Series Preview: Rangers (48-63) @ Yankees (67-42)

Yankee fans are still trying to block out the memory of what happened the last time these two teams met in Yankee Stadium. Back in the middle of May, the Texas Rangers came to town and swept the Yankees at home in rather convincing fashion, stunning the Yankees and their legions of fans. This time around the Yankees are a much better team, but can they cool off the blazing-hot Alex Rodriguez and handle the Rangers?

The Rangers are virtually the same team that they were in 2002 and 2001: all lumber, no arms. If you take a look at the pitching matchups for this three-game series, it doesn't take a statistics degree to determine who has a bit of an edge. But what the Rangers lack in pitching prowess, they more than make up for with their bats.

Led by Alex Rodriguez – who has homered in four straight games and is hitting a ridiculous .469 in his last nine games – the Rangers are third in the AL in runs scored and OPS (on-base percentage plus slugging percentage). They also lead the major leagues in homeruns with 170. Texas' offense should not be taken lightly as they can come at teams from every single angle and every single position.

The good news for the Yankees is, so can they. But the Yanks will have to win this series with pitching. It wouldn't be wise to get into a shootout with the likes of A-Rod, Rafael Palmeiro and Hank Blalock. This series will fall into the hands of the Yanks' starting pitchers, and it is there that they will make sure that history doesn't repeat itself.

Yankees Home Record: 30-21
Rangers Road Record: 19-34

Probable Pitchers:

Tuesday: Colby Lewis (4-6, 7.89) vs. Roger Clemens (10-7, 3.76)

Lewis hasn't won a start since May 27 when he beat the Devil Rays, but he's been pitching pretty well in his last few outings. Most recently he held the hard-hitting Red Sox to just two runs in six innings, but the game went into extra innings denying him of a win. Lewis faced the Yankees back on May 16 and allowed four runs in five innings. That game also went to extra innings with the Rangers coming out on top.

Clemens mowed down the Anaheim Angels in his last appearance, pitching his first complete-game shutout in well over a year and allowing just five hits to the World Champions. Texas roughed up Clemens the last time they met. The Rocket served up five runs in five innings – but managed to strike out 10 batters anyway. A-Rod is batting .373 against Clemens for his career, with a pair of homeruns.

Wednesday: John Thomson (9-10, 5.34) vs. David Wells (12-3, 3.68)

Thomson has put together a bit of a two-game win streak in rather convincing fashion. Two starts ago, he lasted eight innings against Seattle and allowed just three runs. He followed that with another eight inning, three run performance against the Indians. More importantly, Thomson threw a three-hitter against the Yankees on May 18, and only Alfonso Soriano (.714 with 4 doubles) has good numbers against him.

There is a good chance that Wells will be forced to miss this start as he has been experiencing problems with his back lately. Should he be bumped out of the rotation, one of two things could happen. Either Sterling Hitchcock would be called on to start in his place, or the Yankees would move the whole rotation up a day. The off-day on Monday would mean that the pitchers would stay on their normal amount of rest, and Mike Mussina would start Wednesday. Wells went seven innings against Anaheim in his last start but didn't get a decision. He only allowed one run on six hits however.

Thursday: Joaquin Benoit (6-5, 5.38) vs. Mike Mussina (11-6, 3.27)

Two starts ago, Benoit looked like an entirely different pitcher. He threw seven shutout innings against the Mariners and even had a no-hitter going until the sixth inning. He allowed just two hits in total and grabbed a win. Unfortunately, Benoit stumbled in Cleveland in his next start, allowing six runs in 4 2/3 innings. The right-hander hasn't faced the Yankees yet in 2003.

If Mussina is pushed up in the order, Jeff Weaver will be Thursday's starter. Mussina is a bit of a question mark himself, after taking a ball off his knee against the A's in his last start. He was brilliant in that start though, allowing just one run on four hits through seven innings, but the Yankees lost on Miguel Tejada's walk off homerun in the tenth inning. The Moose has only one win in his last five starts, despite a 3.21 ERA over that span.

Predictions and Predications:
Every single pitching matchup in this series (and basically any combination of Yankee/Rangers starter you could think of) favors the Yankees. But let's not forget, they favored the Yankees back in May when the Rangers swept. The Ranger offense should never be taken lightly and is capable of doing a lot of damage. The Yankees – as always – could certainly sweep this series, but winning two of the three is more realistic.

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