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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Mauer is the class of the catchers that could be playoff-bound this year.

Mauer is the class of the catchers that could be playoff-bound this year.

With the MLB Playoff picture beginning to take its final shape, it’s time to start looking at each of the teams still in the race and see how they stack up against each other.  For the next week, I’ll be breaking down all the teams on a position-by-position basis. Today, we look at the guys calling the games, which really is a case of the haves and have-nots.

1. Joe Mauer, Twins
The guy might not only be the best catcher in the playoffs this year, but he might be the best player in the AL.  Mauer has had an unbelievable season for the Twinkies, and has kept it up even after the injury to Justin Morneau.  If Minnesota is going to make the playoffs, they need this guy to rise to the occasion in the next three days and lead them past the Tigers.

2. Brian McCann, Braves
It’s ironic that the teams with the two best players at this position are currently the two teams that are on the outside looking in.  McCann is the heart and soul of the red hot Atlanta Braves, and exactly what you look for in a catcher.  Very sound defensively, some power in his bat, and widely recognized in the Braves clubhouse as a team leader.  The Bravos seem to go as McCann does, and lately he’s been hot.  With games left against the Marlins and Nationals, there’s a chance we’ll get to see McCann in the national spotlight during the playoffs.

3. Yadier Molina, Cardinals
One of the Molina catching trio, but certainly the best of that group and one of the best in the Majors.  Molina enjoys quite a few comforts in the lineup, batting behind Albert Pujols and Matt Holliday, but even before Holliday came to St. Louis he was one of the better offensive catchers in the game.  Defensively he is often regarded as one of the best, and catching for guys like Chris Carpenter and Adam Wainwright hasn’t hurt him too much, either.

4. Jason Varitek/Victor Martinez, Red Sox
Had the Boston Red Sox not made the deal for Victor Martinez at the trade deadline, it’s hard to say where exactly they would have ended up.  V-Mart has increased the stability of the catcher position in Boston, and Varitek has responded with improved play in the second half.  Having both of them in the lineup in also a plus, as Martinez has really taken advantage of hitting in Fenway Park.  They are both very good game managers, as well, which is going to be important when they take on the Angels in the Divisional Series (barring a complete and utter collapse and the Rangers winning out.)

5. Russell Martin, Dodgers
Martin hasn’t had the offensive impact for the Dodgers that many were expecting him to have, but he remains an important piece of the puzzle for Los Angeles behind the plate, with a .994 fielding percentage this year, as well as throwing out 31% of all baserunners this season, which is important against teams that seem to always get more aggressive in the playoffs.

6. Jorge Posada, Yankees
Posada has the most playoff experience out of all of the catchers on this list and he would be much higher on here, but recent injuries have got to be a major concern for the Yankees and their aging catcher.  If New York deems that Posada can only DH for them, that means that they have to plug in Jose Molina or Francisco Cervelli into the lineup for every game during the playoffs and possibly bench someone like Hideki Matsui, which is a big blow to the vaunted Yankee offense.

7. Mike Napoli, Angels
It’s not that I don’t think highly of Mike Napoli, it’s just that the overall impact that he has on his team isn’t nearly as big as the players ahead of him on this list.  He is more than a serviceable player behind the plate, and has come up with some big hits for Los Angeles of Anaheim of California, et cetera, this season, but he just isn’t a huge part of the Angels’ master plan to win their first World Series since ’02.

8. Gerald Laird, Tigers
Most people don’t even realize that Gerald Laird is the Tigers’ starting catcher, especially since Brandon Inge is still widely listed as a catcher, and that’s because Laird hasn’t really had to do much this season, working with one of the better pitching staffs in the Majors, while being nicely protected in the bottom third of Detroit’s lineup.  Much like Napoli, he isn’t really a huge part of the Tigers as a team.

9. Chris Iannetta/Yorvit Torrealba, Rockies
I really don’t know what to make of these guys, or most of the Rockies, for that matter.  I don’t think that their really all that good on offense or defense, but they do what they can for Colorado.  They benefit from playing in Coors Field, but that’s just about all you can say about them.

10. Paul Bako/Carlos Ruiz, Phillies
It’s not good when you have Carlos Ruiz as your Opening Day catcher. It’s worse when you have to platoon him with journeyman Paul Bako because of the fact that they are both liabilities on the field for the defending champion Phillies.  This is a position where the Phils are going to have to make a decision on during the off-season.  They have some decent talent in the minors, but they might want to go out and look at a short-term fix, such as Paul Lo Duca or Johnny Estrada to but themselves more time.