ALCS may hinge on a few key points

ALCS may hinge on a few key points

ARLINGTON -- The Yankees swept their way into the American League Championship Series, making quick work of the Twins.

Meanwhile, the Rangers were pushed to the limit in the AL Division Series by the Rays before finally prevailing thanks to a 5-1 win in Game 5 on Tuesday night.

The ALCS gets under way on Friday night at 8 ET, and here are five things to watch for as the series unfolds:

Lee in three:
The Yankees had to be thrilled that the Rangers-Rays series went five games. That's because it meant the Rangers had to use Cliff Lee for Game 5 of the ALDS rather than Game 1 of the ALCS.

The Yankees saw more of Lee than they cared to last October, when he picked up the only two wins the Phillies had in the World Series, beating New York in Games 1 and 5.

But Lee's 120-pitch complete game against the Rays in Game 5 will keep him on the sidelines until Game 3, with Texas likely turning to C.J. Wilson in Game 1 and Colby Lewis in Game 2.

On the bright side for the Rangers, they could have Lee pitching on regular rest, should there be a Game 7. On the other hand, they will need to find a way to get two wins in games that Lee does not start to make that happen. It will be interesting to see which, if any, Texas hurler is able to step up.

Two streaks:
The Rangers have a postseason history against the Yankees, and it isn't pretty.

The two teams met in 1996, '98 and '99, with the Yankees coming out on top each year. New York has won nine of the 10 games in those series, with the Rangers' lone win coming in Game 1 of the '96 ALDS.

In other words, the Yankees are riding a nine-game postseason winning streak against Texas, and the Rangers have managed just two runs in their last six postseason games against New York.

So while the Rangers will need to beat the Yankees, they will also need to find a way to win a playoff game at home. Texas has lost all six postseason games played at Rangers Ballpark, including a pair of potential closeout games against the Rays.

The Rangers have home-field advantage in the ALCS, but will they capitalize on it?

Age vs. youth:
At some point, Father Time will catch up with Yankees closer Mariano Rivera, but it certainly hasn't yet.

With the game on the line, there is no pitcher in baseball that a team would rather have on the mound than Rivera. The 40-year-old finished all three of the Yankees' wins against the Twins in the ALDS, and his career postseason numbers are ridiculously good. In 91 games, he has an 8-1 record to go with 41 saves and a 0.72 ERA.

On the other side is Rangers closer Neftali Feliz, who is all of 22 years old. Feliz has 42 saves and has appeared in 90 games during his two-year career. His numbers are similar to Rivera's, except they have come during the regular season. This is the right-hander's first time in the postseason, and that may have shown in the series with the Rays, as he struggled with a 6.75 ERA in two appearances.

With little margin for error, the Rangers can ill afford to let a late-inning lead slip away, so whether Feliz is up to the task will be key.

Rotational strength:
Heading into the postseason, the Yankees' rotation was thought to be a weak spot. Could Phil Hughes handle the bright lights of October? What about Andy Pettitte's health?

Instead, New York's starters went 3-0 with a 2.25 ERA in the series, and that included a less-than-stellar performance (by his standards, that is) by CC Sabathia, who allowed the Twins three runs over six innings in Game 1.

Given Sabathia's performance in the postseason last year, he is the least of the Yankees' concerns.

New York will add A.J. Burnett to its rotation for the ALCS, and given his 5.26 ERA in the regular season -- the highest in team history for a pitcher with at least 180 innings -- he is certainly a question mark.

But if Sabathia, Hughes and Pettitte pitch anything like they did in the ALDS, the Yankees should be in very good shape.

Join the hit parade:
To overcome the Yankees and their potent offense, the Rangers will need to find a way to score plenty of runs. For that to happen, two of their main offensive cogs, Josh Hamilton and Michael Young, will need to find a way to get going.

Hamilton, who has been bothered by two small fractures in his right rib cage, was just 2-for-18 against the Rays, while Young was only 3-for-20.

The pair may want to borrow the bats of teammates Nelson Cruz and Ian Kinsler.

Cruz was a monster for the Rangers against the Rays, clubbing three homers and a pair of doubles, batting .400. Kinsler was even better, hitting .444 and driving in six runs with three homers.

That was enough to get by the Rays in five games, but it's hard to imagine the Rangers beating the Yankees without Hamilton and/or Young contributing.

Steve Gilbert is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.