Yankees to topple Angels in six
By Phil Rogers
Sometimes aces and big-name guys carry series. You would give the Yankees the edge if you expected that to happen. But the Angels have a better starting rotation, with the guys behind John Lackey outperforming A.J. Burnett and Andy Pettitte, and Lackey providing a nice counter for CC Sabathia. Lackey, Jered Weaver and Scott Kazmir gave up only six runs in 20[0xb7] innings in the sweep against the Red Sox. The format gives New York the chance to start Sabathia three times in the series, if Joe Girardi is willing to use him on short rest once, and he could be a difference-maker. Sabathia pitched well against the Twins in the division series opener but has a 6.54 ERA in six postseason starts, with the totals inflated from a woeful performance on three days' rest for the Brewers in the 2008 NLDS. Burnett, the majors' leader in walks, was very beatable against the Twins but got big outs.
Mariano Rivera is the best postseason closer there ever has been. He raised his career total of playoff saves to 35 in the first round. Girardi has done a nice job developing roles for Phil Hughes and Phil Coke in front of Rivera. He has a decision to make with Joba Chamberlain but it's likely he will stay in the bullpen rather than join the rotation as a fourth starter. Brian Fuentes nicely shut the door on the Red Sox in Game 3 but has allowed a lot of baserunners this season. The Angels' not-so-secret weapon is 39-year-old Darren Oliver, who pitched in every game for the Angels against the Red Sox.
Run production is the calling card of baseball's best teams. The Yankees led the majors in runs, home runs, on-base percentage and extra-base hits in the regular season, and are off to a rolling start in the playoffs thanks largely to Alex Rodriguez. He looks like a man on a mission, hitting two of the Yankees' six home runs against the Twins. Derek Jeter and Jorge Posada also are swinging hot bats. Mark Teixeira is dangerous. The Angels have done just fine since losing Teixeira to the Yankees, and actually outscored New York in the first round 16-15. They did this despite a hitless series from leadoff man Chone Figgins, with Bobby Abreu, Vladimir Guerrero and Kendry Morales making big contributions. The Angels have a big edge in team speed and will look to push the action, especially when Girardi catches Posada.
Philadelphia is the only team still playing that allowed fewer unearned runs than the Angels. Center fielder Torii Hunter is a playmaker. The Yankees can be excellent in the field, despite the mileage on Jeter, Rodriguez and Johnny Damon, among others. Posada is a huge question mark at catcher. Girardi can't use him to catch Burnett and he's a significant passed ball risk with the other pitchers. He will have his hands full with runners on base and could be lifted for defensive purposes with leads.
There are easy moves for Mike Scioscia every game, as he basically has an extra middle infielder among Erick Aybar, Maicer Izturis and Howie Kendrick and an extra outfielder in Gary Matthews Jr., who drove in 50 runs. The Yankees are much less likely to use their bench. The lack of depth prompted them to add Jerry Hairston Jr. in August.
Scioscia has been through the October battles, winning a World Series in 2002 and getting to the championship series twice previously. He's excellent both tactically and in keeping his players relaxed. Girardi looks like a rising star as a manager.
The Yankees are going to be very tough to beat. If the Angels do it, they probably will expect to win the World Series, as they will have home-field advantage to go along with a glittering resume this postseason. The Yankees' power hitting is the biggest edge in a good series. It could turn the Angels' way if Scioscia goes with four starting pitchers while the Yankees push Sabathia.
Pick: Yankees in six.