For the record, this was all RJ's idea. Thanks to all involved - I think it came out really well, and I hope it makes for fun reading. Also, please remember to continuously check out the great work Tommy, Jason, and RJ are doing at The Process Report. I can't sing their praises enough.
Cliff Lee is a problem. A guy who pounds the zone with his heater early, late, and in between against an offense grow on an OBPium farm is just a horrible marriage. I guess what I'm saying is, uh, is there any way the Mariners can take Cliff Lee back for this series?
Ugh, I certainly hope so. I know we beat Lee earlier this season, but if you wanted to create a pitcher that'd be good at beating the Rays, he's just about as good as you could do. He's a lefty that strikes out a lot of batters, doesn't walk many, and he has a great fastball. And our first game against him will be in the Trop, meaning we won't even get any help from that homerun haven of a ballpark in Arlington.
That said, I'm almost more worried about the rest of the Rangers' rotation. If we can't beat both CJ Wilson and Colby Lewis, we're going to need to beat Lee at least once to win the series...and Wilson and Lewis aren't exactly pushovers. This is a team that's built to succeed in a short postseason series, and I could easily see them giving the Rays' offense fits.
We'll have more on Lewis from his biological father (Carson Cistulli) in the next few days, but Wilson might be the story of the rotation even with Lewis around. This guy was one of the finer relievers in the American League and flipped the switch this season to become a pretty good starting pitcher who gets by through pitching to the corners which has to be an irritating experience as a batter.
I'm sure Carmen Fusco wishes this could happen. Back when Lee-mania was sweeping the Bay Area, I wondered if the added wins of Cliff Lee to the 2010 Tampa Bay team would be worth the future (potentially more) wins of a Desmond Jennings type to a future Rays team whose fate was undetermined.
As I look at the rotation now, having Price and Lee at the top of the Rays' rotation would sure ease a lot of anxiety going into the post season. The hardest part of Andrew Friedman's job is weighting the value of the future at the cost of the present. Hopefully he made the right move.
I really do hope that Maddon has some secret, repeatable method for beating Cliff Lee. As Jason points out, we seem to have had Lee's number in the past. I don't believe Maddon marched out special lineups on those days, so maybe he's just got some scouting that helps the batters gain the edge.
If the Rays don't have some secret advantage, then game one might be as good as a Rangers 'W.'
I may be in a limited crowd, but I honestly think Cliff Lee aught be in the Cy Young discussion. Among starting AL pitchers, no one else has a lower xFIP with a lower LOB% (see chart). His near-career low LOB% indicates he's been unlucky -- yet he still sports a crazy 3.24 xFIP. On top of that, xFIP may undervalue him because his career HR/FB% is actually closer to 8% -- and closer to 6% in recent years.
Against this Cliff Lee, we are sending Price -- who has a 4.00 xFIP and a 78% LOB%. I know some argue that Price has become an exception to these stats, but if they're wrong, then game one will feature Rangers home runs and Rays strikeouts.
I think it's impossible to say whether Price is immune to the norms of the starting pitching world so far, but take CC Sabathia. Similar pitcher with a more plump exterior. His career home run rate is under 9% and his strand rate is nearly 73%.
Cliff Lee's struggles against the Rays are one of my confusing parts about this season. A team that was shut out by Bruce Chen this week is 3-0 against Lee this season. Lee has 25 strikeouts and just two walks against the Rays but has been rather unfortunate as the Rays have dinked and dunked their way to 12 runs against him in just under 24 innings. Additionally, this offense limped into the playoffs without Longoria in the lineup and facing Lee is the last thing a struggling lineup should have to deal with. Then again, I had these same concerns the last time the Rays had to face Sabathia and look how that turned out.
Next up, we discuss the Rangers' bullpen and pesky offensive players. Check back at 1 PM for more.