10/14/09 7:25 PM EST
Many variables as Yanks face Halos
Evenly-matched clubs not paying attention to history
By Anthony DiComo / MLB.com
Both teams feature dynamic offenses -- the Yankees built more around power and the Angels built more around speed. Both feature fine rotations and serviceable bullpens. Both feature home-field advantages that could certainly become October factors.
The Yankees won more games in the regular season -- but that, of course, was then. This is now. And so you can throw out the Yankees' 5-5 record against the Angels in the regular season. You can throw out their 3-6 all-time playoff record against the Angels, and you can throw out their .459 winning percentage against them dating back to 1995. As the Angels already demonstrated in their first-round dismantling of the Red Sox, previous history matters little come October. More than likely, the hot team will win. And both clubs are coming into this ALCS matchup on a roll.
"We played them a bunch of times this year and we have a good idea of what we want to do," starting pitcher A.J. Burnett said.
Will the Yankees' starting pitching reign supreme? Will the Angels' running game change the complexion of the series? Will one team's bullpen finally falter? All are possibilities. Matchups like this provide no easy answers.
Angels: If the building blocks of a successful offense are speed and power, the Angels have to like their chances at the plate. Aside from Chone Figgins, a burner if ever there was one, the Angels employ a host of players who can score runs with their bats and their legs. Bobby Abreu, for example, hit 15 homers and stole 30 bags this season, all while driving in 103 runs. Torii Hunter went deep 22 times and stole 18 bases. And if Vladimir Guerrero, who hit a game-winning single off Jonathan Papelbon in Game 3 of the ALDS, contributes, the Angels will be tough to keep quiet.
Yankees: How quickly storylines can change. Heading into the ALDS, Alex Rodriguez endured endless criticism regarding his ability to hit in the postseason. But now, after hitting .455 with two homers and five separate RBI hits against the Twins, he is back to being the most-feared member of a well-oiled offense. Rodriguez should have plenty of opportunities to drive in runs with Jeter, Johnny Damon and Mark Teixeira all hitting ahead of him. And if all else fails, the Yankees boast perhaps the best bottom three in baseball in Robinson Cano, Nick Swisher and Melky Cabrera. Their mission? Bash as many balls out of the park as possible.
Los Angeles' Brian Fuentes vs. New York's Hideki Matsui: No doubt, Fuentes has had his issues this year, posting a 3.93 ERA and blowing seven saves in his first season in Anaheim. And no doubt, Matsui has had a tremendous year, taking advantage of generous time off to stay healthy and wallop 28 homers. Matsui has always been a tough out against left-handed pitching, and he fared significantly better against lefties than right-handers this season. Lifetime against Fuentes, he is 2-for-3 with a double.
New York's Joba Chamberlain vs. Los Angeles' Kendry Morales: In the Division Series against the Twins, Yankees manager Joe Girardi showed no aversion to using Chamberlain in tight spots late in games, despite him having gone a year without pitching in relief. Until further notice, the seventh inning belongs to Chamberlain, who has served up four hits to Morales -- including a homer and a double -- in six career meetings. Overall this season, the switch-hitting Morales batted .309 against right-handed pitching.
Angels: The winning pitcher in the clinching Game 3 of the ALDS, Darren Oliver has been downright terrific all season long, pitching in any role manager Mike Scioscia needs. If necessary, the Angels can use Oliver as a bridge to Fuentes, or as a long man to keep them in the game if the Yankees begin to wear out their starting pitching. Not surprisingly, Oliver pitched in six of the teams' 10 meetings this season, compiling a 3.60 ERA.
Yankees: It's rarely a question of whether or not Brett Gardner will play in any given game. The only question is when. If the Yankees are losing, Girardi will likely call on Gardner to pinch-run at first base, where he is developing into a fine basestealer. If the Yankees are winning, Girardi will likely use him either in relief of Damon in left field or Swisher in right. Either way, Gardner should play -- and make some sort of impact -- in every game of the series.
Angels: There's a reason Oliver is so important. For all of Oliver's successes, the rest of Scioscia's relievers have tended to struggle. Aside from Fuentes, the Angels have endured plenty of inconsistency from inexperienced relievers such as Jason Bulger and Kevin Jepsen. No one in particular has laid claim to the seventh or eighth inning in Anaheim, where the Angels are perhaps most vulnerable.
Yankees: Because Chamberlain is now in the bullpen, and because the Yankees aren't eager to entrust a playoff start to Chad Gaudin, the team is currently kicking around the idea of proceeding with a three-man rotation. For all that says about CC Sabathia, it also points to the fact that the Yankees are somewhat thin in the rotation behind him, Burnett and Andy Pettitte. If the Angels can get to Sabathia or Burnett in Games 1 and 2, they'll find the back end of Girardi's rotation is not quite as tough.
The Angels will win if... John Lackey beats Sabathia in Game 1. Putting the Yankees in an early hole may force them to scramble, to bring Sabathia back on short rest in Game 4 and to delve into their middle relief perhaps more often than they'd like. If the Angels beat Sabathia, all the pressure will be on Burnett in Game 2. And Burnett has shown on multiple occasions this season that once he gets rattled, he can be beaten.
The Yankees will win if... They keep it close. The Yankees have the better offense and the better bullpen, which is why they boast a league-leading 51 come-from-behind victories this season, including a league-high 15 walk-off wins. Already, the Yankees have come from behind to win twice against the Twins this October. If the Angels want to avoid a similar fate, they would do well to deliver knockout punches early in games.
Anthony DiComo is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.