Tonight in the Bronx, the ALCS gets underway featuring the clear cut top two seeds in the American League, the New York Yankees and the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim. Not that past performances are any clear indication of future results but these two teams have met twice before in the playoffs with the Angels emerging victorious both times in 2002 and 2005.
The Yankees have ran through the American League this season like a hot knife through butter. However since 2002 the Angels are the only team with a winning record against the Bronx Bombers. This is clearly the best match up that the AL can offer so lets break down the important components.
Lets start with the offense. The Yankees pack a huge punch to say the least with seven of their nine starting hitters topping the 20 home run mark. Their first baseman and former Angel Mark Teixeira lead the way with 39 home runs and 122 RBI. The always dangerous Alex Rodriguez hit 30 home runs and drove in 100 runs despite missing 38 games. Rodriguez is heating up at the right time after hitting .455 with 2 HR and 6 RBI in the divisional series against Minnesota. The Yankees are loaded with power featuring seven players that are slugging at .489 or higher. The Yankees have no easy outs and are a routine nighmare for opposing pitchers.
While the Yankees rely on the long ball, the Angels play more of a national league style of baseball relying on speed and a station to station style of offense. Their leadoff hitter Figgins stole 42 bases while number two hitter Bobby Abreu stole 30 bases. Four more Angels players stole 10 or more bases this season. The Angels mix in a nice balance of power and speed. Kendry Morales who replace Teixeira at first base lead the Angels with 34 home runs. Morales and Abreu each topped the 100 RBI mark while Hunter finished with 90 RBI despite playing in only 119 games this season. Vladimir Guerrero proved in the ALDS that he is still a dangerous hitter while Juan Rivera is also a long ball threat. Despite the fact that both teams feature dangerous line ups, I give the advantage to the Yankees based on their strength at the bottom of their line up.
As for the starting pitching the Yankees will go with a three man rotation that features 19 game winner CC Sabathia, the proven playoff veteran Andy Pettitte and the always dangerous AJ Burnett. Sabathia and Burnett were big offseason free agent signings that have proven their worth under baseball’s biggest October stage thus far. Sabathia would be starting on three days rest in game four and has shown signs of eventually breaking down just as he did with Milwaukee in last years postseason.
The Angels have a deeper starting staff with four pitchers who could possibly start in this series with Jon Lackey, Jered Weaver, Joe Saunders and Scott Kazmir who was acquired from Tampa Bay in August. I think this factor will serve the Angels well and the depth will keep their starters fresh as the series goes on. Because of that I give the starting pitching advantage to the Angels.
As for the bullpens, the Angels closer Brian Fuentes lead the major leagues with 48 saves. Despite that stat, he has been far from consistent and has shown signs of wear and tear with his ERA a full run higher in the second half of the seaason. Darren Oliver is a solid set up man who looked good in the ALDS.
The Yankees feature the arguably the best closer in the game in Mariano Rivera who at the age of 39 finished with 44 saves and a 1.76 ERA. The Yankees have plenty of capable of middle relievers who can get him the ball in the ninth inning led by youngsters Phil Hughes and Joba Chamberlain. Because of Rivera and their depth I give the edge to the Yankees.
As for the benches the Angels have plenty of depth with utility infielder Maicer Izturis, back up catcher Mike Napoli and fourth outfielder Gary Matthews Jr. Yankees back up catcher Jose Molina will catch AJ Burnett and Brett Gardner can provide plenty of speed in key situations. I give the advantage to the Angels.
This is going to be a hard fought series and could be even better than the World Series. The Angels will have to get production from their 7-9 hitters to be successful while the Yankees middle relief will face its biggest test to date. If any team can beat the Yankees, its the Angels. They are one of the few teams that have a confidence and swagger about them when facing the Yankees. That being said, I just believe that the Yankees are rolling on all cylinders both offensively and defensively. My gut tells me that this is their year to once again win it all.
My prediction is Yankees in seven.