But there seems to be a growing belief among baseball followers that Texas can not only run with the defending champions, but defeat them to reach the first World Series in franchise history.
The Yankees, of course, were the best team in the American League through much of the season and should be considered the favorites in the ALCS — no matter what A-Rod says. They have the experience of winning last year's World Series and all that money bought them plenty of big guns.
But a closer look shows that the Yankees also have plenty to worry about with the Rangers.
Here are five things they'll have to contend with if they want a return trip to the World Series:
1. Cliff Lee(notes): We might as well get the most obvious one out of the way first, right? We already know Lee is a rock star, ninja assassin and executioner. We could've copied and pasted "Cliff Lee" 500 times for this post and called it a day.
Those last two descriptions will particularly apply against the Yankees. Yes, the Rangers traded for Lee to help them through the postseason. And he's really good at that, as his 6-0 record and 1.44 ERA over the last two playoffs demonstrate.
But really, wasn't he acquired to beat the Yankees? Any road to a World Series championship figured to go through them. Lee's really good at this, too.
During the past three seasons, his record against the Yanks is 4-1 with a 2.57 ERA in six starts. And that was just in the regular season. In last year's World Series, pitching for the Phillies, Lee was 2-0 with a 2.81 ERA and 13 strikeouts in 16 innings.
The Yankees seem to be afraid of Lee. When they tried to trade for him in early July, there was a heightened sense of urgency to the deal. That gave the impression that the Yankees didn't want to face him in a weekend series against the Mariners. Sure, they could've used Lee in their postseason rotation. But you also get the feeling that the Yankees wanted him so they didn't have to face him in the playoffs.
Unfortunately for the Rangers, as a result of saving Lee for Game 5 of the ALDS versus Tampa Bay, he won't pitch in this series until Game 3. And if Lee pitches again, it wouldn't be until Game 7. So Texas will need other pitchers to come up big for Lee's start in Game 3 to be anything other than a way to get back into the series.
2. The Rangers can run on the Yankees' catchers: Besides Lee's complete-game gem in Game 5 against the Rays, a key reason the Rangers are in the ALCS is because of their aggressive baserunning. Texas baserunners weren't afraid to steal a base, even when the situation was risky.
No, the Yankees' infielders and pitchers probably aren't going to fall asleep on plays at first base while the Rangers round third base and go for home like the Rays did in Game 5. Their pitchers, especially left-handers CC Sabathia(notes) and Andy Pettitte(notes), are also good at holding runners.
But the Yankees' catchers are also not very good at throwing out basestealers. In fact, they were the worst in the majors. The Yankees threw out only 15 percent (23-of-155) stolen-base attempts. Do you think Ron Washington might keep the green light on? Just as the Rangers took it to the Rays, they can do the same to the Yankees.
3. Mariano Rivera(notes) wasn't very good against Texas this year: In the playoffs, when games are tight, closers often make the difference. No player has been more integral to the Yankees' postseason success in the last 15 years than Rivera.
But the Rangers might have his number. Rivera's 5.79 ERA versus Texas was his worst against any team this season. In five appearances, he allowed three runs, seven hits and three walks (though two were intentional). Those numbers were also higher than against any other team he faced.
4. The Yankees' big bats didn't hit Texas pitching very well: If Robinson Cano(notes) was the Yankees' best hitter and MVP candidate, it was despite his performance against the Rangers this season. Cano hit .233/.273/.300 in 33 plate appearances, his worst numbers against all but one other team.
Among Yankees regulars, Derek Jeter(notes) (.385), Brett Gardner(notes) (.333) and Alex Rodriguez(notes) (.360, two homers, eight RBIs) hit well against the Rangers. Joe Girardi might want to look at his bench for help, as well. Francisco Cervelli(notes) hit .556 in 16 plate appearances, while Marcus Thames(notes) hit .435 in 23 PAs.
5. The Rangers have home-field advantage: As the AL's wild card team, the Yankees have to play four games at Arlington in this series. And of the five regular-season games they played in Texas this season, the Rangers won four of them.
Home-field advantage didn't work very well for Texas in the ALDS, where they lost Games 3 and 4. But the Rangers seemed to put a lot of pressure on themselves to finish off the series at home after winning the first two games in Tampa Bay. Especially with the cloud of never winning a postseason series hanging over them. That hurdle has been cleared now, which might allow the Rangers to play more relaxed.
The Rangers lost all three games they played at Yankee Stadium this year. But this is where pitching Cliff Lee in Game 3 might help. (See above.) Pitching in the Bronx didn't faze him last year in Game 1 of the World Series. In a complete game, Lee held the Yankees to one run and six hits.
- Cliff Lee