The Yanks are Coming
Most teams aren't thrilled to the play the Yankees in the playoffs. But the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim are not most teams. For one reason or another, the Angels have played the Yankees extremely well over the years, which included an impressive 3-1 series win in the 2002 ALDS. If you recall, that was the series in which Mike Scioscia refused to go to Troy Percival in the 8th inning of game one, and was bashed by the New York media after the combination of Ben Weber, Scott Schoeneweis, and Brendan Donnelly combined to give up four runs in an 8-5 Yankee win. Scioscia stuck to his guns though in game 2, and used both Weber and Donnelly in the 8th. He then brought Percival in for the final out, but the message was clear. Scioscia was not going to let the Mike Lupicas and other demanding members of the New York media dictate how he would run his ball club. The Angels outslugged the Yankees in Games 2, 3, and 4, by the scores of 8-6, 9-6, and 9-5.
This time around, the Angels' lineup isn't quite as potent as it once was. So can the Halos move on to the ALCS? LAist takes a look at the matchups, position by position.
Catcher: Jorge Posada vs. Bengie Molina
Molina had a real nice year, probably his best ever. He hit for average, walked a little more (although, still not much), and added a small bit of power. He does a great job of handling the Angels pitching staff. But he's also one of the slowest baserunners in the game, giving him the nickname "Bengie Molasis" for TJ Simers. Posada didn't have one of his best seasons, but he remains a lineup threat. He has been one of the best hitting catchers in baseball for a long time.
First Base: Jason Giambi vs. Darin Erstad
Steroids aside, Giambi rebounded from a dreadful start in 2005 to post some very impressive numbers. He reasserted himself as one of the top power hitters in the game. Erstad remains one of the most overrated hitters in baseball, and the Angels' lack of power from the first base position really hurts their offense.
Second Base: Robinson Cano vs. Adam Kennedy
Cano had a nice season for a rookie who seemingly came out of nowhere. Some believe he might be AL Rookie of the Year. But Adam Kennedy also had a solid year. He may not hit for power, but he does get on base, and he has had success before in the postseason. We'll go with experience here.
Third Base: Alex Rodriguez vs. Maicer Izturis/Robb Quinlan/Chone Figgins
This isn't even close. We don't know what Mike Scioscia is going to do at this position. It will probably depend on the pitcher matchups. But A-Rod is the AL MVP in our opinion, and him and Vlad Guerrero are the two best players in the American League.
Shortstop: Derek Jeter vs. Orlando Cabrera
Cabrera has a reputation as a "clutch" hitter, but we don't really care. Jeter has also been known to perform well in the postseason. Cabrera didn't perform up to the level of his contract, we don't think one good playoff run with the Red Sox is enough to indicate he'll be good again this October. Jeter may have his failings defensively, but you won't find many General Managers who wouldn't want him on their team.
Left Field: Hideki Matsui vs. Juan Rivera
We're going to assume that Garret Anderson will DH most of the series. He's been DHing a lot lately, we just can't see Scioscia taking on chance on him being a defensive liability at this point in the year. Juan Rivera is a decent player. But he's nothing special. Sometimes it seems like Matsui gets lost in the shuffle with all the other stars on the Yankees, but he's really an excellent player. We hope the Dodgers sign him in the offseason.
Center Field: Bernie Williams vs. Chone Figgins/Steve Finley
It's kind of embarrassing that a team with the resources of the Yankees is still trotting out Bernie Williams in center. For the past few years they've tried a number of different guys, who actually have range, to play the position, but it's failed for one reason or another. So Williams winds up being called back to head out in center, his speed merely a memory. His bat speed has also dramatically slowed. Bubba Crosby might get some time here, but we're not sure it will be all that much. The Angels have their own aging center fielder in Steve Finley, whose career hit the wall with a bang this season. We suspect that Scioscia will play both Figgins and Finley in center at times this year. Figgins is a good player, but playing center field isn't his strong suit. There's really no winner here. This is a weakness for both teams.
Right Field: Gary Sheffield vs. Vladimir Guerrero
Gary Sheffield may be a headcase, but he's a damn good ballplayer. He's one of the most underrated stars of our era. That said, we believe Vlad Guerrero to be one of the five best players in Major League Baseball at any position. He's absolutely amazing. He can seemingly hit any pitch anywhere he wants to. And without him, the Angels would be nowhere.
Designated Hitter: Ruben Sierra vs. Garret Anderson
The Yankees have a number of different DH options, but lately Sierra has been getting the most number of at-bats here. It's really remarkable that Ruben Sierra is still playing Major League Baseball. There was a time when Sierra was a five-tool player, and Texas Rangers fans are convinced to this day that he was screwed out of the 1989 AL MVP Award. Sierra is one of the game's ultimate survivors. But he hit .235 this year, and his time has passed. Anderson has not been himself this year, slowed by injuries. But he still represents a potential lineup threat by Angels standards.
Game 1 Starting Pitcher: Mike Mussina vs. Bartolo Colon
Mussina didn't have his best year, but he's still a very solid pitcher. For some reason he doesn't get enough recognition for playing an invaluable role in the Yankees rotation over the past few years. His presence has at times prevented the rotation from a total collapse. As for Colon, we believe he should win the AL Cy Young Award this season. In addition to his 21 wins and 3.48 ERA, he also had an impressive 1.16 WHIP, and achored one of baseball's best staffs. We're not concerned about his back either.
Game 2 Starting Pitcher: Chien-Ming Wang vs. John Lackey
Lackey had a phenomenal year, and looks like he could be a star pitcher for a long time.Wang was a pleasant surprise for the Yankees this season, coming out of nowhere. At one point in the season, it seemed like he was the only Yankee who could throw a strike. Still, Wang missed a chunk of the season while sitting on the DL, and he's not the most consistent guy out there yet. We don't really know what to expect from him in the playoffs.
Game 3 Starting Pitcher: Paul Byrd vs. Randy Johnson
Scioscia has announced that he's going with Byrd in Game 3, because he wants to give Jarrod Washburn an extra day of rest. Paul Byrd has turned into a pretty good pitcher, the kind of guy who can reliably get the Angels a quality start by its official definition (6 innings or more, three runs or fewer allowed). Randy Johnson first season in New York hasn't been everything he'd hoped it would be. But the Big Unit did pitch well down the stretch, and he's still Randy Johnson.
Game 4 Starting Pitcher: Jarrod Washburn vs. Shawn Chacon
Few pitchers have ever been happier to leave Coors Field than Shawn Chacon. His second half with the Yankees has been absolutely stunning. We're wondering why almost every other team in baseball passed him over. Still we're not sure how much of his success is a fluke, and due to luck. Washburn has had some injury issues this season, but he appears to be healthy enough for now. He's pitched well against the Yankees, and he's been a very solid pitcher over the years.
The Yankees are going to ride Mariano Rivera and Tom Gordon as much as they can. They can get away with it, provided their starters don't get blown out early. Otherwise, New York will have to hope that Aaron Small, Tanyon Sturtze, and co. can hold up the ship. The Angels bullpen appears to have righted itself though after a shakey stretch in August. Between K-Rod, Scot Shields, Brendan Donnelly, and now Kelvim Escobar, the Halos have a quality pen. We're slightly concerned that there are no lefties in the pen, now that we know Jason Christiansen isn't on the postseason roster. But that's not as much of a problem as one might think.
The Angels have a versatile bench made even more flexible by Chone Figgins' ability to play six positions. Robb Quinlan, Maicer Izturis, Casey Kotchman, and Jeff DaVanon all have some value. The Yankees bench has some old guys like Tino Martinez and Tony Womack, and adds Mark Bellhorn, Matt Lawton, and Bubba Crosby among others. It's a bench that can provide a great pinch hit at-bat on a moment's notice, but it's not particularly flexible. Neither bench really screams success to us.
Manager: Joe Torre vs. Mike Scioscia
Both of these men are excellent managers. We have to take Joe Torre here, simply because he's accomplished more in his career to this date.
So what does all of this mean? Well, we think the Yankees lineup is stacked, but its pitching staff is being held together by Elmer's glue. This series comes down to the Angels' ability to take advantage of that. We like the Halo's in both games 1 and 2 at home. We look for the Yankees to use Randy Johnson to claim game 3 in the Bronx. And then we see the Angels taking Game 4, depriving the Yankees of the ALCS rematch they so badly want with the Red Sox.
In the other series, we like the Red Sox to outslug the White Sox and face the Angels in the ALCS. There we think the Red Sox will match up better with the Halos than the Yankees did and advance to their second straight World Series. In the NL, we think the Cardinals will sweep the Padres, who are lucky to even be in the playoffs. We have a hunch about the Braves, and think they'll get by Houston. We like the Cardinals though to dispose of the Braves quickly in the NLCS though. In a rematch of last year's World Series, we think the Cardinals will make amends and capture its first World Championship since 1982. The Red Sox will suffer some catostrophic meltdown (think Bill Buckner, only worse), and go another 86 years before winning the World Series again. You heard it here first.