It all comes down to this, and it’s really no surprise. The Phillies, the defending World Series Champions, were favored to go back to the World Series all the way back in spring training. On the American League side, it was a tossup between the Yankees and the Boston Red Sox. Always nice when a plan comes together.
For the Yankees, it’s their first trip back since they beat the Red Sox in the now legendary 2003 ALCS. You know the one: That’s the game that Boston manager Grady Little left Pedro Martinez in just a little too long, and he gave up the tying run in the 9th. Then Aaron “F’n” Boone hit the walk-off homer off of Tim Wakefield in the bottom of the 11th inning.
Ah, but I digressed. This season, we will be treated to an offensive slugfest. We will have the number one offense in the American League against the number one offense in the National League. We will have the Philadelphia Phillies’ powerhouse Ryan Howard (45 HR, 3st in NL) against the New York Yankees powerhouse Mark Tiexiera (39 HR, 1st in AL). Those two should set all kinds of records in the next ten days. Howard, along with Yankees’ third baseman Alex Rodriguez, has already tied the record for consecutive post-season games with an RBI (8), with Lou Gehrig.
Both the NLCS between the Phillies and the Los Angeles Dodgers, and the ALCS between the Yankees and the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, were very exciting series that no baseball fan could have been disappointed with.
In the NLCS, the Phillies beat the Dodgers in 5 games. While their overall team batting average was nearly identical, (Phillies .231, Dodgers .232), the Dodgers starting lineup out hit the Phillies’ line up .243 – .235. But, the Phillies made their hits count. They outhomered the Dodgers 9-5, and hit more than twice as many runs in (30-14).
Right fielder Shane Victorino hit .368 in the series with 6 RBI, and constant superstar and NLCS MVP Ryan Howard hit .333 with 2 HR and 8 RBI in the 5 games, with a ridiculous OPS of 1.457. But the unlikely hero was catcher Carlos Ruiz, who hit .385 with 1 HR and 4 RBI, with an OPS of 1.287, much higher than his season average of .255 with a .680 OPS. And while Jason Werth only batted .222, three of his four hits were HRs.
Phillies’ pitcher Cliff Lee continued his mastery that he brought with him from the American League when the Phillies traded for him at the trading deadline in August. He faced the Dodgers once in this series, going 8 solid innings in the win and not allowing a run and lowering his post-season ERA to 0.74. Pedro Martinez also pitched 7.0 masterful innings in Game 2, giving up no runs on two hits, but the one run that Philly scored just wasn’t enough and LA scored 2 runs in the bottom of the 8th off of reliever Chan Ho Park for their only win of the series.
The Yankees had a tougher time than many expected with the Angels, but still out performed them at every offensive statistic from batting average (.279 – .236), to HR (8-3), to RBI (30-18), to walks (38-18), to OPS (.835-.651). Right fielder Nick Swisher, who hit 29 HR with 82 RBI during the season, provided almost no offensive support during the series. He hit a dismal .150 with no extra base hits and no RBI and 7 strikeouts. On the other hand, center fielder Johnny Damon hit .300 with 2 HR and 5 RBI, and shortstop Derek Jeter, while only batting .254, scored 5 runs while hitting 2 HR and driving in three more.
But, the real Yankees’ hero, and the guy who should have gotten the ALCS MVP in my opinion (sorry Dad), is Alex Rodriguez. While C.C. Sabathia pitched great, and won both games that he pitched, it was Rodriguez who really destroyed his post-season demons, maybe forever. In this series alone he batted .429 with 3 HR and 8 RBI, getting the walk-off HR off of closer Brain Fuentes in the bottom of the 11th in Game 2. Oh, he also had 8 walks and only 3 strikeouts with an OBP of .567.
While Sabathia may not have been deserving of the MVP which he won, it was not because he didn’t do everything asked of him and more. It was more that he just wasn’t as deserving as Rodriguez was, in my opinion. I’m sure there are those of you who are reading this right now who think I’m crazy, and some of that may have nothing at all to do with the MVP award. In 2 games, he pitched 16.0 innings and gave up 2 runs on 9 hits with 12 strikeouts and only 3 walks for a 1.12 ERA. Considerably better than his previous four post-season games with Cleveland and Milwaukee in 2007 and 2008 where he went 1-3 with a 9.47 ERA over 19.0 innings pitched.
Sabathia gets the nod in Game 1 against former Cleveland Indians teammate and fellow Cy Young Award winner Cliff Lee (Sabathia won in ’07, Lee won in ’08). Sabathia did pitch one game against the Phillies earlier this season and went 8 innings on a no decision. He gave up 3 runs on 9 hits. Of all the current Philly batters combined, with nearly 100 at bats against him in his career, only Raul Ibanez has 2 HR against him. Both Ryan Howard and Shane Victorino have gone 3-for-7 (.429) against Sabathia.
Phillies’ new ace Cliff Lee has made the most of his first post-season appearance. In his game against the Dodgers, he only allowed 3 hits and no walks with 10 strikeouts. He went 1-1 against the Yankees this season giving up 4 runs on 16 hits over 12 innings. Being an AL pitcher for so long, he has faced the Yankees batters several times. Jeter has done very well against him, batting .407 with 5 RBI. Tiexiera has batted .391 against him with 1 HR and 6 RBI. Johnny Damon is about the only regular Yankee player who has done poorly against him batting a dismal 2-for-22 (.091). If you take him out of the mix, the rest of the regular lineup has hit well over .300 against him.
Game 2 features the Phillies Pedro Martinez against the Yankees A.J. Burnett. For Martinez, facing the Yankees is nothing new. Like Lee, he has faced them many, many times. In fact, he has faced them more than any other opponent, and he has done pretty well against them. While he only has an 11-11record over 32 games, his 3.20 ERA is pretty decent as is his 1.075 WHIP against them. If you look at the top 5 players with the most plate appearances against Martinez, three of them are Yankees: 1) Jeter – 99, 3) Posada – 69, 4) Rodriguez – 60. Overall, individually, he has done great against them, holding the current players to .230 average. Rodriguez has batted .291 against him with 1 HR, 4 RBI, and 19 strikeouts, but this is a different A-Rod. Jeter has a career .256 average against him with 3 HR, 6 RBI and 22 strikeouts. Everyone else in the current Yankees’ lineup has a career average of .200 or less, and many of them have very high strikeout totals. In other words, in the past, he has been their daddy.
The Yankees plan on countering with A.J. Burnett, who will participate in his first World Series. Burnett is an interesting case study. He can be completely unhittable, and he can be knocked all over the park. You never know which Burnett is coming to the mound. That’s what makes it so much fun. The last time he faced the Phillies, he got beat up pretty good. He gave up 5 runs on 8 hits (including 3 HR) over 6 innings pitched. The current Phillies’ lineup has a career batting average of .265 against him. He has faced Jimmy Rollins 50 times and Rollins has a .256 average with 1 HR and 4 RBI. Several of the regular lineup is sub-.200, with the exception of Raul Ibanez (.257) and Chase Utley (.286).
Slugger Tiexiera has a good track record against Phillies’ pitching. He has that career average of .391 against Lee, plus .667 against J.A. Happ. Overall, he’s hitting .315 against them with 6 HR and 19 RBI. Rodriguez is also doing pretty well batting .283 in his career, with 8 HR and 22 RBI. Johnny Damon is batting a pretty lame .194 against Philly pitching with 1 HR and 3 RBI.
On the other side of the diamond, Ryan Howard hasn’t faced many Yankees’ pitchers, but he has faced Burnett and he hasn’t done well against him, batting only .167 with 2 HR. Raul Ibanez, who played most of his career in the AL, has a .282 career average against the Yankees with 5 HR and 26 RBI. He’s batted .275 against Sabathia and .286 vs. Pettite.
The other major factor to consider is how the bullpens match up against each other.
I’m not talking about closers Brad Lidge vs. Mariano Rivera. That’s another discussion that we’ll get to in a moment. I’m talking about the setup guys. The Phillies have Ryan Madsen, J.A. Happ (Possible NL Rookie of the Year), Chad Durbin, Scott Eyre, and now Brett Myers. Sorry, I’m still not convinced that Chan Ho Park is legit. He’s too inconsistent. Always was. Always will be. The Yankees have Phil Coke, Philip Hughes, Joba Chamberlain, and Damaso Marte. Advantage – Philadelphia. Their pitchers are much stronger and much more consistent.
Now, let’s talk for just a moment about Rivera vs. Lidge. There is almost no discussion. OK, I’ll give you that Lidge has looked like the Lidge of 2008 this post-season. But he is not Mo Rivera. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, he is the greatest post-season pitcher of all time. Until someone can prove me different, he has my vote. Sorry Philly Rob, you couldn’t convince me. Advantage – New York
So, is this going to be a World Series dominated by great pitching? After all, there are some great pitching matchups. Or, is it going to be a World Series where we are going to see hitting clinics on display? Since, as previously mentioned, we have the best offense in the AL against the best offense in the NL. Either way, this has all the makings of being one of the most exciting Fall Classics in a very long time.
If Philly wins, they have the distinction of being the first NL team since the ’75-76 Reds to repeat, and only the 3rd NL team since 1900 to repeat. Even if they lose, they have nothing to be ashamed of, being the first NL team to even make a return trip since the ’96 Atlanta Braves. In fact, it is so difficult to repeat that if you remove the several times that the New York Yankees did it over the past 100 years, the only teams to repeat were:
Philadelphia Athletics (1910-11, 29-30), Boston Red Sox (1914-16), New York Giants (1921-22), Oakland A’s (1972-74), Cincinnati Reds (1975-76), and Toronto Blue Jays (1992-93). Pretty short list.
Game 1: Wed Oct 28, in New York
Game 2: Thu Oct 29, in New York
Game 3: Sat Oct 31, in Philadelphia
Game 4: Sun Nov 1, in Philadelphia
Game 5: Mon Nov 2, in Philadelphia if needed
Game 6: Wed Nov 4, in New York if needed
Game 7: Thu Nov 5, in New York if needed
PREDICTION: NEW YORK IN 7 GAMES (but I have to say, if Philly had home field advantage, I could be persuaded to pick Philly in 7)