The Yankees had little trouble topping the over-matched Twins in the ALDS, but things get serious starting tonight in the Bronx. The Angels have eliminated New York from postseason play twice this decade, and now they're the only thing standing in the way of a Bombers trip to the World Series. River & Sunset takes a closer look at what to watch for in Game One of this pennant-deciding series.
Can A-Rod continue his playoff resurgence?
Heading into the ALDS, people were less skeptical of the Balloon Boy than Alex Rodriguez. He was a certified postseason bum. But in a stunning turn of events, A-Rod became a media darling following his destruction of the Twins in the ALDS. That begs the question: Will he keep it up?
To find a similar scenario, you have to go all the way back to the pre-ALCS meltdown of 2004. A simpler, more innocent time. Rodriguez was a huge contributor in a four-game series win over the Twins and he carried that straight through the first three games against Boston. He had three home runs and eight RBIs in the seven games that preceded Game Four at Fenway Park. In the infamous four-loss stretch that followed, he had one hit. Uno.
The Angels, like Boston in 2004, won't roll over and die. The Yankees will be pushed this series, and the pressure will reach heights that will dwarf what A-Rod faced against the Twins. How will he react?
Hey Phil, you can come back to us now
Somewhat lost amid the wipeout of the Twins was the disappearance of Phil Hughes. The shutdown setup man of the regular season was replaced in the ALDS by a shadowy figure who wasn't good at getting people out. In three appearances, Hughes allowed two runs on five hits over two innings.
Maybe it was a bad idea shaving that Amber Alert mustache.
The re-emergence of Joba Chamberlain as a bullpen force helped to cover Hughes' struggles against Minnesota, but the Yankees will need the right-hander to return to form starting in Game One. If Hughes struggles again tonight, the likely plan would be to bump Joba up to the eighth-inning role and rustle Alfredo Aceves out of exile...if they can find him.
Perhaps an Alfredo Alert is in order?
Is Johnny Damon playing himself out of a contract?
Man, did Damon look bad against the Twins. Like 1-for-12 bad. Like taking-the-Golden-Sombrero-against-Carl-Pavano bad. Yikes.
Damon has said and done all the right things this week regarding his slump, but what's disheartening here is that his decline in production wasn't limited to the ALDS...not by a longshot.
Damon was hitting .289 with 24 homers and 73 RBI at the end of play on Aug. 30. By the end of the regular season on Oct. 3, he was at .282 with 24 homers and 82 RBI.
All of which begs the question: Has Damon's extended slump simply been the product of bad timing? Or has the toll of the season led to a physical breakdown?
If the latter is the case, don't the Yankees have to seriously consider letting him walk after the season? This may very well be a key stretch of baseball in Mr. Damon's life.
Some unsolicited advice to Johnny: Before first pitch tonight, get your iPod, crank up a little "Higher" by Creed, and just let the soothing voice of your buddy Scott Stapp lift you to the place with golden streets.
If it works for Swisher, it will work for you.
Hey weather, stop being a dick
The Yankees have qualified for the ALCS for the first time in five years, and now New York is getting hit with a nor'easter this weekend. I'm so over 2009, and Mother Nature has a lot to do with it.
A rainout would reek havoc with Joe Girardi's plans, of course, liking leading to the scrapping of the three-man rotation plan and a scenario where Chad "I'm Just Happy To Be Here" Gaudin faces off against Yankee Slayer Scott Kazmir for Game Four in Anaheim.
The Yankees are obviously at a big advantage if CC Sabathia can start three games in this series, it could very well be the difference between two very evenly-matched teams. If God is a Yankees fan, and we know he is, play will go on as scheduled this weekend.
The Stadium faces another test
The House That George Built performed quite admirably over the two games against the Twins. It got loud (though that might have been the clinking of all the wine glasses in the Legends Seats) and, more importantly, it was intimidating (as the panicked look on poor Joe Nathan's face proved).
The venue seems to share the same DNA in its ability to spook the opposition, even when they're All-Star veterans.
The fans will face a much taller order tonight, as cold, wet and windy conditions have the propensity to keep people bundled up and quiet. That said, I wouldn't count out Yankee fans, especially fans that can sniff that trip to the World Series.
Bring it on, Mother Nature.
Dan Hanzus can be reached via e-mail at email@example.com. Follow Dan on Twitter at danhanzus.