Yankees vs. Orioles: Key Players to Watch in ALDS Opener

Alex BallentineFeatured ColumnistOctober 7, 2012

NEW YORK, NY - SEPTEMBER 21:  CC Sabathia #52 of the New York Yankees pitches against the Oakland Athletics at Yankee Stadium on September 21, 2012 in the Bronx borough of New York City.  (Photo by Mike Stobe/Getty Images)
Mike Stobe/Getty Images

The New York Yankees and Baltimore Orioles will begin their American League Divisional Series today as both teams will look to take the first step in advancing to the next round of the playoffs.

Winning Game 1 can be a huge advantage in a series, so both teams will be desperate to earn the upperhand as this series gets underway.

These two teams should be extremely familiar with each other as the AL East rivals met 18 times in the regular season with each team taking nine wins in the series. The two teams were nearly identical through the regular season as the O's finished a mere two games behind the Yankees in the division.

With both teams neck and neck, this game will come down to who will step up when the pressure is on. Here are the players that could swing the momentum in Game 1.

CC Sabathia

Having a proven ace can be a huge advantage in a playoff series. As the best pitcher on the Yankees staff, Sabathia will kick this series off and close it out if it happens to go all five games.

Sabathia is known for his regular season dominance, but has experienced some woes in the playoffs before. In 15 career playoff starts, Sabathia is 7-4 with a 4.81 ERA. That's a far cry from his 15-6 record and 3.38 ERA that has led New York through the season.

His numbers against the Orioles in 2012 haven't looked that impressive either.

In three starts against the O's, Sabathia is 0-2 with a 6.38 ERA. It's important to note that all of those appearances took place in Camden Yards, however, the numbers certainly don't bode well for Sabathia.

Which Sabathia shows up to pitch in Game 1 could have a greater impact on the result than any one player.

Jason Hammel

Countering Sabathia on the mound for the Orioles will be Jason Hammel.

While Hammel is not a household name like Sabathia, he is coming off of a career year that saw him post an 8-6 record with a 3.43 ERA in his first year with Baltimore after spending the majority of his career with the Colorado Rockies.

Unlike Sabathia, Hammel has little experience in the playoffs—he made one start for the Rockies in 2009, but only lasted 3.2 innings before being pulled after giving up four earned runs. Obviously Hammel has improved greatly since then and could very well turn out to be a great playoff pitcher.

The Yankees' lineup is potent, so great pitching will be necessary for the O's to win this series. That has to start with Hammel in Game 1.

Nate McLouth

Left fielder Nate McLouth has been pivotal to the Baltimore Orioles' run production leading up to the playoffs and they'll need him to continue to come through in this series if they want to win.

McLouth's aggregate season totals aren't anything special, he hit a pedestrian .241 on the season and only drove in 20 runs, but his contributions at the end of the season were huge.

McLouth was key in the team's Wild Card victory over the Texas Rangers when he drove in two of the team's five runs, scored another and contributed a stolen base.

With runs at a premium in the playoffs, McLouth is the kind of scrappy player that could wind up being a playoff hero for the Orioles.