Ryan Howard Makes More Money Than You: Is He Worth $125 Million Dollars?

Ryan Howard won't have to settle for $5 dollar footlongs with his massive new contract.

No, he doesn’t work for Goldman-Sachs, but Ryan Howard is still making a killing in the down economy. The Phillies star slugger signed a 5 year/$125 million dollar contract yesterday to stay in Philadelphia through 2016. The contract also includes a $23 million dollar club option for 2017 which would push the total value of the deal to nearly $150 million–making him the second highest paid player in baseball per season behind only Alex Rodriguez.  

Though Howard got a late start to his career (he didn’t reach the majors until age 25 with Jim Thome at first in Philadelphia), the burly lefty has done nothing but hit since, averaging 49.5 home runs and 143 RBI’s over the past four seasons. Howard captured the NL MVP in 2006 on the strength of a .313-58 HR-149 campaign, and while his average has dipped since that year, he has proven to be one of the most consistent power producers in all of baseball.  

The Phillies were eager to keep the face of their franchise in red pinstripes even though he wasn’t eligible for free agency until after the 2011 season, perhaps fueled by an offseason rumor that the team had considered trading Howard to the Cardinals for Albert Pujols. Both Philadelphia and St. Louis denied that any trade talks had occurred, but the Phillies needed to prove they were committed to Howard, and did so by making him a very rich man. Is the big first baseman worth $25 million a year?  

Yes and no.  

There’s no denying that Howard is one of the best run producers in the game, and the signing is a good PR move because he’s a fan favorite, but Howard is certainly not without his flaws in the field and at the plate. The 6-4, 255 lbs. Howard has worked hard to become a passable first baseman, but is still below average at the position and would be better suited as a designated hitter in the American League. There are also concerns that his weight will become an issue in the latter stage of the contract as Howard will be 36 when the deal runs out. He has worked hard to stay in game shape, including losing 25 pounds during the offseason, but historically players of his size and skill set don’t age well. 

What the Phillies are really paying Howard for are his charismatic personality, moonshot home runs and clutch RBI’s—all of which mask some glaring weaknesses at the plate. Howard has averaged 191 strikeouts in his four full seasons and hasn’t posted an OPS over 1.000 since his MVP season of 2006. He is a .225 career hitter against left-handed pitchers and hasn’t shown the ability to improve in that area (only .200 so far in 2010). When the home runs stop flying off the bat, and they will, Howard’s contract will look like an albatross for Philadelphia. 

Were the Phillies smart to sign Howard to a new contract? Yes. Were the Phillies smart to sign Howard to a five-year/$125 million dollar contract? No. 

In other news, the St. Louis Cardinals are holding a combination bake and yard sale this weekend to help raise money for the ever-growing Albert Pujols free agent contract…

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The Sun Never Sets on the Yankee Empire: New York Trades for SP Javier Vazquez.

Will Vazquez's second go-round in pinstripes end better?

After the Cliff Lee-Roy Halladay megadeal and Boston’s signings of Jon Lackey and Mike Cameron, the New York Yankees were relegated to the back-page of baseball’s offseason news. Well, that was short-lived. In a move made to bolster a rotation that dropped off significantly after C.C. Sabathia, A.J. Burnett and Andy Pettite last year, the Yankees sent outfielder Melky Cabrera and two pitching prospects to the Atlanta Braves for Javier Vazquez and lefty reliever Boone Logan.  

Vazquez, who pitched for New York in 2004, is coming off the best season of his career after finishing 4th in the National League Cy Young Award voting. Vazquez is eligible for free agency after the season, and the Braves had a surplus of starting pitching that made him expendable, especially considering the $11.5 million he was due to make in 2010. Arguably the most underrated pitched in the N.L. last year, Vazquez compiled a 15-10 record to go along with a 2.87 ERA and 238 strikeouts. While it’s unrealistic to expect him to pitch that well next season, Vazquez is still going to be the best fourth starter in any rotation in baseball, and will allow the Yankees to shift either Phil Hughes or Joba Chamberlain to the bullpen. New York proved last season that it’s possible to win a World Series with a three-man rotation, but the addition of Vazquez is worth at least a few wins in the regular season and that’s something that can’t be overlooked with the Red Sox continuing to wheel and deal in free agency.  

The Yankees are hoping that Javier Vasquez enjoys more success than in his first tour of duty with the team in 2004, a season in which he struggled with injuries (14-10, 4.91 ERA) and ultimately ended with him allowing two home runs to Johnny Damon in the 7th game of the ALCS, giving Boston all the momentum they would need to complete their epic comeback from a 3-0 series deficit. Vazquez has been less than stellar in his limited postseason appearances (1-1, 10.34 ERA in four games) and his manager with the White Sox, Ozzie Guillen, famously stated that Vazquez wasn’t a big game pitcher. Obviously the Yankees are familiar with Vazquez’s track record but this move was made for the 162-game regular season, not the playoffs, as the team will likely lean heavily on their big three (Sabathia, Burnett, Pettite) in October once again. 

The Braves hope that "The Milkman" will help them challenge the Phils in the NL East.

The Braves acquired a talented switch-hitting outfielder in Melky Cabrera with this deal, and also shed nearly $9 million from their payroll, money which can be used to go after a corner infielder (hello Troy Glaus). The 25-year-old Cabrera performed well last season for the Yankees (.274-13 HR’s-68 RBI’s-10 SB’s) but never quite lived up to his potential and didn’t seem to be a part of the team’s long-term plans. Still, he’s a cheap and solid option for Atlanta’s outfield, and there is some optimism that he can continue to improve. The Braves also received two young pitchers from New York, lefty Mike Dunn and hard throwing right-hander Arodys Vizcaino. Dunn is a solid reliever who could fill the role of the departed Boone Logan, and Vizcaino showed promise as a 19-year-old last season, registering a 2.13 ERA and striking out 52 in 42 1/3 innings. With a rotation that includes Tim Hudson, Jair Jurrjens, Tommy Hanson, Derek Lowe and Kenshin Kawakami, Atlanta could afford to part with Vazquez and the team got a good haul in return. 

Another day and another domino falls in what has become one of the most exciting offseasons in recent memory. If the Red Sox felt content after signing Lackey and Cameron last week, they don’t anymore, as New York filled out their rotation with a quality arm and continue to look like the team to beat in 2010. Atlanta adds a solid bat to their outfield and free up cash to pursue another player as they try to build a team capable of challenging the Phillies for NL East supremacy. With plenty of quality free agents still available (Jason Bay, Matt Holliday, Johnny Damon) the hot stove will continue to sizzle and make these cold winter months a little more bearable. 

Baseball: the gift that keeps on giving.

Changing of the Guard: Do the Red Sox Recent Acquisitions Make Them the Team to Beat in the AL East for 2010?

John Lackey has the heart of a warrior. Will it be enough to propel Boston past New York?

The Boston Red Sox came into this offseason in a foul mood. Not only were they swept from the playoffs by the Los Angeles Angels, but their bitter rivals, the New York Yankees, returned to baseball’s limelight by capturing the World Series on the strength of stars Alex Rodriguez, Mark Teixeira and C.C. Sabathia—players that Boston had at one time targeted through free agency or trades. To make matters worse, the Yankees had already pulled off one of the biggest moves of the offseason, acquiring talented center fielder Curtis Granderson in a trade with the Tigers. Clearly Boston was feeling the heat in a never-ending arms race with New York, and it didn’t take long for the Red Sox to respond in turn. In the span of two days they acquired John Lackey, the best free-agent pitcher on the market, and Mike Cameron, a defensive virtuoso, to fill the void in left field. Both players will play important roles for Boston in 2009, but will they make the Red Sox the best team in the AL East?   

The addition of Lackey gives Boston one of the deepest pitching rotations in all of baseball, with a talented trio at the top and a number of serviceable arms at the back of the rotation. Lackey received staff ace money from the Red Sox (5 years/$82.5 million) but will probably be the third starting pitcher in the rotation behind Josh Beckett and Jon Lester (Killer J’s? J-Cubed?). Though hampered by injuries in 2009, Lackey still went 11-8 with a 3.83 ERA and 139 strikeouts against only 47 walks. He is mainly a groundball pitcher but can be susceptible to the longball (he allowed 26 home runs in 2008), which may prove to be an issue with the Green Monster out in left field. Despite the fact that Lackey might not be in the same class as pitchers like Roy Halladay and Cliff Lee, he has a strong postseason track record (3.12 career playoff ERA) and past success against AL East foes (25-15, 3.62 ERA vs. New York, Baltimore, Toronto and Tampa Bay). After getting burned last year by the John Smoltz experiment the Red Sox were eager to acquire a dependable arm (Lackey has a .590 career winning percentage) and now have one of the most formidable starting fives with Beckett, Lester, Lackey, Clay Bucholz (though be may be traded for an additional bat) and either Dice-K or Tim Wakefield. In terms of pitching, Boston certainly has the talent to compete with the Yankees; do they on offense?  

Mike Cameron has some big shoes to fill in left field.

While Mike Cameron will be an upgrade defensively over Jason Bay in left field (or centerfield, depending on where Terry Francona decides to play Jacoby Ellsbury), he will be hard pressed to match Bay’s 36 home runs and 119 RBI’s. The 36-year-old Cameron hit .250 with 24 HR’s and 70 RBI’s last season, but also chipped in 32 doubles and 75 walks which led to a .342 OBP (vs. Bay’s .384 OBP). With the perpetually disappointing J.D. Drew in right, Boston won’t exactly have a murderer’s row in the outfield, and may lose even more ground to the Yankees’ big bats (New York outscored Boston by 43 runs in 2009). As questions continue to swirl around the health of Mike Lowell, and David Ortiz continues to age at the speed of light, the Red Sox are still at least another bat away from usurping the Bronx Bombers, and that’s assuming that New York doesn’t make any more moves (they did).

So, while the signings of Lackey and Cameron have improved the Red Sox’s pitching and defense, New York is still clearly the team to beat in the AL East. The Yankees have done nothing but improve this offseason after winning 102 games in 2009, and with a healthy A-Rod and the newly acquired Granderson the team could be a juggernaut in 2010. Boston is moving in the right direction, but unless they want to spend another postseason watching the Yankees raise a World Series trophy, general manager Theo Epstein had better continue to work the phones…New York isn’t going anywhere soon.

Baseball Gets It Right: Zack Greinke Named A.L. Cy Young Award Winner

Felix was phenomenal in '09, but Greinke was clearly the game's most dominant pitcher all year long.

As a Mariners’ fan I wanted Felix Hernandez to win this year’s AL Cy Young Award, because as a rule of thumb Seattle sports don’t win much (and no, I’m not forgetting about you Storm). After all, Hernandez came up through the farm system and matured before our eyes from a 19-year-old prodigy into a certified staff ace. He was dominant in 2009, leading a pedestrian Mariners team to an 85-win season, and looking better and better as the year progressed. The King finally lived up to his nickname, winning 19 games with a 2.49 ERA and 217 K’s, but even as a Mariners fan, I knew Felix didn’t deserve the award. C.C. Sabathia, Justin Verlander and Roy Halladay didn’t even deserve to be in the discussion; it was truly a two-horse race, and unfortunately, sweet Barbaro wasn’t one of them. No, Hernandez picked a bad season for his coming out party because, despite being stuck in the baseball wasteland that is Kansas City, Royals right-hander Zach Greinke was the best pitcher in 2009, not just in the American League…but in the entire sport.

Despite pitching for one of baseball's worst teams, Greinke was able to convince voters he was the AL's best.

Although his finish to the 2008 season should have raised a few eyebrows (4-1 with a 2.18 ERA in September), Greinke came into the year with virtually no fanfare—but it didn’t take long for that to change. By the end of the season’s first month, Sports Illustrated was heralding Greinke as the game’s best pitcher and it was easy to see why. In five April starts, the Royals’ ace went 5-0, had a dead-ball era 0.50 ERA and struck out 44 batters in only 36 innings. Kansas City was riding high and looking like a favorite in the AL Central but as often happens to a team that relies on Mike Jacobs as the big bat in their lineup, the Royals quickly faded from contention and Greinke was once again left to toil in obscurity. That didn’t stop him from mowing down hitters though, and despite some sub par run support (is Mark Teahan really hitting cleanup?) Zach-Attack cruised into the All-Star break with a 10-5 record, 2.12 ERA and amazingly, only four HR’s allowed in 127 innings. Although somehow not chosen to start the All-Star game, he made the most of his opportunity, striking out two NL batters in one inning and showing a national audience that he was a true star in the making.

The second half of the season was a struggle for Greinke, as he won only six games in 15 starts, though the blame clearly fell on the woeful Kansas City offense. The Royals only managed to score 13 runs in Greinke’s eight losses (1.6 runs/game) on the season, while scoring just 21 runs in his nine no-decisions (2.33 runs/game). Playing for a team with an average offense, Greinke would likely have finished with 22-23 wins, instead of the 16 he collected with Kansas City, and the Cy Young race wouldn’t have been a race at all, rather a runaway. Despite his team’s numerous shortcomings (no offense Sidney Ponson), Greinke never let up and capped off his historic season with a 3-0 record and 0.55 ERA in September.

If you take away wins (unfair, I know, but so is playing for K.C.), the choice of Zach Greinke as the Cy Young was really a no brainer (a good thing for voters):

–>Greinke: 2.16 ERA, 1.07 WHIP, 242 K’s/51 walks, 6 complete games

–>Hernandez: 2.49 ERA, 1.14 WHIP, 217 K’s/71 walks, 2 complete games

Sorry C.C., not even playing for the Yankees was enough to get you this year's Cy Young award.

If that’s not enough, digging even deeper shows that Greinke was at his best when it mattered most (which technically is never when pitching for the Royals, but bear with me). He held hitters to a .253 average with the bases empty, and incredibly was tougher with runners on, allowing opposing batters a miniscule .197 average and .235 OBP. Even when batters got ahead in the count Greinke was unhittable. He faced 111 batters with a three ball count, which typically favors hitters not named Yuniesky Betancourt, yet he held those batters to 19 hits, or a Richie Sexson-esque .171 average. The 26-year-old righty showed his true grit by improving each time through the lineup (.264 average on first plate appearance vs .189 average on third plate appearance), and holding hitters to a .199 BA with runners in scoring position. By any statistical measure you choose to look at Zack Grienke, was the best pitcher in the AL, and it wasn’t even close.

Although often criticized for questionable and uneducated decisions (cough–Derek Jeter Gold Glove–cough) baseball voters got the right man this time. Not only was Zach Grienke a great story in overcoming social anxiety disorder, but he was also baseball’s best pitcher all season long. It looks like the Royals have found their ace for the next decade, now if they only could find a catcher, first baseman, shortstop, second baseman, right fielder, third baseman and left fielder, they might be in business. Regardless of the talent (or lack thereof) that surrounded him, Zack Grienke pitched like a superstar all year and was more than worthy of the 2009 AL Cy Young award. Here’s hoping the humble young pitcher carries his success into next season…and brings some much needed hope to a hapless franchise.

Can You Take Me High Enough? The Only World Series Preview You’ll Ever Need.

Phillies Giants Baseball

Can Cliff Lee and the Phillies make this a World Series to remember?

After six uneventful playoff series thus far (thanks for nothing Minnesota, Colorado, St. Louis, L.A. Dodgers/Angels and Boston) fans are hoping for some added drama in the World Series, but that hasn’t been the case in the recent history of October baseball. Three of the past five World Series have been sweeps and you would have to go all the way back to 2003 to find a Fall Classic that went more than 5 games.  That series featured an underdog Florida Marlins club taking down the vaunted New York Yankees on the strength of a heroic performance by a younger, svelter Josh Beckett. Well, those Damn Yankees are back in the World Series again, and while 80’s music fans across the country celebrate, the rest of the nation is left shaking their collective fists at a franchise that spent a quarter billion dollars on free-agents in the offseason. New York will be opposed by the defending champion and geographic rival (only 107 miles as the crow flies) Philadelphia Phillies, who are seeking to become the first NL team since the 1975-76 Cincinnati Reds to repeat as World Series champs. The series boasts two franchises on opposite sides of the spectrum (the Yankees are a historically great team with 26 World Series Titles, whereas the Phillies were the first team in pro sports history to lose 10,000 games…the Pirates can’t be far behind) with plenty of interesting subplots (former teammates Cliff Lee and C.C. Sabathia oppose each other in Game 1) and two of the game’s best offenses. Undoubtedly every last detail of this series will be broken down over the next few days, from bullpens to offenses and everything in between…so who needs to hear more about that? No more talking heads droning on about left-handed hitters off the bench, here’s the information you really need heading into the 2009 World Series:

rocky5a

People don't love to hate Rocky V. They just plain hate it.

Worst Movie Set in City  (Philadelphia–Rocky V vs. New York–Daredevil): Despite boasting a strong and stirring soundtrack that featured the work of Elton John and M.C. Hammer, Rocky V never really enjoyed the success of its predecessors. Actually, it was just terrible. Detailing Rocky’s retirement, training of a young boxer named Tommy Gunn and ending in a bizarre, acid-induced street fight, Rocky V is almost two hours of mind numbing agony and is one of the biggest box-office disasters of the 1990s, leaving a permanent scar on the Rocky franchise (since rectified with the release of Rocky Balboa). New York has seen it’s share of crappy movies, but arguably none worse than 2003’s Daredevil, a marvel flick based off a comic book of the same name. Starring Ben Affleck, the movie…well, nothing else needs to be said about the movie, it stars Ben Affleck. Sure Daredevil was bad, but Rocky V was historically bad. Advantage: Philadelphia

Best Obese Player (Philadelphia–Matt Stairs vs. New York–C.C. Sabathia): Let’s be honest, this category is a landslide. When sizing up these two, you’re not comparing apples and oranges, you’re comparing watermelons and pumpkins (because they’re huge). While the dwarfish Matt Stairs (who was cast as Gimli in the Lord of the Rings trilogy) can certainly pull his own weight, the 5-9″, 222-pound Canadian Crusher is no match for the 6’7″, 290-pound C.C. Sabathia. It’s Rocky vs. Drago all over again, but this time the bigger man (literally) comes out on top. Stairs is 0-2 with 2 walks so far in the postseason, Sabathia is 3-0 with a 1.19 ERA. Let’s call this fight before it gets ugly so these two rotund diamondeers can get something to eat. Advantage: New York

Cheesesteaks will be instrumental if the Phillies hope to repeat as World Series champs.

Cheesesteaks will have to play an instrumental role if the Phillies hope to repeat as World Series champs.

Famous Food (Philadelphia–Philly Cheesesteak vs. New York–Nathan’s Hot Dogs): Unfortunately, neither of these foods will ever receive Dr. Oz’s coveted seal of approval, but that sure doesn’t mean they aren’t good eating. Philly Cheesesteaks have been around since the 1930’s and pack a menacing combination of beef, onions, peppers and of course, cheese. An average cheesesteak comes in at just over 700 calories, but that’s somewhat offset with an impressive 30 grams of protein. Nathan’s Hot Dogs are used every year in the World Famous Hot Dog Eating Contest (hats off to Joey Chestnut), and are so popular and revered for their flavor that President Franklin Delanore Roosevelt even served them to the King and Queen of England. A regulation Nathan’s Hot Dog has only 300 calories, but then again the serving size is much smaller. Nathan’s wins calorically, but Philly Cheesesteak takes the all important taste title. Advantage: Philadelphia

Mascot (Philadelphia–Philly Phanatic vs. New York–Dandy the Bird): The Philadelphia Phanatic is one of the best known mascots in any sport across the world and is only rivaled by the San Diego Chicken in popularity. It was also one of the first mascots elected to the Mascot Hall of Fame (yes, it’s real, and don’t forget to grab a t-shirt while you’re there). Conversely the Yankees don’t even really have a mascot, although the Geico googly-eyed money seems like a natural fit due to the team’s spending habits. The last New York mascot was Dandy, a pinstriped, mustachioed bird who wore a Yankees hat and entertained fans between 1980 and 1985 (he was famously beaten up by Yankees fans in the stadium’s upper deck). Advantage: Philadelphia

the-big-apple-hugo-sandoval

New York's nickname makes less sense than most episodes of Lost.

Nickname (Philadelphia–The City of Brotherly Love vs. New York–The Big Apple): Boasting murder and robbery rates three times the national average and a famous incident in which fans pelted Santa Claus with snowballs at an Eagles game, it’s easy to see why Philadelphia was nicknamed “The City of Brotherly Love”. Philadelphia, which translated from Greek literally means “brotherly love”, gained its name from William Penn who saw the city as a refuge for Quakers escaping persecution (and high cholesterol!).  On the other hand, the origin of New York’s nickname ,”The Big Apple”,  is still shrouded in mystery after all these years. Theories include everything from a brothel owned by someone named Eve to a sportswriter who referred to horseracing tracks as “apples” (with New York of course being the “Big Apple”). Regardless of how it got it’s nickname, “The Big Apple” doesn’t make much sense today, but then again neither does “The City of Brotherly Love”. Advantage: Push

Final Outcome: Well, the numbers don’t lie and it looks like the Phillies are a heavy favorite to capture the World Series. Philadelphia dominated New York in the head-to-head matchups, coming out ahead with the worst movie and the best mascot and food, while New York was only able to win the best obese player category (let’s be honest, that doesn’t count for much) and tie for best nickname. Extrapolating these numbers over the course of the series showed the Phillies winning in 7 games and Shane Victorino capturing MVP honors. Raise a cheesesteak to Philadelphia…your 2009 World Series Champions.

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.

Next Stop: The World Series? Red Hot Yankees Clinch AL East with 100th Win

Derek Jeter has played a major role in helping the Yankees return to the postseason.

Derek Jeter has played a major role in helping the Yankees return to the postseason after a one-year absence.

Left out of the postseason for the first time in over a decade last season the Yankees came into 2009 with a chip on their shoulders and one goal in mind: reclaim the AL East from Boston. New York did just that and more on Sunday night, securing homefield advantage throughout the playoffs with a 4-2 victory against the Red Sox while winning the division for the first time since 2006 and becoming the first team in the majors to 100 wins in the process.

While the Yankees’ roster was overhauled in the offseason it was some familiar faces that helped the Bronx Bombers complete a sweep of their arch rival Boston. The Yankee’s new all-time hit leader Derek Jeter went 2-4 in the leadoff spot, Andy Pettite pitched 6 innings of 2-run baseball and, of course, Mariano Rivera was there to shut the door in the 9th. Along with Jorge Posada, those three players are the only remaining members of the last Yankees team to win a World Series (2000), and will be leaned on heavily as New York moves into the post-season to face the winner of the AL Central (Detroit or Minnesota). If tonight, and the other 155 games of the season are any indication, the Yankees will be a handful for opponents come October.

Mark Teixeria has led a potent Yankee's offense that is first in the majors in runs.

Mark Teixeria has led a potent Yankee's offense that is first in the majors in runs.

The key to New York’s resurgence this season has been their new look lineup. The Yankee’s offense has been unstoppable all season, leading the American League in runs, slugging, on-base percentage and OPS. The indefatigable Jeter is putting up one of his best seasons ever at age 35, hitting .333 with 17 HRs, 65 RBIs and 30 SBs. Newcomer Mark Teixeria has been on a tear since the return of Alex Rodriguez to the lineup, and will likely garner some MVP votes with a line of  .294-38 HRs-120 RBIs. A-Rod, despite the steroid scandal and a balky hip, is still one of the game’s most feared sluggers and will look to shake a track record for inconsistent playoff production. In addition to the big three, New York boasts a wealth of talented hitters throughout their order, from a revitalized Robinson Cano (.321-24 HR-80 RBI) to spark plug Nick Swisher (.250-27 HR-79 RBI-.370 OBP) and the seemingly ageless Johnny Damon (.284-24 HR-79 RBI-106 R), New York’s potent combination of left and right-handed hitters may prove to be too much for any pitching staff this postseason.

The Yankees will need Sabathia to come up big if they plan to return to the Fall Classic.

The Yankees will need Sabathia to come up big (no pun intended) if they plan to return to the Fall Classic.

Though much maligned throughout the season for their inconsistency and lack of depth behind C.C. Sabathia, the Yankees’ pitching staff has still managed to post strong numbers, ranking 2nd in the AL in batting average against, 2nd in WHIP and 6th in ERA. Sabathia was signed in the offseason for a king’s ransom and so far has proved his mettle with a record of 19-7, 3.21 ERA and 194 Ks. First-year Yankee A.J. Burnett has had his ups-and-downs this season, but has the stuff to dominate games (184 Ks in 195 innings) if he can keep the walks to a minimum. Joba Chamberlain’s first season as a starter has been a disappointment (9-6, 4.72 ERA), and New York may try to keep his post-season starts to a minimum as he reaches a career high in innings pitched but fellow youngster Phil Hughes has thrived since being converted to a reliever (8-3, 2.99 ERA) and has led a surprisingly effective Yankees’ bullpen. New York’s stalwart starting pitcher Pettite has been consistent all season long (14-7, 4.11 ERA) and has a strong postseason track record that includes winning the ALCS MVP in 2001.If New York does have an Achilles heel, it’s their pitching staff, but with their prolific offense all the Yankee’s pitchers need to do is keep the games close and hand the ball off to Rivera in the 9th; he’s as good as ever with 44 saves and a 1.82 ERA in 2009.

After another win over the suddenly old Boston Red Sox, few will argue that New York’s offseason spending spree was a success as the Yankees march into October on the strength of acquisitions like Sabathia and Teixeria. New York has looked nearly unbeatable in the 2nd half of the season, and with the ever-clutch Jeter and Rivera hungry for another taste of glory, will anyone stand in the Yankees way in the playoffs?

New York fans sure have plenty of reasons to smile these days as their beloved Yankees return to the postseason and look like a favorite to capture their first World Series in nine years. Who says money can’t buy you happiness?