Rangers' Cliff Lee never really went away

October, 6, 2010
10/06/10
4:44
PM ET
The Texas Rangers' 5-1 victory against the Tampa Bay Rays in Game 1 of the ALDS suggests one thing you might not have known (or might have forgotten), and one thing Joe Maddon and his bosses might not have known.

What you might not have known is that Cliff Lee is still an outstanding pitcher.

You knew it last fall, when Lee went 4-0 with a 1.56 ERA in the postseason, beating the Yankees twice in the World Series.

You knew it earlier this season, when Lee went 8-3 with a 2.34 ERA and an impossible (14.8!) strikeout-to-walk ratio in 13 starts with the Mariners.

But you might have forgotten, later in the season. After getting traded to the Rangers, Lee went just 4-6 in 15 starts. His 3.98 ERA with Texas was nothing special.

Lee did give up 11 home runs in those 15 starts. Otherwise, though, he was still pitching brilliantly. His 10.3 strikeout-to-ratio for the season is the second highest in major league history. Granted, that ratio slipped some after he joined the Rangers. But even his 8.0 strikeout-to-walk ratio with Texas would have been good enough to lead the majors this year; Roy Halladay's 7.3 mark is No. 2, and nobody else is close.

The point? With all the talk in recent walks about Felix Hernandez and Halladay and David Price and CC Sabathia, the best pitcher in the major leagues in 2010 just might have been Lee. So maybe we shouldn't be surprised that the Rangers have grabbed the early lead in this series.

I'll bet Maddon and his bosses knew all that, though. What they don't seem to have known is that Rocco Baldelli is almost certainly miscast as a DH in a big game.

This week, the lefty-heavy Rays need someone to serve as designated hitter against the Ranger's left-handed starters, Lee and C.J. Wilson. That someone was supposed to be Pat Burrell, but Burrell played so poorly for the Rays that he got released months ago. The next option was Willy Aybar, but he's played so poorly for the Rays that he was left off the Division Series roster. Hot prospect Desmond Jennings hasn't been so hot this season. Gabe Kapler's forgotten how to hit.

Which leaves Baldelli, who opened the season as a member of the front office, returned to playing in the minors, and was activated by the Rays a month ago because, well, it's hard to say. In his 23 minor-league games this summer, Baldelli struck out 22 times and walked twice.

Baldelli made the Rays' Division Series roster because, well, again it's hard to say. He's played in only 10 games since joining the big club, and batted .208/.240/.375. It's entirely possible that the Rays' scouts have seen something in Baldelli this season that doesn't show up in the numbers. It's also possible that they've let sentiment get the best of them.

Or maybe Baldelli really was the Rays' best option. Which does not speak particularly well of the Rays' front office, considering that decent right-handed hitters grow on trees.

Literally, I mean. There's actually a common tree -- native to Southern California but also found in parts of Texas and Florida -- the fruit of which is right-handed hitters who can give you league-average production against left-handed pitchers. All you have to do is stand under one of these trees in June or July, and wait.

Apparently the Rays were too busy this summer to attend the annual harvest, and just couldn't find the right-handed version of Dan Johnson. Which is how you wind up with Baldelli starting an important game against one of the best pitchers on the planet.

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