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Yankees to continue their reign in playoffs

For all those hoping the Yankees will be sitting at home when the World Series comes, forget about it.

New York is again the class of baseball, and the Yankees should be well on their way to a fifth straight American League championship when the World Series commences Oct. 19.

While New York has proven adept at winning one-run games in the past, the Yankees have more firepower than ever before. With Jason Giambi, Alfonso Soriano, Derek Jeter and Bernie Williams at the top of the lineup, New York has the offense to get by Anaheim in four games.

The Angels are a scrappy bunch, led by the heart of David Eckstein and the intimidation of closer Troy Percival. But as a newcomer to the playoffs (the Angels havenít been to the postseason since 1986), Anaheim faces a difficult task going into Yankee Stadium and taking even a game from New York.

In the other AL Division Series, Minnesota defied contraction and all the skeptics to win the Central and return to the postseason for the first time since the glory days of Kirby Puckett, Jack Morris and Kent Hrbek. The Twins have pristine defense and play a game plan suitable to winning those tight one-run playoff matchups.

But Oakland has more than the Twins can handle. The Athletics are going to trot out their big three of Tim Hudson, Barry Zito and Mark Mulder and mow through Minnesota in three games. The Twinsí troubles with left-handed pitching are well documented, as they are batting .252 vs. southpaws as opposed to .282 against righties.

Zito and Mulder are among the five best left-handers in the game and will prolong (or rather end) Minnesotaís struggles against lefties. Although Minnesota is 27 games above .500 overall, the Twins have slumped to a 22-29 mark vs. left-handers.

Only a game separated St. Louis and Arizona in the regular season, but the differences between the two teams should be much more evident in a five-game set. The 1-2 punch of Randy Johnson and Curt Schilling will devastate the Cardinals in the first two games, and St. Louis will recover to force a fifth game, but the Diamondbacks will be too strong.

Arizonaís offense is shaky at the moment, especially with Luis Gonzalez sidelined, but pitching rules in the postseason, and Arizona has more than enough to advance.

Atlanta still has the pitching, and that will be enough to neutralize Barry Bonds and send the Braves into the League Championship Series in four. A stingy bullpen supported by John Smoltz and an experienced starting staff will find a way around Bonds.

In the NLCS, it will be Atlanta dethroning Arizona and advancing to the World Series. The Bravesí Gary Sheffield will provide the offense that the Diamondbacks will be lacking in Gonzalezís absence and send the Braves to the Series in six. Smoltz has been suffocating at the end of games, and his setup crew of Chris Hammond and Mike Remlinger, among others, has done a flawless job.

Arizonaís inability to supply a quality third starter, and the erratic pitching of closer Byung-Hyun Kim will doom the Diamondbacksí repeat bid.

As for New York and Oakland, the black shadow of the Yankees will continue to haunt the Aís. The duo of Miguel Tejada and Eric Chavez will continue to push the Yankees, but like the last two series between these squads, New York will find a way to win. The specter of Giambi looming in the opposing dugout will provide the Yankees the mental edge, and New Yorkís championship experience will do the rest.

As for the World Series, New York will regain its crown (NYís fifth in eight years) by toppling the Braves in six games. But for all the Yankees-haters out there, take a bit of advice from Cubs and Red Sox fans: Thereís always next year.

Contact Anthony Gagliano at