Whenever the Yankees and Angels square off, the coverage focuses around the Yanks’ seemingly historic inability to beat Anaheim. In fact, since 2002, the Angels, 40-30 against New York, are the only American League team to have a winning record against the Yankees. We shouldn’t put much credence into this number though.
The Yanks’ troubles seemingly took off in 2002 when the two teams squared off in the ALDS. While the Yankees won 103 games that year, the Angels had won 99 and were not a bad team by any means. The Yanks won the first game but dropped the next three. While Steve Karsay threw in all four playoff games, Mariano Rivera was deployed once, and the Yankee pitching just couldn’t withstand the Angels.
Three years later, the two teams met again in the ALDS. In between post-season match-ups, the Yankees went 14-14 against the Angels in the regular season, and in 2005, Los Angeles was 6-4 against New York. Both teams had won 95 during the regular season, but the Angels emerged victorious. Mike Mussina couldn’t hold down the team in Game 5 of the ALDS, and Bubba Crosby and Gary Sheffield collided disastrously in the outfield. It was a rather forgettable series.
Since then, the Yankees have gone just 13-23 against the Angels. While the Yanks are 9-9 at home, the Angels are 14-4 against the Yanks in Angels Stadium. As the Yankees battle for home field advantage throughout the playoffs, the teams open up a somewhat pivotal three-game set tonight in Anaheim.
So should we care about the Yanks’ past performance? Do the Angels, as many are wont to say, get into the heads of the Yankees? Unless institutional memory is strong, it’s hard to see exactly how the Yanks allow previous years’ Angels losses to carry over.
The 2002 Angels were a team built on speed, pitching and Troy Glaus’ prodigious October power. There are just two players left them from that team on the Angels. John Lackey is still plugging away, and Chone Figgins had 12 ABs for the Angels that year. Just four Yankees — the so-called Old Guard of Andy Pettitte, Derek Jeter, Jorge Posada and Mariano Rivera — remain from the 2002 team. None of those are are thought of as weak-willed. I doubt the Angels are in their heads.
From 2005, a few other new faces join the rivalry. Along with Lackey and Figgins, the Angels still Vladimir Guerrero, Robb Quinlan, Juan Rivera, Maicer Izturis, Jeff Mathis and Ervin Santana. How some of those players have stuck around for four more years, I do not know. The Yankee hold-overs now include A-Rod, Hideki Matsui, Robinson Cano and, to a lesser extent, Melky Cabrera and Chien-Ming Wang.
That leaves us generally with a nice narrative and little reason to believe it. The Yankees have struggled against the Angels over the last few years, but by going 3-4 and beating the Angels at their own game last week, the Yanks have shown improvement. Yet, just because they often lose to the same team does not mean that the Yankee pinstripes are afraid of or intimidated by the likes of Erick Aybar and Torii Hunter. It’s just a narrative.
The Angels play the Yankees hard because, well, the Angels are a good team. They are one of the winningest teams of the decade, and they are, depending upon the day, the second or third best team in the AL this season. Even the best teams will lose to other good teams, and that’s all there is to it.