Angels looking to ride Lackey, versatile bullpen against Yankees

Updated: October 15, 2009

Doug Pensinger/Getty Images

Darren Oliver gives the Angels a reliable lefty reliever, which they'll need against the Yankees.

As long as the weather in New York cooperates, Game 1 of the American League Championship Series will get underway with a heckuva pitching matchup: CC Sabathia against John Lackey.

The Yankees are certainly hoping Sabathia can pitch three of the seven potential games in this series. The good news is that the country is finally going to get a chance to see how good Lackey is, because up to this point he has been heavily underestimated.

The weather will be a factor in Game 1. There could be some adjustments made to each team's roster for this series before or after those 10 a.m. workouts, depending on what kind of weather blows in.

Along with the weather, there are a few things you'll want to watch for in this series. One obvious advantage the Los Angeles Angels have is Scott Kazmir. He is their fourth starter, and the Yankees don't really have one, which will matter, especially if the schedule gets altered by the weather.

Alex Rodriguez will be very important to this series. Even though some say his "jitters" are gone, I strongly disagree. His jitters may have been relieved by the end of the ALDS, but those feelings will start all over again. As you get deeper and deeper in the playoffs, you see better and better pitching. One thing I've found over the years is that if a pitcher is on top of his game, and a hitter is on top of his game, the pitcher wins that battle. That's why strong pitching plays so well. A-Rod can't do it by himself, so it wouldn't be a surprise to see him struggle early. He really struggles against Lackey, so we'll see if that continues.

The Yankees have a lot of weapons, which makes Angels reliever Darren Oliver so important. For the first time in a long time, the Angels have a left-hander that can get somebody out before the ninth inning. Plus, they have a left-handed closer that plays well against the Yankees and in Yankees Stadium.

This is going to be a tough matchup for the Yankees. Five of the seven games are going to be potentially started by left-handed starters for the Yankees, and that means Jorge Posada is going to play in all of those games. Anyone who steps on the mound for the Yankees is going to have to be very aware of holding runners, which is the Angels' forte. Posada struggles to throw sometimes, which will end up putting a lot of pressure on Sabathia and Andy Pettitte to hold runners.

People tend to forget the Yankees aren't a station-to-station team. They have Johnny Damon, Derek Jeter, Robinson Cano, and Brett Gardner on the bench. These guys can push the envelope, too, and don't think this is going to be a one-sided baserunning thing with the Angels. The Yankees can run the bases too, and they definitely have more station-to-station guys in their lineup than the Angels.

And as far as the intimidation factor walking into Yankees Stadium? The Angels aren't worried about that; they've been through too many of these postseason fights. I chuckle when I hear an NFL coach, whose team plays once a week, complaining. In baseball, there are no Cinderellas. After playing almost 170 games, more than 200 counting spring training, your strengths and weaknesses show up and you gain real confidence. When you're one of the four teams left standing, you realize you're pretty good and you aren't going to be intimidated by Yankee Stadium.

Past Baseball Tonight Clubhouses: Oct. 14 | Oct. 13 | Oct. 12 | Oct. 9 | Oct. 8

PLAYOFF WATCH: FRIDAY'S MATCHUPS

Phillies at Dodgers, 4:07 p.m. ET

Pedro Martinez, after not pitching in the Phillies' NLDS win against the Rockies, returns to the big stage after being named the Game 2 starter by Phillies manager Charlie Manuel. Martinez has not pitched in the postseason since 2004. Over his career, he has a 6-2 postseason mark with a 3.40 ERA in 13 appearances (11 starts). The Dodgers are going with Vicente Padilla, who pitched seven shutout innings in the clincher of L.A.'s NLDS sweep of the Rockies.

For the rest of the playoff schedule, click here.


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BBTN ON THE AIR: FRIDAY

TIME WHO'S ON?
7 p.m. ET
ESPN2
Host: Karl Ravech
Analysts: John Kruk, Buck Showalter, Bobby Valentine
12 a.m. ET
ESPN2
Host: Karl Ravech
Analysts: John Kruk, Buck Showalter, Bobby Valentine

BBTN MINUTE: PEDRO RETURNS TO THE BIG STAGE

SIMON SAYS

Simon Says ESPN researcher Mark Simon digs deep looking for the night's best baseball numbers.

Tonight, he looks at what will undoubtedly be a key matchup in Game 1 of the ALCS, when Angels starter John Lackey goes head-to-head with Yankees third baseman Alex Rodriguez on Friday night:

Alex Rodriguez vs. John Lackey
Since 2005 postseason
BA .040
HR 1
RBIs 2
AB-K 25-12
Hits 1

* Rodriguez's numbers over his entire career, including the postseason, haven't been good: .167 BA, 54 AB, 24 K

THURSDAY'S BEST AND WORST

BEST
Raul IbanezRaul Ibanez's first NLCS with the defending champion Phillies is off to a fine start. Ibanez went 2-for-4 and hit a big three-run homer off Dodgers reliever George Sherrill in the eighth inning to give the Phillies' bullpen some breathing room in Philadelphia's 8-6 Game 1 win.
WORST
Casey Blake• On a perfect night for hitting at Dodger Stadium, Casey Blake had a rough showing. The Dodgers' third baseman went 0-for-5 with a strikeout in the L.A. loss. He was the only starting position player in the L.A. lineup without a hit.

NUMBERS TO KNOW

CC Sabathia CC Sabathia struggled against the Angels this season, losing both his starts while allowing a 6.08 ERA in 13 1/3 innings.

The Angels' hitters have been especially successful against Sabathia in two areas in which he normally excels: two-strike counts and pitches outside the strike zone. Despite the increase in the patience, Angels hitters still seem to be adept at hitting bad pitches.

CC Sabathia (2009)
vs. Angels vs. rest of league
Two-strike BA against .300 .154
In-zone pitch pct. 44.6 50.1
Chase pct. 35.7 28.8
Out-of-zone BA against .300 .140

-- ESPN Stats & Information

THIS DATE IN "THAT'S NASTY" HISTORY

Each night throughout the postseason, "Baseball Tonight" will remember some of the postseason's best pitching performances.

Oct. 16, 2000: Mike Hampton pitched a three-hit shutout to beat the Cardinals 7-0 and advance the Mets to the World Series. The 2000 Mets are the only team in major league history to have their pitchers throw a shutout to clinch two different rounds in the same postseason. Bobby Jones pitched a one-hit shutout to win the NLDS against the Giants.