Just when the Yankees look like they might be putting things together, in come Hell's Angels, the one team that's confounded the Joe Torre-era Yankees consistently from year-to-year and is responsible for two of the team's three ALDS series losses.
The Angels were 6-4 against the Yanks last year, though the Bombers outscored the Halos 55 to 50, while the Yanks haven't won a season series from the Orange County set since 2003, when they were clearly out for revenge for the 2002 ALDS. Though some of the faces have changed, the Angels team that arrives in the Bronx tonight is the same as ever: good pitching, both in the rotation and the bullpen, and average hitting, with the latter being comprised largely of high-contact, high-batting-average hitters with weak on-base skills and modest power, but a lot of speed on the bases. Notable exceptions to this rule:
Vlad Guerrero: High contact and average, yes, but he also leads the team in walks and slugs with the best in the league. It also appears that his base stealing has finally come to a stop as he's 1 for 2 on the paths thus far this year. Of course, Guerrero's so good and so unique in his approach, that he'd be an outlier in any lineup.
Mike Napoli: The Angels are hesitant to commit to him, probably because he's a low-average slugger who walks a lot and strikes out even more. There are a lot of major league teams that would happy with that from their catcher.
Gary Matthews Jr.: High average, low OBP, modest slugging, speed, yes, yes, yes, yes, but Gary strikes out a lot. Setting runner-up Napoli aside, Matthews has 11 more Ks than third-place finisher Erick Aybar (who was brutal at the plate and on the bases while filling in for the injured Howie Kendrick).
Shea Hillenbrand: Can't run and isn't hitting for average either this year. He does have a very impressive two walks in 147 plate appearances, however.
Chone Figgins: Figgins is the prototypical Angels player, versatile, pesky, but he missed April with a pair of broken fingers on his right hand and has hit like a player coming back from a hand injury thus far in may (.133/.198/.187). It's a bummer to see a burner like Figgins lacking fuel, but I'm sure the Yankees won't mind his disappearing act this weekend. Nor will my wife, who pronounces his first name phonetically and his last name "Friggins."
The Yanks get their second look at young Jered Weaver tonight. Weaver beat them in Anaheim last August, striking out eight in six innings and allowing just one run on three hits, actually one run on one hit, a solo homer by . . . Craig Wilson? Well that's not going to help tonight. The only positive for the Yanks from that August game was that Weaver walked three and needed 104 pitches to get through those six innings, not that getting to the Angels' bullpen has ever done an offense any good, at least not while Mike Scioscia's been the Halos manager.
Clay Aiken's evil twin, Tyler Clippard, makes his Yankee Stadium debut tonight. He was nails against the Mets last weekend, posing a line that was just two strikeouts shy of matching Weaver's line against the Yanks last August. Clippard was the first of the five Yankee starters to make their major league debuts this season that didn't look like he was going to plotz in the first inning. After the game, Clippard said he wasn't as nervous as he expected he'd be, and I believe him. Here's hoping things don't change now that Clippard's in the Clipper's house. Me, I can't wait to see Clipp stomping around on the mound and shooting smoke out of his already famously prominent ears as he mows down the Halos with those nasty curves and disappearing changeups. (Incidentally, Rook, Don Sutton has a solution to that ear problem.)
Manager: Mike Scioscia General Manager: Bill Stoneman
Home Ballpark (2007 Park Factors): Angel Stadium (95/96)
Who's Replacing Whom?
Gary Matthews Jr. is replacing Tim Salmon and a chunk of Maicer Izturis (DL) by way of forcing Chone Figgins back to third base
Howie Kendrick is replacing half of Adam Kennedy
Casey Kotchman is replacing Darin Erstad and the other half of Adam Kennedy
Shea Hillenbrand is replacing Juan Rivera (DL) for now
Reggie Willits is filling in for Garret Anderson (DL)
Erick Aybar was replacing Howie Kendrick when he was on the DL and is now back to replacing Dallas McPherson (DL) and Edardo Alfonzo
Jered Weaver is once again replacing his brother Jeff
Bartolo Colon is replacing Joe Saunders (minors) for now
Dustin Moseley is replacing Brendan Donnelly
Darren Oliver is replacing J. C. Romero
Chris Bootcheck is replacing the innings pitched by Kevin Gregg
1B Casey Kotchman (L)
2B Howie Kendrick (R)
SS Orlando Cabrera (R)
3B Chone Figgins (S)
C Mike Napoli (R)
RF Vladimir Guerrero (R)
CF Gary Matthews Jr. (S)
LF Reggie Willits (S)
DH Shea Hillenbrand (R)
R - Robb Quinlan (1B)
S - Erick Aybar (IF)
S - Kenry Morales (1B)
R - Tommy Murphy (OF)
R - Jose Molina (C)
R - John Lackey
R - Bartolo Colon
R - Ervin Santana
R - Jered Weaver
R - Kelvim Escobar
R - Francisco Rodriguez
R - Scot Shields
R - Hector Carrasco
L - Darren Oliver
R - Dustin Moseley
R - Chris Bootcheck
15-day DL: L - Garret Anderson (LF), S - Maicer Izturis (IF), R - Justin Speier
60-day DL: R - Juan Rivera (OF), L - Dallas McPherson (3B)
S - Reggie Willits (LF)
R - Orlando Cabrera (SS)
R - Vladimir Guerrero (RF)
S - Gary Matthews Jr. (CF)
L - Casey Kotchman (1B)*
R - Mike Napoli (C)
R - Shea Hillenbrand (DH)
R - Howie Kendrick (2B)
S - Chone Figgins (3B)
*Kotchman platoons with the righty-hitting Quinlan at first. Both hit in the five spot when in the starting lineup.