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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Roughly 75% of all Philly natives have a crush on Chase Utley, regardless of gender or sexual preference. Apparently, I might, too, as hes #1 on this list.

Roughly 75% of all Philly natives have a crush on Chase Utley, regardless of gender or sexual preference. Apparently, I might, too, as he's #1 on this list.

Now that the playoff picture has pretty much all but taken its final shape, I have taken the liberty of removing any and all Twins or Braves from the remaining lists, so don’t be confused that the list stops at #8 as opposed to #10.  That being said, today we’re looking at the group of second basemen headed into the Divisional Series next week.  This is a group that is a good bit different from the first basemen in that some of these guys are really good, but you’ve never heard of them.  However, there is definitely more of a separation between the second basemen than their first base compadres.

1. Chase Utley, Phillies
I really had to look closely at both him and defending AL MVP Dustin Pedroia to determine which one is actually #1, but in the end it’s hard not to pick Utley because of what he means to the Philadelphia Phillies.  Utley has had another great offensive year as far as second basemen go, hitting .285 with 31 homers and 90 RBIs. He was named the starting 2B for the NL in the All-Star Game and is looking like he will win his 4th consecutive Silver Slugger Award.  He solidifies the middle of the Phils’ lineup with Ryan Howard and is probably the most popular man in the City of Brotherly Love. He also plays a solid defensive game, committing 12 errors in 153 games this season.

2. Dustin Pedroia, Red Sox
I’m probably going to receive several complaints about Pedroia not being #1 on this list, but there are two reasons for that.  First, Pedroia, unlike Utley, is a top of the batting order guy, along with teammate Jacoby Ellsbury and to put a guy who isn’t the focal point of the team ahead of Utley would be just wrong.  Second, his numbers aren’t as good as last year, as he’s hitting .298 with 13 homers and 68 RBIs, all of which are down from the previous year.  However, the number that stands out with Pedroia is 45 strikeouts in 615 at bats this season.  There’s a reason he’s known as a pest by opposing pitchers, and that’s exactly why.  There might not be a player in the league who will fight off more pitches in a two strike count than Pedroia, which makes him extremely valuable in a situation where Boston needs to advance a runner or get a runner in.  He’s also one of the best defensive second basemen in the league.  The 2008 Gold Glove Award winner, Pedroia has committed only 6 errors in 150 games for the Sox this year.

3. Robinson Cano, Yankees
After a down year in 2008, Cano has had a pretty big comeback year, as he is amongst the AL leaders in batting average, hitting .322 and also has 202 hits on the year, including a career-high 25 home runs.  Cano has been a frustrating player for Yankees fans, at times, however, as he has a tendency to get a little to flashy with the glove, which has caused him to make 12 errors in 158 games this year.  Cano also has the luxury of hitting in a lineup behind guys like A-Rod and Mark Teixeira, which is a solid explanation for the jump in his numbers in ’09.

4. Placido Polanco, Tigers
Polanco is one of the most underrated second basemen in the MLB every year.  Much like Dustin Pedroia, Polanco is extremely difficult to strike out, which he has only done 43 times in 599 at bats this season, making him in the very widely recognized stat category of at bats per strikeout for the third-consecutive year in the AL.  Polanco is also looking like the favorite to win his second career Gold Glove, as he has been stellar defensively all year, committing only 2 errors in 147 games for the Tigers.

5. Orlando Hudson, Dodgers
Hudson left the Arizona Diamondbacks after the 2008 season and was a player that was on a lot of teams’ wish list.  However, he didn’t sign until late in the free agent signing period with the LA Dodgers, but it hasn’t caused him to miss a beat in 2009.  The ’09 All-Star selection is having his best offensive season since ’06, which was his first year in Arizona, hitting .285, and is also just short of career highs in just about every major stat category.  The O-Dog also continues to play the position about as good as anyone in the Majors, committing only eight errors in 146 games, which puts him in position to be a candidate for his 4th career Gold Glove.

6. Howie Kendrick/Maicer Izturis, Angels
These two have spent the year splitting time at second base for the Halos, and their numbers are almost exactly the same.  Both are hitting right around .300 and lack power, but get on base a lot, which fits in nicely with Mike Scioscia’s overall strategy at the plate.  They have only committed 6 errors combined at 2B this year, as well, which would place them second in the AL behind Polanco if this were one player instead of two.

7. Skip Schumaker, Cardinals
Schumaker originally came up and looked like a super utility player for the Cards to hold onto.  However, Skip showed that he can hit in ’08 and has continued that through this season, hitting .303, which is important considering there are times when he bats in front of the pitcher, which explains his total lack of run production for the year with only 35 RBIs.  The permanency of him at second took a little while for him to adjust to defensively, as well, which explains his 9 errors in just 130 games at the position this year.

8. Clint Barmes, Rockies
Barmes looked like he was going to be the Next Big Thing after a great campaign in 2005.  However, after a disappointing ’06 and then a freak accident in the beginning of 2007, Barmes fell way off of everybody’s radar.  Now he’s working his way back at second base, rather than shortstop and has improved his power numbers, which is the norm for anyone on the Rockies, with career highs in home runs (23) and RBIs (76).  However, he is still only hitting .246 on the year for a team that could use a few more contact hitters in its lineup.  He’s also committed 12 errors in 136 games at the position, making him one of the weaker second basemen going into the playoffs.