10/12/09 3:40 AM ET
Halos, Yanks flex their might with sweeps
AL powers join Dodgers as third team to blow through DS
By Mark Newman / MLB.com
They are the final five survivors of 30 clubs that started this Major League Baseball season, and they are further proof that this is a Powerhouse Postseason.
Three of the four Division Series were sweeps -- the second time it has happened in history -- and in this case every winner held its home-field advantage. If the Phillies eliminate the Rockies -- it is now a 2-1 series lead for the defending world champs thanks to their 6-5 victory Sunday night in Denver -- then that means the two teams with the best marks in each league would advance to the League Championship Series.
That has happened only once in the Wild Card era (since 1995), and that also was in 2007. The Yankees (103) and Angels (97) led the American League in victories during this season, and they open the ALCS on Friday at Yankee Stadium. The Dodgers (95), Phillies (93) and Rockies (92) finished with the National League's three best records in that order, and the Dodgers are just waiting to host the NLCS on Thursday against that other NLDS survivor.
Two years ago, the D-backs led the NL with a 90-72 record and the Rockies were 90-73; the Red Sox and Indians finished with identical 96-66 records and met in a seven-game ALCS. Under normal circumstances, the meek tend to inherit the Earth.
This is not the postseason of the meek.
The best teams are moving forward on the way to the 105th World Series that will start Oct. 27 in either New York or Anaheim. Just consider what the Angels and Yankees did in clinching back-to-back on Sunday. The Angels never had beaten the Red Sox in postseason play -- but they rallied for three runs in the ninth at Boston off Jonathan Papelbon, who never had given up a postseason run. The Yankees had lost three consecutive Division Series -- 2005, 2006 and 2007 -- but Alex Rodriguez, clutch hitter, is leading them now.
So now the Yankees and Angels meet for the first time in a best-of-seven series, and Andy Pettitte -- following his brilliant clinch start that tied him with John Smoltz for most postseason wins (15) -- already has predicted "a nasty series. It's going to be a war with us and the Angels, but we are looking forward to it."
Veteran closer Mariano Rivera summed up the sentiment in the Yankees' clubhouse: "It feels good, (but) we haven't done anything yet. We have to keep going, keep fighting."
The Yankees' CC Sabathia allowed two runs in Game 1 against Minnesota, and A.J. Burnett and Pettitte allowed just one apiece in the next two, respectively. There wasn't a lot for the Twins to work with, and it wasn't just pitching. The Yankees are running full-throttle in every area, and seeing A-Rod -- whose past postseason struggles are well-documented -- thrive this October makes you wonder if they can be stopped.
"It's a great baseball team," Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said of the Yankees. "They deserve all the accolades, they have got a great bullpen. Those guys come out there firing, bench, the whole package, they've got the whole deal, and they have got some of the classiest players in the league out in the field, guys that I really enjoyed watching play. I hate it when I play against them because they kill us but I enjoy watching Derek Jeter and A-Rod and those guys play. Those guys are very talented and classy people out in the field."
|Maicer Izturis||Popout to catcher (one out)|
|Gary Matthews Jr.||Flyout to center (two out)|
|Erick Aybar||1B on 0-2 fastball|
|Bobby Abreu||2B to left, Aybar scores|
|Torii Hunter||Intentional walk loads bases|
|Vlad Guerrero||1B to center , Figgins, Abreu score|
|Kendry Morales||Flyout to left (three out)|
The Angels got commanding performances from starters John Lackey in Game 1 and Jered Weaver in Game 2, and then they finally broke that Boston first-round hex by plating three runs in the top of the ninth off Papelbon. The Angels actually were down to their last strike, as Erick Aybar had an 0-2 count, but Papelbon was vulnerable and Aybar singled to start what became a clinch rally.
The Angels are far too good offensively to get by with that in 2009. The Bobby Abreu at-bat in the ninth, when he smoked an RBI double off the Green Monster, was a full series of nearly identical pitches. He and the Angels will make you pay. Vlad Guerrero delivered what proved to be the game-winner, a two-run, bases-loaded single, and one of the enticing parts of an Angels-Yankees matchup is the prospect that either he or A-Rod is going to the Fall Classic with a chance to win a first ring and prove something big.
The Angels have power, speed, a .300-stacked lineup, good starting pitching and the Major League saves leader in Brian Fuentes. They are well-managed, and their skipper is eager to get them back into what would be only their second Fall Classic in club history.
"We talked earlier in the series, I felt really good that we were playing good baseball," Angels manager Mike Scioscia said. "We felt if we played good baseball that everyone could not only see the talent on this team, because we haven't shown it in the playoffs. Last year we played better. But outside of '02 and '05, we've had a rough go. Part of it is Boston; they're a deep club. We didn't match up well with them a couple of years. They took it to us. And last year we played better."
These Angels are better. These Yankees are better.
These Dodgers are better, too. They just did something many people thought impossible: Win games started consecutively by Chris Carpenter and Adam Wainwright, the top NL Cy Young Award candidates. Even more impressive, perhaps, was seeing the Dodgers keep that twosome on the shelf by refusing to allow more than a Game 3.
The Dodgers scuffled late in the season but have regained their form by all accounts in this postseason. Either the Phillies or the Rockies would be the visitor in the NLCS opener Thursday at Chavez Ravine.
It will be another amazing finish in this postseason, without question. Five strong clubs are still alive, two in the AL that finished with their league's top records, and three in the NL that finished with the best in theirs. If you like summerlong powers going head-to-head, then this is your postseason.
Mark Newman is enterprise editor of MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.