Page 2's American League playoff preview   

Updated: October 2, 2007, 8:01 PM ET

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Excited for this year's edition of the baseball playoffs? We certainly are … and here's the Page 2 American League playoff preview.

Yankees vs. Indians

Thinking Fan's Approach

C.C. Sabathia

AP Photo/Charlie Riedel

Cy Young candidate C.C. Sabathia and the Indians will try to tame the Yankees.

One of the biggest subplots of the postseason revolves around the Yankees eliminating the Joba Rules, making lights-out set-up man Joba Chamberlain available to pitch in back-to-back games. Having a pitcher who struck out 36 and allowed just one earned run and 18 baserunners in 24 innings means the Yankees' starters may need to pitch into only the sixth inning to give the team a good chance to win. With Chamberlain, Luis Vizcaino and Mariano Rivera -- plus the highest-scoring offense in baseball -- the Yankees are the equivalent of a strong second-half football team.

They'll need to be, because the Indians look like the better bet during the early innings. As great as C.C. Sabathia has been this season, Chien-Ming Wang has been nearly as good. But the Indians' next three of Fausto Carmona, Paul Byrd and Jake Westbrook hold the edge over Andy Pettitte plus whatever combination of iffy old guys (Rogers Clemens and Mike Mussina) and/or Phil Hughes the Yankees can muster.

Nonthinking Fan's Approach
"The Yankees have the playoff experience and Captain Clutch, Derek Jeter -- the Indians don't have the veterans to beat them."

This theory ignores every season's playoff results since 2000. The past few years we've seen plenty of playoff novices knock out far more seasoned teams, from the Cinderella Angels in 2002 to the Marlins in '03 and the White Sox in '05. The more experienced team doesn't always win. Considering the success of the '06 Cardinals and some other underdogs of recent vintage, you could argue that the best team often doesn't win either.

Here's one more theory you can toss out the window: that the Yankees somehow have the Indians' number because they went 6-0 against Cleveland this season. There are dozens of examples of teams that beat up on rivals in the regular season, only to be sent home by those same opponents in the playoffs. Most recently, the Cardinals went 2-4 against both the Mets and Padres during the '06 regular season, but beat both in the NL playoffs.

Random Facts

Joba Chamberlain

AP Photo/Chris O'Meara

Joba Chamberlain is a guy who Yankees fans won't mind seeing
in a pressure situation.

For all the hype surrounding Joba Chamberlain, the Indians may have the best pair of set-up men of any playoff team. Rafael Betancourt flashed a 1.47 ERA with a ridiculous 80-9 K-BB rate this season, and Rafael Perez posted a 1.78 ERA while allowing less than one baserunner per inning.

The Yankees topped MLB in runs scored this season (958), tallying 72 more runs than the second-place Phillies (886). The last team to post a bigger gap in runs scored over baseball's No. 2 team was the 1982 Brewers. Harvey's Wallbangers scored 891 runs that season, 77 more than the second-place Angels.

What Page 2 Wants to Happen
A-Rod hits .625 with two game-winning homers in the series and Jeter goes 1-for-21, ending the A-Rod choker label and Jeter's sheen of infallibility. It would take the New York papers exactly two days to ditch those story lines and start accusing Eli Manning of stealing money from orphans.

Series Prediction
For all the offense the Yankees bring to the table, the Indians' core of Victor Martinez, Grady Sizemore, Travis Hafner and friends isn't far behind. Jason Giambi's struggles and Joe Torre's first-base defense fetish mean Doug Mientkiewicz will get the nod at first base, further narrowing the offensive gap between the two teams. On the other hand, the Indians have a sizable edge in starting pitching, with two Cy Young-caliber pitchers at the top of their rotation and two above-average proven commodities in the next two slots. Joe Borowski is one of the shakiest closers in the game and could be a wild card in this series. But the Indians' combination of solid starters and stellar set-up men means they might hand over some two-, three- and four-run leads, giving Borowski some room for error. This one could easily go either way, but I'll take the Indians in 5.

Angels vs. Red Sox

Thinking Fan's Approach

Eric Gagne

AP PHOTO/Adrian Wyld, The Canadian Press

Eric Gagne is a guy who Red Sox fans absolutely don't want to see in a pressure situation.

Having clinched the best record in the American League on Saturday, the Red Sox chose to start their Division Series against the Angels on Wednesday. That choice means the first three games of the series will take place over a five-day span; if the series goes the full five games, it will stretch eight days, meaning both teams can use three-man rotations. Josh Beckett will start Game 1 Wednesday for the Sox at Fenway Park. Daisuke Matsuzaka takes the mound for Game 2 Friday. Curt Schilling gets the ball Sunday in Anaheim. The team's No. 4 starter, Tim Wakefield, gets shifted to the bullpen, where he could provide valuable long-relief innings if a starter gets knocked out early. More innings from their top starters could allow the Red Sox to avoid using their weaker relievers (cough … Eric Gagne) in high-leverage situations.

But did the Sox make the right choice? The three-man arrangement allows the Angels to go with John Lackey, Kelvim Escobar and Jered Weaver, one of the strongest trios in the majors. They also avoid starting Joe Saunders (shelled in three of his past four starts), Ervin Santana (a disaster for most of the season) or Bartolo Colon (perpetually battling injuries) in the No. 4 spot. The Angels' bullpen, significantly weakened with set-up man Scot Shields struggling since the All-Star break, could get less exposed with the team's top three starters capable of pitching into the seventh inning and turning the game over to Justin Speier and Francisco Rodriguez. With fewer starters needed, the Angels could also opt to carry a nine-man pitching staff, giving them an extra position player for the roster. Given the multiple injuries plaguing the team, most recently to Gary Matthews Jr. and Maicer Izturis, that could give the Angels another lift.

It's still tough to tell which team will benefit more. But it's quite possible that one of them could gain an advantage for no other reason than TV scheduling.

Nonthinking Fan's Approach
"J.D. Drew is horrible -- start Jacoby Ellsbury instead."

Ellsbury was a force of nature for the Sox through much of September, with a 13-game hitting streak and some daring baserunning. Nancy Drew is the guy you love to hate, the one with the perfect swing, the all-world talent, and the bat glued to his shoulder, even in two-strike counts. Ellsbury looks as if he's trying, and Drew doesn't. Don't you need to start the rookie in the playoffs instead of the $70 million bust? Actually, no. Ellsbury has cooled off after a torrid start, and he looks more like the promising but not yet polished hitter you'd expect after just over 100 major league at-bats. Meanwhile, Drew is hitting .393 in his past 18 games and has finally found his power stroke. On the defensive side, Drew is a solid glove man with a year of experience handling the tricky right field at Fenway. On the flip side, Ellsbury hasn't played a game in right all year.

The visceral move is to start Ellsbury. The right move is to start Drew.

Random Facts
The Angels rank 28th in the majors in home runs with 121. The last team to make the playoffs with so few homers was the 1992 Barry Bonds-led Pirates, with 106.

Last year, the Red Sox ranked last in the majors in stolen bases with 51, stealing at a poor 69 percent success rate. This year: 16th in steals (94), with an 80 percent success rate.

What Page 2 Wants to Happen
Drew redeems himself with a monster series. The Angels don't hit a homer all series, but still single, double and steal their way to big wins. Game 5 goes to extra innings, and the Red Sox have only one reliever left: Eric Gagne. Two outs later, the bases are loaded, and Vlad comes up against Gagne, for all the marbles.

Series Prediction
The obvious angle is to call this a matchup of the home run-hitting Red Sox versus the speed, arms and small ball of the Angels. But that comparison misses the mark. The Sox have a more diverse offensive attack, more speed on the bases and better defense (they're ranked third in the majors for defensive efficiency, a stat that measures the percentage of balls in play turned into outs) than most of their recent squads. The Angels have plenty of legitimate hitters on the roster, even if they don't hit a lot of homers. Boston gets the edge here for being healthier, as several key Angels are coming off recent injuries and are less than 100 percent. Red Sox in 5.

Jonah Keri is a regular contributor to Page 2 and the editor and co-author of "Baseball Between the Numbers." You can contact him here.


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