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ALCS predicted to be long, hard fight

ALCS predicted to be long, hard fight

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You can look at the hard stats. The ones that suggest the Yankees have the highest payroll in baseball, an extremely prolific offense, some of the most accomplished starting pitchers and the best regular-season record in 2009. Then you can look at aspects numbers can't fully measure. Like the Angels' perseverance through tragedy, the leadership that comes from guys like Torii Hunter, the relatively unheralded position players who have stepped up and the manner in which they've found a way to consistently win games.

Who will prevail in the upcoming American League Championship Series? That will be decided on the field -- not on paper -- soon enough. But some of the top journalists in the country have already weighed in with their predictions.

MLB.com polled 13 baseball writers and broadcasters -- seven from national media outlets as well as five from the New York market and one from California -- and nine of them picked the Yankees to take the series. But it likely won't be easy, as seven said the ALCS will go the maximum seven games.

It will all start on Friday with Game 1, which will get under way at Yankee Stadium at 7:57 p.m. ET and be broadcast on FOX.

"To me, both teams are pretty even in every area except one: the bullpen," said Suzyn Waldman, a Yankees broadcaster for WCBS radio. "The Yankees' bullpen has been terrific, and there is only one Mariano Rivera."

That's definitely true. And you can't overlook that the Angels' 4.49 bullpen ERA ranked 11th in the AL during the regular season, and the Yankees' 3.91 ERA was fifth.

With New York possibly sticking with a three-man rotation for this series and using Joba Chamberlain late in games, that relief corps could only get better.

"I just don't know if you can win a playoff series with [the Angels'] Brian Fuentes and Darren Oliver; if you can beat the Yankees four times with that," Howard Bryant of ESPN.com said.

But the Yankees do have some questions about the starting rotation.

Will the Yankees get the lights-out A.J. Burnett, or the mediocre one that had a tendency of showing up during the regular season? Can 37-year-old Andy Pettitte continue to perform at a high level in October? And is Game 1 starter CC Sabathia completely over his previous playoff shortcomings?

WHAT THE EXPERTS THINK
A poll of 13 baseball journalists asking for predictions on the outcome of the ALCS between the Angels and Yankees yielded nine votes for the Bombers and four in favor of the Halos.
Journalist Source Prediction
Gordon Edes Yahoo Sports NYY in 6
Howard Bryant ESPN.com NYY in 6
Mark Whicker Orange County Register NYY in 7
Mel Antonen USA Today LAA in 7
Danny Knobler CBSSports.com LAA in 7
Ed Price AOL Fanhouse LAA in 7
Filip Bondy NY Daily News NYY in 6
Bill Madden NY Daily News LAA in 6
Pete Caldera The Record (N.J.) NYY in 7
Jon Heyman Sports Illustrated NYY in 7
Tom Verducci Sports Illustrated NYY in 5
Sweeney Murti WFAN NYY in 7
Suzyn Waldman WCBS radio NYY in 6

Pete Caldera of The Record of Bergen County, N.J., believes that Sabathia is.

"I think CC has a chance to dominate this series like no other postseason he's been involved in, because of the rest he's had leading up to this," he said.

But don't overlook the Angels' starting staff. One that includes John Lackey, Joe Saunders, Jered Weaver and newcomer Scott Kazmir.

"The Angels' starting rotation is deeper," Danny Knobler of CBSSports.com believes.

But how will it fare against the Yankees' offense, one that finally has the highest-paid player in baseball swinging a hot postseason bat?

Alex Rodriguez's struggles in the playoffs in recent years have been well-documented, but he seemed like a different person with his performance in a sweep of the Twins in the AL Division Series. In those three games, A-Rod went 5-for-11 (a .455 batting average) with two home runs and six RBIs and pretty much put the Yankees on his back in a thrilling Game 2 win.

"A-Rod is not the drama queen anymore," Gordon Edes of Yahoo Sports said. "The only headlines he's making are with his home run."

And when you throw that in with a lineup that features the likes of Derek Jeter, Johnny Damon, Mark Teixeira, Hideki Matsui and so many others, watch out, Anaheim.

"I think Alex swinging the bat the way he is right now, they're a dangerous team," Tom Verducci of Sports Illustrated said. "You can't avoid him, and if you do, someone else is going to make you pay."

It isn't hard to pick the Yankees to represent the AL in the Fall Classic. They spent big money on pitching in the offseason, the back end of their bullpen is flat-out scary and the entire batting order can hurt you.

But there's just something about this Angels team, which beat the Yankees in the '05 ALDS and went 5-5 against them during the regular season.

"They're confident against the Yankees, and I think the Yankees have some kind of mental block," Ed Price of AOL Fanhouse said.

"There's just something about the way [the Angels are] winning games," Bill Madden of the New York Daily News added. "I just have a feeling about this team."

Perhaps it's more than a feeling.

Not many predicted a series sweep over the playoff-tested Red Sox in the ALDS, but the Angels made quick work of Boston with dominant starts by Lackey and Weaver in the first two contests and a thrilling comeback in Game 3.

"The Angels are a better offensive team than they've been in previous postseasons, and they have rested pitching," Mel Antonen of USA Today pointed out.

But home-field advantage could play a big factor.

Since the All-Star break, the Yankees suffered just eight home losses, and they finished with a regular-season record of 57-24 at Yankee Stadium that was tops in the Majors.

"I think they're so evenly matched that home-field advantage is the thing that would tip it [the Yankees'] way," Mark Whicker of The Orange County Register in Santa Ana, Calif., said.

"Home field is a big thing for me," Sweeny Murti of WFAN radio in New York added.

Recently, MLB.com broke down the ALCS into 13 different categories -- catcher, first base, second base, third base, shortstop, outfield, starting pitching, closer, middle relief, bench, manager, coaching staff and fans -- and the Yankees held the edge there, too, at 5-3 (with five spots being even).

"I think they'll play through the rain, as they always do here [in New York], and [the Yankees will] just need three starters," Filip Bondy of the Daily News said, regarding how a possible postponement on Friday could alter the Yankees' rotation plans for the ALCS. "I think that's the difference."

Meanwhile, Jon Heyman of SI.com simply believes the Yankees will come out on top because they "have a little more power and a better bullpen."

But the way the Angels have prevailed this season suggests things won't be so elementary.

Alden Gonzalez is a reporter for MLB.com. Ian Browne contributed to this report. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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