Angels-Yankees matchup: Middle relief

Angels-Yankees matchup: Middle relief

Heading into the American League Championship Series between the Yankees and Angels, beginning Friday at 7:57 p.m. ET on FOX, looks at the position-by-position matchups and dissects which team has the advantage.

Angels: The obvious strength of the Angels' pitching staff is their starting rotation, making life a little easier for a bullpen that was inconsistent as a whole throughout 2009.

Angels manager Mike Scioscia cycled through 17 different relievers this past season, searching for the most reliable group. In this postseason, he brought the quartet of Darren Oliver, Jason Bulger, Kevin Jepsen and Matt Palmer to go along with closer Brian Fuentes, and the early results have been strong.

In Los Angeles' three-game sweep of the Boston Red Sox in the American League Division Series, the Angels' bullpen allowed just one run over 6 1/3 innings. As was the case throughout the regular season, the rotation ate up innings to help put the relief corps in a good position.

Oliver, a veteran left-hander, earned the victory for the Angels in their decisive 7-6 comeback win over the Red Sox in Game 3 of the ALDS. At 39 years old, Oliver has become a favorite option for Scioscia. It's not hard to see why, considering the veteran of 16 big league seasons fashioned a 2.71 ERA over a career-high 63 games for L.A. this season.

Oliver worked in each of the three games against Boston and he'll likely be leaned on again throughout the upcoming series against the Yankees. During the regular season, Oliver posted a 3.60 ERA in six appearances against the powerful New York lineup.

Beyond Oliver, Bulger (6-1, 3.56 ERA in 64 games in 2009), Jepsen (4.94 ERA in 54 games) and Palmer (2.74 ERA in 27 relief outings) provide Scioscia with some sound options. That's something the Angels struggled with at times this season, when their bullpen finished ranked 11th in the AL in ERA (4.49) and 13th in opponents' batting average (.270).

Yankees: While the focus of the bullpen naturally falls on closer Mariano Rivera, the Yankees have good depth, which gives skipper Joe Girardi plenty of options.

If Girardi goes with a three-man rotation as expected, that would leave Joba Chamberlain in the bullpen. While he had success as a starter, Chamberlain is at his most dominant when he comes on in relief and can just pump his high-90s fastballs right by hitters.

Another hard-throwing right-hander in the pen is Phil Hughes, the Yanks' primary setup man. Though his future may be in the rotation, his present is very much in the bullpen, where he, too, is able to throw his fastball by hitters. He appeared in 51 games (seven as a starter) for the Yankees going 8-3 with a 3.03 ERA overall and 5-1 with three saves and a 1.40 ERA in 44 relief appearances.

David Robertson earned the nickname Houdini when the rookie came into Game 2 of the ALDS in the 11th inning with nobody out and the bases loaded and somehow managed to get out of the frame without a run scoring.

The Yankees then scored in the bottom half of the inning to give Robertson the win. He was 2-1 with one save and a 3.30 ERA in 45 relief appearances in three stints with the Yankees this year. He struck out 12.98 batters/nine innings pitched, the second-best ratio in the Majors to the Dodgers' Jonathan Broxton among pitchers with at least 50 innings pitched.

When Girardi needs to get a tough left-hander out, he can always turn to Phil Coke, another rookie who has shown he has what it takes to perform on the big stage of the postseason.

The quartet allows Girardi to play matchups during an inning, using Hughes to get a righty, Coke to get a lefty and then Chamberlain to get another righty if need be.

Gaudin, if not used in the rotation, is good insurance to have if needed early in a game or in an extra-inning situation. The right-hander proved to be quite a find for the Yankees, who acquired him in exchange for a player to be named later in early August.

EDGE: Yankees

Steve Gilbert and Jordan Bastian are reporters for This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.