BOSTON -- This is the American League Championship Series the way it ought to be: The two teams with the best records in baseball will compete for a pennant and a trip to the World Series.
The New York Yankees and the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim have established themselves clearly over the six-month marathon of the regular season. The Yankees, with 103 victories, were six games ahead of even the Angels, but there is no doubt these clubs were one-two.
This obviously made them the two best teams in the American League, but some people would say that it also means that they were the two best teams in baseball, period. That sort of position is understandable, but this is not college football; these matters will be settled relatively soon and on the field. True, it feels like the National League has not won an All-Star Game since shortly after World War II, but the record is going to show that the Senior Circuit has won two of the last three World Series.
One step at a time, OK? This is about the ALCS. Many people, particularly in the Northeast quadrant of our republic, would argue that the ALCS that would pack the biggest emotional punch by far would be Yankees vs. Red Sox.
This is true, but it doesn't make it the best baseball matchup. The Red Sox and the Angels just played for what turned out to be the right to play the Yankees. It was true that in their three previous ALCS meetings, the Angels were 1-9 against the Red Sox. But those days are not these days. The Angels swept the Red Sox, producing two terrific pitching performances in Anaheim and encoring with a last-ditch comeback in Boston, scoring three runs off Jonathan Papelbon, a closer who had never before given up a run in the postseason.
The Angels' sweep was not a fluke or an aberration. It was instead, better pitching, better defense, more timely hitting, which all added up to better baseball.
And here is the other half of what makes this a top-shelf matchup. The Angels are the club most likely to give the Yankees fits. If the Yankees want to return to the very top of baseball for the first time in nine years, let them go through the Angels to get there.
The record is going to show that the Angels defeated the Yankees, 3-1, in a 2002 Division Series on their way to a World Series championship. In 2005, the Angels beat the Yankees, 3-2, in another AL Division Series. The Angels may not have been able to get beyond the Red Sox in the postseason for a time, but that was not the case with the Yankees.
Of course neither team bears much resemblance to their 2002 versions. But the Angels have not had a losing regular-season series against the Yankees since 2003. In the last six regular seasons the Angels were 35-23 against the Yankees. This year, the teams were 5-5.
Yankees teams, of course, are measured by a slightly different standard than the other 29 clubs. A successful season includes a World Series championship. Anything else is not completely acceptable. There are some other franchises that would like to be 103-59 just once, and after that they would take their chances in the postseason, plus or minus. But that kind of dominant season is merely a prelude for the Yankees.
Push for the pennant
American League Championship Series appearances since LCS play began in 1969
Is this the best Yankees team since the last era of glory? That run included four World Series championships in five years, including three straight, all of this achieved while Joe Torre was manager. The 2009 Bronx Bombers look like viable successors to that club, but it won't be official until they win the World Series.
A great deal of evidence cannot be taken from the Yankees' ALDS sweep over the Minnesota Twins. The Twins put on a tremendous push, winning 17 of 21 to close the regular season. But that got them to a one-game tiebreaker with Detroit for the AL Central title, and that didn't happen until Tuesday, the very eve of the ALDS.
The Twins had to be spent, physically and emotionally, by the time they reached the Yankees. In any case, they were without their leading power hitter, first baseman Justin Morneau. Given the circumstances, the Yankees were basically supposed to beat the Twins in three straight.
The Angels, on the other hand, were not expected to sweep the Red Sox. Many people who had seen the three previous ALDS matchups between these two clubs, did not think the Angels were going to win much of anything.
So you could fairly say that the Angels' ALDS victory was a breakthrough, while the Yankees' triumph was more like a day at the office. But that may simply say that, as always, more is expected from the Yankees than anybody else.
Angels vs. Yankees, beginning Friday night at new Yankee Stadium, looks like a matchup fully worthy of the event; best of seven for the championship of the American League. These are the two clubs that are supposed to be there.
Mike Bauman is a national columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.