The Big Five with … Rangers pitcher Cliff Lee

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ARLINGTON, Texas — Before Cliff Lee signs a mega-free-agent deal this off-season, he’s got another showdown with Tim Lincecum coming in Game 5. And this time, he’ll have to bounce back after one of his worst starts of the year — and certainly the worst in his otherwise brilliant postseason career. Not to mention, facing The Big Five: 

You’ve set such a high standard for yourself that on the rare occasion when you did struggle, was it a surprise to you?

“I don’t know if it was a surprise. I know every time I go out there, I expect to be successful. So any time it’s anything less than that, you’re disappointed. You never know what’s going to happen out there. Those guys swinging the bat are pretty good, too. If you make mistakes, that’s what they get paid to hit. I was throwing a lot of balls over the plate. You can’t do that on a consistent basis and expect to be successful. They showed me that the other night.”

Was there any issue with the mound in Game 1?

“No, none. I know I kick and scratch on the mound, but I do that every time, if you’ve watched close enough. That’s part of, I guess, my in-between-pitch routine and what I do. I like to pay attention to where my foot is hitting. I try to keep (the landing spot) smooth and level and clean.”

You said after Game 1 that health wasn’t an issue for you. Have you figured out why that happened? Was it a mechanical thing, or something else you need to change?

“Anything I say is an excuse, and I’m not going to sit here and make excuses. I threw balls down the middle of the plate, and they hit them. I’ve got to do a better job of locating pitches. The reason why, and all that stuff, regardless of what I say, it sounds like an excuse, so I’d rather not say anything.”

Has your opinion of the Giants hitters changed at all since the series began?

“They’ve got a lot of quality hitters; there’s no doubt about it. In the last press conference, I was saying how good their pitching staff was, and it made it seem like their hitters aren’t as good — and that’s not the case. They proved it in San Francisco for sure. They scored, what was it, 20-something runs in two games? They’re pitch-able, but like I say, if you make mistakes and miss over the plate, and they’re 2-0, 3-1 (in the count), bad things are going to happen.”

You’ve been with the Rangers for just more than four months. What’s your take on your time here?

“It’s been a great experience; they’re great teammates. I knew the offense was unbelievable before I got here because I’ve had to face them in the past, and it hasn’t been a whole lot of fun. I knew we were going to score runs, no question about that.

“It’s definitely one unit working together. There are a lot of individually talented players, but we really do pull for each other, and if someone doesn’t get it done, the next guy is there to do it. That’s the recipe for a winning team, and that’s why we are where we’re at.”

Editor’s note: Tony DeMarco is a contributor to NBCSports.com who has been covering the big leagues since 1987. He’ll interview a guest during each day of the World Series for HardballTalk.com.

Four teams are in on Mike Moustakas

Mike Moustakas
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Free agent third baseman Mike Moustakas is drawing interest from at least four clubs, MLB Network’s Jon Heyman reported Friday. The Brewers are the presumed frontrunners to land the infielder, but Heyman adds that the Angels may take the inside edge as Moustakas hails from the San Fernando Valley and has invested in charity efforts in California over the last year. The Phillies and Padres, on the other hand, have been involved to a lesser degree as they’re both thought to be in hot pursuit of fellow free agent third baseman/shortstop Manny Machado, though their interest in the veteran Moustakas could ramp right back up should they lose out on Machado in the weeks to come.

Moustakas, 30, declined a $15 million mutual option with the Brewers at the end of the 2018 season, and like many others left on the market, has yet to find a landing spot in advance of spring training. While he’s several years removed from his last All-Star performance, he ran a decent campaign with the Royals and Brewers last year, slashing a combined .251/.315/.459 with 28 home runs, a .774 OPS, and 2.4 fWAR across 635 plate appearances.

He certainly appears to be a fit in Anaheim, where he could supplant Zack Cozart at the hot corner and balance out the Angels’ right-heavy lineup alongside Kole Calhoun, Justin Bour, and Tommy La Stella. Even if the Angels have serious interest in the third baseman, however, they’re likely to wait and see what kind of contract Machado (and the as-yet unsigned Bryce Harper) fetches before extending any serious offers of their own. They’re far from the only club to use the four-time All-Star as a litmus test this offseason, which has only fueled a growing unrest among MLB players who believe that more serious action — such as a midseason walk-out or a league-wide strike — will need to be taken over the next few months.