Why the Yankees will beat the Angels

It was the top of the eighth inning in Game Two of the 2002 ALDS, and the Yankees were in the driver’s seat, as usual. Having won 14 of their last 16 postseason series, and having spent lavishly to get back to the World Series after a painful finish in 2001, the Yankees had a 1-0 series lead on the Angels and a 5-4 lead in the game. Orlando Hernandez was on the mound having retired 12 of the last 13 batters, having posted a 2.40 postseason ERA up to that point. The Yankees were ready to head to Anaheim leading two games to none, just six outs away.

Two pitches into the inning, the game was tied on a Garret Anderson home run, and five pitches later Troy Glaus untied it. A third run that inning and another in the ninth gave the Angels an 8-6 victory, and home field advantage.

No worries, the Yankees took a 6-1 lead into the bottom of the third inning of Game Three. And still the Angels came on, tying the game with two outs in the seventh, sealing the victory with three in the eighth. A 2-1 fifth inning lead for the Yankees was easily brushed aside with an eight-run fifth, and the Yankees found themselves bounced from the ALDS for the first time since 1997.

Since those four days in October, 2002, the Angels have been a thorn in the Yankees’ side. They’d played the Yankees great in the previous seasons, including winning the season series against the 1998 Yankees, but it wasn’t until the 2002 ALDS that they became a dreaded opponent in New York. After winning the 2003 season series 6-3, the Yankees lost every year until this one, when they managed a split with victories in the last two head-to-head games.

The Angels beat the Yankees with a style particularly suited to exploiting the Yankees’ weaknesses. They don’t walk much, but they also don’t strike much, forcing the Yankees’ defense to make plays. They are aggressive on the basepaths, forcing defenders to rush throws, leading to mistakes. Their pitchers keep the ball in the strike zone, and generally in the park—so the Yankees have difficulty wearing a pitcher down or getting a lot of runs when they hit it out.

It’s not as bad for the Yankees against the Angels as it has been for the Twins against the Yankees (or the Angels, for that matter). New York has certainly struggled head-to-head, but it looks worse than it is because the Angels are the only AL team not to have a losing record against the Yankees since 1998.

That being said, while they certainly don’t have the advantages they had in the first round, the Yankees have an excellent chance to win the ALCS and advance to the World Series for the first time since 2003. Here’s why the World Series will be played in New York this year:

Extra days off

MLB added an extra day off to the League Championship Series this season, between Games Four and Five. While the Angels are going with a four man rotation, the Yankees are probably going to use CC Sabathia on short rest in Game Four, and full rest in Game Seven (if necessary). Doing so allows the Yankees to avoid a sticky situation in having to start either Joba Chamberlain or Chad Gaudin in Game Four, at the same time maximizing the number of times they get to use their best starter.

The Angels have hit Sabathia reasonably well in the past, but you should never expect to beat a good pitcher, and Sabathia has been particularly good since his last start in LA heading into the All Star break.

Of course, rain on Friday would change all those plans.

Clutch-Rod

With his game-tying homers against Joe Nathan and Carl Pavano in the ALDS, Alex Rodriguez lifted a ton of pressure off of his shoulders, having previously developed a reputation as a player who could never and would never come through when it counted most. If he struggles in an ALCS loss, that reputation could make a comeback, but at this point A-Rod has to be coming to the park with renewed confidence in his ability to take over a game.

In 2005 he came into the ALDS on the heels of one of his most dominant offensive seasons, and the Angels weren’t willing to let him beat them. They walked A-Rod six times in five games, allowing him a .435 batting average—but when they didn’t walk him, they kept the ball where he couldn’t drive it. The strategy worked perfectly, as Rodriguez tried to do too much and swung at pitches he should have taken, getting himself out.

The Angels may try that strategy again this year – Rodriguez has a career .333/.393/1.000 line against them – and maybe A-Rod will be more patient and pass the buck to Hideki Matsui and Jorge Posada. Perhaps they’ll challenge him, and perhaps he’ll make them pay.

What’s important is that A-Rod isn’t really a question mark anymore, everyone expects him to hit well in the ALCS this year, and if the rest of the lineup wakes up after a relatively quiet ALDS, they could pound the Angels.

Joba

Needing only three scheduled starters for the ALDS, Joe Girardi moved Joba Chamberlain into the bullpen for the first round, and while not the dominating force he was in 1997, he pitched well in all three games, leading to Girardi considering starting Gaudin in the first round should they need a fourth starter.

Joba in the pen pitching well gives the Yankees an embarrassment of riches in the bullpen. Mariano Rivera, Phil Hughes, Alfredo Aceves and David Robertson mean that the Yankees may not need to get more than a few innings out of Gaudin in a Game Four, and may even be able to shut down the Angels’ persistent attack in the late innings.

They don’t have midges in Los Angeles, right?

Home field advantage

Although a bit of a homer haven, Yankee Stadium wasn’t that extreme of a hitters’ park this season. It was particularly advantageous to left-handed hitters, and the Yankees can put out a lineup with seven of those. The Yankees were one of the better road teams in baseball, but at home they were the best, winning over 70% of their home games. The Angels, on the other hand, were only one game better at home than on the road, and the Yankees played them better in New York than LA.

That’s not to say that the Yankees will sweep at home, but it’s more likely that they’ll go 3-1 at home and win one of three in LA than it is that they’d have split 2 in LA and won two of three at home.

Frankly, it’s impossible to say that the Yankees will beat the Angels. There is a long history of frustration there for the Yankees, but starting the series with a couple of wins could make that a non-factor.

The Angels are a great team, a tough opponent, and a worthy challenge for the Yankees. If nothing else, it should be a great series to watch, but stressful for fans of both teams.

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Comments

  1. Dan Greer said...

    “Joe Girardi moved Joba Chamberlain into the bullpen for the first round, and while not the dominating force he was in 1997…”

    I’m sure Joba *was* pretty dominating as a 12 year-old!

    And yeah, that’s one heckuva bullpen.

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