ALCS: Start Spreading the News
Because the New York Yankees and Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim have made it to the postseason nearly every year this decade, it’s easy to forget that these teams have not had much success in October in recent seasons. The Yankees’ ALDS sweep of the Minnesota Twins earned them a berth in the ALCS for the first time since 2004. The Angels advanced to the ALCS for the first time since 2005.
The Angels have had the Yankees’ number since Mike Scioscia became their manager. As great as the Yankees’ roster is this season, the Angels’ success over them in October casts a shadow of doubt over the Yankees’ chances to move on to the World Series.
The Angels hit the Yankees really well this season (.315 team average), led by Mike Napoli (.500, 2 HR), Kendry Morales (.375, 3 HR), Chone Figgins (.333, 3 3B), and Bobby Abreu (.314, 8 RBI, 4 SB). Vladimir Guerrero and Howie Kendrick, normally Yankee-killers, are both healthy. While much is made of the Angels’ propensity to steal bases, they were caught stealing 30 percent of the time against the Yankees this season and the normally pesky Figgins was only three out of five in steal attempts. Perhaps the base-stealing dynamic to the Angels’ offense won’t be the big factor most expect.
The Yankees scored more runs than every team in the league, and a few of their hitters enjoyed success against the Angels. Most notably, Alex Rodriguez destroyed the Angels, hitting .333 with 5 HR in just seven games. Jorge Posada (.308, 3 HR, 10 RBI) also torched the Angels’ pitching. Melky Cabrera (.393) and Robinson Cano (.341) could be X-factors for New York. Interestingly, the Yankees were nine for nine in stolen base attempts against the Angels. They could apply further pressure on the base paths, depending on if their somewhat aggressive base runners (Derek Jeter, Rodriguez, Johnny Damon, Brett Gardner, Cabrera) get on base.
The Angels’ game one starter, John Lackey, had only one start against the Yankees this year and pitched well. Joe Saunders, Scott Kazmir, and Jered Weaver, however, did not fare well against the Bronx Bombers, combining for a 4.99 ERA over 39.2 innings. While it is entirely possible that the Angels’ rotation will come through in this series, the track record this season suggests otherwise.
C.C. Sabathia may have won 19 games, but he struggled mightily against the Angels. The Yankees’ ace went 0-2 with a 6.08 ERA in two starts against the Angels. The possibility he may face the Angels three times in this series could turn out to be a negative for New York. Of the Yankees’ likely starting pitchers, only A.J. Burnett (1-0, 4.26 ERA in two starts) had decent numbers against the Angels. Andy Pettitte (0-2, 7.88 ERA in three starts) was absolutely blistered by Angels’ bats.
Based on how each teams’ starting pitchers fared against these strong lineups, we could be in for short outings and a long series.
Collectively the Angels’ bullpen, like their rotation, struggled against the Yankees, albeit in limited sample sizes. Only the Angels’ most consistent relievers on the season, Darren Oliver (3.60 ERA, vs. NYY, 2.71 overall), and Jason Bulger (3.86 ERA vs. NYY, 3.56 overall) pitched reasonably well in games against New York. Closer Brian Fuentes struggled at times during the season, but saved 48 games. Kevin Jepsen, who has pitched better lately, could be the Angels’ X-factor.
The Yankees’ most important relievers, Mariano Rivera and Phil Hughes, fared well against the Angels this season. Should the Yankees present them with leads, the team should feel good about its chances to win games. However, the other likely relievers on the ALCS roster (Joba Chamberlain, Phil Coke, David Robertson, Chad Gaudin, Alfredo Aceves) collectively struggled against the Angels, in small sample sizes of course. Based on overall regular season numbers though, the Yankees could dominate the late innings.
The Angels don’t have a deep bench. Maicer Izturis hit .300 in nearly 400 at-bats; his versatility in the infield, his speed, and his defensive prowess makes him the most valuable reserve on either team. Gary Matthews, Jr. is the Angels’ top outfield reserve, but his .250 average and limited defense makes it unlikely he will fill in much.
Brett Gardner (.270, 26 SB) could be a major late innings threat in a pinch running role and a defensive replacement in the outfield for the Yankees. Eric Hinske (seven HR in 84 at-bats) has shown some pop and can play the OF corners if need be. Jerry Hairston is a versatile infielder who has some speed and a decent eye at the plate. Jose Molina will likely catch A.J. Burnett when he pitches and can occasionally contribute with the bat, but is usually a non-factor offensively.
On the left side of the infield, Chone Figgins and Erick Aybar are above average defensive players for the Angels. Torii Hunter may have lost a step in CF, but he remains one of the better defensive outfielders in the game. Juan Rivera has a good arm in LF, but Bobby Abreu has defensive shortcomings in RF. The right side of the infield (Howie Kendrick, Kendry Morales) is average. Primary catcher Mike Napoli only threw out 22 percent of would-be base-stealers, something the Yankees could take advantage of.
The Yankees are a better defensive club than they’re given credit for. Much-maligned Derek Jeter had one of his best seasons with the glove, and Alex Rodriguez’s range improved over the course of the season. Robinson Cano, showboat plays aside, is one of the best defensive 2B in the game, and Mark Teixiera should win a Gold Glove at 1B this season. In the outfield, the Yankees are at their best when Melky Cabrera is in RF, Brett Gardner is in CF, and Johnny Damon is in LF, which is the usual alignment in the late innings. As a CF, Cabrera makes a great leftfielder, and rightfield is often an adventure for Nick Swisher. Jorge Posada nailed just over 30 percent of potential base-stealers, so the Angels’ speed could be impacted by Posada.
In the regular season, these teams split 10 games. Neither pitching rotation has been impressive in head-to-head matchups, which means fans could be in for high-scoring games featuring a large number of innings from relievers.
The Yankees’ bullpen as a whole has more potential and ability, and with Mariano Rivera there to close out games, the Yankees hold a sizable advantage over the Angels in close games, or games in which the relievers are heavily used. If either team’s rotation comes through with strong performances, it will tip the scales in the favor of that team. I don’t see that happening though.
I believe we’re looking at high-scoring games and a lot of relief innings. Based on that premise, I pick the Yankees to win in six games.
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