Series Preview: Yankees (18-13) vs. Angels (22-10)

They may be down, but they are most certainly not out. The banged-up Angels, somehow riding a nine-game win streak, come into town to face the Yankees in a showdown of the two hottest teams in the majors. Anaheim has the best record in baseball despite injuries to numerous key players, mostly due to the red-hot bats of Troy Glaus and Vladimir Guerrero.

Anaheim is undefeated in the month of May so far, having taken two of three from the Twins and then sweeping the Tigers and Tampa Bay.  Over that stretch, they're averaging 6.1 runs per game, and their pitching has allowed just 2.9 runs per game.  Quite impressive.  It's even more impressive when one considers that they're playing without one of their best run producers - Garrett Anderson, out with a back injury - and three of their other lineup mainstays - Darin Erstad (hamstring), Tim Salmon (knee) and Jose Guillen (knee and ankle).  Their most recent lineup featured such star names as Chone Figgins, Jeff Davanon and Casey Kotchman, but they're still winning games in droves.

The Yankees, meanwhile, are making a name for themselves as comeback kids.  They now have 12 come-from-behind victories this season, including a very impressive 7-6 win over Seattle in their last game.  The Yankees haven't lost a series since being swept by Boston at the Stadium three weeks ago, and pretty much every aspect of the team is finally clicking.  The bullpen looked especially impressive in Sunday's win, combining for 7.2 shutout innings while the Yanks mounted their comeback.

No two teams in baseball are hotter than these two, who have combined for 17 wins in their last 20 games.  This will be a true test for both teams, and should be an excellent matchup.  Both teams have similar strengths - a strong lineup and excellent bullpen - while both teams have had issues with their starting pitching - Yankee starters have a 5.22 ERA, Anaheim starters have a 4.96 ERA.  This could definitely be a playoff preview.

Yankees Home Record: 9-5
Angels Road Record: 11-5

2003 Series Results: Yankees won 6-3

Key Matchups: Guerrero vs. Brown: 14/30, two home runs, 1.284 OPS... Glaus vs. Brown: 6/11, 1.765 OPS... Guerrero vs. Lieber: 6/25, 6 strikeouts... Giambi vs. Escobar: 11/25, three home runs... Posada vs. Escobar: 3/25, 14 strikeouts... Jeter vs. Escobar: 12/32, two triples... A-Rod vs. Escobar: 8/17, three home runs... Lofton vs. Sele: 17/38, three home runs, seven walks... A-Rod vs. Sele: 16/43, three home runs... A-Rod vs. Lackey: 5/18, three home runs... Giambi vs. Lackey: 5/10, home run... Posada vs. Lackey: 2/10, home run.

Probable Pitchers:

Tuesday: Kelvim Escobar (2-1, 4.76) vs. Kevin Brown (4-0, 2.89)
Escobar hasn't allowed more than four runs in any of his starts, but he also hasn't made it out of the sixth inning in any of them.  His last outing was a respectable performance against the Tigers.  He went 5.2 innings and allowed three runs to earn his second win of the year.  Escobar's career numbers against the Yanks: 4-6, 5.53 ERA, 1.59 WHIP in 30 appearances including 11 starts.

Brown looked a little shaky in the later innings of his last start against the Athletics, but the offense and bullpen bailed him out and he didn't figure in the decision.  The righty has been one of the most consistent starters in the majors this year.  He is 9-10 in 22 appearances against the Angels in his career, with a 3.81 ERA.

Wednesday: Aaron Sele (1-0, 3.80) vs. Javier Vazquez (3-3, 3.73)
Sele is making just his third start this year, after beginning the season in the bullpen.  He has a 2.45 ERA as a starter so far, with an appearance each against the Devil Rays and Twins.  Most recently he held the Rays to three runs over six innings.  Traditionally, the Yankees have killed Sele (particularly in the playoffs), and he has a career 5-10 record against New York.

No two ways about it, Vazquez looked terrible in his last start against the A's, walking four batters - including two with the bases loaded - and allowing seven runs.  His ERA jumped more than a point, and he really just looked like he had no command on any of his pitches.  That being said, the league is still hitting a measely .185 against Javy.  In one career start, Vazquez struck out 11 Angels over seven innings, but didn't get a decision.

Thursday: John Lackey (3-3, 4.23) vs. Jon Lieber (1-1, 6.23)
Lackey is red-hot.  He fired a complete-game, three-hit shutout against the Devil Rays in his last start and held the Twins to one run over seven innings in the start before that.  His ERA, once at 17.18, now sits at a respectable 4.23, and he has allowed just 13 hits in his last 22.2 innings.

Lieber got rocked by the Mariners (of all people) in his last appearance, allowing six runs in six innings.  The good news is that he still hasn't walked a batter, the bad news is that he's not missing many bats (14 hits in 13 innings, only five strikeouts).  Interestingly, Lieber has never faced the Angels, having spent his entire career in the National League before this year.

Predictions and Prognostications:  I honestly have no idea what's going to happen here.  My crystal ball is mighty fuzzy for this series.  I can guarantee a lot of hits, probably against Lieber and Escobar, but the way these two clubs are playing right now, I don't expect either one to lose.  Let's hope that all of Anaheim's injuries finally get to them and the Yanks can take two of three.

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