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Cliff Lee Messes with Texas

Cliff Lee makes the Rangers a major competitor in the AL (photo from PhotoBucket.com)

Cliff Lee got a pretty good deal getting traded from the last place Seattle Mariners to the first place Texas Rangers in an inter-AL West trade.  The move is a white flag for the disappointing Seattle team (35-53 and 15 games out), and a jump to a short list of elite AL teams for the tough Texas team (50-38, 4.5 games ahead of the Angels)

While Red Sox fans breathed a big sigh of relief to see the Mariners go against every preemptive report of that trade day that projected the Yankees to acquire Cliff Lee, we shouldn’t be comfortable with him pitching in Texas.  For the past decade or so, the Texas Rangers have perpetually fielded teams with explosive batting and less-than-impressive pitching rotations.

Texas Rangers so far

This season, they have gotten serious about winning their first-ever playoff series, making the biggest trade to hit baseball so far this season.  To balance out their roster, they are throwing perennial workhorse Cliff Lee into a rotation that already features Colby Lewis (8-5 with a 3.33 ERA and 105 Ks to 38 walks) and C.J. Wilson (7-5 with a 3.35 ERA and a 82/55 K/BB ratio).  Not to mention the league’s next big closer, Neftali Feliz, who has already put up 23 saves, 42 strikeouts and a ridiculously low WHIP of 1.06, all as a 22 year-old.

And then there’s the run support.  As of Thursday night, in which they slammed Tim Wakefield off the mound after two innings and seven earned runs on eight hits, the Rangers rank second in the league in batting average and hits, third in RBIs and 10th in home runs.  They tout a lineup that features the batting average co-leader Josh Hamilton (tied with Miguel Cabrera at .346), Ian Kinsler (.309 avg, 30 RBI and .406 OBP), Michael Young (.301 avg., 12 HR, 54 RBI), Nelson Cruz (.311 AVG, 11 HR, and 44 RBI) and the Angels’ biggest regret Vladimir Guerrero, who is second in the league with 75 RBIs and has put up a .323 average and 20 home runs.

Familiar trade

So Cliff Lee has been traded mid-season to a team with a solid staff and a stacked lineup.  This move sounds vaguely familiar to the Philadelphia Phillies’ pre-deadline trade last season, maybe because the trade was for the same guy, and the deal launched Philly to the World Series.  With the addition of Cliff Lee, the Texas Rangers have put themselves on par with the Yankees, Sox and Rays as American League pennant contenders. At the very least they will finally get their franchise’s first-ever playoff series victory, but will be a disappointment if they fail to go further than that.

Saturday, Rangers (Lee) at Red Sox (Lackey)

The Red Sox get to see these re-vamped Texas Rangers first-hand this weekend, with Lee slated to pitch against Jon Lackey on Saturday night. While his Texas debut consisted of an odd complete-game loss to the minor league team that is the Baltimore Orioles, Lee and his Rangers should give John Lackey a run for his money at Fenway Park this weekend.

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