When last these teams met, the Rangers took two out of three games to snatch a series victory from the Yanks. That series snapped a seven-series win streak for the Yankees, but it was just a bump in the road in the long road. Since that time, the Yanks are 8-1 and are fresh off a sweep of the Baltimore Orioles - who couldn't wait to get the heck out of the Bronx after Thursday. The Rangers, meanwhile, have seemingly returned to mediocrity, going 4-4 since beating the Yanks. It seems that the Rangers, who play in one of the world's best hitting parks, just don't like being on the road.
But on the road they are, and heading straight into the home of the rolling Yankees. Over the last week, Derek Jeter is hitting .385 with four home runs, Alex Rodriguez is hitting .333 and Gary Sheffield has eight RBI. Sure, the Yankees miss Jason Giambi's offense as Tony Clark's bat has slowed since his recent hot streak, but when everyone else on the team is hitting, having a defensive specialist is pretty key.
Texas' offense is in a slump, however. They're hitting just .247 as a team over the last week, including poor individual performances from Alfonso Soriano (.182 BA, no RBI) and Mark Teixeira (.200 BA, no RBI). Only Hank Blalock is hitting at all (.333 with a homer), and he can't do it all by himself. The good news for Rangers fans is that the pitching is still holding up. But how long that can last is anyone's guess. My guess? Until this series gets under way.
Yankees Home Record: 16-7 Last
Rangers Road Record: 13-13 Last 10: 5-5
2004 Series: Texas leads, 2-1
Key Matchups: Sierra vs. Rogers: 13/41 (.317), home run, five walks... Williams vs. Rogers: 11/31, home run... Rodriguez vs. Rogers: 9/17, four home runs, 1.972 OPS... Williams vs. Drese: 4/9, home run... Fullmer vs. Mussina: 5/26, eight strikeouts... E. Young vs. Brown: 12/38... Dellucci vs. Brown: 5/14... E.Young vs. Lieber: 15/29, four doubles... M. Young vs. Mussina: 5/15...
Friday: Kenny Rogers (8-2, 3.10) vs. Kevin Brown (6-1, 3.59)
Rogers has been a pleasant surprise this year, and is a good candidate to start the All-Star Game in a few weeks. He is the only eight-game winner in the AL and is fourth in the league in ERA. In addition, seven of his 11 starts have been Quality Starts. He's not this good of a pitcher, but an average pitcher on a hot streak is just as good as a great pitcher.
Reportedly, Brown isn't happy with his start to the season so far. Apparently, he's allergic to ERA's over three. Whatever. He's been great for most of the season, though he's hit something of a snag with a 5.85 ERA in his last two starts. He's still undefeated at home this year, but Texas hit him hard a few weeks ago.
Saturday: Juan Dominguez (0-1, 4.76) vs. Jon Lieber (4-2, 4.43)
Dominguez was called up from AAA for a start against the Blue Jays last week, and he gets his second go-round against the Yankees. Toronto got eight hits off of him in just 5.2 innings, but the 24-year-old right-hander held his own. He was 5-1 with a 3.13 ERA for the Oklahoma RedHawks before being called up to the bigs.
After two excellent starts in a row, Lieber got slapped around by the Devil Rays in his last start. He allowed six runs on eleven hits over five innings in his shortest, and poorest, outing of the year. Lieber's strikeouts aren't there - he has just 16 in 40.2 innings - but he still isn't walking anyone.
Sunday: Ryan Drese (2-2, 4.20) vs. Mike Mussina (6-4, 4.96)
Despite pitching well for most of the season, Drese has very little to show for his efforts. He was torn into by the White Sox in his last start, serving up seven runs in just 4.1 innings, while striking out a season-low one batter. Drese allowed three runs over eight innings in an earlier start against the Yankees.
Mussina went 4-0 with a 3.44 ERA in the month of May, despite two starts that I would call poor. He still hasn't lost since April 22, notching a win against the Orioles on June 1, but he still hasn't looked as dominating as he should be. He's an ace, but he's not pitching like it.
Predictions and Prognostications:
Texas is a team on the ropes, and they are a fish out of water when they aren't at home in Texas. With their bats as cool as they are, heading into a pitcher's park against the game's hottest team, they can't possibly like their chances. The Yankees will take at least two out of three here, and they should pull off the sweep.