Giants/Rangers Preview, part I: Cliff Lee is good

ST PETERSBURG, FL - OCTOBER 12: : Pitcher Cliff Lee #33 of the Texas Rangers celebrates his team's victory over the Tampa Bay Rays in Game 5 of the ALDS at Tropicana Field on October 12, 2010 in St. Petersburg, Florida. (Photo by J. Meric/Getty Images)

Roy Halladay scared me. Give me a little peptic discomfit, he did. He’s the archetype, the template. He’s the towering superman with perfect stuff and perfect control. As good as Tim Lincecum can be -- dude won two Cy Youngs, in case you weren’t aware -- there’s a blueprint-grade rigidity that Halladay brings to every start that just fascinates me. It’s no wonder that he’s the second-scariest starter in the majors to me.

So, Cliff Lee. The scariest starter in the majors.

I can’t think about Cliff Lee without thinking about his 2007. He was so bad. So, so bad. In July, he was optioned to the minors after passing through waivers. That’s Wellemeyer bad. Before Lee lost his starting rotation slot, he had a three-start stretch in which he allowed seven earned runs. He was like the final days of Kirk Rueter passing through the orbit of Jaime Navarro. Again, this was in 2007. I have shirts that I bought in 2007 that I still consider to be new shirts. There’s canned food in my cupboard that I bought in 2007 that isn’t close to expiring. In 2007, Cliff Lee was the worst pitcher in Major League Baseball.

Now Lee is the closest that young baseball fans will get to vintage Greg Maddux. There was a time when Greg Maddux worked in the low-90s, just as Lee does now. Some might take offense at the comparison because Lee is a lefty and Maddux is a right-hander. Bah. Maddux wasn’t a right-handed pitcher. He just was. He turned every major league hitter into an American League pitcher, lefty or righty. He had an assortment of pitches that would befuddle right-handed hitters, and he had an assortment that would befuddle left-handed hitters. At no point was Maddux fair.

So far this postseason, Lee has been comparable. He just is. Watching Lee to this point in the postseason has been a subject in pity. The Yankees have a billion-dollar lineup that mixes historically great hitters with contemporary monsters. It’s a goofy lineup. When Lee faced the Yankees, the only appropriate reaction was pity. Those poor, poor souls. There was no way to imagine Lee getting hit without the Yankees recruiting a series of dinks, dunks, and broken-bat singles. He moved in, he moved out. He fooled hitters, he dominated hitters. He blew them away, he caught them looking for something else.

Ridiculous.

Now that we’ve established that the Rangers will win games 1, 4, and possibly 7, the Giants will need to...

...

Yeah, but the playoffs.

I’m scared of Cliff Lee. He’s a great pitcher on a ridiculous run. But the playoffs. Short series. Isolated games of heightened importance. I don’t care who is pitching. If Cliff Lee completely obliterates the Giants in Game One, it’s like, fine, it’s Cliff Lee, supernatural adverb. He good. Move on.

But the playoffs. A similar paean could have been written about Roy Halladay, dominating monster-beast that he is. But Cody Ross. Halladay missed with a couple of pitches that Cody Ross didn’t. The Giants won the pennant. These are the kind of things on which the Giants hopes rest. Tim Lincecum is in Cliff Lee’s league -- it’s not like the Giants are throwing Jamie Brewington out there, crossing their fingers, and hoping for a random Eli Whitside grand slam. But they’ll still need an I-don’t-believe-what-I-just-saw moment. Juan Uribe hitting a home run to right field. Pat Burrell turning a lucky guess into a three-run homer. A string of two-out hits that elude outstretched gloves.

I’m looking forward to it. No dread here. There’s no foreboding feeling. Come on, you silly, silly playoffs. Show us. If it’s the Giants’ fate to be shut down by a pitcher at the top of his game, fine. So be it. It would beat losing to Ramon Ortiz and the husk of Kevin Appier. But I think the playoffs are more clever than that. Cliff Lee being Cliff Lee against a team that Cliff Lee should dominate would be so boring. Give us a three-walk inning from Lee to three impatient Giants hitters. Give us a perfectly timed sequence of doubles that allows a brilliant performance from Tim Lincecum to hold up.

Give us a twist ending in Lee’s starts, playoffs. The Giants didn’t make it this far to have everything decided by an actuary table. Lee scares me. But the playoffs don’t. The playoffs have been weird enough for me to stop predicting anything. The Giants are in the World Series. Cody Ross was the NLCS MVP. Try to out-weird that.

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