Hitting: The Yankees can flat out hit. Outside of Vladimir Guerrero, the Angels can not hit. The Bronx Bombers slugged 82 more home runs this year than the Angels. That's two extra dingers in a four or five-game series. Although the team batting averages are nearly the same, the Yankees have a much better on-base percentage, thanks to almost 200 more walks during the regular season. Yes, the NYY drew 44% more BB than the LAA in 2005. Garret Anderson is a shell of what he once was and is nothing more than a guess hitter who can look good when he's right or bad when he's wrong. If I'm the Yankees, I don't let Guerrero beat me. Treat him like Barry Bonds. Make someone else get the big hit. Unlike Bonds, Guerrero lacks patience and may get overanxious from time to time, particularly in a playoff situation. The AL MVP in 2004 was 2-for-12 with 4 SO against the Boston Red Sox in last year's ALDS. Vladi is a very dangerous hitter, but he can be had. I just don't know if the Yankees have the type of pitching that can neutralize him.
The Angels led the majors in stolen bases but their SB percentage was lower than the Yankees. Mike Scioscia's club can and will run with Chone Figgins leading the way. They will also try to take extra bases, if and when they can.
Fielding: The Angels are strong up the middle with Bengie Molina at catcher, Orlando Cabrera at short, and Adam Kennedy at second. Steve Finley is no longer a Gold Glove CF although he shines out there in comparison to Bernie Williams, who could well be a big liability out there against the Angels. Darin Erstad is heads and shoulders better than Jason Giambi at first base, not only in terms of range but watch him dig out balls in the dirt. He does that better than anyone in the game. Guerrero has one of the strongest and most respected outfield arms in all of baseball. Alex Rodriguez is better than anyone the Angels can put at third, but I don't think the Angels would necessarily take a backseat to any other matchup defensively.
Starting Pitching: What can you say when Kelvim Escobar can't even make your five-man rotation? Bartolo Colon and Kevin Lackey are about as good of a 1-2 punch in the AL as any other tandem. Colon is a bulldog and Lackey is one of the most underrated pitchers in the league. The Angels appear to be undecided about who they will start in games three and four. Jarrod Washburn just might be the odd man out. Yes, the lefty with the fourth-best ERA in the AL may not get a chance to start in this series. Instead, he may be relegated to the bullpen--a role I don't think he is well-suited for--to give the Angels a long reliever or a LOOGY, if need be.
The Angels, believe it or not, actually have four starters with better ERAs than Randy Johnson. That said, I would take the Big Unit over all of 'em if I could only pick one starter out of the bunch to win a game. The problem for the Yankees, though, is that Johnson isn't scheduled to start until Game Three on Friday. He will be well rested, but I'm afraid the New Yorkers may be down 0-2 going into that tilt. Colon and Lackey have to be heavy favorites to beat the Yankees in Anaheim in Games One and Two. Let's face it, Joe Torre has no idea what he is going to get when Mike Mussina takes the mound tonight. A victory in Game One would give the Yankees the home-field edge as well as the confidence and momentum to take the series.
Ervin Santana may be asked to start on Friday or Saturday in New York. I would hand him the ball in Game Three against Johnson and, as an up and down type pitcher, hope he comes through because he has the stuff, if not the experience. The Yankees, however, would be prohibitive favorites in a game featuring Johnson at home vs. Santana. The rookie has been nothing short of awful on the road this year. [Ed: As it turns out Paul Byrd will start Game Three, while Washburn gets the nod in Game Four.]
Colon in Anaheim in a potential Game Five matches up well to any pitcher not named Johnson. The Yankees can only hope they clinch it in four games or less because the odds of beating the man who may wind up winning the Cy Young Award in the rubber match will be long at best.
Bullpen: With Mariano Rivera on their side, Yankees fans may not want to hear--much less believe--that the Angels have a decidely better bullpen. The AL West champs simply have better depth than the Yankees. Look for Scioscia to go to Scott Shields in the eighth inning and Frankie Rodriguez in the ninth almost every chance he gets. Escobar could be a difference maker. He gives the Angels another power arm out of the 'pen. Torre doesn't have the luxury of going to an Escobar. What it comes down to is that the Angels' bridge between their starters and closer is much stronger than what Torre can put out there.
Rodriguez has been relying more and more on his big breaking ball in crucial situations. He only throws his once unhittable fastball about half the time now. The key is not to go fishing for his nasty sliders that, more often than not, end up low and/or outside. Rest assured that K-Rod will face A-Rod at least once with the game on the line in the ninth inning.
Manager: Two of the best. Distinctly different styles. Yankees players and fans rightfully love Torre. Angels players and fans admire Scioscia. Torre will probably be questioned for who he does or doesn't start, while Scioscia will more likely be second-guessed if the Angels run into outs on the basepaths or use up outs by playing small ball. Call it a draw. Both of these guys have won it all and want nothing more than to win another one.
Keys for the Angels to win: Not letting Mussina beat them in Game One. A second or third bat (Casey Kotchman or Juan Rivera, anyone?) to step up and take some of the load off Guerrero. Beating Randy Johnson.
Keys for the Yankees to win: Winning Game One. Getting quality starts from each of their starters. A healthy Jason Giambi throughout the series.
Thanks Rich, much obliged.
Meanwhile, over at Baseball Prospectus, check out Christina Kahrl's preview. If you aren't a BP subscriber, here is her prediction:
I don't see a re-enactment of last year's ALCS, or even the 2002 ALDS between the two teams, where K-Rod was the hero of the hour. The Yankees don't have the rotation to reliably get them through the first seven innings, while the Angels' starting pitching should be good at keeping games tight. The Yankees don't have the pen or the bench to give them any additional benefits in a tight game, while the Angels do. Torre's tactical laziness in recent postseasons contrasts unfavorably with Scioscia's willingness to use his bench to compensate for a weak lineup. I'm sure the series will involve lots of hat-gnawing in the Apple and "hero of the day" Rally Monkey heroics across the entire Angels roster. Basically, I see a lot of the key moments coming in the seventh inning on a nightly basis, and on that basis, I'm picking the Angels of Los Angeles of Anaheim in five, with the Yankees scoring at least one last home blowout in either Game Three or Four before losing the final matchup.
I think the Angels are in good shape. The Angels still put a lot of balls in play, and the Yankees still don't catch them. There's an excellent chance that the Angels will get to hit off the soft underbelly of the Yankees' staff at least once in the series, and when that happened in the regular season, teams were often able to name the score. The Yankees can score with anyone, and you'd normally like their chances in a series played at six and seven runs and higher. The Angels are one of the few teams, though, that can take away a key strength of this Yankee lineup--walks--by throwing strikes and forcing the Yankees to bring the Angels' strong defense into play.
The Yankees might hit a dozen homers in the series and not get to 25 runs, so unless the expensive version of Mike Mussina shows up twice, they're not going to be able to pull it out. Angels in five.
The Angels play the Yankees with a cockiness which borders on arrogance. They aren't only unafraid of the Yankees, they act as if they are simply the better team. It is one of the reasons why, aside from the Red Sox, the Angels are the American League team I dislike most. The Bombers need to split out there in La La Land, and as dominant as Colon can be, Lackey is the guy that scares me. And I know this is stating the obvious, but man do they ever need to keep that lil' sombitch Figgins off the bases. I don't really have any predictions, other than Colon will do just fine against Alex Rodriguez tonight, especially after they replay that three-home run night seventeen thousand times.
But regardless of my little superstitions, I hope the team goes out there and plays well.