Posted on 17 October 2009.
UNITED STATES – The New York Yankees will be looking to get past their top nemesis in recent years when the American League East Champions butt heads with the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim Friday in the best-of-seven American League Championship Series at Yankee Stadium.
The Yankees are aiming for their 40th AL Pennant and will be making its first trip to the ALCS since 2004. Five years ago, the Bronx Bombers became the first team in major league history to win the first three games then drop the last four contests to lose the series.
The Angels are back in the ALCS after a four-year absence, and eliminated New York in 2002 on its way to a World Series championship. Los Angeles, which also beat the Yankees in the 2005 ALDS, has posted an 80-68 record over the so-called “Evil Empire” since 1995.
NEW YORK HITTING
The Yankees boast a powerful lineup that led the AL with 244 home runs and 915 runs during the regular season. Manager Joe Girardi’s squad, which features three hitters earning more than $20 million per season, features seven sluggers with at last 20 long balls.
Alex Rodriguez silenced his postseason critics with an impressive series against the Minnesota Twins in the ALDS. A-Rod drilled a pair of homers and drove in six runs while hitting .455.
The Yankees’ captain Derek Jeter, who surpassed Lou Gehrig as the franchise all-time hits leader this year, hit .400 (4-for-10) with a home run in the opening round to continue a pattern of cluch playoff performances.
Mark Teixeira, who led the team in home runs and RBIs in 2009, struggled against Minnesota with just two hits. However, the former Angel smacked a walk-off home run in the 11th to beat the Twins in Game 2.
Other dangerous hitters for the Yankees includes Jorge Posada, Hideki Matsui, Robinson Cano, Nick Swisher, Johnny Damon and Melky Cabrera.
LOS ANGELES HITTING
The Angels also feature an array of talented hitters who can go deep, but skipper Mike Scioscia’s team loves to run.
Los Angeles batted a league-best .285 and was second with 883 runs, and third with 148 stolen bases. Chone Figgins led the way with 42 swipes followed by Bobby Abreu (30) and Torii Hunter (18).
Abreu, a former Yankee, reached base nine times and hit .556 to help Anaheim sweep the Boston Red Sox to advance one step away from the World Series. Also, veteran slugger Vladimir Guerrero delivered a clutch hit to send the Red Sox packing.
The loss of Teixeira was hardly felt by the Angels due to a superb campaign from first baseman Kendry Morales. The Cuban slugger finished the season with a .306 batting mark including 34 homers and 108 RBIs.
NEW YORK PITCHING
The Yankees are toying with the idea of a three-man rotation. CC Sabathia would go for the Yankees in Games 1, 4 and 7. A.J. Burnett will throw in Games 2 and 5, while Andy Pettitte will take the mound for games 3 and 6.
Sabathia, who lost both outings to the Angels this season, has a career 5-7 record in 14 starts against Anaheim with a 4.72 ERA. However, the burly left-hander limited the Twins to a lone run in an impressive 6 2/3 innings.
Burnett has heated up down the stretch and has allowed two or fewer runs in six of his last seven outings. The former Blue Jay held Minnesota to one run and three hits in Game 2 of the ALDS.
Pettitte, looking to become the all-time winningest pitcher in postseason history, also turned in a stellar performance in Game 3 of the first round to pull even with John Smoltz with 15 playoff wins apiece.
The Yankees bullpen looked a little ordinary against Minnesota. Phil Hughes, the final link to getting to closer Mariano Rivera, allowed a pair of runs and five hits in just two innings.
Rivera, who is 4-0 with 10 saves and a 0.93 ERA in 25 career ALCS appearances, has an overall record of 8-1 with 35 saves and an unworldly 0.74 ERA in 79 playoff games.
Other relievers expected to see action includes Joba Chamberlain, Alfredo Aceves, Phil Coke and
LOS ANGELES PITCHING
John Lackey (pictured) will try to get the series started on a winning note for the American League West Champions when he takes the hill in Game 1. The ace right-hander limited the Red Sox to four hits over 7 1/3 scoreless frames in the ALDS.
16-game winner Joe Saunders will get the nod in Game 2, while Jered Weaver and former Tampa Bay ace Scott Kazmir starting Games 3 and 4, respectively, at home.
Weaver, another16-game winner, turned in a sensational outing against Boston in Game 2. The righty gave up just a lone run and two hits over 7 1/3 innings to notch the win.
The fate of the Angels will fall on the shoulders of closer Brian Fuentes. If the reliever who registered a league-high 48 games shows up, Los Angeles will move on to the World Series. However, if the reliever who blew seven saves and had a 4.81 ERA the second half of the season is on the hill, the Yankees will be eyeing their 27th World Series title.
OUTLOOK: The best team that money can buy remain the favorites. But Los Angeles have the weapons to ruin the Yankees magical season. Both squads have quality starters and suspect bullpens so expect the offenses to decide the majority of the wins. Smart money says take New York, but my gut tells me different. Either way, this looks like a classic matchup that should draw healthy TV ratings.
PREDICTION: Angels win series in seven games.
Marvin Moore is a former European coach and Managing Editor at BaseballdeWorld.