Sunday, September 29
Five questions: Angels vs. Yankees
By Tim Kurkjian
Special to ESPN.com
The American League Division Series has clear favorites, although they're mismatches. The Yankees and A's should win: they have experience, and pitching and power, which usually wins at this time of year. But to underestimate the Twins and Angels would be to ignore the last 162 games.
1. How healthy is Mariano Rivera's shoulder? Unclear. He has pitched back-to-back days only once since he returned to the mound Sept. 21, but he has thrown extremely well -- 95 mph with good movement on his cutter. Manager Joe Torre says he won't pitch Rivera for more than an inning per game. A wise move, but one reason why the Yankees have won so often the last seven years is Rivera's brilliance in postseason, and his capacity for getting more than three outs in a game. With that gone, the Yankee pen will be somewhat weaker.
2. Will the Angels be happy just to be here? Absolutely not. Manager Mike Scioscia will drill into them that just making the playoffs isn't what this is all about. No team plays harder, with more intensity than the Angels. That won't change now. And nothing will change about their style. No team goes first to third more often than the Angels, no team strikes out less, and no team makes more productive outs.
3. Can the Yankee offense be stopped? It will be very difficult. They are the best offensive team in the major leagues, scoring 903 runs. They are dangerous throughout the order -- the No. 9 hitters have 14 homers and 66 RBI. Last year, they were a bat short. This year, they have Jason Giambi in the middle of the order, giving them a dominating presence (who can hit lefties) that they didn't have in 2001.
4. Who will play left field for the Yankees? Rondell White likely will start there, but Torre could easily turn to rookie Juan Rivera, who will be a defensive replacement in the late innings even if he doesn't start. During this Yankee dynasty, they always have been short one outfielder, usually a left fielder. And they've usually found a way to get around it and haven't needed much from their left fielders this season.
5. Is the Anaheim rotation ready for pressure games at Yankee Stadium? The Angels have played the Yankees well the last few years partly because they take the game to the Yankees, which is what you have to do. Plus, they've kept the ball in the park against New York -- only three homers allowed in seven games. But the Angels rotation, as good as it has been, is untested in postseason play. Kevin Appier is the only one who has playoff experience (two games). There is no disputing the seasons that Jarrod Washburn and Ramon Ortiz have had, or the impact of rookie John Lackey, but October in New York is quite an experience. Yankee Stadium is one place where a pitcher can hear the fans, where he has trouble breathing.
Prediction: Yankees in four.