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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Torii Hunter's former team was elminated by the Yankees. Will his current team suffer the same fate?

Torii Hunter's former team was elminated by the Yankees. Will his current team suffer the same fate?

For the Angels, the path is a certain and familiar one as they take on the New York Yankees, who broke out the brooms last night with their 4-1 win over the Minnesota Twins.  For the Dodgers it could be just the same, as they watch the Philadelphia Phillies try and wrapup their  series with the Rockies tonight.

The Angels went 5-5 against the Yankees this season in a series of games that neither team was ever really out of, with the exception of the three-game sweep by LA at home just before the All-Star Break.  This has certainly been a trend for the Angels, who own the Yankees when they meet in Anaheim.  This will be a matchup between two teams that are as different in style in terms of play on the field as Hollywood and the South Bronx are in terms of glamor. The Angels will look to get it done the same way they always have against Yankee pitching by finding ways to get on base, and then running wild.  The Yankees know this, but with a defensive liability in at catcher in Jorge Posada, it’s hard to see them slowing down the Angels’ game plan.  The Yankees, on the other hand, will be looking for more of the same from Alex Rodriguez, who powered the Bronx Bombers past Minnesota, shedding his “Can’t get it done in October” moniker for the time being.  This should be a much more heated and contested series than these two teams had in the ALDS, and I fully expect it to go 6 or 7 games.

Assuming that Cliff Lee will pitch the way he did in Game 1 against Colorado, then we can safely say that the Phillies will advance to the NLCS to take on the Dodgers.  Of course, the last time I made this kind of assumption, I said the Twins were done and not making  the playoffs and look what happened there, but this time I’m confident that the Champs will prevail and advance to play Game 1 in Dodger Stadium.  The Dodgers desperately need to avoid getting into a high-scoring affair with the Phillies’ offense, because this plays right into what Philadelphia wants, as it makes it a battle to see which team’s pitching staff blinks first.  The Phillies should have a decided advantage in power and starting pitching, and have to feel like they have the best team remaining in the NL right now with the Cardinals being eliminated.  I struggle to see the Dodgers getting past Philly, but then again, I didn’t see them getting past St. Louis, either.