ALCS Preview: NY Yankees vs. LA Angels

A-Rod got the postseason monkey off his back against the Twins, is the Angels' Rally Monkey next?

A-Rod got the postseason monkey off his back against the Twins. Is the Angels' Rally Monkey next on his list?

It’s a tale as old as time. Light versus dark, good versus evil, heaven versus hell, and of  course, Angels vs Demons Yankees. It’s difficult to find two teams more diametrically opposed than L.A. and New York, and fittingly the bi-coastal rivals meet in the 2009 ALCS to determine who will represent the American League in this year’s World Series. The Yankees and Angels were 1-2 in the AL in wins, but got there in vastly different ways. One team relied on speed, timely hitting,  sacrifice bunts and the dreaded “productive out”. The other team found success with sheer brawn, overpowering inferior opponents with an offensive barrage that made the U.S.’s invasion of Normandy look like child’s play. Which style will prevail when the two meet head-to-head in a no-holds barred cage match? Let’s break it down:

Torii Hunter is good. But can he keep up with A-Rod and Teixeira?

Torii Hunter is good. But can he keep up with A-Rod and Teixeira?

Offense: Though the Yankees trio of Derek Jeter, Alex Rodriguez and Mark Teixeira receive more recognition than any L.A. hitter, the Angels had one of the most balanced lineups in all of baseball. The Halos averaged 5.5 runs per game in setting a single season franchise record for runs (the Yanks were slightly better at 5.6 runs per game). Although they’re not as explosive as New York, eight of L.A.’s starters hit .287 or better on the year, leading to a tremendous .285 team average. The team’s sparkplug is leadoff man Chone Figgins who stole 42 bases to go along with a .395 OBP. He sets the table for Bobby Abreu (.293-15 HR-103 RBI-30 SB), Torii Hunter (.299-22-90), Vladimir Guerrero (.295-15-50), Kendry Morales (.306-34-108) and Juan Rivera (.287-25-88). There are no easy outs in the lineup, and the Angels combination of patience at the plate and speed on the basepaths will make them a difficult matchup for Yankee pitchers. New York counters with the league’s highest scoring lineup headlined by Teixeira (.292-39-122), A-Rod (.286-30-100) and Jeter (.334-18-66). There’s great depth in the Bronx Bombers lineup, as players like Johnny Damon, Robinson Cano, Nick Swisher and Hideki Matsui produce in whatever portion of the lineup that Joe Girardi employs them. Both teams are solid top-to-bottom, but there is a reason that the Yankees led the AL in runs, OBP, slugging and OPS–they’re really good. Advantage: New York

Can A.J. Burnett pitch effectively and help led the Yankees back to the World Series?

Can A.J. Burnett pitch effectively and help led the Yankees back to the World Series?

Starting Pitching: It sounds like Girardi is planning to go with a 3-man rotation for the series, a good idea given that the Yankees’ rotation drops off precipitously after C.C. Sabathia, A.J. Burnett and Andy Pettite. Sabathia looked sharp against the Twins and New York will rely on the hefty lefty to get them a win in game one. The Yankees #2 starter, Burnett, is consistently inconsistent and got a win in the ALDS despite issuing 5 walks; he won’t be able to get away with that against the Angels. The savvy vet of the group, Pettite, has an impressive postseason resume and enough guts and guile to keep the Yankees within striking distance. The Angels starting pitching has been sub par all season, finishing 9th in the AL with a 4.45 ERA and 1.41 WHIP. The ace of the staff is John Lackey, a proven winner who bounced back from an early injury to post a strong season (11-8, 3.83 ERA). Jered Weaver will likely get the start in game two, and despite the fact that he is Jeff Weaver’s brother and sports a wicked mullet, was solid throughout the season and against Boston in the ALDS. After Lackey and Weaver, the Angels could go with either Scott Kazmir or Joe Saunders, two players who had horrendous starts to the season, but looked much better in the second half. Neither of these pitching staffs is a sure thing, but the Yankees get the nod because of Pettite’s experience. Advantage: New York

Relief Pitching: The bullpen is the only facet of this series where these two teams don’t match up at all. Despite the fact that they led the majors with 51 saves, the Angels relief pitching is still a major question mark. Closer Brian Fuentes was erratic all season long, finishing the year with a 3.93 ERA and an even more unsightly 1.40 WHIP. Fuentes blew 7 saves in the regular season and he can’t afford to keep putting extra runners on base against a potent Yankees’ attack. On the other hand, New York counters with arguably the greatest postseason pitcher of all-time, Mariano Rivera. The “Panamanian Canalligator” is 8-1 in the playoffs, with 35 saves and a redonkulous 0.74 ERA; Rivera makes Michael Jordan look like A-Rod in crunch time–he’s as clutch as they come. The Yankees also found a dependable setup man in Phil Hughes and will have Joba Chamberlain available if need be. This one’s a no doubter. Advantage: New York

With Mariano Rivera in the bullpen, the Yankees are built for a return to glory.

With lights-out Mariano Rivera in the bullpen the Yankees are built for a return to glory.

Coaching:  There are few managers more respected in the game of baseball than Mike Scioscia and for good reason, his teams love him and he wins games. Scioscia guided the Angels to a World Series title in 2002 and has only recorded one losing season since taking over in L.A. following the 1999 season. He’s a great X’s and O’s guy who emphasizes a National League style of play, which his team is perfectly suited for, and he consistently gets the most out of everyone on the Angels’ roster. Girardi rebounded after a tumultuous season to led the Yankees to the best record in baseball (103-59) and has done an admirable job managing some of the games highest paid players. Scioscia’s been here before, expect him to have the Angels ready to give the Yankees a run for their money. Advantage: Los Angeles

Outcome: This is a matchup that baseball analysts call “intriguing” simply because there isn’t much else to say about it. The Yankees are a markedly better team than the Angels with advantages in offense, starting pitching and relief pitching. New York looks like a team on a mission, and now that A-Rod discovered how to hit in the postseason (thank you Kate Hudson), Los Angeles will have their hands full trying to stop the Yankees from returning to their first World Series since 2001. The Angels will sneak out a couple of wins but New York will ultimately win the series in 6 games, as Teixeira garners ALCS MVP honors, and fans worldwide will once again have to put up with the evil empire in the World Series.

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