Los Angeles Angels at New York Yankees
The Yankees and Angels were the two best teams in the AL during the regular season, and both are looking particularly impressive right now. They are each coming off sweeps in the ALDS (in which they each came back once against the other team’s dominant closer down two in the ninth). These teams have met in the playoffs twice already this decade, with Los Angeles bumping New York in the ALDS in 2002 and 2005. In 2009, the two teams split the 10 regular season games they played against each other, but the Yankees, and their fans, certainly remember when the Angels swept them in the last series before the All-Star break, when the Yankees were at their hottest. New York was better in the regular season, but expect the teams to be pretty evenly matched in the ALCS.
WHAT’S AT STAKE
The pennant! Well, the Yankees are also in a World Series drought of NINE YEARS, and this is a chance for a new team, with additions like Mark Teixeira, CC Sabathia, AJ Burnett, Nick Swisher, plus young guys like Joba Chamberlain and Phil Hughes, to all get their first shot at the World Series. New York could also improve its case for “Team of the Decade” by winning its fourth ALCS in ten years. You should never underestimate Team of the Decade plotlines.
The Angels proved how dangerous their offense can be against Boston, particularly in the ninth inning of Game 3. With two outs against Jonathan Papelbon, one of the game’s best closers, the Angels got a big single from Erick Aybar, a well-earned walk from Chone Figgins, and then a double from Bobby Abreu. This shows how many ways they can beat you: long at-bats, good baserunning, a solid middle of the order. A lot has been made about how the Angels like to be “pesky” and run around on the bases—and they probably will run on Jorge Posada—but the truth is that the Angels just out hit the Yankees in their head-to-head games this season. Torii Hunter, Vladimir Guerrero and Kendry Morales are threats no matter who is on the bases.
The Yankees still have the best offense in baseball, and now Alex Rodriguez is a clutch player! Rodriguez is coming off a great series against the Twins, and his numbers against Los Angeles throughout his career are better than his numbers against any other team. Derek Jeter, Hideki Matsui, and Jorge Posada also hit well in the ALDS, to less acclaim than A-Rod, illustrating once again that New York has the deepest lineup in baseball right now. Concerns surround Mark Teixeira, Robinson Cano, and Johnny Damon—particularly Damon, who hasn’t been hitting well for about a month now—all of whom never found groves against Minnesota pitching and are now about to face a superior Angels’ staff.
As someone predicted, John Lackey had a dominant performance against Boston in LA, pitching 7 1/3 scoreless innings. He’s also the only guy still in the league to have started and won Game 7 of the World Series, so he’s got that going for him, which is nice. Joe Saunders, who didn’t get a start in the Division Series thank to the sweep, will go in Game 2; it’s always a little unpredictable to see how guys will respond to the long layoffs like that, but Saunders usually does well on extra rest. Jered Weaver, who also pitched well against the Red Sox, will be held for Game 3 and a possible Game 7, while Kazmir will be bumped to a Game 4. He didn’t have the exceptional ALDS that I predicted.
It seems likely, and wise, that the Yankees will go with a 3-man rotation in the ALCS. Joe Girardi mentioned that the weather would play a role in this decision, but they should probably forego a fourth started no matter what. The superfluous off-day between Games 4 and 5 means that only Sabathia would be going on short rest, and even then only once. He proved last year in Milwaukee that he’s capable of being dominant on short rest, so it’s probably better to go with him than the unpredictable Joba/Chad Gaudin tandem. Andy Pettitte and A.J. Burtnett, of course, round out the rotation.
TIM: You gonna miss the Chipster?
JOHN: Absolutely not. If Chip Caray had been calling the ALCS, I would have considered rooting for the Twins.
TIM: Surprised by the Saunders move? How has he traditionally done against the Yankees? And is it just to get a lefty in NYS?
JOHN: I’m not really surprised by the Saunders move. It seems like Sciosa’s way of saying he has confidence in all four starters. Saunders doesn’t have good numbers against New York, but maybe he wants to see Teixeira and Swisher hit right-handed, and Girardi maybe sit Matsui.
TIM: How much street cred would Torii Hunter lose if his first name were Tori? You know, like Amos. Are we talking 5-10% or something bigger like 25-30%? Where does Torry fit in this equation?
JOHN: Well, if Torii Hunter were named Tori Hunter, then he’d most likely be a porn star. I’m sorry. I don’t make the rules.
TIM: So, wanna help me out and explain why the Mets were right to not sign Vladimir Guerrero and pay Carlos Beltran a lot more instead?
JOHN: Well, I guess Guerrero’s had some injury prob—oh right. Um, well, Vlad’s only won the MVP once….And Beltran IS a better fielder…..Money well-spent.
TIM: Scale of 1-10, how terrified are you of this Angels team? And who scares you the most?
JOHN: I guess I was at 2 for the Twins, and I’m a 5 for the Angels. I’m actually most worried about Bobby Abreu. Dude hit .556 against Boston, and now he has the vengeance factor. Plus, he knows how to wear down pitchers and get on base in front of Hunter and Guerrero.
TIM: Sooooo, not Brian Fuentes?
JOHN: I wasn’t even afraid of K-Rod when they had him. So, no, I’m not worried about the shut-down capacity of Fuentes.
TIM: What Yankee scares you the most?
JOHN: Probably A.J. Burnett for his proclivity to lay an egg in his starts. He pitched well against Minnesota, but you never know how much to rely on him.
TIM: Is the plan still to put Molina behind the plate with Burnett? And will Posada DH Game 2 against the lefty, or does Girardi stick with Matsui? And how much of this catching platoon is Girardi retroactively venting for having to share time with Jorge?
JOHN: Well, Jorge responded like a petulant child to that decision last time, but I think it was the right one. I’d rather see Matsui in the lineup than Posada, even against a lefty (Matsui’s numbers against LHP were actually better than his against RHP this year), but I could see Girardi leaving Posada in to appease him. But come on, Tim. Girardi is a big enough man not to make this personal.
TIM: Speaking of Jorge, how long until Mike Scioscia calls the suicide squeeze with Posada behind the plate? I think he runs it the first time he has a guy on third, regardless of all other circumstances.
JOHN: I’ve always wanted to see more playoff suicide squeezes. I actually wanted Girardi to call one with Brett Gardner on third in the tenth inning of Game 2. Damon lined into a double play, so I think that proved me right.
TIM: Do you look at the AL Playoffs as a Tournament for the MVP, and now it’s down to Teixeira and Morales (with Mauer and Pedroia eliminated)?
JOHN: What kind of stupid way to award the MVP is that? Joe Mauer should win it.
TIM: If Sabathia goes seven in Game 1, who do you want getting the ball in the eighth? Joba, Hughes, or Mariano?
JOHN: I mean, it obviously depends on the score and who’s up, etc., but I would start with Hughes, bring in Joba if he looked shaky, and bring in Mariano if there was a real threat brewing. I never like bringing in Rivera to start the eighth, particularly when you have two reliable eighth-inning guys available. I have more confidence in Hughes to start an inning, but Joba with guys on base because of his strikeout ability.
TIM: How are Yankees’ fans approaching this series? Are you excited to be back; are you scared of losing; are you intrigued by maybe not being the head-and-shoulders favorite in a series for the first time since the ’96 World Series?
JOHN: I’m not as nervous as I would be if we were playing Boston (despite the fact that I said I would prefer to play Boston), but I’m not simply “excited to be back.” I would still be disappointed if the Yankees didn’t make the World Series, but I’m not that nervous since, in my mind, the Yankees have never lost an ALCS (What? 2004? Never happened.).
TIM: Who ya got?
JOHN: I’ll take the Yankees in six, with the Angels taking Games 1 and 3 behind great starts by Lackey and Weaver. But I think Sabathia does well on three-days rest, Burnett outpitches Lackey in Game 5, and the Yankees win easy at home in Game 6.