words_Nick Engvall

The Texas Rangers will host the New York Yankees tonight as the American League Championship Series gets underway. Although the Yankees are the Wild Card in the American League, with their prolific history and recent post-season track record, they are probably still at an advantage. However, that alone may give the Rangers a mental edge they need to surprise the Yankees.

Cliff Lee of the Texas Rangers - Photo Courtesy YahooAnother thing to point out about this series that may lean the advantage in the direction of the Rangers, they have beaten closer Mariano Rivera this year. Very few teams have beaten the Yankees closer, and even fewer when it comes playoff time. This year however, Rivera has blown 5 saves, one of which came last month at the hands of the Texas Rangers. Rivera gave up a hit in each of his two saves against the Minnesota Twins, which for any other closer in the game wouldn’t be reason for concern. For Mariano, who is easily the most untouchable closer in MLB post-season history, it might give the Rangers comfort in knowing there’s a chance.

The Rangers, after getting their first post-season series win against the Tampa Bay Rays, will have a tougher time with the Yankees. The key for the Rangers, as it was in their first round series, will be getting a victory in Game 1 or 2. With Cliff Lee set to go in Game 3, by winning one of the first two games all but guarantees the Rangers could be up 2-1 by the time Game 4 rolls around on Tuesday. Getting a victory against CC Sabathia in Game 1 will be more likely with C.J. Wilson coming off a solid start where he didn’t give up a run. Wilson hasn’t pitched incredibly against the Yankees, but the Rangers have come through to win both of the games he’s started. The Rangers also won 4 of the 5 games they played at home this year against the Bronx Bombers.

Tim Lincecum of the San Francisco Giants - Photo courtesy of Yahoo.In the National League, all the talk is about the pitching and rightfully so. Game 1 will see Tim Lincecum and Roy Halladay take the mound, arguably the best pitching duel this post-season could offer. Lincecum went 9 innings striking out 14, and of course, Halladay threw a no-hitter. The one thing that the San Francisco Giants have in their favor is that they’re the only team in the league to beat each of the big three Phillies pitchers, Roy Halladay, Roy Oswalt, and Cole Hamels. On top of that, the mental edge of having everyone expect you to lose gives the Giants nothing to lose. Like they have all season, they’ll look to surprise the critics with finding an unexpected way to win.

No matter how you slice it though, the Phillies have been unstoppable lately. Just four wins away from their third consecutive World Series appearance, Philadelphia and their fans are out for revenge on the Yankees, who ended last season’s World Series hopes in Game 6. The Phillies are a better team this year, with better pitching and hitting capable of beating the Yankees if they get passed the Giants. They have all the pieces to do so, we’ll see if they can assemble them.

It might sound obvious, but the determining factor in both series will be the teams that can win on the road. It always is the key, but keep in mind none of these four teams has lost a road game in this year’s MLB Playoffs yet.

Who do you think will be first?