AL playoff previews
TWINS-YANKEES Starting pitching Edge: Yankees. This would have been a huge New York edge even if Minnesota hadn't been extended to Game 163, as the Twins' starters have the highest ERA in the playoffs. They don't appear to have a counter for CC S...
Edge: Yankees. This would have been a huge New York edge even if Minnesota hadn't been extended to Game 163, as the Twins' starters have the highest ERA in the playoffs. They don't appear to have a counter for CC Sabathia, who gets two starts in the best-of-five series. Scott Baker, the Twins' winningest starter, worked in Tuesday's game against Detroit and won't be available until Game 3. Nick Blackburn and Carl Pavano, who pitched Saturday and Sunday, won't be available for today's Game 1 in New York.
Edge: Yankees. This isn't a big advantage. The Twins have Joe Nathan and a solid cast of middle men ahead of him. Mariano Rivera is the best postseason closer ever, and coming off a vintage season. The setup core is thin, however, after Phil Hughes.
Edge: Yankees. It's hard to envision a team-wide drought for the Yankees. The cast built around Mark Teixeira and Alex Rodriguez leads the majors in runs, home runs, on-base percentage and extra-base hits, with oversized contributions from Hideki Matsui, Jorge Posada, Robinson Cano and Nick Swisher. The Twins are without Justin Morneau but are getting surprisingly good protection behind batting champ Joe Mauer from Jason Kubel and Michael Cuddyer.
Edge: Twins. Year in and year out, the Twins are as solid fundamentally as anyone. Shortstop Orlando Cabrera hasn't been as solid this season as he was for the White Sox in 2008. The Yankees have allowed the most unearned runs of the eight playoff teams.
Edge: Twins. Indications suggest Joe Girardi is ready for his first playoff run but Ron Gardenhire has more experience. He's not bragging about his 2-8 record in the playoffs, however.
Game 1 will be huge for the Yankees, who have lost 13 of their last 17 playoff games. But even if they stumble early, the Twins will have a hard time putting them away. They're the weakest of the eight playoff teams.
Pick: Yankees in three.
Edge: Red Sox. Depth has been a problem for both of these groups this season, thanks to injury and, in the case of Nick Adenhart, tragedy. The Red Sox have starters with a strong history in October, however, especially Josh Beckett and Jon Lester. That is the difference. The Angels are counting on ace John Lackey, a free agent after the season, and newcomer Scott Kazmir, who has a strong history at Fenway Park, which the Angels as a group do not. Clay Buchholz and Daisuke Matsuzaka round out the Boston rotation; Jered Weaver and Joe Saunders the Angels' rotation.
Edge: Red Sox. Previous Angels playoff teams have been loaded in the bullpen but that's not the case this time around. Closer Brian Fuentes looks like a rally waiting to happen, and the group in front of him hasn't developed like Mike Scioscia envisioned. Darren Oliver, a complementary reliever throughout his long career, could get setup work. As usual, there are lots of options out in the Boston bullpen, with Billy Wagner serving as a second closer to get the ball to Jonathan Papelbon. Takashi Saito had 39 saves for the Dodgers two years ago.
Edge: Angels. Neither of these teams count on one or two sluggers, as they have in the past. There's not much difference between the teams. The names in the lineups suggest the Red Sox, as they run out guys like David Oritz, Dustin Pedroia and Kevin Youkilis, but the Angels have scored more runs in the second half of the season. Bobby Abreu, Kendry Morales and Howie Kendrick more than offset the Vladimir Guerrero downturn.
Edge: Red Sox. Alex Gonzalez has answered the questions Boston had at shortstop. Both teams handle themselves well in the field, with few fundamental breakdowns. As in other areas, not much difference between these teams.
Edge: Red Sox. Scioscia is excellent but since Game 4 of the 2004 ALCS, Francona has been an absolute wizard. His teams have won 24 of their last 35 playoff games.
Boston has eliminated the Angels in the first round in 2008, '07 and '04, going 9-1 in those series. The Angels badly need to win the first two games at Angel Stadium and that won't be easy to do against Lester and Beckett.
Pick: Red Sox in five.