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Cliff Lee has been on collision course with Yankees all year

Cliff Lee's nine-inning gem last night completed the best-pitched Division Series in history. Across the four series, pitchers produced an aggregate ERA of 2.63, the lowest since the three-tiered postseason came into existence in 1995. Batters in the first round combined to hit .218 with a .613 OPS -- which means, essentially, this fine collection of pitchers turned every single hitter into Jose Lopez.

And so, the year of the pitcher goes on. The LCS round could feature six of the past 16 Cy Young winners -- Tim Lincecum (two Cys), Roy Halladay, Lee, CC Sabathia and Barry Zito. (I say "could" instead of "will" because the Giants left Zito off their roster for the NLDS and haven't said whether he will be active for the NLCS.) We get a Halladay-Lincecum matchup in Philadelphia in Game 1, with a potential rematch in Game 5 in San Francisco.

By Game 3, the stage will belong once again to Lee, who will pitch at Yankee Stadium before a crowd that fully expects him to be a Yankee next season -- but whose rooting interests will be clear: They will want the Yankees to crush him.

Two American League teams mortgaged a piece of their future to acquire Lee for 2010, with two purposes in mind: To help get them to the playoffs, and to beat the Yankees once they got there. The plan went up in flames for the Mariners. But here are the Rangers, preparing to face the Yankees, with Lee slated to start in Game 3.

Lee, pitching for the Phillies, beat the Yankees twice in last year's World Series. In turn, the Yankees, hoping to avoid what awaits them next week, made a serious run at trading for Lee in July -- offering prized catching prospect Jesus Montero in a package the Mariners initially accepted, before leveraging the Yankees' offer into a better (at least in the Mariners' view) package from the Rangers, who ultimately landed Lee.

If you're the Yankees, do you considering sacrificing your weakest starting pitcher, A.J. Burnett, to Lee in Game 3 -- thus leaving yourself favorable pitching matchups in Games 1, 2 and 4? Or do you send Phil Hughes (or Andy Pettitte) out there in hopes of somehow stealing one from Lee? The danger is that, if you lose to Lee in Game 3, you'll have to turn around and hand the ball to Burnett in Game 4 -- which means you'll be praying for a miracle in back-to-back games, instead of just one.

By Dave Sheinin  | October 13, 2010; 10:25 AM ET
 
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Next: The not-exactly-out-on-a-limb LCS predictions

Comments

Doesn't make sense to play matchups against Lee. Throw whoever is set to go in the rotation up against him. The Yankees can easily get to any of the Rangers pitchers who aren't Lee, and who knows, maybe they can even get a game off of him. Fully expect the Yankees to win this series.

Posted by: agl132 | October 13, 2010 11:34 AM | Report abuse

Lee wasn't enough for the Phillies to beat the Yanks in the WS last year so why would you expect it to be enough for an overall less talented Rangers team? Yanks should just play their rotation. If they take care of business they will only face Lee onece. Otherwise they would face Lee a 2nd time in game 6 (on 3 days rest) as the Rangers try to avoid elimination.

Posted by: ds_kelly | October 14, 2010 9:17 AM | Report abuse

"...the stage will belong once again to Lee, who will pitch at Yankee Stadium before a crowd that fully expects him to be a Yankee next season..." I think Boz the Yunks fan is dreaming here. Cliff Lee will never be a Yunk. So stop making things up to generate a story. Not gonna happen!!!

Posted by: billm32 | October 14, 2010 9:21 AM | Report abuse

Totally disagree with this article. Have AJ Burnett start Game 3 against Cliff Lee??? Not only will AJ Burnett lose but now you've set him up to pitch in Game 7 too! Whoever pitches Game 3 will pitch Game 7, no need to start AJ Burnett twice in one series!!

Posted by: fanoftheyankees | October 14, 2010 2:33 PM | Report abuse

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