At first glance it is easy to draw the parallel between the 2007 Yankees and the 2006 team. Once again the Yankees’ bats are the strength of their team and once again they are facing an underrated team from the AL Central with very good pitching. But, as much as the parallel works, there are three key differences with this Yankees team that makes a repeat of last year’s first round flameout unlikely.

First and foremost is the year that Alex Rodriguez had. We know that he won’t be hitting eighth in this series and after putting up the best season by a Yankee since Mantle, he has shown an ability to thrive in New York. Yes, the pressure is still on him to produce in October, but betting against him this time appears foolish.

He was the anchor of the great pitching staffs of the championship years and Andy Pettitte’s return to the Bronx has been a success. Pettitte will resume the role he held so many times in the past, Game Two starter. He is 14-9 for his career in the playoffs and has over 200 innings of postseason experience. If the Yankees lose the first game, Andy is a solid choice to get them back to even in the second.

He’s all of 22 and last year he was pitching for the University of Nebraska, but in just a year of professional baseball Joba Chamberlain has become an indispensable part of the Yankees. Groomed as a starter, Joba switched to the bullpen at the end of July and the results have been amazing. The “Joba Rules” are out the window and with Chamberlain and Rivera, the Yankees have a dominating combination to get the last nine outs in a ballgame.

C.C. Sabathia and Fausto Carmona will pitch well and the Yankees will be pressed, but in the end they should prevail. Gothamist thinks the pick is Yanks in five.

Photo of Yankees Game 1 starter Chien-Ming Wang practicing on Wednesday by AP/Mark Duncan