Yankees-Angels: Position analysis
Rematch of '02 ALDS is a competitive matchup
Bengie Molina is solid defensively, and over the course of his career has evolved into one of the better hitting catchers in the Majors. Since backstop is primarily a defensive position, the Angels have the advantage.
Darin Erstad is a very strong clubhouse presence, respected for his work ethic and competitive spirit. Erstad is a Gold Glove-caliber first baseman as well, and both his bat and take-no-prisoners approach can light a fire under the Angels.
Adam Kennedy is another Angels sparkplug, sound in all facets of the game, valued for his approach. His postseason experiences -- and heroics -- could be invaluable. He was sorely missed in last year's Division Series, when he was hobbled with a blown-out right knee.
The versatile Chone Figgins will likely start at third for the Angels against right-handed pitching. Figgins gives the Angels speed and aggressiveness at the top of the order, and because of his ability to play wherever the Angels need him and play well, he may truly be the MVP of this team.
Orlando Cabrera is one of the best defensive shortstops in the game. Though he is coming off one of his least productive offensive years, he's still a major contributor with his glove and baserunning. With his upbeat personality, he is a perfect fit on this club, and the record will show that just last year he was the shortstop on a team that won a World Series. At this position, with this club, he is just what the doctor ordered.
Juan Rivera will get the call here for the Angels if Garret Anderson's back problems limit him to the DH role. Rivera came on nicely in the second half of the season, eventually taking much of the playing time that otherwise would have gone to Jeff DaVanon. He is an above-average defensive outfielder with average offensive contributions.
The Angels will likely start Steve Finley against right-handers and Figgins against left-handers. In any other season, Steve Finley would represent one of the strengths of his club. He has played with winners and been a major contributor. In this season, while he's still very capable in the field, injuries and inconsistency have produced an offensive season far below expectations.
Vladimir Guerrero was the American League MVP in 2004, and only his stint on the sidelines with an injury earlier in this season will keep him from repeating that feat. He is still one of the premier players in the game, and one of the best bad-ball hitters in history. No one knows how to pitch him, because he has demonstrated an ability to hit any pitch, anywhere.
Anderson, troubled by a back problem, will likely move from his usual spot in left field to DH for the bulk of the postseason. His production tailed off late in the season, but he has a long record of being a reliable run producer. The Angels need him to be in the lineup and in form.
The bullpen has been a source of strength for the Angels since their World Series-winning season of 2002. Not a beat was missed this season with the departure of long-time closer Troy Percival. Francisco Rodriguez took over that role with his electric stuff and succeeded nobly. Setup man Scott Shields was a workhorse again. Brendan Donnelly was not as unhittable as he had been in the past, but still served amply. Kelvim Escobar, returning from an injury, was a huge addition to the bullpen in the second half, giving the Angels another reliable setup man and, thanks to his prior experience as a starter, a long relief man. The bullpen had a rough stretch in the second half, but bounced back to its usual winning form down the stretch.
The Angels have at least two players who could be very impressive in spot duty. Jeff DaVanon, while he's had a less-than-average year offensively, could play regularly in a lot of places. In the infield, Maicer Izturis also provided a boost for the Angels. Both bring speed and defensive skill, invaluable assets off the bench.
Mike Scioscia is one of the most astute handlers of the game and of his players. He is particularly strong at bringing teams through tough times, and the Angels certainly had their share of those this season. His team reflects his own diligent and determined approach. There is a lot of talk about the White Sox success with small ball this season, but the Angels have been playing this way for years under Scioscia.
The Angels also are known postseason commodities by now, making their third playoff appearance in four years. Their approach doesn't vary much. Conventional wisdom in this situation still calls for giving the intangible edge to the club with more postseason experience.
Tom Singer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.