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Which Players and Ribs to Watch Closely on the Rangers

We're sorry this isn't longer, but we're currently bogged down at our day job at the print magazine, trying to finish up this week's issue by the rapidly approaching deadline while making sure it retains elements such as factual accuracy and non-libelousness. We don't even have enough time to write a transition to the body of this piece.

... Thanks for reading on anyway! Here are some Rangers-related items that Yankee fans should consider as they prepare mentally to begin preparing physically for tonight's ALCS by drinking beer.

(1) Nelson Cruz. Cruz should be the Rangers' cleanup hitter; Vlad Guerrero didn't have a bad year by any means, but flagged in the second half and hits appreciably worse against right-handers than he does against lefties. Cruz bashed both with extreme prejudice on his way to a .576 slugging percentage this year. His playing time was limited by several DL trips, but he's in fine form right now, having just hit three homers in the ALDS. Cruz also stole a base in that series, something he does well despite his bulk, having succeeded on 17 of 21 attempts this year. Also, he may have had only three assists from his right-field spot this season, but we just think he looks like a guy who can cannon the hell out of runners trying to get from first to third on a single.

(2) Jeff Francouer. Don't laugh! The joltin' Georgian does three things well: throwing from right field, hitting left-handers, and getting traded/released for not being able to do anything else. He had an .805 OPS against lefties this season, so he'll likely start against CC Sabathia and Andy Pettitte.

(3) Walkin'. Tonight's Rangers hurler, C.J. Wilson, used to be one of those terrifying-for-both-teams high-strikeout, high-walk closers. Now he's a terrifying high-strikeout, high-walk starter. Texas will go with Colby Lewis, who's also got spotty control, in Game 2. Lewis walked five in his start against the Rays. The Yankees shouldn't have trouble taking advantage if either of them get wild, having drawn the second-most walks in the American League this year. (Tampa Bay took the most, it's true, and they still lost to the Rangers, but the Yankees are better-equipped than Tampa to drive runners in once they're on, hitting better for average and power.)

(4) Josh Hamilton's ribs vs. breaking pitches. A superhuman hitter for much of the year, Hamilton spent time on the shelf in September with fractured ribs, and since coming back he hasn't hit well, going only two for eighteen in the divisional series. Rays pitchers threw him an unusually high number of off-speed pitches (45) relative to fastballs (30) in those games; anyone who's played baseball can imagine that slowing or altering one's swing to react to a change-up or curveball would be quite painful with busted ribs. Whether that's what's causing Hamilton's problems, or whether it's just a coincidence that he had a few off games, will go a long way in determining whether the Rangers can score enough to keep up with what should be a productive Yankees offense.*

Some other stuff we'll throw out there: The Rangers have a great middle-infield defense, and Elvis Andrus gets caught stealing a lot. Okay. Back to work! The other work.

*In games that Cliff Lee doesn't start.

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Photo: Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images