Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Break it Down For Me...

Remember the 22-0 from 2004? That was a thing of beauty. But the past is the past. Time for some positional player analysis. We all know the Yankees and their $200 million payroll has most of the advantages, but you have to look deeper to see that this is an evenly matches series.

First Base: Ryan Garko (.289 BA, 21 HR, 61 RBI) vs. Doug Mientkiewicz (.277 BA, 5 HR, 24 RBI)

At first glance, this isn’t exactly a heavyweight matchup, but this is a key position on both sides for different reasons. Garko resides in the five hole protecting Victor Martinez and must come up big in the spots where Victor is pitched around. I know if I was Joe Torre, I wouldn’t give Victor anything to hit in a spot where he could hurt me; I’d much rather take my chances with first-year starter Garko. Garko’s defense has been adequate for the most part, but in the playoffs, everything becomes magnified; and this is precisely the reason Torre is going with Mientkiewicz at first rather than Jason Giambi. He plays gold glove defense for the Yankees and has stabilized the right-side since returning from the DL. With all of the big bats the bombers have at every other position, they can deal with Mientkiewicz’s short-comings at the plate. Giambi is an absolute butcher in the field. So which do you choose? Bat or Glove?

Advantage: Garko – I’ve got a feeling his bat will sizzle in this series and he will see a ton of pitches to drive.

Second Base: Asdrubal Cabrera (.283 BA, 3 HR, 22 RBI in 159 AB) vs. Robinson Cano (.307 BA, 19 HR, 97 RBI)

I was stunned to see that Cano had 97 RBI. That is only three less than Travis Hafner and Cano spent a big part of the season hitting eight. There are no two ways about it, the kid is a stud and the kind of player the Indians hope Asdrubal Cabrera can be. He hits to all fields for average, has pop, and a solid but unspectacular glove. Cano has arguable been the most clutch Yankee not named Jeter or A-Rod. The Tribe’s Asdrubal Cabrera has been a godsend to the infield defense and the #2 hole in the lineup. He has super-soft hands and turns the double play as good as any second baseman you’ll see. He is patient at the plate and is a contact hitter who hits from both sides. Who knows if the Indians are playing in October had AC not been unearthed from the minors.

Advantage: Cano - While readers of my work know about my man crush on AC, he is a 21 year old kid who has never played in games of this magnitude. Cano has and is the better player right now.

Shortstop: Jhonny Peralta (.270 BA, 21 HR, 72 HR) vs. Derek Jeter (.322 BA, 12 HR, 73 RBI)

I go through spurts with Jhonny. Sometimes I love his stroke going the opposite way for clutch hits. Sometimes his inability to lay off low and away breaking pitches is beyond frustrating. Then there is his defense. To say he has no range is an understatement. His arm is below average. His double play turning abilities are just OK. Did I mention he is slow on the base paths for SS? But then he’ll come up with a key home run and all will be forgotten. Matching him up with the great Derek Jeter is probably not fair. Jeter has a rocket arm, still has the good range, can swipe a base if he needs to (15 this year), and is as clutch as they get. He led the league hitting over .430 with runners in scoring position and two outs. He is the Yankee captain, has won four World Series rings, and is a future Hall of Famer. Keeping him off of the bases is one of the major keys to the series. He makes the Yankees go.

Advantage: Jeter – Like you couldn’t have figured that one out on your own

Third Base: Casey Blake (.270 BA, 18 HR, 78 RBI) vs. Alex Rodriguez (.314 BA, 54 HR, 156 RBI)

Do I even have to go here? A-Rod is the best player on the planet. The guy hit 54 Pizzas and drove in 156. He carried the Yankees in April and may when the rest of the team took extended Spring Training. He is in what could be a walk-year if he chooses. Remember when he took Joe Borowski deep for a walk-off Grand Slam in the Bronx earlier this year? He is flat out scary. Yet, his recent postseason flops have put him under the proverbial microscope. The heat will be all over him if he doesn’t produce this October. Since game 4 of the 2004 epic ALCS collapse vs. Boston, A Rod is hitting .109. Last year against the Tigers, he went 1-14. You all know how I feel about Blake. I am done bashing him for the time being. He has stabilized the third base position on the defensive end and since moving to the nine-hole, Casey has had a renaissance at the dish. Who can forget his two walk-off homers in a four game span.

Advantage: Rodriguez – Talk about your classic M&M’er, a total mismatch. It’s like pitting Rosie O’Donnell against Jessica Biel in a beauty contest.

Catcher: Victor Martinez (.301 BA, 25 HR, 114 RBI) vs. Jorge Posada (.338 BA, 20 HR, 90 RBI)

Two catchers who have been the model of consistency for their respective teams. Going into the year, Posada was talked about as being finished. He responded with his best year as a major leaguer, leading all Major League Catchers in hitting at .338. He is the heart and soul of the Yanks and one of the last remaining members of the old guard of championship performers. Many of the same things can be said about the Indians. He is definitely the leader of this team and hands-down its best hitter. His 114 RBI led all Major league Catchers. His defense improved dramatically over last year while handling the best in the American League for ERA. These two are as solid as they come.

Advantage: Martinez – In a different year, he could be AL MVP. When Travis Hafner and Grady Sizemore have what can be considered sub par years by their standards, Victor had his best year as a pro. Posada however, is no slouch and cannot be overlooked.

Left Field: Kenny Lofton (.296 BA, 7 HR, 38 RBI)/Jason Michaels (.270 BA, 7 HR, 39 RBI) vs. Johnny Damon (.270 BA, 12 HR, 63 RBI)

Lofton’s third tour of duty with the Tribe has been largely uneventful. The only thing you can say about him is that he and Michaels have made quality platoon partners. Kenny’s transition to Left, a position he had never played before, has been smooth. He still has the wheels, but inexplicably hasn’t stolen many bases (only three since coming over from Texas on July 29th). However, Kenny is the one playoff-tested bat in the everyday lineup. He has found a home hitting seventh. J Mike will start Game two against Andy Pettitte and hit Lefties at a .287 clip with 28 RBI. Damon is another former Centerfielder jettisoned to Left. His reasons wee different from Kenny’s; his popcorn arm and lack if range were Bernie Williams-esque and with the emergence of Melky Cabrera, Damon was moved to left. Damon’s bat heated up in September after a year mired by injuries and slumps.

Advantage: Even – I know, this is a cop out, but there is no clear cut favorite here. Damon would be DH’ing if not for Hideki Matsui’s knee problems, yet is a noted Indian-killer. Kenny could be the Tribe’s X-factor in this series. Getting him on base is of the utmost importance. Michaels must hit Pettitte. That’s why he is in there.

Center Field: Grady Sizemore (.277 BA, 24 HR, 78 RBI) vs. Melky Cabrera (.273 BA, 8 HR, 73 RBI)

Grady had a strange year. While he had many big hits, he led the American League in strikeouts from the leadoff spot. As he goes, so go the Tribe. No position player in this series is more important to their team’s success than Grady. No doubt, Grady has superstar potential, but he must be patient at the plate in his first shot at the big stage. Cabrera has to be the biggest surprise of the Yankees in ‘07. Look at his numbers compared to Sizemore’s. Other than the power, they are pretty even and he had 545 at bats compared to Grady’s 628. It certainly doesn’t hurt having A-Rod, Jeter, Matsui, Abreu, Damon, and Posada in the lineup in front of him. Who would you rather face?

Advantage: Sizemore – I think the country will see the real Grady Sizemore in this series. Call it a hunch, but I think he is a thorn in the Yankees side in the field, at the plate, and on the base paths. This will be his coming out party.

Right Field: Franklyn Gutierrez (.266 BA, 13 HR, 36 RBI) vs. Bobby Abreu (.283 BA, 16 HR, 101 RBI)

Here is the case of a $16 million dollar player vs. a $600,000 player. Abreu is an established all star who started very slowly but was huge during the Yankees monster second half. He plays a solid right field and runs well, plus, he’s a 100-plus RBI guy. His power has seemed to disappear since his unbelievable performance at the 2005 All Star game (could it be that he isn’t taking performance enhancing drugs anymore?). That doesn’t mean he is any less potent at the plate. Franky G, like Asdrubal Cabrera, re-energized the slumping Tribe once he was given the full time Right Field gig. He seems to own Jacobs Field, hitting .313 with 10 Home Runs, and 25 RBI. On the road, he hit just .224. It’s a good thing the Tribe has home field advantage. Franky also wears out left-handed pitching, hitting .330. His defense cannot be understated. He is by leaps and bounds the best defensive Outfielder in this series. Most importantly, he isn’t Trot Nixon.

Advantage: Abreu – As much as I like Franky G, Abreu is a guy the Indians cannot overlook. He is a far superior player.

DH: Travis Hafner (.266, 24 HR, 100 RBI) vs. Hideki Matsui (.285, 25 HR, 103 RBI)

Tribe fans are hoping the Pronk we have seen over the past four weeks (.319, 21 RBI) is the guy who shows up in October, not the guy who suffered a three to four month slump early in the year. Most disturbing is Hafner’s failure’s in key situations. He hit a porous .224 with runners in scoring position. With RISP and two out, he was worse, hitting .214 in 70 AB’s. All that said, Hafner is still as dangerous a hitter as there is in baseball. Matsui’s knee had to be drained at the end of last week, but Manager Joe Torre said it shouldn’t be a problem for him at the plate. Yet over the last month, a great season went south, as he hit .195 in 77 AB’s. He is a superior defender to Damon, yet is forced to DH with the knee. Still, Matsui is nothing to scoff at and if his knee holds up, is extremely formidable.

Advantage: Hafner – Only because of the September performances of the two players, Pronk gets the nod. Without a successful Hafner in this series, it’s going to be a tough mountain to climb for the Tribe.

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