Everything seems to be lining up as 2009 being the Year of the Yankees. But before the champagne bottles get popped, New York needs to go through LA (possibly twice if they face the Dodgers in the World Series). The Angels already knocked off one AL East powerhouse. Can they make it two in a row for the second World Series appearance this decade?
The Yankees like the Red Sox before them, are weak where the Angels are strong; speed, defense, and pitching depth. The Angels speed was a problem for the Yankees during the season when they swiped 17 bases on them. Even though speed is generally undervalued in the new Sabermetric world of baseball, the Angels are so good at it, and that gives them a big advantage. What is mainly ignored in the statistical interpretation of speed is the unquantifiable, the mental impact. When you have a fast runner on base, you are in the pitcher’s, catcher’s and every infielder’s head. It is enough where maybe that pitch isn’t perfect, or the reaction time to a hit ball is a split second slower, because they were focused on the runner (not to mention the defensive implications of holding a runner). The Angels defense is one of the best in the league and will take away a number of hits as long as the Angel pitching staff can keep it in the park. The depth of the Angels pitching staff should not be overlooked. The Yankees are set to start Sabathia on short rest for Game 4, while the Angels will throw Scott Kazmir for the first time in the series. This could affect tonight’s match up between Lackey and Sabathia. Will Girardi pull Sabathia earlier if his pitch count is getting up there, knowing that he has to throw him again in a couple days? Possibly, and having Lackey on a longer leash could be in the Angels best interest. Another thing the Angels pitching depth gives them is options. The Yankees lined up their starters as you would expect Sabathia, Burnett, and Pettitte. The Angels on the other hand have the starting depth to switch up their rotation for the best possible matchups. Instead of using their Game 2 starter from the ALDS, Jered Weaver, a notorious fly ball pitcher, in the home run haven of Yankee Stadium, the Angels are throwing Joe Saunders, a lefty. Saunders has given up his share of homeruns this year, but him being a lefty helps neutralize the short porch in right, by turning around Swisher and Texiera, and making Damon pretty ineffective. The Angels put their pitching staff in the best position to win, and wisely went the matchup route against the formidable Yankees.
The Yankees might not have speed, defense, and pitching depth. But they have three things the Angels lack: power, all-around talent, and Mariano Rivera. Rivera deserves his own category because he is so good that every team wishes they could clone him. They spend millions of dollars on closers to find someone comparable, but never find anyone as lights out as Rivera. He shortens the game better than any pitcher in the baseball. The Yankees have 9 full innings to score runs to win the game, the Angels have 7 1/3. After that point if the Yankees are leading a close game, Rivera is in and you can’t expect to score again. You may hope for a miracle, but that is likely as far as you will go. The Angels aren’t without their own power hitters, but they don’t compare to the Yankees lineup. Top to bottom they can hit the ball, as they had nine hitters with 13 or more homeruns, including seven with 20 or more. There really isn’t a true “weak part” of that lineup, including an entire infield of All-star caliber talent. As for the running game, I’m beginning to wonder if the decision to have Jose Molina as A.J. Burnett’s personal catcher, had less to do with personal chemistry and more to do with slowing down the Angels running game. Molina is much better than Posada at throwing out base stealers, pairing him up with Burnett helps neutralize the biggest weakness in the Yankees rotation. Sabathia and Pettitte are lefties making them harder to run on (especially Pettitte), but Burnett is someone the Angels could run all day on. Now having Molina in there makes it a little harder for Angels base runners. Whether it was an intended strategy or a happy coincidence the Molina-Burnett pairing should help the Yankees in this series. While I’m not a huge fan of the three man rotation in this series, (if it goes 7 games Sabathia will pitch three times) if anyone can pull it off its the Yankees. Sabathia is a work horse and has gone on short rest before. Though it could bite the Yankees, I think they survive and win this series in six.