Monday, September 13, 2010
Can young Rangers hang with NYY vets?
By Jeff Caplan
Forgetting that little three-game sweep at Yankee Stadium way back in April, a mostly young Texas Rangers team that smiles, makes antler and claw hand signs and dons rally caps in the dugout, have learned to go toe-to-toe with those poised professionals in pinstripes.
After Sunday's 4-1 win at Rangers Ballpark to conclude a dramatic series -- and the last series of the regular season between the two clubs -- each team has gained a home sweep while they split a two-game series in Arlington a month ago. Add it up: Eight games, four wins each.
But, if the Rangers and New York Yankees meet in the American League Division Series -- and the Yankees must hold off the stubborn Tampa Bay Rays for that to happen -- how will the Rangers, with only designated hitter Vladimir Guerrero, relief pitcher Darren Oliver and ace Cliff Lee (plus recent acquisitions Cristian Guzman and Jeff Francoeur) boasting postseason experience handle the defending champs? After all, Yankees and postseason is practically synonymous.
Newly acquired Yankee and former Houston Astro Lance Berkman believes there's no equivalent for postseason experience.
"For guys like Michael Young, it won't matter one iota. He's one of the best hitters in the game. That's not going to bother him at all," Berkman said. "But I do think, for us in Houston -- I went to the postseason in ’01 and I was actually on the team in ’99, but they didn't put me on the playoff roster -- but in ’01 we got swept by the Braves and I remember I was overwhelmed by really the whole postseason environment. I felt very, very uncomfortable."
As a franchise, the Rangers have advanced to three postseasons -- 1996, 1997 and 1999. They played the Yankees all three times and lost all but one game in the three best-of-5 series. No one on today's Rangers roster played in any of those mismatches. It would take too long to list the number of current Yankees with World Series rings, not to mention the guys with multiple rings.
"I think experience is one of the greatest things you can have," said Yankees outfielder Nick Swisher," who has played in three postseasons with three different teams, including last season's triumphant Yankees. "If you look at our guys, we have a core of four guys. Just the things these guys have been able to do throughout their careers and the names that they've made for themselves, not only in the Yankee organization, but generally in the game of baseball -- Andy Pettitte, Mariano Rivera, Jorge Posada, Derek Jeter. Then you've got A-Rod [Alex Rodriguez], who's been doing it for 15 years. You got guys like Kerry Wood, Javy Vazquez. I mean these guys have been in the league for a long time. We've got a lot of veteran guys on this team and you can tell."
Swisher didn't even mention Cy Young Award candidate CC Sabathia, who hasn't faced the Rangers' lineup since that April series in New York.
There's no doubt that if the two clubs meet in October that the Yankees will be favored. They'll have homefield advantage and in a five-game series that can be huge, especially playing the first two in the Bronx (a couple of Lee-Sabathia matchups could make for some riveting baseball). And the New Yorkers will easily have the experience factor on their side. There's just nothing the upstart Rangers can do about that.
"The second time we went [to the postseason], I felt a lot better because I had kind of been in it and at least seeing what it was all about, so I do think it can definitely be a factor," said Berkman, who led the Astros to the 2004 NLCS and then the 2005 World Series. "Our organization had never won a playoff series and you just don't know you can do it. Having that breakthrough in ’04 against the Braves was huge. We won that NLDS in five games at their place. The next year when we came back we expected to win. It's a totally different mindset that you can only get from having done it.
"But, at some point, they're [the Rangers] going to have to break through. At some point they’re going to win and then they're going to develop a sense that they can do this, it's not this impossible mountain. It seems like it before you climb that it's that way."
As the Rangers' 2010 motto goes: "It's Time." According to Berkman, 2011 might be more their time.
We'll see. If the Yankees win the East, Game 1 is Oct. 6 at Yankee Stadium.