The American League championship is a battle between East and West as the New York Yankees and Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim are set to do battle starting on Friday night in the Bronx. Before that, though, let’s take a look at both of these teams head-to-head.
The Angels seem to have finally found their long-term solution behind the plate in Mike Napoli, who has really begun to play well on a consistent basis. He also has a great relationship with an Angels pitching staff that might have the most depth of all the remaining teams in the playoffs.
The Yankees, on the other hand, caused some waves by electing to use backup catcher Jose Molina in Game Two of the ALDS to catch A.J. Burnett. Although, with Jorge Posada's series-clinching home run in Game Three, it’s hardly a debate in New York as to who the true starting catcher is. In the end, it’s always a comfort to have someone who is young behind the plate and can deal with all the pitchers in his battery.
This is much more clear cut than catcher was. Mark Teixeira had an unbelievable regular season and stands to possibly win the MVP award this year.
Kendry Morales, while he played very well this year, is not the man he is attempting to replace who is, ironically enough, Mark Teixeira.
Again, this position is simply a case of having a consistent and solid player against having a platoon system of two sometimes good players. Robinson Cano had a bounce-back year this season, putting himself back in the upper echelon of second basemen in the American League.
Meanwhile, after holding the second base slot for most of the year, Howie Kendrick lost the spot to Maicer Izturis, neither of whom bring the productivity or the talent to their team that Cano does.
This is actually a tougher call than I initially thought it would be. On the one hand, the Yankees have Alex Rodriguez, who, in spite of missing a month of baseball and being under the steroid cloud, still hit 30 home runs and had 100 RBI.
On the other hand, the Angels have Chone Figgins, who is a do-it-all kind of player and is usually the key to their offense’s overall success. At the outset of the playoffs, I would have definitely taken Figgins based off of A-Rod’s lack of postseason success. However, it looks like he’s shaking those demons and will be a key factor in the ALCS.
Erick Aybar has been quite a revelation for the Angels this year, and that continued into the playoffs with his .364 average against the Boston Red Sox, which is unreal production from the No. 9 spot in any team’s lineup.
The Yankees counter with their captain, Derek Jeter, who has proven time and again that he just knows how to win. He may not always light up the scoreboard, but Jeter finds ways to have an impact that most players don’t.
The Angels have an outfield that is very experienced and very dangerous. They have Torii Hunter, who is playing hungrier than any other player in the postseason right now, Bobby Abreu, who would love nothing more than to beat his former team and get to the World Series they promised him, and Juan Rivera, who since leaving New York for Los Angeles, has been a thorn in the side of Yankee pitching.
The Yankees have an outfield of Johnny Damon, Melky Cabrera, and Nick Swisher, the three of which combined for four hits in the ALDS and will face even better pitching and will probably be challenged defensively much more in this series.
Advantage: Angels at all three positions.
This is where the series will be won and lost. There is no denying the strength of the front of the Yankee rotation with C.C. Sabathia and Burnett.
There is also no denying that the Angels are very deep with John Lackey, Jered Weaver, Ervin Santana, Joe Saunders, and Scott Kazmir. It’s almost impossible to determine which is going to win out. Either way, expect some pitching duels in the series.
The Yankees have continuously touted the new-found strength of their middle relief this season, but it was less than convincing against the Minnesota Twins.
The Angels’ bullpen isn’t heard from all that much, and that’s because their fairly mediocre. The tipping point is that the Yankees have the greatest closer in postseason history backing their bullpen, while the Angels have Brian Fuentes, who is basically untested in the playoffs in his career.
Advantage: Yankees, just slightly
The positional breakdown is fairly even between these two teams as far as I am concerned, and it’s hard to determine because the teams play much different styles of baseball.
That’s why it’s going to be those so-called “intangibles” that will win this series. Can the Yankees overcome their lack of postseason success against Los Angeles, or will the Angels work their way past them yet again? I'm guessing the Angels and Yankees are the same teams they were the last time they faced each other, another time the Yankees were favored against them. Los Angeles might even be better than they were in 2002 when they won it all, and that’s why I’m taking the Angels in Six.