A-Rod powered the Yankees past Minnesota. Does he have an encore performance for Hollywood?

A-Rod powered the Yankees past Minnesota. Does he have an encore performance for Hollywood?

The American League championship is a battle between East and West as the New York Yankees and Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim set to do battle starting on Friday night in The Bronx.  Before that, though, let’s take a look at both of these teams head-to-head.

Catcher
The Angels seem to have finally found their long-term solution behind the plate in Mike Napoli, who has really begun to play well on a consistent basis.  He also has a great relationship with an Angels’ pitching staff that might have the most depth of all the remaining teams in the playoffs.  The Yankees, on the other hand, caused some waves by electing to use backup catcher Jose Molina in Game 2 of the ALDS to catch Jorge Posada.  Although, with his series-clinching home run in Game 3, it’s hardly a debate in New York as to who the true starting catcher is.  In the end, it’s always a comfort to have someone who is young behind the plate and can deal with all the pitchers in his battery.

Advantage: Angels

First Baseman
This is much more clear cut than catcher was.  Mark Teixeira had an unbelievable regular season and stands to possibly win the MVP award this year.  Kendry Morales, while he played very well this year, is not the man he is attempting to replace who is, ironically enough, Mark Teixeira.

Advantage: Yankees

Second Baseman
Again, this position is simply a case of having a consistent and solid player against having a platoon system of two sometimes good players.  Robinson Cano had a bounce back year this season, putting himself back in the upper echelons of second basemen in the American League.  Meanwhile, after holding the second base slot for most of the year, Howie Kendrick lost the spot to Maicer Izturis, neither of whom bring the productivity or the talent to their team that Cano does.

Advantage: Yankees

Third Baseman
This is actually a tougher call than I initially thought it would be.  On the one hand, the Yankees have Alex Rodriguez, who, in spite of missing a month of baseball and being under the steroid cloud, still hit for 30 and 100.  On the other hand, the Angels have Chone Figgins, who is a do-it-all kind of player and is usually the key to their offense’s overall success.  At the outset of the playoffs, I would have definitely taken Figgins based off of A-Rod’s lack of postseason success.  However, it looks like he’s shaking those demons and will be a key factor in the ALCS.

Advantage: Yankees

Shortstop
Erick Aybar has been quite a revelation for the Angels this year, and that continued into the playoffs with his .364 average against the Boston Red Sox, which is unreal production from the #9 spot in any team’s lineup.  The Yankees counter with their captain, Derek Jeter, who has proven time and again that he just knows how to win.  He may not always light up the scoreboard, but Jeter finds ways to have an impact that most players don’t.

Advantage: Yankees

Outfield
The Angels have an outfield that is very experienced and very dangerous.  They have Torii Hunter, who is playing hungrier for winning than any other player in the postseason right now, Bobby Abreu, who would love nothing more than to beat his former team and get to the World Series they promised him, and Juan Rivera, who since leaving New York for Los Angeles, has been a thorn in the side of Yankee pitching.  The Yankees have an outfield of Johnny Damon, Melky Cabrera, and Nick Swisher, the three of which combined for 4 hits in the ALDS and will face even better pitching and will probably be challenged defensively much more in this series.

Advantage: Angels at all 3 positions.

Starting Pitching
This is where the series will be won and lost.  There is no denying the strength of the front of the Yankee rotation with Sabathia and Burnett.  There is also no denying that the Angels are very deep with Lackey, Jered Weaver, Ervin Santana, Joe Saunders, and Scott Kazmir.  It’s almost impossible to determine which is going to win out. Either way, expect some pitching duels in the series.

Advantage: Push

Bullpen
The Yankees have continuously touted the new-found strength of their middle relief this season, but it was less than convincing against the Minnesota Twins.  The Angels’ bullpen isn’t heard from all that much, and that’s because their fairly mediocre.  The tipping point is that the Yankees have the greatest closer in postseason history backing their bullpen, while the Angels have Brian Fuentes, who is basically untested in the playoffs in his career.

Advantage: Yankees, just slightly

Prediction: The positional breakdown is fairly even between these two teams as far as I am concerned, and it’s hard to determine because the teams play much different styles of baseball. That’s why it’s going to be those so-called “intangibles” that will win this series. Can the Yankees overcome their lack of postseason success against Los Angeles, or will the Angels work their way past them yet again?  As far as I’m concerned, the Angels and Yankees are the same teams that they were the last time they faced, another time the Yankees were favored against them.  Los Angeles might even be better than they were in 2002 when they won it all, and that’s why I’m taking the Angels in Six.

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There are a lot of great first basemen on playoff teams, but there is only one Albert Pujols.

There are a lot of great first basemen on playoff teams, but there is only one Albert Pujols.

After having a fairly easy time ranking the catchers on the teams contending for playoff spots yesterday, I had to spend a lot more time on the first basemen that are potentially playoff-bound.  The thing that makes it so difficult is that none of these teams has a particularly weak 1B.  They all have shown that they can lead their respective teams, and all are proficient on offense and defense. This is the list that I came up with. I expect at least a few objections.

1. Albert Pujols, Cardinals
OK, I don’t expect any objections on this one, though.  Pujols is simply the best player in the Majors right now, hands down.  From an offensive standpoint, he looks like the next candidate to be the player who will break all the major records.  He’s no slouch defensively, though, either.  This season, Pujols has only committed 12 errors this year and did win a Gold Glove in ’06. The Cardinals success, or lack thereof, in the playoffs this year lies heavily on The Machine.

2. Mark Teixeira, Yankees
Up to this point in the 2009 season, the $180 million dollar man has paid off with dividends for the New York Yankees, leading the AL in both home runs and RBIs.  The All-Star has also continued to live up to his reputation of being a very good defensive first baseman by committing only 3 errors on the year, putting him in line to potentially win his 2nd career Gold Glove.

3. Ryan Howard, Phillies
If not for Albert Pujols, Howard would be the NL first baseman everyone is talking about for the MVP this year.  His power numbers are fantastic, as always, and his average at .275 is a significant improvement from last season.  He is the heart and soul of the Phillies’ powerful offense along with Chase Utley and is one of the most dangerous men to have to face in a big spot in the league.  His defense is a bit suspect at times, committing 14 errors this year after 19 the previous year, but it’s a necessary risk for Philadelphia to take because it’s not like they can use him at DH in the NL.

4. Kevin Youkilis/Victor Martinez, Red Sox
Initially “Youk’s” position at the beginning of the year along with David Ortiz, Youkilis now splits time at first with Victor Martinez, usually replacing Mike Lowell at third.  Either one of them is a great option to have in the position, though, as they have combined to commit only one error in 99 games at first this season.  Also striking is the fact that they both are hitting over .300 this year and both have hit over 20 HRs and have over 90 RBIs.

5. Miguel Cabrera, Tigers
In his first full season as solely a first baseman, Miguel Cabrera has excelled for the battling Detroit Tigers, hitting .329 with 33 home runs and 101 RBI, while only committing 7 errors in the field.  Unfortunately for Cabrera, he’s no longer a third baseman, which means that this year he is not in the MVP candidate talks in spite of his numbers.

6. Todd Helton, Rockies
Ol’ Reliable for the Colorado Rockies, all Helton wants is another chance to win a World Series like he had back in 2007.  His power numbers are significantly decreased from his prime, but he’s still hitting .323 for the year and hasn’t committed more than 5 errors in a season since he committed 11 in 2003.  He is the face of the Rockies’ organization and there might not be a guy in the league who wants to win more than Helton.

7. Adam LaRoche, Braves
Getting out of Pittsburgh might have been the best thing to ever happen to Adam LaRoche’s career.  At first, he was sent to Boston, where he lasted a whole six games before being sent to Atlanta for Casey Kotchman, where he has gone onto hit .344 in 52 games with the Braves and become the protection in the lineup that they have needed for Chipper Jones.  He’s also amongst the best defensive first basemen in the game, with a fielding percentage of .999 this year.

8. Kendry Morales, Angels
Another beneficiary of change, Morales finally got his chance to play full-time this year with the departures of Casey Kotchman and Mark Teixeira, and has solidified himself at the position for the LA Angels of Anaheim.  The 26-year old has been a catalyst for the Halos’ offense at times, hitting .303 with 33 home runs and 105 RBIs.  His defense has been passable, as well, committing 8 errors on the year.  However, it remains to be seen how Morales will react to his first time in the playoff spotlight.  If he struggles, the Angels might be in trouble against the Red Sox.

9. James Loney, Dodgers
Loney was a guy that a lot of people predicted to have a breakout year with the Dodgers, but hasn’t really lived up to those expectations, hitting almost identically to his numbers from last year. In 2008, Loney hit .289, with 13 home runs and 90 RBIs.  This year, Loney is hitting .285, with 13 home runs and 90 RBIs.  No, that is not a typo.  He is the exact same player he was last season.  He has improved defensively from ’08 though, cutting his errors down from 13 in ’08 to seven in ’09.  Loney just doesn’t match up with the rest of the guys on this list, and isn’t necessarily the guy Joe Torre’s Dodgers are counting on to drive their offense in the playoffs.

10. Michael Cuddyer, Twins
It’s not even that I think Cuddyer isn’t good, because he is pretty darn good and he’s having a career year in ’09, with highs in hits, home runs, and slugging percentage, but he’s not a first baseman by trade.  Cuddyer is a player who can play just about any position on the field, but was forced to stick to first after Justin Morneau went down with his season-ending back injury.  In 28 games at first, Cuddyer has committed four errors, which, when looking at the rest of these guys’ defensive stats, is not very good.  I just worry about a player who is placed into an unusual situation in important games and what could potentially happen.