Angels are a big threat


Astros Why New York could win: Facing the Yankees' lineup is like hopping into a cab with Travis Bickel behind the wheel -- only the Red Sox scored more runs. They also are experienced, patient hitters who wear out pitchers -- they walked 200 times more than the Angels. While the rotation isn't as strong as in many past seasons, the bullpen is solid with the still-great Mariano Rivera at the end.

Why Anaheim could win: The Angels have an excellent 1-2 punch with the league's lone 20-game winner (Bartolo Colon) and John Lackey, plus closer Francisco Rodriguez at the end. Their offense isn't as explosive as the Yankees, but Vladimir Guerrero is the sort of player who can take over a series, and the Angels are a speedy team (Chone Figgins' 62 stolen bases helped them to a league-high 154).

Late innings: So who do you like better, Mariano or K-Rod? Rivera had another exceptional season while Rodriguez saved one more game and struck out 12 batters per nine innings. Both pens are solid. Since the Angels put Kelvim Escobar into the setup role, their bullpen has returned to its formidable form.

Style points: The Angels need to get enough runners on base to force the Yankees to pitch to Vlad. Guerrero was intentionally walked a league-high 27 times, and if New York can give him the Barry treatment, it could be a rough series for the Angels.

Head-on: The Angels earned home-field advantage by beating the Yankees in six of 10 games. The key could be Jarrod Washburn, who pitched much better on the road this season than at home. He'll likely start Game 3 in New York (where he beat the Yanks in April).

X-Factor: Down the stretch, Randy Johnson finally pitched the way the Yankees expected him to (4-0 the final month). He hasn't lost since Aug. 21, but he may not be available until Game 3 unless Joe Torre pitches him on three days rest.

Pivot men: Jason Giambi hit 100 points higher when he was playing first base, but in the postseason it's nice to have a reliable glove like Tino Martinez out there. Chone Figgins has played every position except catcher, pitcher and first base.

Nagging injuries: Game 1 starter Mike Mussina was inconsistent after returning from a sore elbow, pitching six scoreless innings one game, then getting bombed the next. He hasn't thrown more than 81 pitches since mid-August but will be throwing on six days rest. Washburn has been bothered by tendinitis, limiting him to 13 innings since Sept. 4. The Angels need Garret Anderson, who has struggled with a stiff lower back, to regain his stroke.

Writer's block: Both teams are playing very well -- the Yankees have won 16 of their past 21 while the Angels have won 14 of their past 16. The Angels, however, had the luxury of getting their pitchers in line.

Prediction: Angels in five.

Jim Caple is a senior writer at ESPN.com. His first book, "The Devil Wears Pinstripes," was published by Plume. It can be ordered through his Web site, Jimcaple.com.