Up 2-0 in ALCS, Yanks in good position
Halos have work cut out for them as series shifts to their turf
NEW YORK -- Life is good when you're leading a League Championship Series, 2-0. History doesn't say that you are a mortal lock to go to the World Series, but history will indicate that you are in the next-best category -- a semi-lock.
This is the pleasant environment in which the New York Yankees find themselves as the scene shifts in the 2009 American League Championship Series. They have grabbed a two-game lead over the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, and they have looked very good in the process.
In fact, the Yankees are unbeaten to date in this postseason, becoming just the sixth team in history to win its first five playoff games. They spent six months proving that they were baseball's best regular-season team. Past October's mid-point, they have not changed direction.
The Yankees beat the Angels, 4-3, in a 13-inning, Game 3 marathon at Yankee Stadium on Saturday night and Sunday morning. No portion of the Bronx Bombers' game is showing a dramatic weakness, or even a marginal weakness. The 2-0 lead lends encouragement to their encouragement.
Since the advent of the best-of-seven format for the LCS, starting in 1985, 20 teams have taken a 2-0 series lead. All but three of them have advanced to the World Series. For those of you keeping score at home, that's an 85 percent success rate. Again, not a sure thing, but much better than the stock market.
Yes, one of the three teams that came back from 0-2 in an LCS still brings Yankees fans a memory complete with attached pain. The 2004 Red Sox came back from not only two games down, but three games down against New York. Boston was the first and only team to accomplish the resurrection from an 0-3 start. But the current Yankees pitch much better than the 2004 version did, and they seem much less likely to cough up a lead of historic proportions, or any lead at all, for that matter.
The two other clubs that achieved the LCS comeback from 0-2 both did so in 1985, the first year of the expanded Championship Series. The St. Louis Cardinals came back against the Dodgers, and the Kansas City Royals came back against the Blue Jays. The Royals encored with another rarity: They lost the first two games of the World Series at home, but came back to win in seven.
|2009 REGULAR SEASON|
|Overall||14-8, 32 GS, 4.16 ERA, 76 BBs, 148 Ks||6-8, 33 GS, 3.75 ERA, 66 BBs, 174 Ks|
|Key stat||218 1/3 career postseason innings pitched||7.4 Ks/9 IP this year|
|Career||15-9 36 GS, 3.89 ERA, 61 BBs, 146 Ks||2-1, 3 G (2 GS), 1.88 ERA, 6 BBs, 15 Ks|
|AT ANGEL STADIUM|
|2009||0-2, 2 GS, 7.84 ERA, 8 BBs, 6 Ks||9-3, 17 GS, 2.90 ERA, 27 BBs, 99 Ks|
|Career||6-7,16 GS, 4.19 ERA, 32 BBs, 79 Ks||27-12, 53 GS, 3.27 ERA, 82 BBs, 270 Ks|
|AGAINST THIS OPPONENT|
|2009 regular season||0-2, 2 GS, 7.88 ERA, 8 BBs, 6 Ks||1-1, 3 GS, 5.59 ERA, 9 BBs, 13 Ks|
|Career||12-10, 45 GS, 4.38 ERA, 87 BBs, 214 Ks||4-2,7 GS, 4.88 ERA, 18 BBs, 34 Ks|
|Loves to face||Kendry Morales, 0-for-5, 1 K||Derek Jeter, 2-for-17, 2 Ks|
|Hates to face||Erick Aybar, 7-for-16, 2 RBIs||Alex Rodriguez 5-for-15, 4 HRs|
|Why he'll win||Postseason experience||Pitches well at home|
|Pitcher beware||Has struggled against Angels in his career||Allowed 26 homers this year|
|Bottom line||Can he add to postseason legacy?||Can he continue to pitch well in the postseason?|
None of this offers any kind of guarantee for the Yankees. But it does illustrate how difficult the Angels' task is. After 1985, there has been just one team that has successfully come back from losing the first two games of an LCS. That feat was really memorable, but that doesn't make it any more likely to occur again.
For the Yankees, history beckons. A victory in Game 3 of this series would give New York the longest winning streak to begin a postseason by an AL club. A sweep of this series and a victory in Game 1 would give them the most consecutive victories to begin a postseason in the Majors. (The 1976 Cincinnati Reds swept both the NLCS and the World Series to go 7-0. The Colorado Rockies began the 2007 postseason 7-0, but that accomplishment lost some luster when they were swept in the World Series by the Red Sox.)
Expanded postseason play makes some historical comparisons apples and oranges. Great teams from the distant past had a best-of-seven World Series, and that was it. What can safely be said is that since 1995 and the advent of the three-tiered playoff system, it has taken 11 victories to win everything. No team has gone 11-0. The Yankees are 5-0 now, matching their start to the 1999 postseason. That New York team produced the best record of the expanded postseason era, 11-1. They lost only to Boston, in Game 3 of the ALCS. That record was matched by the 2005 White Sox, whose only loss came in the ALCS to the Angels.
But what about the chances of the Angels, who were, by record, baseball's second-best team? What could be in the Angels' favor is the cross-country move of this series to the more benign climes of southern California. They said that the New York weather didn't bother them, and, all right, what really affected them was the quality of the Yankees' pitching. But the Halos are 0-2. The cold and damp conditions in the Bronx -- not unknown at this time of year -- did them more harm than good.
The pitching matchup for Game 3 is open to widely varying interpretations. The Yankees have Andy Pettitte, who is basically a playoffs regular with 36 postseason starts, a 15-9 record and a commendable 3.89 ERA. He worked extremely well in the ALDS, allowing the Twins just one run on three hits over 6 1/3 innings.
For the Angels, Jered Weaver is also coming off impressive work, in his case 7 1/3 innings against the Red Sox in the ALDS, allowing one run on two hits. There is a huge experience edge to Pettitte, but it could be argued that, at this point in their respective careers, on a given night, Weaver would be more likely to produce a lock-down performance.
Weaver will be under tremendous pressure in this start, but he has a public record of being a cool customer. "I like challenges," he said Sunday. "You know, they've got guys one through nine that can hurt you. But so did Boston."
Manager Mike Scioscia set up his ALCS rotation to get Weaver a start at home. Weaver said he would have been glad to go at Yankee Stadium, too, but as a SoCal lifer to this point, he welcomes getting the call for a start in California.
"It's nice that we get out of that cold weather and come into a little warmer climate," Weaver said with a smile. "No excuses, but, it's always nicer to play in a little warmer weather."
Yankee manager Joe Girardi said Sunday that he had definitely decided to pitch CC Sabathia in Game 4 on what would be three days' rest. The ideal situation, of course, would be having Sabathia pitching in a position to close out this series. In Game 3 the Yankees will be counting on the postseason veteran Pettitte to put them in that happy circumstance.
As a bonus, with a victory, Pettitte would pass John Smoltz and move into all-time lead for postseason victories. Pettitte is 15-9 lifetime in the postseason, with a 3.89 ERA.
"It's special, obviously," Pettitte said on Sunday. "I'm very thankful. I feel fortunate to have played as long as I have, and, obviously, to be able to have played on as many great teams as I've been able to play on, and have the opportunity to do that and play with a great closer here in New York. And, then, obviously, Brad Lidge was a great closer in Houston in my games there.
"I never would have dreamed that I would have been able to have been in this situation and be able to do something like that. It's just an honor."
The Angels will need not only a large performance from Weaver, but improved clutch hitting from much of their lineup. Over the course of the season and their ALDS sweep of Boston, the Halos have proved their worth. But now they're in against a team that has known nothing but victory thus far in the 2009 postseason.
Mike Bauman is a national columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.