After putting on a pitching clinic in Game 3 of the American League Championship Series, Texas Rangers ace Cliff Lee upped his postseason record to 3-0 in three starts against the New York Yankees over the past two years. Oh, by the way, this unblemished record includes an ERA of 1.88, 26 strikeouts and only four walks.
So as a result of Lee’s continued dominance in the playoffs, Texas took a 2-1 lead in the series, recaptured home-field advantage from the Yankees and are in a position where they need only one more victory to guarantee that Lee will take the mound again in a potential Game 7.
Therefore, it can’t be understated that every game is a must-win for the Bronx Bombers for the duration of the ALCS. New York can ill afford to face Cliff Lee again, in Rangers Ballpark in Arlington, with their season on the line.
But with A.J. Burnett going in Game 4, CC Sabathia in Game 5 and Phil Hughes in Game 6, the Yankees are playing a dangerous game of Russian roulette against the best hitting lineup in the regular season and the postseason. Burnett, Hughes and even Sabathia, a leading candidate for the AL Cy Young Award, are all question marks going into their respective starts, which doesn’t bode well for a team in dire need of three consecutive wins.
In last year’s postseason, Sabathia was the anchor of New York’s starting rotation as he posted a record of 3-1 with a 1.98 ERA, 32 strikeouts and only nine walks in five starts. However, if Sabathia was considered Dr. Jekyll in 2009, he has become the equivalent of Mr. Hyde in this year’s playoffs. Sabathia, a 21-game winner during the regular season, has gone 1-0 in two starts, his ERA has ballooned to 7.20 and he has only eight strikeouts compared to seven walks during this postseason.
Meanwhile, after shutting down the Minnesota Twins for seven innings in the American League Divisional Series, Hughes got lit up for seven earned runs in four innings of work against the Rangers in Game 2 of the ALCS. And if New York extends the series to a sixth game, the 24-year-old Hughes will have the assignment of saving his team’s season on the field where he was shellacked less than a week ago.
As for the Yankees’ most enigmatic starter, after a season in which he went 10-15 with an ERA of 5.26, Burnett was left out of the rotation for the ALDS. Nevertheless, Burnett has been called upon to make a critical and necessary start in Game 4 of the ALCS in order to give the remaining starters their normal rest.
Bearing this in mind, Burnett, Sabathia and Hughes must either throw the game of their careers or the Yankees’ offense must be prolific enough to negate any sub-par performances from the aforementioned starters. There is simply no other option at this stage of the season with Cliff Lee waiting in the wings to pitch one game to decide the American League pennant.
The Yankees are extremely fortunate to be down only one game in the ALCS because Texas has outplayed them for the better part of 25 out of the 27 innings that have been played. But if New York loses another game in the series, their good fortune will come to an abrupt end.
Although the Rangers are two victories away from winning the AL pennant, the defending World Series Champions must treat every game like an elimination game, beginning with Game 4 at Yankee Stadium Tuesday evening.
Otherwise, the Yankees will have no choice but to tip their caps to Cliff Lee and call him their daddy when the ALCS is over.