Friday, October 16, 2009

Yankees-Angels ALCS Preview

After a wait that was longer than each team's series, the ALCS begins tonight with the Yankees and the Angels. Both teams swept their way into this series; the Yanks were expected while the Angels surprised by finally beating the Red Sox. The Yankees now try to do the same to their tormentors from Anaheim. Here's how they stack up:

Infield: I hate being forced to group together infield or outfield like I did for the Yankees and Phillies, but I can't make a case for any of the Angels infielders being better than the Yankees. Kendry Morales had a great season, but he's not in Mark Teixeria's league quite, even though their stats last series was about even. Howie Kendrick can hit for average with anyone, but Robinson Cano has the power and Kendrick is platooning with Maicer Izturis and only facing lefties (important for this series). Erick Aybar did very well against the Red Sox, starting off the rally in Game 3, but I lose all credibility if I have him even with Derek Jeter. Someone like Jimmy Rollins, yes, but not Aybar, not yet. As for third base, if the A-Rod from the Twins series shows up, there's no way Chone Figgins friskiness can match him. Advantage Yankees

LF: Juan Rivera vs. Johnny Damon- One of Jerome from Manhattan's favorite Yankee prospects finally realized his potential this season (though his 2006 was just as good). As for Damon, this space wrote of his September struggles in the Twins preview, and it continued in the Division Series. On paper, it should be Damon that's better because he's a proven playoff performer and Yankee Stadium is built for his swing; however, he needs to prove he can snap out of his slump and we haven't even referred to the fact the Angels will run on his arm throughout the series. Even

CF: Torii Hunter vs. Melky Cabrera- Here's another example of a Yankee who struggled in the Twins series in Cabrera, but at the same time, Hunter wasn't really at his best. The difference is the Game 1 home run that Hunter hit makes his series a little better. The thing to remember is Hunter was one of the top two players on this Angels team and possible MVP candidate if he was healthy all year. Advantage Angels

RF: Bobby Abreu vs. Nick Swisher- Both men are responsible for changing their teams. Swisher lightened the clubhouse with his carefree attitude, while Abreu has brought his patience at the plate and has imparted that wisdom to the Angels who have increased their OBP this season. Abreu is a better hitter than Swisher and a better fielder except if the wall gets involved. Advantage Angels

Catcher: Napoli/Mathis vs. Posada/Molina- Here we have a couple of platoons based on the first round series. Of course, we saw Posada in Game 3 show why he should be the starter each day, but if Molina gives Burnett a better chance to win, that's fine (and if Burnett starts at home, Posada would only miss a couple at bats). The Mike Napoli/Jeff Mathis platoon puzzles me a little more since Napoli is such a good hitter for a catcher, perhaps the same reasons as the Yankees platoon except it's not focused by the media in L.A. This should be even, but I give Jorge the edge for his hitting can be devastating like in Game 3. Advantage Yankees

DH: Vlad Guerrero vs. Hideki Matsui- Here's a battle between a professional hitter who's fallen a bit and a Hall of Fame hitter who's fallen off as well. Both proved they can still hit with Matsui's HR in Game 1 of last series and Guerrero's 2-run hit to win the game and series for the Angels against Boston. However, Matsui did little else against the Twins, while Guerrero was impressive against the Red Sox, plus he's the better all-time hitter. Advantage Angels

Starting Pitching: One of the Yankees biggest question marks because of the weather. If both Games 1 and 2 go on Friday and Saturday, then CC Sabathia will start Game 4 on short rest and be ready for a Game 7. That means Chad Gaudin won't start in this series. If any game (likely Saturday) is rained out, then Gaudin will have to start a game. The Angels will have Joe Saunders in Game 2 start in New York while sitting Scott Kazmir, who's done well against the Yanks, to Game 4. The rest of the starts are as follows; Burnett-erratic; Lackey-pitching for money; Weaver-trying to avoid big bro Jeff's reputation; Pettitte-perhaps his last postseason. If Gaudin pitches, Even; if Sabathia pitches three games, Advantage Yankees.

Bullpen: Another one that's too easy with Mariano Rivera prominently involved. Mo won't implode like any other closer could. While the Yanks could be worried about the pedestrian performance by Phil Hughes and aren't sure yet how Joba Chamberlain will pitch in this series or if Damaso Marte is the mole; at least they know their closer will take care of business. As for the Angels, let's just say they haven't blow a save yet. Brian Fuentes was the AL's Brad Lidge with his blown saves and again, if the most reliable arm is Darren Oliver, then you know your bullpen is bad. Advantage Yankees

Bench: Both benches are overlooked because neither one has a big bat out from there, especially with Eric Hinske not on the ALCS roster for the Yankees. New York has speed with Brett Gardner (and possible LF starter) and Freddy Guzman and defensive help from Jerry Hairston Jr. The Angels will have Reggie Willits for speed and defense and Gary Matthews Jr., who doesn't scare me at all at the plate. Even

Manager: Mike Scioscia vs. Joe Girardi- I honestly believe that the Yankees are winning despite Joe Girardi. He was a little too crazy in that Twins series with Mo pitching after the Yanks gave up the lead in Game 2 and taking out Andy Pettitte after 81 pitches. Scioscia has been referred to as the best manager in baseball and it's a sentiment that I fully back. You have a style of play to prepare for against them, the only team you really have that is like that. Against the Red Sox, I'd worry about overmanaging for Scioscia (last year's failed suicide squeeze comes to mind), but against the Yankees, I don't think that will happen and that already started with Girardi. Advantage Angels

Intangibles: The only intangible I can think of for the Yanks is the cold-weather for the Angels and the Yanks comeback ability in late innings, shared by most teams. The Angels kill them here with the history of success against the Yankees to look at and the continued inspiration from Nick Adenhart's death. This series will say how much his death plays a role in a championship. Advantage Angels

The Angels will win if: The bullpen can finish games; the starters can match/exceed the Yanks starters; Guerrero hits like an all-star; Abreu gets vengence; Girardi ruins the Yankee bullpen; A-Rod plays like A-Fraud and the lineup continues Twins series struggles.

The Yankees will win if: A-Rod plays like YEA-Rod; the lineup can hit better outside of Jeter, Posada, Rodriguez; Yanks pitchers shut down the Angels lineup; Angels starters are ordinary; Angels bullpen plays like the Angels bullpen of the regular season; Girardi makes all of the right moves.

Prediction: Yankees in 7; ALCS MVP- CC Sabathia

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