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Offense, bullpen give Yanks the ALCS edge

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Ken Rosenthal

Ken Rosenthal has been the FOXSports.com's Senior MLB Writer since August 2005. He appears weekly on MLB on FOX, FOX Sports Radio and MLB Network. He's a member of the Baseball Writers Association of America. Follow him on Twitter.

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NEW YORK

I shouldn't write this prediction column for the American League Championship Series. A local meteorologist should. Actually, your average meteorologist possesses even worse prognostication skills than I do, but right about now a decent weather forecast would come in handy. Maybe then we might know who actually will pitch. Maybe then we might know when the games actually will be played. I'm confident of this much — the Yankees are better than the Angels. Not much better, mind you. But superior enough to win the series under — ahem — normal conditions. Game 1, if it is played at all Friday night, will not take place under normal conditions. At the very least, the air will be frigid. Rain also is a possibility. And Game 2 might be no better. How all this will disrupt play — if at all — is anyone's guess. Yankees left-hander CC Sabathia and Angels righty John Lackey could make abbreviated starts in Game 1 because of a rain delay. A rainout could eliminate a scheduled day off, forcing the Yankees to abandon their plan to start Sabathia in Game 4 on three days rest and Game 7 on four. At the moment, we know only what we know:
  • The Yankees' offense is more explosive than the Angels' and more versatile than in the past.
  • The Yankees' bullpen is markedly better, the single biggest difference between the teams. Don't get me wrong — I love the Angels, love the way they reflect the aggressive style of manager Mike Scioscia. But let's face it, the Angels run into an awful lot of outs. If the Yankees anticipate and execute defensively — charging the ball hard in the outfield, throwing to the right bases, dictating the tempo by instructing their pitchers to hold the ball — they will limit the damage. Of course, that will be easier said than done. The Angels will play at their usual frenetic pace, attempting steals, taking extra bases, trying to force the Yankees into mistakes. But guess what? The Yankees not only can play the same game, they're also pretty effective at it. Case in point — the Angels stole 148 bases to the Yankees' 111 during the regular season, but the Yankees' success rate of 79.9 percent was far better than the Angels' 70.1. Indeed, the Yankees' replacement of slugger Eric Hinske with speedster Freddy Guzman on their ALCS roster was more than just symbolic. The Yankees still cannot rival the Angels' athleticism, but they are more limber now.
    Granted, Guzman figures to play only if Brett Gardner starts in center and the Yankees need a pinch-runner. But such an asset could come in handy — the Angels during the regular season were the fourth-worst club in the AL at throwing out opposing base stealers. Of course, the Yankees will not win this series with speed. They will win it because more of their hitters possess game-changing power — from Alex Rodriguez to Mark Teixeira, Hideki Matsui to Jorge Posada to Robinson Cano. I'm not sure the Yankees hold an edge with their rotation; the Angels hit Sabathia well, and right-hander A.J. Burnett is forever a wild card. But I cannot see the Angels' starters going as deep into games against the Yankees as they did against the Red Sox. And a battle of bullpens would tilt heavily in the Yankees' favor. The Yankees' relievers get swings and misses and throw strikes — they led the American League in both strikeout rate and strikeout-to-walk ratio during the regular season and the addition of right-hander Joba Chamberlain gives manager Joe Girardi another power arm to play with. The Angels' bullpen is neither as deep nor as talented as the Yankees'; only the Indians, Royals and Orioles had worse ERAs in the regular season. Scioscia will lean heavily on righty Kevin Jepsen, lefty Darren Oliver and closer Brian Fuentes, just as he did in the Division Series. I can already see Burnett running out of the Yankees' dugout to "pie" some walkoff hero. Who knows? Maybe the Angels, playing in memory of the late Nick Adenhart, are just enjoying one of those special years. Casual fans are about to discover first baseman Kendry Morales, an underrated slugger, and shortstop Erick Aybar, one of the game's most exciting talents. Lackey, a potential free agent, is on a salary drive. The Game 2 starter, lefty Joe Saunders, is 7-0 with a 2.55 ERA since coming off the disabled list with shoulder trouble. The Game 3 starter, righty Jered Weaver, is coming off a breakout season and is particularly effective at Angels Stadium. I can see the Yankees' starting pitchers teetering now that they're no longer facing the Twins, but I just can't see their offense slowing down. Open the heavens! Yankees in 7.
  • Tagged: Kendrys Morales, Mark Teixeira, Orioles, Brian Fuentes, Darren Oliver, Eric Hinske, CC Sabathia, Red Sox, Alex Rodriguez, Jorge Posada, Angels, Joe Saunders, Royals, John Lackey, A.J. Burnett, Freddy Guzman, Yankees, Hideki Matsui, Erick Aybar, Joba Chamberlain, Jered Weaver, Brett Gardner

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