Five questions about Angels-Yankees
Originally Published: October 11, 2009By Tim Kurkjian | ESPN The Magazine
New York Yankees and Los Angeles Angels had the most wins in the major leagues this year, they scored the most runs in the major leagues, they each swept through the Division Series, and each team knows -- with the way the past few years have gone in the postseason -- that getting this far simply is not satisfying enough. This series has everything. It has history. It has Mark Teixeira against his old teammates, Bobby Abreu against his old team. The two teams split the season series 5-5 and are playing their best at the right time. It has all the makings of a great series. Here are five questions:
PREDICTION: YANKEES IN SEVEN
1. Is Alex Rodriguez on his way to a monster postseason?It certainly looks that way. The look on his face when he drilled a two-out RBI single in Game 1 against the Twins was one of liberation, as if he was telling himself, "Yes, I can do this." Before there were only questions -- he had had only one RBI in his previous 16 postseason games -- and now, it appears, there is only redemption. The game-tying home run off Joe Nathan in the ninth inning, saving Game 2, was perhaps another epiphany for A-Rod: "Yes, I can also hit for power in the postseason." And then he did it again with a game-tying home run off Carl Pavano in the seventh inning of Game 3. Rodriguez hit five home runs in 24 at-bats against the Angels during the regular season. And more good news for the Yankees: It seems Teixeira has joined Rodriguez in this redemptive postseason. There were those around baseball who wondered if Teixeira was up for being his best at the most important time, and now we might have that answer. Teixeira's first home run in his postseason career also was the first walk-off HR of his career. It won Game 2, leaving the park in 2.88 seconds.
2. How dangerous is that Angels offense?It is relentless. They are the only team in history with 11 players with 50-plus RBIs, they tied the record for most players (10) with 100 hits and tied for the most players (nine) with 60-plus runs scored. "This is the best offensive team that I've been a part of," said Angels manager Mike Scioscia. Never was that more evident than in Game 2 of the LDS, when shortstop Erick Aybar -- a great defender, but, like everyone else in the lineup, a difficult out -- drilled a two-run triple off Josh Beckett to break the game open. Abreu deserves some credit for the Angels' offensive turnaround: They scored 118 more runs than they did in 2008. Abreu is one of the game's most patient hitters, and the effect seems clear -- the Angels were last in the league in pitches seen last year, but fifth in 2009. Against the Yankees in 10 games this year, the Angels scored 65 runs. First baseman Kendry Morales went 12-for-32 with three homers. Catcher Mike Napoli went 11-for-22. Look for the Angels to do what they have done to the Yankees several times in the postseason in this decade -- putting pressure on the Yankees defense by running, and taking the extra base, at all times. No team went from first to third on singles more often than the 2009 Angels.
3. Will the Yankees catch Jose Molina in A.J. Burnett's starts?They should, and this time, Jorge Posada should act more like the team guy he has always been. When Molina started in Game 2 of the LDS, Posada whined about it. He had a point; he had started 79 of the past 80 postseason games. No catcher in history had even come close to his starts behind the plate in the postseason. But this point is even stronger: Burnett pitches better with Molina back there in part because Molina is a much better defensive catcher than Posada (one major league manager said Posada has trouble handling pitches above his mask). Entering the postseason, Burnett's ERA with Posada catching was 4.96, which was the highest of any of the 10 catchers who had started at least 10 of Burnett's career starts, and was significantly higher than Molina's 3.28 with Burnett. So manager Joe Girardi chose the comfort of his pitcher over the feelings of his catcher. It has been done before. In 2000, Braves manager Bobby Cox started Greg Maddux's personal catcher, left-handed hitting Paul Bako, over Javy Lopez (24 home runs that year) against Cardinals left-hander Rick Ankiel in Game 1 of the LDS. Maddux gave up six runs in the first inning, but Ankiel was taken out in the second inning. Cox hit Lopez for Bako in the top of the second before he got an at-bat, but didn't pinch-hit for the next batter, Maddux, which had to be a first in major league postseason history, and likely a last.
4. How good is that Angels starting pitching?It was as good as any in the American League for the last month and a half of the season, and then it was even better in the playoffs against the Red Sox. In Game 1, John Lackey combined with relievers on the first shutout in club history in 53 postseason games, and handed the Red Sox (no extra-base hits) their first shutout in their past 69 postseason games. In Game 2, Jered Weaver was almost as good, stifling the Red Sox lineup. After those two, they have three more options to start a game, with Scott Kazmir, Joe Saunders and Ervin Santana. The Angels will need four starting pitchers in the LCS, but they have five.
5. How good is the Yankees starting pitching?Like A-Rod, CC Sabathia got rid of a lot of his baggage with a solid performance in winning Game 1 against the Twins. His career postseason ERA had been above 7.00. Those around him will say, and correctly, that in the past two postseasons he was exhausted by the regular season. Not this year. He got normal rest in the final two months, so he shouldn't be tired this year. The bigger question is Andy Pettitte, who had mild shoulder issues down the stretch, and was hit hard by the Angels this year: 0-2, 7.88 ERA, 21 hits and eight walks in 16 innings. Then there is a question about the No. 4 spot in the Yankees rotation. Will Joba Chamberlain get the ball, or will his two relief appearances in the LDS convince the Yankees that, at least for this postseason, he is better off in the pen? But if Chamberlain doesn't start Game 4, will the Yankees start Chad Gaudin?
PREDICTION: YANKEES IN SEVEN
Tim Kurkjian is a senior writer for ESPN The Magazine. His book "Is This a Great Game, or What?" was published by St. Martin's Press and is available in paperback. Click here to order a copy.