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First look: Angels vs. New York

October 03, 2005|MIKE DIGIOVANNA

* Batting: Few teams combine the power and patience of the Yankees, who rank second in the American League in batting average, runs, home runs, walks and on-base percentage. A deep lineup, with sluggers Alex Rodriguez, Jason Giambi, Gary Sheffield and Hideki Matsui in the middle, leaves opposing pitchers with little margin for error. The Angels lack the power to out-slug the Yankees, but they have a pesky offense that can harass opposing pitchers and fielders into mistakes with its speed and aggressiveness on the bases. If Garret Anderson continues his recent surge, the Angels have a potent one-two punch in the middle with Anderson and right fielder Vladimir Guerrero, the 2004 AL most valuable player.

* Starting pitching: The Yankees have one of the most feared starters in the game, 6-foot-10 left-hander Randy Johnson, who is tentatively scheduled to start Game 3 Friday night in Yankee Stadium. But the Angels have a deeper starting staff and, by clinching their division last Tuesday, were able to align the rotation so their top two starters, Bartolo Colon and John Lackey, pitch the first two games. Veteran left-hander Jarrod Washburn is expected to start in Game 3, and the Angels will choose between veteran Paul Byrd and hard-throwing rookie Ervin Santana for Game 4. Yankee right-hander Mike Mussina has plenty of Game 1 experience -- Tuesday night he will start his sixth playoff opener -- but he has battled an inflamed elbow for a month and was rocked for five runs and seven hits in 1 2/3 innings in his last start, a 17-9 loss to Baltimore last Tuesday.

* Bullpen: The Yankees' Mariano Rivera has been the game's preeminent closer for almost a decade, and he probably will get his share of Cy Young Award votes after going 7-4 with a 1.38 ERA and 43 saves, including 31 straight from April 9 to Aug. 11. Setup man Tom Gordon, who struggled in the playoffs last year, has given up only four earned runs in his last 20 appearances. Middle relief has been a Yankee weakness. The Angels have one of the game's best young closers in Francisco Rodriguez, who has converted 18 saves in a row, and with the addition of starter Kelvim Escobar to the bullpen, they have two potentially dominant setup men in Escobar and Scot Shields.

* Outlook: Pitching -- the starters led the AL with a 3.73 ERA -- and defense carried the Angels for most of the season, but when the offense began to pressure teams consistently and string together clutch hits in mid-September, the Angels won 14 of their last 16 games to seize the division title. If they continue to execute offensively as they have in the last two weeks, and pitch the way they have all season, they'll be able to compete with New York. But if Angel pitchers make too many mistakes and New York goes on a power kick, the Yankees will be difficult to beat, especially if they can hand a lead to Rivera in the ninth.

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