Whoever Wins Game Five, So Do the Yankees - NBC New York

Whoever Wins Game Five, So Do the Yankees

Either the Rays or Rangers will enter the ALCS shorthanded



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    They don't even need to throw a pitch for Yankees fans to certify Game Five of the Rays-Rangers series as an instant classic.

    While the Yankees are hanging out with the family, having their girlfriends named the Sexiest Woman Alive or catching up with football, the two potential opponents have been bashing each other's brains out in two extra games that will have serious ramifications on the American League Championship Series to come. That's what happens when you're forced to use your ace starter twice in the first five games.

    Cliff Lee will be trying to repeat his Game One heroics on Tuesday in Tampa while David Price will be trying to make up for a shaky outing, and the Yankees hope both men are successful. After all, every good inning they pitch makes it a little more likely that the game will head to extra innings and burn a few relievers in addition to the starting pitchers. But even if each guy goes six and the game ends after nine innings it will be just fine with everyone in the Bronx.

    Simply by pitching, Lee and Price will be taking themselves out of the ALCS until Game Three at Yankee Stadium. After that they'd be out of comission until a potential Game Seven while CC Sabathia will pitch in two of the first five games. That's a big edge under any circumstances, and it could turn out to be a massive one in this case. The Yankees have had great success against Matt Garza and James Shields, Tampa's prospective first two starters, and the Rangers duo of C.J. Wilson and Colby Lewis are in uncharted waters when it comes to workload and surroundings.

    On top of that, the Yankees answered their big pitching questions in the first round. Phil Hughes and Andy Pettitte might be at a disadvantage when pitted against Lee or Price, but they aren't going to simply roll over and die because they aren't the favorite in the matchup. That leads us to the other part of this equation: Regardless of who they face in the next round and when the aces pitch, the Yankees are going to hold the key to advancing in their own hands.

    We can break these things down from dozens of angles and come up with different scenarios, but when push comes to shove the key is always going to be the Yankees. If they play the way they did against the Twins, there will be little that any one opposing pitcher can do about keeping them from returning to the World Series. Lee learned that last October and there's a pretty good chance that the only thing that's changed is the two numbers after "20" in the year.

    Josh Alper is a writer living in New York City and is a contributor to FanHouse.com and ProFootballTalk.com in addition to his duties for NBCNewYork.com. You can follow him on Twitter.