Monday, October 12, 2009

A-Rod and Yanks sweep Twins, set up ALCS matchup with Angels

The Yankees had no trouble disposing of the Twins in the ALDS, outscoring Minnesota 15-6 in the series. The pitching was stellar and the hitting was timely, just like both have been all season for New York.

But perhaps the biggest positive that came out of this series was the play of Alex Rodriguez, who may have finally erased his past post-season failures from the minds of Yankees fans. His two RBI in the Yankees' 7-2 Game 1 win was just the start of his heroics.

In Game 2, Rodriguez tied the game at one apiece with an RBI single to left field to score Derek Jeter. But when the Twins pushed two across in the eighth against the typically lights-out Phil Hughes, it looked as though New York was going to let Minnesota steal one at the Stadium. Rodriguez refused to let that happen.

Mark Teixeira led off the bottom of the ninth with a single against Twins closer Joe Nathan, who had 47 saves in the regular season and a 2.10 ERA. Known as one of the best stoppers in the game, Nathan met his match when Rodriguez hit a shot over the center-field wall to tie the game at three and send Yankee Stadium into a frenzy. I know I was going nuts in front of my TV, screaming things like "Who said A-Rod wasn't clutch?!?!?"

Two innings later, it was Teixeira ripping a line drive just over the left-field fence to give the Yankees a 4-3 extra-inning victory, just a day after fellow off-season signing C.C. Sabathia exercised his own playoff demons and shut down the Twins offense in the opener.

Rodriguez wasn't finished after just two games, however. After former Yankee bust Carl Pavano held New York to just three hits in the first six innings and the Twins took a 1-0 lead into the seventh, it was Rodriguez again igniting the Yankee offense.

A-Rod showed how locked in he truly is right now, launching a pitch on the outside half of the plate over the right-field wall to tie the game. Jorge Posada followed with a home run of his own two batters later to put the Yankees ahead for good.

For the series, Rodriguez was 5-11 with two homers and six RBI, driving in almost half of the runs the Yanks scored in the series. If he struggles in the ALCS nobody will remember how he carried the Yankees to an ALDS sweep, but he has really carried over the momentum from his two-homer, seven-RBI game in the season finale and is as locked in as he's ever been in a Yankee uniform.

However, there are still questions for the Yankees heading into the ALCS. Joba Chamberlain looks much more comfortable in the bullpen, throwing 1.2 scoreless innings in the ALDS and attacking hitters from the get-go. Will the Yankees leave him in the bullpen and let Chad Gaudin be their fourth starter (with Chamberlain in long relief if Gaudin struggles), or do they throw Joba back to the wolves with the hope he can translate his aggression out of the bullpen to the rotation?

The other question surrounds who will catch A.J. Burnett, who allowed just one earned run in six innings in Game 2 despite five walks. Burnett is obviously much more comfortable with Jose Molina behind the plate, but Posada proved his importance to this lineup by going 4-11 with a big home run and two RBI. I think Girardi should stick with Molina catching Burnett for now, because if it ain't broke don't fix it. But that's why he gets paid the big bucks, not me.

Unlike the series with the Twins there will be no room for error against the Angels, a well-coached team who won't make the same mistakes the Twins did, such as overrunning bases. Joe Girardi will need to push the right buttons to see his team reach the World Series, as I think the Angels pose a bigger challenge to the New York's title hopes than any of the National League teams remaining.

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