Thursday, October 15, 2009

The Yankee Gameplan

For once, the breathless hyperbole, the “Series of the Century of the Week” might actually fit. The Angels vs. the Yankees—the two best teams in the league fighting it out—might actually be a true classic.

But before the Yankees gear up, if they want to make the World Series for the first time since 2003, they should have a game plan,. Let’s take a look at the match-up and see what the Yankees should do.

Despite everyone’s talk of the Big Bats in the Yankee lineup, a very pedestrian Twin rotation basically kept them in check—keeping the Yankees to a paltry .225 in the ALDS. On the contrary, what everyone was most concerned with—the rotation—was what won the series for the Yankees.

On the other side, the Angels hit fairly decently in the ALDS, especially considering who they faced, namely Lester, Beckett and Buchholz. Except for Chone Figgins, Kendry Morales and Torri Hunter, the Angels hit very well. Abreu batted .556, Guerrero hit .400 (the two of them combined for 6 walks), Aybar hit .364, Mathis batted .333 and Rivera chipped in with a .273 BA with a stolen base.

While the Angels can’t compete with the Yankees power-wise—they had 173 HRs to the Yankees 244, they did have the best batting average in the majors. They also had the third most stolen bases in baseball. In short, they follow the hornet swarm mentality—no one big blow; rather, death by a myriad of little bites. A base hit, a stolen base, a walk, a sac fly. Etc.

The Angels batted .315 against the Yankees this year and had 17 stolen bases —more than they stole against any other team. They produced runs—2nd only to the Yankees in baseball. As Jose Molina, speaking yesterday, said, “They’re ready to run. They want to run. They’re going to go first to third. They’re going to put pressure (on), so you better be ready.”

So, we know how the Angels are going to play. What should the Yankees do to combat this?

Well, considering the make-up of the Angels, as well as the weather—a nor’easter is threatening the New York area this weekend, thus potentially forcing the playoffs to be played on back-to-back days—the Yankees should bring more pitchers than maybe they would in other circumstances.

Joe Girardi has stated that he is considering a 3-man rotation for this series. He must know that CC Sabathia is 3-1 with a 1.01 ERA in four career regular-season starts on three days’ rest, averaging nearly a strikeout an inning. So pitching games 1, 4 and 7 shouldn’t be a big issue, especially going into game 1 on 8 days rest. Also, game 7, weather permitting, would be on full rest. Also, a three-man rotation would allow the Yankees to start 3 lefties at Yankee Stadium (Sabathia in 1 and 7, Pettitte in 6), helping to reduce the threat of the short porch in right.

The problem comes if there is a rainout and the Yankees lose an off day. Then Chad Gaudin and/or Joba Chamberlain would most likely pitch the 4th game. The problem isn’t just that both of those guys are question marks. It’s also, that, not knowing if the weather is going to be a factor, Girardi would have to hold those guys in reserve, working with a short bullpen. It would seem that having some more arms out there, would proably behoove him.

Girardi brought a third catcher, Francisco Cervelli in the last round. Why? Girardi should instead bring Brian Bruney who was left off the ALDS roster. Bruney, who in his last 10 appearances had a 2.17 ERA, would be a great addition to the late inning bullpen relief, especially if Hughes melts down again like he did against the Twins.

Girardi still has Brett Gardner and Jerry Hairston (and maybe Freddie Guzman) to pinch run. Still has two catchers—and can pinch-hit Posada for Molina in the games which Burnett pitches.

Put it this way, the Yankees used 5, 8, and 4 pitchers, respectively, in the 3 games against the Twins. Why? Because they could. They had a day off in between and brought 11 pitchers. And it worked out well. Girardi could mix pitchers to batters as he wanted—bring in Chamberlain or Coke for one batter, then bring in Aceves or Marte or Robertson or whomever for the next guy. The flexibility the Yankees had in their bullpen was a strength that was needed against the Twins. Especially in game two.

As for the Yankees hitters, well, they just have to hit better than they did against the Twins. The Angels have better starters and are just a plain old better team than the Twins. The Yankees have to hit a lot better than .225, simple as that.

However, given that the Angels have a better rotation, it is odd that Mike Scioscia gave the guy who has the best career stats against the Yankees, Scott Kazmir, only 1 start. Kazmir, in 15 games against the Yankees, has a 2.67 ERA. None of the other Angels starters come close. In 5 games Saunders has a 6.28 ERA; in 16 games, Lackey has a 4.66 ERA; and in 7 games Weaver has a 5.88 ERA.

So what’s the outcome?

Since 1996 and the Yankees championship run, the Angels are the only team in baseball to have a winning record against the Yankees. The only one. At 73-63, the Angels have definitely handled the Yankees while they were at their best.

However, this is a different Yankee team. They have one of the game’s best aces, have improved their defense to where they are ahead of the Angels in defensive efficiency, and have one of the most dominant bullpens in the game. And they hit a boatload of home runs.

They also have a number of players who have been here before and know how to win, who won’t panic when the other teams score. In short, the Yankees have a confidence they lacked in the last few years. As the Twins said after the ALDS:
“You look up at the scoreboard, and every single player on that team has 175 at-bats in the postseason,” first baseman Michael Cuddyer said. “I think that’s one reason they don’t panic. They’re all 10-, 15-year veterans that know how to play the game. They believe in themselves and they’re good.” “Every time we put up a run or two or we scored, they don’t panic,” outfielder Denard Span said. “They seemed like they just took a deep breath. It’s almost like they relaxed even more and answered back. They always answer back.”

The prediction: Yanks in 6.

Enjoy the series.

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