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Monday, October 18, 2010
Things to watch in ALCS Game 3

By Richard Durrett

The Rangers take their playoff act to the Big Apple and the bright lights of Yankee Stadium tonight. A few things to keep an eye on tonight:

* Cliff Lee. All eyes will be on the star of the show. He puts his 6-0 mark and a 1.44 ERA in the postseason on the line. His lone start at Yankee Stadium was a complete game win in Game 1 of the 2009 World Series. He gave up one run on six hits with 10 strikeouts and no walks.

* Lee's cutter. Andy Pettitte talked about it on Sunday. It worked for Lee in against the Rays (he threw 41 of them, a season-high according to ESPN Stats & Information) and he's likely to use it a lot again tonight. In three starts against the Yankees this season, hitters are 0-for-22 against Lee’s cutter. In particular, Alex Rodriguez saw the most cutters of any Yankee hitter and was 0-for-3.

* Aggressive. If the Yankees try to use their customary patient approach at the plate, Lee could get ahead in the count and make things very difficult on New York. Look for the Yankees to get aggressive to try to jump on Lee early if they can.

* Elvis Andrus. He's put together his best two weeks of the season at the right time. Andrus is 11-for-31 (.355) in the postseason with five stolen bases and five runs scored. He has four multi-hit games and the seven-game streak to start his postseason careeer is the second-longest by anyone 22 years or younger. The only player ahead of Andrus on that list is Derek Jeter, who had a 9-game streak to start the 1996 postseason, his first. Andrus has also played solid defense, showing the country what Rangers fans already know: He has tremendous range.

* Nelson Cruz. He has seven extra base-hits in the postseason -- four doubles and three homers -- and is one extra base hit behind Carlos Beltran and Jim Edmonds for the most by a player in his first postseason. Cruz gives this club important power and production in the middle of the lineup. He is hitting .407 with a .889 slugging percentage in the playoffs.

* Bullpen. The Rangers relief corps bounced back on Saturday to finish off the Yankees in Game 2. Does that mean they have Friday's eighth-inning troubles out of their system? I think it does, but they will have to prove that in Yankee Stadium. This is a group that has seemed nervous at times during this postseason. Lee may be able to help with that, but going deep into tonight's game. But at some point in the next three days, the Rangers bullpen will have to step up. (I think they will).

* Josh Hamilton. New York was a grand stage for Hamilton in 2008, as he wowed the country with his powerful homers and story in the Home Run Derby. Here's a chance for the probable 2010 AL MVP to do it in the biggest series in franchise history. Hamilton had a home run in Game 1 and was pitched around in Game 2. He showed good patience in taking the walks, but the Rangers would certainly like to see him have a chance to do more damage. We'll see if he gets some pitches to hit and how he handles it (see Guerrero below).

* Vladimir Guerrero. The Rangers' DH is hitting just .214 (6-for-28) in seven playoff games. The average drops lower when you look only at Games 1 and 2 of the ALCS -- he's 1-for-9 (.111). Guerrero came up with the bases loaded at one point this weekend and couldn't get any runs home. Guerrero's struggles are allowing the Yankees to pitch around Hamilton. If Guerrero gets it going, that could change things in front of him as well. (More on that later). Could tonight be the night? Guerrero is 9-for-26 against Pettitte in his career.

* Andy Pettitte. Rarely is someone as accomplished in the postseason considered an underdog. But that's what happens when you face Lee. How will Pettitte react to that? Probably very well. The Yankees don't like the fact that many are assuming the Rangers win Game 2. That could motivate Pettitte even more (not that he needs it).

* Jeff Francoeur. He's likely to be back in the lineup tonight against the lefty Pettitte. And his history against him says that's the smart move. Francoeur is 5-for-8 with a homer in his career off Pettitte. David Murphy, whose spot Francoeur would take, is 4-for-11 with a homer off Pettitte, so he's also got a good history against him.

* Antlers. Baserunning has become such a critical part of what the Rangers do on offense, particularly the past few games. Look for them to put pressure on the Yankees again by trying to steal bases and run them aggressively on hits.