After the Yankees wrap up the current home stand with a series against the Baltimore Orioles, they head out to Texas for the second time this season. When they get there, they’ll find a Rangers team that has struggled since the teams’ last meeting in August. What they may not find, however, is Cliff Lee opposing them on the mound.
Lee, who has gone 0-3 with an 8.38 ERA in his last five starts dating back to his outing against the Yankees, has been diagnosed with lower back inflammation and may be skipped over at least one time through the rotation. Although the Rangers already have the A.L. West Division all but clinched, any lingering injury to Lee would have a serious impact on their World Series aspirations. For that reason, it makes all the sense in the world for Texas to proceed with extreme caution.
Considering his impending free agency, Cliff Lee also has a lot at stake over the final month of the regular season and, the Rangers hope, in October. Lee’s ability to obtain a top dollar free agent contract could be hampered if his back prevents him from taking the ball or being effective, especially in the post season. Remember, Lee will be 32 next season, and before 2008 was never much more than a league average pitcher. Also, although his Cy Young season was outstanding, his regular season in 2009 wasn’t exactly off the charts. Rather, his dominance in the 2009 post season (4-0 with a 1.56 ERA) is what catapulted him into 2010. Because of his recent struggles in Texas, Lee may once again need a sterling post season to polish the exterior of a strong, but not spectacular 2010 campaign.
Regardless of how he ends the season, the Yankees probably will have considerable interest in Lee during the off season. However, as he struggles down the stretch, it does make the Yankees look very lucky that the Mariners didn’t accept their offer of wunderkind prospect Jesus Montero. Since the Yankees widely reported deal with the Mariners fell through, the 20 year-old catcher has absolutely terrorized pitchers in the International League, offering a new take on an old expression: sometimes the best trades are the ones you don’t make because an opposing General Manager foolishly opts for a lesser prospect from another team!
There’s plenty of time for Lee to re-establish his dominance, and he could very well wind up being the reason that the Rangers finally overcome the Yankees in the post season, but at the moment, the Yankees have to be happy with how things worked out. Then again, if Andy Pettitte is unable to recover from his injury, and Lee does dominate them in October, they (and I) may be singing a different tune.
Jesus Montero’s Second Half Stats