridiculous mismatch on paper, as Wilson has been spectacular all year long and even better during the last 30 days, posting a 2.43 ERA and 2.22(!) FIP. Wilson's faced the Yankees twice this year and is 0-1, but has pitched well, throwing 11 1/3 combined innings of five-run ball. Outside of a superb stretch in the middle of the season Javy's been pretty wretched, and the Rangers beat him up for six runs in 4 1/3 innings last month. Also, Javy's numbers from the last 30 days have to be among the worst in the game, with a 9.56 ERA and 8.98 FIP. 8.98! I know this is baseball, and anything can happen, but let's just say I'll be shocked if the Yankees end up winning this game.
In the second contest, we have A.J. Burnett (5.15 ERA; 4.67 FIP; 4.64 xFIP) vs. Tommy Hunter (3.99 ERA; 5.46 FIP; 4.95 xFIP). Burnett was OK but far from great in his last start against the Orioles, though if he can keep the opposition to four runs through six or seven innings, I think we'll all gladly take that. Hunter's been beaten up to the tune of a 6.03 ERA and 7.35(!) FIP during the last 30 days, which includes surrendering 11 home runs in 34.1 innings. Hunter started the year out on fire, having not given up more than three runs in a start until July 30, but it's been pretty bad for him ever since. Hunter would also have the second-largest negative discrepancy in the AL between his ERA and FIP (-1.47) if he had enough innings to qualify. Hopefully this isn't the start where Hunter remembers how to pitch.
And in the finale, Dustin Moseley (5.03 ERA; 6.15 FIP; 4.90 xFIP) faces Cliff Lee (3.37 ERA; 2.62 FIP; 3.23 xFIP) in what may be the biggest mismatch of any two starting pitchers in all of Major League Baseball this season. Lee's FIP is 3.53 better than Moseley's! Moseley has, somewhat incredibly, been even worse than his numbers suggest, with a hideous 6.15 FIP (7.27 over the last 30 days!). Much has been made of Lee's recent struggles, which seemed to start off when he last faced the Yankees back in mid-August. Since giving up four earned runs to the Bombers on August 11, Lee has yielded 6, 8, 5 and 4 earned runs, respectively, in his last four outings, ballooning his Rangers' ERA to an un-Lee-like 4.69. However, before we get all excited about this, his peripherals are still excellent, and he's still Cliff Lee. Even the best aren't immune to rocky patches, and perhaps some time off to recover from what's been ailing him will be just what the doctor ordered. Additionally, it's hard to envision a scenario in which even a diminished Cliff Lee is outpitched by Dustin Moseley.
Here are the two teams' offense and pitching numbers:
These are two pretty evenly matched teams. The Yankees are slightly superior on offense, getting on base at a better clip and hitting more balls out of the park, but the Rangers still have a plenty potent lineup themselves.
In terms of pitching the numbers are even closer, with the Yankees perhaps having a slight edge in overall starting pitching (though I'm not sure what that says about the Rangers' pitching outside of Lee, Wilson and Colby Lewis), while the bullpen numbers are even closer -- it's safe to say both teams have top-four bullpens in the AL right now. The only teams with relief corps that may be better are the Rays and White Sox. The overall pitching numbers are also close, with the Yankees again having a slight edge per the numbers.
That all being said, as noted at the beginning the Rangers have a significant advantage in terms of starting pitcher match-ups this weekend, and should take two of three based on that factor alone. Anything less than two of three will have to be considered a serious disappointment for Texas, and a feather in the Yankees' caps.
On a random note, Alex Rodriguez and Mark Teixeira still have not hit home runs in the same game yet this season. I know Alex has missed a number of games, but I can't imagine there are too many teams that can say the same thing about their #3 and #4 hitters.