Angels, Yanks could be one for the ages

BY foxsports • October 14, 2009

Get ready for one hell of an ALCS.


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You've got the two largest media markets in play, you've got bi-coastal tribalism, you've got two candidates for "Team of the Decade" honors, you've got two thunderous offenses, and — most of all — you've got the two best teams in baseball.

Oh, and you've also got two teams coming off first-round redemption. The 97-win Angels, in defiance of ALDS history (coming in, they were 1-9 against the Red Sox in Division Series play), swept Boston out of the postseason, and the 103-win Yankees — after giving the three-game bum's rush to Minnesota — have advanced to the ALCS for the first time since 2004 (in Yankee Land, this qualifies as a "drought").

But enough about the back-stories. We're here to talk about what's going to happen when the colossus from the Bronx runs headlong into wrecking crew from the O.C. So let's break it down ...

Offense



"Strength on strength" almost undersells this one. In 2009, the Yankees paced baseball with 915 runs scored, and the Angels weren't far behind with 883. Early season hyperventilating aside, the new Yankee Stadium turned out to be not much more of a hitter's park than Angel Stadium. On that point, it's worth noting that this season the Yankees also out-scored the Angels in road games by a margin of 455 to 439. Also keep in mind that the Yanks' overall numbers reflect the April absence of Alex Rodriguez, who, you may have heard, is now healthy and hitting.

On the other hand, Anaheim is also at its strongest right now. That's because future Hall of Famer Vladimir Guerrero, the weak link in the first half, hit a nifty .300 AVG/.347 OBP/.498 SLG after the break. The Angel cause would be helped if manager Mike Scioscia allowed Mike Napoli to catch every game of the upcoming ALCS. However, history suggests that Napoli's banjo-hitting caddy, Jeff Mathis, will make at least one start.

If you must, give a slight edge to the Yankees, but mostly this one's a push. There's simply no place to ease up, spots one through nine, in either lineup.

Rotation



The Yankees, in CC Sabathia, boast the best starting pitcher on either team, and he'll be able to make at least two starts in the ALCS. Give the Angels the edge in terms of depth, though. For example, remove Sabathia's numbers from the calculus, and the Yankees' rotation ERA stands at 4.84. Do the same with counterpart ace John Lackey's numbers, and the Angels' rotation ERA is 4.57.




Once you get past the stoppers, it appears to be a modest advantage for 'Heim. Then again, who's to say which Scott Kazmir will show up, the one who dominated as an Angel during the regular season or the one who struggled against Boston in the ALDS? As well, the Yankees have, generally speaking, opposed tougher offenses this season, and that's not reflected in the numbers.

Anyway, here's a best guess at how each team's four-man rotation would go ...

Yankees: Sabathia, A.J. Burnett, Andy Pettitte, Chad Gaudin.

Angels: Lackey, Jered Weaver, Kazmir, Joe Saunders.

That's not hard-and-fast, of course. The Yankees could surprise and plug Joba Chamberlain in the four hole, and the Angels could go with Ervin Santana instead of Saunders.

In the latter instance, Mike Scioscia has a decision to make. This season, the Yanks have an OPS (on-base percentage plus slugging percentage) of .837 against right-handed pitching, and they have an OPS of .846 against lefties. Although that's not much of a spread, does Scioscia opt to take on the Yankees' strength and make Saunders the fifth man? Or does he seek out the slight advantage and start the right-hander Santana? Given how weak the Angel bullpen is from the right side (more on that in a moment), he might want to keep Santana in a relief role and risk throwing another lefty at the Yankees.

The Angels, meanwhile, have been slightly less effective against left-handers this season. And we know they'll be facing a lefty at least twice in this series. If the series goes long enough, then Sabathia and Pettitte could make three or even four starts between them. That's perhaps a source of concern for the Angels.

One other wrinkle worth keeping in mind: The ALCS schedule includes three off-days. The upshot is that if Yankee skipper Joe Girardi is feeling particularly bold (or particularly desperate), then he could start Sabathia in Game 1, in Game 4 on short rest, and then in a possible Game 7 on full rest. In four career starts on three days' rest, Sabathia has a cracking-good ERA of 1.01. Given the drop-off from Sabathia to every other pinstriped starter, it's a chance worth considering. That's also a way to keep the ball out of Gaudin's dubious hands for the entire series.

Once again, this one's mostly a push.



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