"A New York Treasure" --Village Voice

Monthly Archives: October 2005

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Don’t Hate The Players, Hate The Lords Of The Game

As a whole, the players that made up the New York Yankees overachieved this year. Hamstrung by the worst offseason in franchise history and besieged by injuries to their pitching staff, the Yankees dug themselves out of a 11-19 hole, building momentum as the season went on, finally breaking free of .500 as July began, posting a 56-28 (.667) record from July 2 through the end of the regular season. As the season drew to a close, they played their best baseball, winning 15 of 18 at one point in September and clinching their eighth-straight AL East title by defeating the Red Sox in the penultimate game of the season.

Ever since the Yankees won four of five World Series from 1996 to 2000, it has become common for those around the organization, both in and out of uniform, to say that any season that does not end in a World Championship is a failure. I disagree. That the Yankees were unable to win the American League Division Series, while certainly a tremendous disappointment to fans, players and front office alike, should not be seen as a failure, but as the inevitable outcome of a season that extended beyond it’s rightful endpoint.

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Game Five (Dyin Time’s Back)

After last night’s stirring Yankee victory, both teams are making the long haul back out to the coast for tonight’s Game Five. Both starting pitchers–Mike Mussina and Bartolo Colon–are already in California, and presumably well-rested. My gut feeling is that tonight could be a lot like Game Three–wide open. I felt good about Moose in Game One, but I can’t imagine he’ll be that impressive this time out. Sure do hope I’m wrong. And just why can’t the Yanks catch up to Colon again? Randy Johnson could play a big role out of the pen. Let’s hope that the bats do their thing–Mr. Rodriguez we turn out eager eyes to you. So long as it is a clean-played game like the one we saw yesterday, I’ll be able to live with the outcome. May the best team win.

Go Yanks. Bombs away.

Fire and Ice

In a taut game that was in almost every way the polar opposite of Game Three, the Yankees beat the Angels 3-2 to force a Game Five tomorrow night in Anahiem. John Lackey and Shawn Chacon were both outstanding, the Yankees scratched out just enough runs against the Angels bullpen and Mariano Rivera pitched two scoreless innings to prolonge the season for the Bombers.

Chacon and Lackey have different approaches but both were stunningly efficient through the first five innings. Chacon finessed the Angels, getting them to chase balls out of the strike zone, and keeping them off balance. Lackey was far more aggresive throwing strikes. His curve ball had a tight spin and it looked great, particularly as it was mixed with a fastball that was clocked in the low nineties. Lackey froze Matsui with a breaking pitch to start the second, buckling the slugger’s knees but good, and caught Rodriguez looking with a 2-2 curve–that was flat-out nasty–to end the third. Chacon wasn’t throwing as hard and yet, according to the Fox broadcast, after five full innings, each pitcher had thrown exactly 68 pitches (and their splits 42 strikes and 46 were the same too). Each had allowed just a single hit.

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Game Four

Jarod Washburn will evidentally not start tonight. From what I can tell, he’s been scratched due to a fever. John Lackey will start instead. Shawn Chacon hopes that his magic carpet ride in the Bronx isn’t over just quite yet. The Yankees have their backs up against the wall. It’s do or die for our boys tonight.

Go get ‘em Bombers. We luh yas.

The Waiting (is the Hardest Part)

It’s still raining up here in the sticks. Another day of sitting on our hands hoping that they’ll be able to get in Game Four tonight down in our beloved Bronx.

“One thing about what’s gone on in sports, because of the scheduling, is that you just accept whatever comes down,” Yankees Manager Joe Torre said. “Because if you start getting lost there, you’re going to wind up getting distracted and using it as an excuse, and this is no time for excuses.”

…”We’ll cut right to the chase: it’s big for us,” Angels Manager Mike Scioscia said. “This day off is big for us.”

(N.Y.Times)

Chacon v. Washburn and–rain or no rain–what promises to be another late night for Yankee fans close to home.

Don’t Forget the Creedence

From our pal Rich Lederer in sunny L.A…

Tomorrow’s headline?

“Who’ll Stop the Rain?”

There’s actually quite a bit you could do with those CCR lyrics…

Long as I remember the rain been comin’ down.
Clouds of myst’ry pourin’ confusion on the ground.
Good men through the ages, tryin’ to find the sun;
And I wonder, still I wonder, who’ll stop the rain.

I went down virginia, seekin’ shelter from the storm.
Caught up in the fable, I watched the tower grow.
Five year plans and new deals, wrapped in golden chains.
And I wonder, still I wonder who’ll stop the rain.

Heard the singers playin’, how we cheered for more.
The crowd had rushed together, tryin’ to keep warm.
Still the rain kept pourin’, fallin’ on my ears.
And I wonder, still I wonder who’ll stop the rain.

***

Play ball!

Meet Cliff At Coliseum Books

With today’s game cancelled and rescheduled for tomorrow evening, I will be joining the Pinstriped Bible‘s Steven Goldman and the Futility Infielder‘s Jay Jaffe at Coliseum Books today at 6:00 to promote the new Baseball Prospectus book Mind Game. I made a small contribution to the book and thus will be appearing as a co-author, my first in-store appearance!

Anyone in the NYC area with some extra time on his or her hands this evening, please come out and say “hi.” Coliseum Books is at 11 West 42nd Street in Manhattan (between 5th and 6th).

Water Logged

“If I would have paid a ticket to watch me pitch, I probably would have booed me, too,” said Johnson, who made the shortest postseason start of his career. “They’ve come to expect a little more out of me. I’ve come to expect more out of myself.”

…”That guy, did you see the movie ‘Multiplicity,’ with Michael Keaton?” Jeter said. “I think they keep making a bunch of Chone Figginses. He keeps making big plays no matter where they put him.”
(N.Y.Times)

The best news for Yankee fans came before the game yesterday when the White Sox completed a three-game sweep of the defending champion Boston Red Sox at Fenway Park. Former Yankee El Duque Hernandez was the hero, working out of a nail-biting bases-loaded, one-out jam in the seventh inning and pitching three innings of relief in all. So Boston is done. Right now the Yankees are one game better than their arch rivals and are alive to play one more day, and that’s about it. With a loss today they will join the Sox as a first round loser.

Cruising around the papers here are a few links of note: Lupica and Verducci on the Big Unit, John Harper on El Duque, and Chris Snow on the Red Sox.

I’m in Vermont with Emily for the weekend. It hasn’t stopped raining since we arrived late yesterday afternoon. I can only imgaine it is still coming down in New York. Though I am not overly confident in the Yankees chances today, my mood is certainly colored by the weather. And hey, they pull one out today and anything can happen tomorrow. So, nertz to the pessimissm and Go Yanks!

Soggy Bottom Blues

On a thoroughly miserable night for baseball in the Bronx, the Angels out-slugged the Yankees 11-7 to grab a 2-1 series lead. It rained throughout, and though the grounds crew did an admirable job of keeping the field in order, there were puddles on the warning track and the fielders consistently had problems getting a good handle on the ball all night long. This was a game that Yankee announcer Michael Kay would no doubt call “unmanagable.” It featured awful starting pitching, and some predictably sloppy fielding, however it also boasted some fine hitting, timely relief pitching and a few crucial defensive gems too.

Neither starting pitcher was sharp. Randy Johnson, in one of his worst games of the year, had nothing. In his biggest start as a Yankee, he decidedly came up empty. After getting two outs in the first, Vlad Guererro singled to right and then Benji Molina hit a high fastball (out of the zone but over the plate) into center for a base hit. Garret Anderson followed and golfed a long three-run dinger into the bleachers (the first of four terrific “guesses” he’d have on the night). In the third, Orlando Cabrera drove an 0-2 fastball that was around his eyes into right for a double. Two batters later, Molina–having the time of his life–hit his third home run in as many games, and the Halos were quickly up 5-0.

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Game Three

There’s a 90 percent chance of heavy rain starting tonight around the scheduled first pitch of Game Three and continuing through Sunday. In downtown Manhattan it’s been overcast and unseasonably humid all day and as I look out the window now at 4:00, there are darker clouds rolling in and the wind has picked up considerably. The odds of the Yankees getting rained out to night seem very high. Still, on the off chance that the game is played tonight, here are my thoughts entering Game Three:

This is the eleventh time in eleven years that the Yankees have participated in a best-of-five ALDS, so we all know the deal by now. The road team is pleased to come home with a split, but Game Three is crucial. Much like on a 1-1 count to a batter, the difference between being up 2-1 or down 1-2 is tremendous. Thus, outside of the actual clincher itself, Game Three is easily the most important game in the series.

Good thing then that the Yankees have their ace ready to take the hill. Randy Johnson has faced the Angels twice this year. The first time he pitched six strong innings, but caught his spikes on the Angel Stadium mound, tweaking his back and forcing Joe Torre to turn to his bullpen early. After a classic case of Torre’s bullpen mismanagement, Vlad Guerrero hit a grand slam off of Tom Gordon to hand the Yankees a 6-5 loss. In Johnson’s next outing against the Angels, this time in New York, he had less success, allowing a pair of homers to the Molina brothers which drove in four runs. That time it was the Angel bullpen that blew the game, leading to an 8-7 Yankee win in eleven innings. Take away those two mistakes, however, and Johnson’s line in that game improves to 7 1/3 IP, 4 H, 2 R, 2 BB, 7 K.

As Johnson has allowed just three home runs in his last eight starts of the season (two legitimate shots to Vernon Wells and Manny Ramirez and Tony Graffanino’s fly ball to the red line atop the Green Monster) one hopes he’ll be able to keep the Angels in the park tonight. Over those eight starts, Johnson has gone 6-0 with a 1.93 ERA and a 0.82 WHIP, proving to be the ace the Yankees traded, ultimately, Dioner Navarro, Brad Halsey, Randy Choate, Nick Johnson and the Angels’ Juan Rivera for. Take out his ejection-shortened start in Toronto and his line improves to 49 2/3 IP, 27 H, 8 R, 2 HR, 11 BB, 42 K, 1.45 ERA, 0.77 WHIP in seven starts.

Paul Byrd, meanwhile, faced the Yankees just once this year, allowing three runs on nine hits and a walk over seven innings. Byrd is essentially Jon Leiber. Not only is he a righthanded sinkerballer who pitches to contact, owns righties (.211 GPA this year), struggles with lefties (.271 GPA), and absolutely refuses to walk anyone (just 28 walks on the season, 1.23 per 9IP), but since 2003 his career has followed the exact same path as Leiber’s. Both pitchers signed a free-agent deal with a perennial playoff team before the 2003 season, then missed that season due to Tommy John surgery, finally joining their new club with the 2004 season underway. Both then became a crucial part of that team’s rotation, pitching them into the playoffs where they made their postseason debuts, only to sign with a different club for 2005. What’s more, the two pitchers were born just six months and one day apart in 1970 and were later drafted out of college. Of course, Byrd is smaller than the 6’3″ 220-pound Leiber, and Leiber in no way resembles< ?a> Kelsey Grammer.

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Rain, Rain, Go Away

Well, rain is definitely in the forecast for the next five days here in New York. It is uncommonly muggy and warm for this time of year and we can only hope that games Three and Four will be able to be played without too much disruption from Ma Nature. (All I can think about this morning is how there was a one-day delay between games Six and Seven of the ’86 Serious between the Mets and Sox.)

According to Tyler Kepner in The New York Times:

The weather has emerged as a factor. According to the Penn State Department of Meteorology, rain will start falling about the time Game 3 begins at 8:19 tonight in the Bronx, and it might prevent play. Steady rain is expected to continue through tomorrow afternoon, which means the scheduled 4 p.m. start of Game 4 could be pushed back several hours.

Tonight’s game could be postponed altogether and played tomorrow, meaning that Game 4 would be at Yankee Stadium on Sunday. If a Game 5 were necessary, the two teams would play Monday in Anaheim.

The chief concern for the Yankees has to be not wasting Randy Johnson in an aborted game. Nothing much for us to do but grind out teeth, look up to the heavens and pray for the best.

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And you say New York City

Today gives a day of rest for the Yankees and Angels, as well as the New Yorkers who stayed up late to catch Game Two. As discouraging as last night’s loss was, Yankee fans must feel good that Randy Johnson will start Game Three. The obvious hope is that the Bombers offense will get rolling against Paul Byrd, the veteran pitcher who bares an unusual resemblance to Doctor Frasier Crane.

I had a nightmare last night that perhaps the good doctor could have helped me with. I dreamt that the Yankee and Red Sox were playing late into the night and that I fell asleep with the Bombers ahead 12-11. When I awoke, Emily and I were surprised that the game was still going on even though it was eleven o’clock in the morning (by which time Boston had a 18-12 lead). I was beside myself. Shortly thereafter, I found myself on the kitchen floor, red in the face, throwing a bonafide tantrum. I just couldn’t believe the Yanks were blowing it. Then a foul ball was hit toward the Yankee dugout where George and Barbara Bush were sitting. Jorge Posada tried to make the catch but missed the ball, which smacked Barbara in the head. This refocused my rage and I laughed at Barbara Bush. Emily scolded me for taking pleasure in someone else’s pain, and that even if I didn’t like Babs it was plain bad vibes to mock her. Em told me to stop crying and get my act together or else.

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No Margin For Error

Chien-Ming Wang and John Lackey both brought their A-game to Angel Stadium last night, but Game Two of the ALDS wasn’t decided by pitching, it was decided by defense, third-base defense especially. The Angels played errorless ball, lead by several outstanding plays by Chone Figgins at third and Darin Erstad at first. The Yankees turned a number of excellent plays of their own, but also committed three errors, two of which, including a crucial one by Alex Rodriguez, led directly to four of the five Angels runs. The result was a 5-3 Angel victory to even the series at one game apiece.

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Game Two

The big question entering tonight’s match-up between Chien-Ming Wang and John Lackey concerns whom Joe Torre should start at first base, designated hitter and in center field. I’ll take the third part first. Torre should start Bernie Williams in center, there’s really not much debate to be had. Wang’s ground ball rates are so extreme that Williams could play the entire game without having more than a chance or two in the field. Most of the action Bernie’s likely to see will come on base hits, most of which either shoot through the holes to the corner outfielders, or will be grounders up the middle (assuming they can get past Wang himself) that will be hits long before Bernie gets to them, and which Bernie will be charging anyway, reducing the length of whatever throw he’ll have to make. Thus there’s no need to force the Yankee line-up to carry Bubba’s bat against a man many consider the Angels’ best pitcher entering this series.

Before I get to the 1B/DH situation, let’s explore that belief. Among the four men in the Angels’ ALDS rotation, Lackey is first in K/9 (8.57) and homers (a mere 13), and second in ERA (3.44), but last in BB/9 (3.09) and WHIP (1.33, tied with Jarrod Washburn). None of those numbers are terrible. What they really tell us is that there’s no clear ace on this staff. I still believe Bartolo Colon has the most potential to be dominant, as he was last night after the first two innings. An argument could even be made for Paul Byrd, who despite missing the entire 2003 season due to injury, has been a top-line pitcher ever since his break-out campaign with the Royals in 2002 at the age of 31.

What has everyone so excited about Lackey is likely his age and potential for improvement. Just 26, Lackey experienced a dramatic up-tick in his strikeout rate this year to combine with a two-year decrease in home runs allowed from 31 in 2003 to just 13 this year. He also recovered from a shaky April to post a 2.57 second-half ERA, going 8-1 over the season’s final three months

That said, I doubt Jason Giambi had those stats in mind when he remarked after last night’s game that Lackey was sure to win a Cy Young award if he kept improving his game the way he has. Nor do I think Giambi was basing that evaluation on his personal experiences hitting against Lackey. Giambi is 10 for 20 with a double and a pair of homers against Lackey, which is one reason I think the Yankees can afford to stick him at DH tonight. Giambi’s production may decrease when he sits between at-bats, but his success against Lackey should counteract that. Meanwhile, though Tino Martinez hasn’t actually been all that much better than Giambi in the field this year (91 Rate to Giambi’s 88, with both men at -8 Fielding Runs Against Average), the sheer volume of ground balls the Angels are likely to hit tonight will likely expose Giambi’s inferiority in the field, no matter how slight. For evidence, all we need to do is look back to Wang’s last start.

The only problem with starting Tino at first is that unlike with the centerfield situation, where Bubba can come in as a defensive replacement if Wang hands a lead to the bullpen (and make no mistake, Bubba should come in as soon as Torre takes the ball from his starter unless the Yankees are behind—Bernie has hit a solid 5 for 17 against Lackey with two doubles and a homer), Torre can’t move Giambi into the field in the late innings without sacrificing the DH. Still, I think it’s worth a shot. Yes, Ruben Sierra has gone 3 for 8 against lackey with a home run, but that makes even the other tiny samples I’ve quoted seem large. What’s more, the Ruben Sierra the Yankees have this postseason is not the same one that produced that line against Lackey, even if the Angel starter has only been in the league since 2002. Sierra missed most of the season due to a pair of injuries and has yet to find his stroke since returning. It would be a Scioscia-level mistake for Torre to put Ruben’s name in the line-up regardless of how well he matches up against a given pitcher.

Tonight will be Lackey’s first postseason start since his Game Seven win as a rookie in the 2002 World Series. He’s faced the Yankees twice this year, picking up a win both times and assembling this line: 11 2/3 IP, 12 H, 4 R, 3 ER, 0 HR, 5 BB, 12 K. The one thing to watch out for with Lackey facing the Yankees is that the Yanks have been able to make him work, both times driving him from the game in the sixth due to a pitch count over 100. Indeed, Lackey is the one Angel starter that the Yankees can effectively work the count against (Byrd, for example, is almost Wellsian in his refusal to issue a base on balls). The only problem there is that the Angel bullpen is so dominant that the Yankees actually decrease their chances of scoring by driving Lackey from the game after the fifth inning.

As for Wang, this is not only his first postseason start, but also the first time he’s face the Angels. Of course, as a rookie, Wang’s season has been full of firsts, and he’s taken them all in stride. The lone exception being a brief bout of nerves in the first inning of his previous start against the Red Sox, but, other than a brief issue with his control, he pitched well enough to win that game, holding the majors’ best offense to three earned runs in 6 2/3 innings. My only concern is that the Angels are exactly the type of team that can cause trouble for a groundball pitcher such as Wang. They make a lot of contact, which is fine as Wang pitches to contact, but they also have a lot of speed throughout their line-up. The only team that really managed to get to Wang this season was the Devil Rays. Of course the D-Rays got to all of the Yankee pitchers, but against Wang it was their speed, not their power that was the problem. The Devil Rays were the only team other than the Cardinals (against whom Wang was abandoned by his defense) to collect more than a hit per inning against Wang this season.

Game time is 10 p.m. eastern. If the Yanks can pull out another win they’ll return home with a chance to sweep with Randy Johnson on the mound.

Update:

Here are the line-ups. Torre got it right again. Scioscia drops Erstad behind Molina and Rivera, but there appears to be some confusion as to where Anderson and Rivera are starting [Update: Anderson's in left again, Erstad is actually hitting ahead of Rivera, cleary YES's Angels sources are not as reliable as their Yankee sources]:

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Opening Acts

The reoccurring elbow injuries which limited Andy Pettitte to fifteen starts last year and ended his season before the playoffs made his departure from the Bronx a lot easier to take than I expected. And in a way, that complicates makes my reaction to the monster season he just had (2.39 ERA, 1.03 WHIP, 17-9, 222 1/3 IP, 188 H, 171 K, 41 BB, all playing his home games in Minute Made Park, mind you).

Pettitte is on the mound in Atlanta, facing off against Tim Hudson in Game One of the Astros-Braves NLDS (Andy already has a 3-1 lead in the third).

At 8:00, another member of the Yankees 2003 rotation, David Wells faces off against Mark Buehrle in an attempt to even the All-Sox series heading home to Boston.

Anyone watching these?

Takin’ It Easy

The first pitch Bartolo Colon threw in last night’s game buzzed past Derek Jeter at 95 miles per hour for a strike. The second pitch he threw resulted in a Jeter groundout to third. Colon then struck out Alex Rodriguez on three pitches and got ahead of Jason Giambi with strike one. The Angel ace was dealing. After his seventh pitch was called for a ball, the first he threw on the night, Colon unleashed another 95 mile per hour heater that tailed down and in on Giambi.

Giambi, who at the beginning of the season appeared incapable of getting around even on low-90s heat, turned on the pitch and lined it into right for a single. Colon then got ahead of Gary Sheffield 0-2 and attempted to put him away with a similar pitch on the outside corner, but Sheffield stuck out his rear and poked the pitch into right for another single, pushing Giambi to second. Hideki Matsui followed with a seven pitch at-bat that ended with yet another single to right, loading the bases for Robinson Cano’s first postseason appearance.

After a quick visit to the mound by Angels pitching coach Bud Black, Colon started Cano off with just his second ball of the night. The rookie second baseman then took a strike to even the count and fouled off another to fall behind 1-2. After Colon again evened the count with another ball, Cano hit a laser down the third base line foul, then creamed the sixth pitch he saw over Garret Anderson’s head in left, clearing the bases and giving the Yankees a 3-0 lead.

As it turns out, that was all the Yankees would need. Despite Joe Torre’s confidence, even Mike Mussina wasn’t sure what he’d bring to the mound pitching on six days rest and coming off a dreadful outing in Baltimore (2 2/3 IP, 7 H, 5 R) last week. As it turns out, Mussina had everything working. His fastball hit 91 miles per hour, his control was excellent, and his knuckle curve was sharp.

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Game One

The line-ups for tonight’s game are posted over on the YES Network site.

So far, so good. Torre is going with Crosby in center, and Bernie at DH, while Scioscia is running Erstad and Finley out there, with Anderson resigned to DH, Juan Rivera in left [Update: actually, reverse that], and Adam Kennedy burried in the nine-hole. Dig:

Yankees

R – Derek Jeter (SS)
R – Alex Rodriguez (3B)
L – Jason Giambi (1B)
R – Gary Sheffield (RF)
L – Hideki Matsui (LF)
L – Robinson Cano (2B)
S – Jorge Posada (C)
S – Bernie Williams (DH)
L – Bubba Crosby (CF)

R – Mussina (P)

Angels

S – Chone Figgins (3B)
R – Orlando Cabrera (SS)
L – Garret Anderson (LF)
R – Vlad Guerrero (RF)
L – Darin Erstad (1B)
R – Bengie Molina (C)
R – Juan Rivera (DH)
L – Steve Finley (CF)
L – Adam Kennedy (2B)

R – Bartolo Colon (P)

The only thing Scioscia did right is put Molina behind Guerrero [Update: actually, he screwed that up too]. Kotchman and DaVanon are left to rot on the bench. Check the YES link above to see these line-ups along with their triple-crown stats and OBPs, the latter of which are particularly enlightening.

Still no word on the Yankees final playoff roster, though honestly, the last man on the bench and in the bullpen shouldn’t see any action in this series, let alone play an important role. If he does, it’s likely going to mean bad news for the Yanks.

Update:

The roster is set:

1B – Jason Giambi
2B – Robinson Cano
SS – Derek Jeter
3B – Alex Rodriguez
C – Jorge Posada
RF – Gary Sheffield
CF – Bubba Crosby
LF – Hideki Matsui
DH – Bernie Williams

Bench:

L – Tino Martinez (1B)
S – Ruben Sierra (OF)
S – Mark Bellhorn (IF)
L – Tony Womack (OF)
R – John Flaherty (C)

Rotation:

R – Mike Mussina
R – Chien-Ming Wang
L – Randy Johnson
R – Shawn Chacon

Bullpen:

R – Mariano Rivera
R – Tom Gordon
R – Tanyon Sturtze
R – Aaron Small
R – Scott Proctor
L – Alan Embree
L – Al Leiter

Appetizers

As Cartman told Starvin’ Marvin in South Park’s first Thanksgiving episode

“You see Starvin’ Marvin, these are what we call appetizers. This is what you eat before you eat, to make you more hungry.”

In the game already underway, Jake Peavy is getting rocked by the Cardinals offense while Chris Carpenter is rolling.

At 4:00 Matt Clement, the pitcher I think the Yankees should have signed this offseason, and Jose Contreras, the one I’m glad they traded last year, match up in Chicago.

If anyone’s interested in chatting about this afternoon’s action, this is the place to do it.

Los Los Angeles Angeles de Anaheim

Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim

2005 Record: 95-67 (.586)
2005 Pythagorean Record: 94.5-67.5 (.583)

Manager: Mike Scioscia
General Manager: Bill Stoneman

Ballpark (2004 park factors): Angel Stadium (99/99)

Postseason Roster:

1B – Darin Erstad
2B – Adam Kennedy
SS – Orlando Cabrera
3B – Chone Figgins
C – Bengie Molina
RF – Vladimir Guerrero
CF – Steve Finley
LF – Garret Anderson
DH – Juan Rivera

Bench:

L – Casey Kotchman (1B)
S – Jeff DaVanon (OF)
S – Maicer Izturis (IF)
R – Robb Quinlan (3B/1B)
R – Jose Molina (C)
R – Josh Paul (C)

Rotation:

R – Bartolo Colon
R – John Lackey
R – Paul Byrd
L – Jarrod Washburn

Bullpen:

R – Francisco Rodriguez
R – Scot Shields
R – Brendan Donnelly
R – Kelvim Escobar
R – Kevin Gregg
R – Ervin Santana

DL:

L – Dallas McPherson (3B) (60-day)
R – Matt Hensley (60-day)
R – Tim Salmon (OF) (60-day)

Typical Line-up

S – Chone Figgins (3B)
R – Orlando Cabrera (SS)
L – Garret Anderson (LF)
R – Vladimir Guerrero (RF)
L – Darin Erstad (1B)
R – Bengie Molina (C)
L – Steve Finley (CF)
R – Juan Rivera (DH)
L – Adam Kennedy (2B)

The Yankees and the Angels enter the ALDS with identical regular season records of 95-67. They also had the two best records in baseball over the final weeks of the season, the Angels finishing 14-2, the Yankees 16-5. But despite displaying an equal ability to win, they’ve gone about it in drastically different ways.

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Yanks Tough First Round Test Starts Tonight

There are previews galore in the papers this morning, but with all due respect to the analytical acumen of the print media, there isn’t anybody’s take on the Angels that interests me more than that of my pal Rich Lederer. Lederer, who co-runs the fine Baseball Analysts site with Bryan Smith, was born and raised in Long Beach, California and has followed the Angels forever. He was kind enough to burn the midnight oil last night to provide us with his scouting report on the ALDS series between the Bombers and the Halos. Here it goes:

ALDS Preview

By Rich Lederer

Hitting: The Yankees can flat out hit. Outside of Vladimir Guerrero, the Angels can not hit. The Bronx Bombers slugged 82 more home runs this year than the Angels. That’s two extra dingers in a four or five-game series. Although the team batting averages are nearly the same, the Yankees have a much better on-base percentage, thanks to almost 200 more walks during the regular season. Yes, the NYY drew 44% more BB than the LAA in 2005. Garret Anderson is a shell of what he once was and is nothing more than a guess hitter who can look good when he’s right or bad when he’s wrong. If I’m the Yankees, I don’t let Guerrero beat me. Treat him like Barry Bonds. Make someone else get the big hit. Unlike Bonds, Guerrero lacks patience and may get overanxious from time to time, particularly in a playoff situation. The AL MVP in 2004 was 2-for-12 with 4 SO against the Boston Red Sox in last year’s ALDS. Vladi is a very dangerous hitter, but he can be had. I just don’t know if the Yankees have the type of pitching that can neutralize him.

The Angels led the majors in stolen bases but their SB percentage was lower than the Yankees. Mike Scioscia’s club can and will run with Chone Figgins leading the way. They will also try to take extra bases, if and when they can.

Fielding: The Angels are strong up the middle with Bengie Molina at catcher, Orlando Cabrera at short, and Adam Kennedy at second. Steve Finley is no longer a Gold Glove CF although he shines out there in comparison to Bernie Williams, who could well be a big liability out there against the Angels. Darin Erstad is heads and shoulders better than Jason Giambi at first base, not only in terms of range but watch him dig out balls in the dirt. He does that better than anyone in the game. Guerrero has one of the strongest and most respected outfield arms in all of baseball. Alex Rodriguez is better than anyone the Angels can put at third, but I don’t think the Angels would necessarily take a backseat to any other matchup defensively.

Starting Pitching: What can you say when Kelvim Escobar can’t even make your five-man rotation? Bartolo Colon and Kevin Lackey are about as good of a 1-2 punch in the AL as any other tandem. Colon is a bulldog and Lackey is one of the most underrated pitchers in the league. The Angels appear to be undecided about who they will start in games three and four. Jarrod Washburn just might be the odd man out. Yes, the lefty with the fourth-best ERA in the AL may not get a chance to start in this series. Instead, he may be relegated to the bullpen–a role I don’t think he is well-suited for–to give the Angels a long reliever or a LOOGY, if need be.

The Angels, believe it or not, actually have four starters with better ERAs than Randy Johnson. That said, I would take the Big Unit over all of ‘em if I could only pick one starter out of the bunch to win a game. The problem for the Yankees, though, is that Johnson isn’t scheduled to start until Game Three on Friday. He will be well rested, but I’m afraid the New Yorkers may be down 0-2 going into that tilt. Colon and Lackey have to be heavy favorites to beat the Yankees in Anaheim in Games One and Two. Let’s face it, Joe Torre has no idea what he is going to get when Mike Mussina takes the mound tonight. A victory in Game One would give the Yankees the home-field edge as well as the confidence and momentum to take the series.

Ervin Santana may be asked to start on Friday or Saturday in New York. I would hand him the ball in Game Three against Johnson and, as an up and down type pitcher, hope he comes through because he has the stuff, if not the experience. The Yankees, however, would be prohibitive favorites in a game featuring Johnson at home vs. Santana. The rookie has been nothing short of awful on the road this year. [Ed: As it turns out Paul Byrd will start Game Three, while Washburn gets the nod in Game Four.]

Colon in Anaheim in a potential Game Five matches up well to any pitcher not named Johnson. The Yankees can only hope they clinch it in four games or less because the odds of beating the man who may wind up winning the Cy Young Award in the rubber match will be long at best.

Bullpen: With Mariano Rivera on their side, Yankees fans may not want to hear–much less believe–that the Angels have a decidely better bullpen. The AL West champs simply have better depth than the Yankees. Look for Scioscia to go to Scott Shields in the eighth inning and Frankie Rodriguez in the ninth almost every chance he gets. Escobar could be a difference maker. He gives the Angels another power arm out of the ‘pen. Torre doesn’t have the luxury of going to an Escobar. What it comes down to is that the Angels’ bridge between their starters and closer is much stronger than what Torre can put out there.

Rodriguez has been relying more and more on his big breaking ball in crucial situations. He only throws his once unhittable fastball about half the time now. The key is not to go fishing for his nasty sliders that, more often than not, end up low and/or outside. Rest assured that K-Rod will face A-Rod at least once with the game on the line in the ninth inning.

Manager: Two of the best. Distinctly different styles. Yankees players and fans rightfully love Torre. Angels players and fans admire Scioscia. Torre will probably be questioned for who he does or doesn’t start, while Scioscia will more likely be second-guessed if the Angels run into outs on the basepaths or use up outs by playing small ball. Call it a draw. Both of these guys have won it all and want nothing more than to win another one.

Keys for the Angels to win: Not letting Mussina beat them in Game One. A second or third bat (Casey Kotchman or Juan Rivera, anyone?) to step up and take some of the load off Guerrero. Beating Randy Johnson.

Keys for the Yankees to win: Winning Game One. Getting quality starts from each of their starters. A healthy Jason Giambi throughout the series.

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"This ain't football. We do this every day."
--Earl Weaver