As rivalries go, the Yankees and Angels have been overrated by the media. Since 2002, the first time they met in the playoffs, the teams have played 54 times. The Angels have won 31 of those games, the Yankees 23; the Angels have outscored the Yankees by just 12 runs. Since the Angels have been the best team in the American League West over this span, that’s not a terribly wide gap and could pretty much be written of as t margin of error.
From 2002-2003, the Yankees beat the angels 10 of 16 times; over the next five seasons, the Angels had a more substantial edge — 26 wins to 15. This year they split their ten games. The Angels have beaten the Yankees twice in the playoffs, 2002 and 2005, winning six of nine games. Again, it isn’t terribly unusual for one good team to have an edge over another good team by this kind of margin.
In any event, all the factors that favored the Angels in those years now favor the Yankees. Consider:
— Starting Pitching: It’s hard to give anyone the edge here. The Yankees’ starting pitchers had almost the same ERA (4.48) as the Angels (4.44). But the Angles only have that edge if you include Joba Chamberlains starts (ERA of 4.75). The Yankees top three starters — C.C. Sabathia, A.J. Burnett and Andy Pettitte — were a combined 46-25 with an ERA of 3.80. The Angels’ top three starters — Jered Weaver, Joe Saunders, and John Lackey — were 43-29 with an ERA of 4.00.
Much has been made of the fact that the closest thing the Yankees have to a reliable starter after that is Chad Gaudin, but Gaudin actually looks good (2-0, 3.43 ERA) compared to the Angels’ Ervin Santana (8-8, 5.03 ERA). The edge is not great for the Yankees, but it is an edge.
— Relief Pitching: It’s hard to tell which has been the Yankees’ sorest spot over the years when playing good teams like the Angels — the starting pitching or the bullpen. Whichever, this time around the New York’s relievers have a big bulge over LA’s. The Angels relievers were just 11th best in the AL (4.49), a very low ranking for a team that expects to go to the World Series. The Angels closer Brian Fuentes was awful this season despite 48 saves — 7 blown saves, 1-5 won-lost, and ERA 3.93. Set-up man Darren Oliver (5-1, 2.71) wasn’t bad; the rest of the Angels’ relievers are. Jason Bolger and Kevin Jepsen have walked 49 batters in 120.3 innings, numbers as bad as Yankees relievers had most of the past decade.
The Yankees, in contrast, have the best bullpen in either league. Over the season, they ranked fifth in the AL (3.91), but the really bad news for the Angels is that that only partly takes into account two sensational bullpen changes the Yankees made since the All-Star break — namely moving Phil Hughes to the set-up man spot and Joba Chamberlain as the hold guy (during the playoffs against Minnesota). And, of course, we all know who the Yankees’ closer is. The Yanks’ Dave Robertson (ERA 3.30) and Brian Bruney (3.92) are probably better than anyone in LA’s bullpen except for Oliver.
To sum, the Yankees have slightly better starting pitching and a far deeper bullpen to supplement it, which means Joe Girardi can go to his relievers much earlier and with more confidence than Angels’ manager Mike Scioscia.
— Speed: This is an area where the Angels are thought to have an advantage — they don’t. LA did steal a lot of bases this season, 148, but they were thrown out 63 times for a success rate of 70.1 percent. The Yankees were actually considerably better, 111 of 159 for 80%. Yankees catcher Jorge Posada and Angels catcher Mike Napoli both threw out 48 runners in roughly the same number of innings, so if it becomes a war of speed, the Yankees are likely to win.
— Bench: Here’s another area in which Yankees have been weak in recent years but now have a considerable edge of the Angels. Gary Matthews, Jr. is about the Angels’ best pinch hitter, and he had just four home runs in 103 games with a .250 BA. The Yankees can put in Brett Gardner (.270, 26 walks and 26 stolen bases in 248 at-bats) or pinch runner Freddy Guzman, who has stolen four bases in five attempts.
— Depth: The Angels led the AL in batting at .285; the Yankees were just two points behind them and finished first in just about everything else, including runs (915), OBA (.362), and slugging (.478). Moreover their regular batting order features four switch hitters – Jorge Posada, Mark Teixeira, Nick Swisher, and Melky Cabrera – and for all intents and purposes, a fifth, Hideki Matsui, a left-handed batter who hits lefties better than righties. In fact, the entire Yankee order hits well against all pitchers, so the Yankees will have situational advantages the Angels don’t have. Simply put, when it comes time to change pitchers the Yankee hitters should do much better than the Angels batters against Yankee relievers.
In fact, the Angels have clear superiority at just one position, centerfield with Torri Hunter over Melky. Despite numerous articles you’re seeing to the contrary, in right field, Nick Swisher has been better this season than Bobby Abreu with an .869 OPS to Abreu’s .825. Swisher is also a more consistent fielder, which is one of the reasons the Yankees let Abreu go in the first place.
— Finally, momentum: Ever looking for reasons to pick the Yankees to lose, especially since the humilai9ting sweep of his beloved Red Sox by the Angels, the Daily News‘ Mike Lupica wrote on Thursday “If the Yankees are any kind of favorite in this series, it is only because they have four games at home.” No, Mike, as usual you have it backwards: the Yankees earned the four games at home by being the better team. They didn’t just have the best record in baseball this year, they had it when it really counted — after the All-Star break, where they posted far and away the best record 52-22 (.703%) in all of baseball. The Angels weren’t bad, either — 48-28, .632%. But, as in everything else, the Yankees have the edge.
Now, as for the extra home game, it’s a great piece of insurance since the Yankees had the best home record, 57-24, in the major leagues.
Does all this mean the Yankees will beat the Angels? No, but every factor indicates that they should. The only red flag on the horizon is Sabathia’s history of slowness in getting into gear, especially in cold weather.