Beginning on April 13th, the New York Yankees and Los Angeles Angels will face off in what will certainly be a must-watch series.
The Yankees enter the series with a record of 3-3. After being swept by the Tampa Bay Rays in their opening series, the Yanks brought out some brooms of their own with three straight victories over the Baltimore Orioles.
Despite both teams getting off to expectation-tampering starts, fans have no reason to write off either one of these powerhouses.
In fact, this weekend's series featuring the Yankees and Angels could very well end up being a preview of the 2012 ALCS.
Coming into the season, both clubs were noted as teams to watch.
In 2011, the Yankees finished 97-65, taking the AL East title by six games over the Rays and seven over the Red Sox.Their season ended on October 6th after losing 3-2 to the Detroit Tigers in the fifth game of the ALDS.
Although missing the playoffs two years in a row may be discouraging for Angels fans, their expectations should be high coming into the 2012 season.
After all, the Angels took the baseball world by storm this past offseason, signing former St. Louis Cardinal Albert Pujols and former Texas Ranger C.J. Wilson.
Pujols is the best hitter in the league, and perhaps even the best player of his generation, while Wilson was regarded as the best available pitcher on the free-agent market.
In addition to the sexy moves the Angels made, they also signed veteran relief pitcher LaTroy Hawkins while also giving contracts to Kendrys Morales and Howie Kendrick, among others.
Though the Yankees didn't quite catch the headlines the way the Angels did, they managed to make a few moves of their own.
Perhaps their most notable action was acquiring right-handed pitcher Michael Pineda from the Seattle Mariners in return for promising catcher Jesus Montero. They also signed pitcher Hiroki Kuroda and designated hitter Raul Ibanez.
Other moves the Yankees underwent this past offseason include a five-year contract extension with ace C.C. Sabathia, a farewell to A.J. Burnett, significant progress towards a fully healthy A-Rod and a welcome reunion with Yankee great Andy Pettitte.
The Angels and Yankees are both ready for a deep playoff run this year.
Coming into the 2012 season, the Yankees' main concern was their pitching staff. A.J. Burnett had a bundle of off-the-field problems and didn't perform quite the way the Yanks expected him to.
Pineda and Kuroda were signed to strengthen the staff. Unfortunately, for the Yanks, neither of them have gotten off to the start that they anticipated.
Pineda sustained an injury during spring training and didn't seem to be throwing with the velocity that he was associated with.
Kuroda got shelled in his debut, allowing six runs (four earned) in 5.2 innings during a 6-8 loss to the Rays.
It is far too early in the season to begin panicking and writing the two off as busts. Both pitchers have had success with their preceding squads and only freaks of nature like Roy Halladay consistently come out of the gates in midseason form. That's why they call it midseason form.
C.C. struggled in his first outing also, but Yankees fans know their No. 1 guy will put up the numbers that he does every season.
Hughes and Nova will serve as solid fourth and fifth pitchers. The bottom line is that either Kuroda or Pineda need to step up to fill the No. 2 slot under Sabathia, something that I think should be viewed optimistically.
After all, Burnett never shaped up to be the No. 2 pitcher the Yankees hoped for, and the team still managed to take the AL East title.
At the plate, the Yankees take on a slightly different look than last year. The first noticeable change is that Alex Rodriguez is finally getting healthy. Although he isn't off to the greatest start, Yankees fans know what A-Rod is capable of when he's in good condition.
The addition of Raul Ibanez at DH was also a smart move by the Yankees. In six games, he has averaged one RBI and has one home run.
Internally, the biggest change in the Yankees' lineup is the relocation of Robinson Cano to the third spot in the batting order. This benefits the Yankees in many ways, including the increasing chance of Granderson and Jeter scoring and the ability of A-Rod and Teixeira to accumulate RBI (My article about this move can be found here).
The Yankees' electric lineup will help fill any voids that may arise in the pitching area.
Speaking of electric lineups, the Los Angeles Angels have one of the best, if not the best, lineups in the MLB.
From top to bottom, the Angels enter every game of the 2012 season with a lineup capable of putting runs on the board.
Signing Albert Pujols instantly made the Angels' lineup better. After all, he is a career .328 hitter who has hit over 30 home runs in every season of his 11-year career (six seasons were over 40).
In addition to Pujols' arrival, Kendrys Morales is finally healthy coming into the 2012 season after missing nearly two years with a broken ankle. In 2010, Morales played a full season and accumulated a .306 batting average with 34 home runs and 108 RBI.
Just like that, the Angels completely revamped the core of their lineup. With Pujols batting third and Morales batting fourth, veteran Torii Hunter can assume duties in the five hole instead of hitting cleanup.
With Erick Aybar and Howard Kendrick likely to end up on base a lot, Pujols, Morales and Hunter will rake in RBI.
In addition to having a stellar lineup, the Angels also boast one of the best, if not the best, pitching rotation in the American League.
Coming into 2012, the Angels retained pitchers Jared Weaver, Dan Haren and Ervin Santana while adding left-hander C.J. Wilson to the mix.
When you are able to call C.J. Wilson your No. 4 pitcher, you are in pretty good shape, to say the least.
Although both Haren and Santana began the season with losses, Angels fans know what they are capable of and shouldn't be fretting.
The series between the Yankees and Angels this weekend is certainly one to keep your eye on.
It is also worth mentioning that the addition of a second wild-card team for the 2012 season will give both of these powerhouses that much more of a chance at the playoffs.
If both teams perform the way they are expected to this season, we could very well be watching a preview of the 2012 ALCS.
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