After the Angels were ingloriously eliminated from the playoffs by the Red Sox (again!) I thought I wouldn’t do a World Series preview this year. Besides being just too painful, my previews always end up being only slightly shorter than the United Nations Charter and only slightly less boring for the reader. If it had turned out to be a Dodgers vs. Red Sox series, the Manny Returns To Boston hype would have caused me to clean out my ears with an ice pick and I would’ve been unable to write because I would’ve be dead, and happily so. But fortunately for my wife and child and unfortunately for you, I am alive and well thanks to a Tampa Bay Rays vs. Philadelphia Phillies World Series match up.
There’s no doubt this is not the pairing the TV execs were hoping for, rating only slightly above a Milwaukee/Tampa series in cash reaping potential, or lack there of, but I for one am glad to see some new faces. It may not be the sexy matchup that will draw in the casual fan, but for us hardcore seamheads it should be a fun series. The out-of-nowhere Rays, who had never had a winning season in their eleven year history and feature some of the best young, up and coming talent in the league, against a Phillies team who have, frankly, underachieved in recent years, but have finally gotten over the hump. They’ll trot out a lineup that features probably the games best slugging infield. Let’s break it down, yo!
The Phillies’ backstop is Carlos Ruiz and while he didn’t hit at all in the regular season (.219 BA, 4 homers) he is at least consistent, continuing his batting futility in the postseason (.200 BA, 1 RBI). He must be good defensively. Right? Where’s Mike Lieberthal!
Meanwhile, the Rays will counter with 2008 All-Star Dioner Navarro, who is a better hitter than Ruiz by a fair margin and, having actually seen him play a little, is a solid receiver. Look no further than the success of the Rays’ very young pitching staff this year for evidence of that.
Edge – Rays
The first sackers for both teams are all-or-nothing type lefty sluggers. This year the Rays’ Carlos Pena and the Phils’ Ryan Howard combined for 79 home runs and 265 strike outs andboth sported a batting average around .250. Both are dangerous to the oppositions pitchers, particularly Howard who was one of only two major leaguers to top 40 bombs this year and led the Bigs in RBI. But his greatest strength has to be his sweet half-beard. Crocket would be proud. Oh, whoops, that’s the wrong Ryan Howard. Pena is better with the glove, but people don’t care so much about your defense if you can smack a baseball a country mile like Howard can.
Edge – Phillies
Japanese import Akinori Iwamuraplays a pretty good second base, but for a guy who only hit six home runs all season he strikes out waaaaaaaay too much. One hundred and thirty one times in 2008. Yikes. On the plus side, I’m sure he loves his mother.
On the other hand, the Phillies’ Chase Utleyis probably the best second basemen in the majors. He hits for power and average andplays solid D. He had a pretty rough second half of the season and hasn’t done much in the postseason yet, but that just means he’s due, right? Isn’t that how its supposed to go?
Edge – Phils
At the hot corner the Rays sans Devil will run out one of the next generations best players. Rookie wunderkind Evan Longoria (that’s Evan with an N, not Tony Parker’s wife) is already becoming one of the best players in the league. He hit 27 home runs and drove in 85 despite having fewer than 500 at-bats and, oh by the way, he already has six home runs this postseason. On top of all that he’s also extremely good looking. Yeah, I said it.
From the City of Brotherly love will be Peter July Happy, or as his name translates in Spanish, Pedro Julio Feliz. A former Giant and constant frustration to Bay Area fans, Senor Happy is slick with the glove and sloppy with the bat. He’s got a little pop, but is a sucker for a breaking ball low and away and has killed more rallies than tear gas with his flailing. Look for Gregg Dobbs, the Bizzaro Feliz, to get some AB’s. He’s lousy with the glove, but has been on fire at the plate this offseason, batting a scorching .545.
Edge – Rays
Jimmy Rollins didn’t have near the season in 2008 that he did in 2007, but is still a very good player who can cause havoc on the basepaths. An Oakland native and former wearer of dreadlocks, he, like most of the other big guns in Philladelphia’s lineup, hasn’t really gotten hot yet which does not bode well for the Rays. If Rollins, Utley, and Howard all hit their stride at once, this will be a very tough go for even the Rays’ talented pitching staff.
Speaking of the Ray’s talented pitching staff, they’ve been helped out all season by the shortstop play of Jason Bartlett, so much so that manager Joe Maddon calls Bartlett his most important player. Now, we all know that Bartlett must have been in the room when Maddon said that and he was just trying to boost his confidence because how can a guy who bats .286 with one home run all season really be your most important player when you’ve got guys like Longoria and B.J. Upton on the team? But good for Maddon, looking out of the little guys on his team. That’s managing. Seriously though, Bartlett is a pretty solid glove, though he made a couple errors in the Red Sox series.
Edge – Phils
The left field pairing is a study in contrasts: one is fast, one is slow, one hits bombs, one hits singles, one bats left, one bats right, one is black, one it white. I could go on, but I won’t. While the Rays’ Carl Crawford–the longest tenured Ray–does his damage on the basepaths, Philadelphia’s Pat Burrelldoes his best work trotting around them. They’ve both been hitting well in the postseason so far…so…there you go.
Edge – Push
First things first, how do you end up with B.J. as a nickname when your given name is Melvin Emmanuel? Answer: your name is Melvin Emmanuel. Anyway, after Longoria, maybe even before, Upton has the brightest future of all the Rays. He only hit nine homers in 2008, but has almost equalled that total in the postseason already with seven, just one shy of the single postseason record. And unlike a certain Bay Area left fielder and holder of said record, Upton is doing it clean. At least presumably so, thanks to the crusading Bud Selig, dogged pursuer of truth and justice and noble custodian of our sacred national game and instituter of an infallible drug testing program. Upton hit 24 homers in 2007, so the power surge shouldn’t come as a complete surprise, but it is impressive. Plus he’s really fast.
Upton’s counter-part is speedster Shane Victorino, whose last name sounds like a WWII-era patriotic Chef Boyardee product. “Show Hitler he can’t keep America down by eating your Victorino, now with more MSG!” Victorino is playing well right now, and will be a key ingredient to the Phillies’ success. A delicious, pasta-inspired ingredient.
Edge – Rays
Jayson Werth, whose parents apparently couldn’t spell either his first or their last name correctly, patrols right field for the Phils and has been a nice surprise for them and my fantasy team. He started the season in a platoon with Geoff Jenkins, but tension soon developed between the two and Werthshot Jenkins in the jungle when no one was around. Wait, I’m sorry that was Platoonnot platoon. What actually happened is that Geoff Jenkins sucks so Werth got most of the starts and performed very well. In fact, I think its safe to say he’s werth his weight in gold. You all have permission to email me crippling computer viruses.
The Rays will counter with a platoon of their own “featuring” a combination of Rocco Baldelli, Gabe Gross, and Fernando Perez. So far in the postseason that trio is batting a combined .103. They are worth their weight in poop. Maybe.
Edge – Phils
I’ve already mentioned the Rays’ young and talented pitching staff several times, but I have to do it again. Because this is the pitching section of the preview. All season these guys pitched very well and have carried that over to the playoffs for the most part. Maddon has gone with Scott Kazmir, James, Shields, Andy Sonnanstine and Matt Garza–who was brilliant in Game 7 of the ALCS–as his four playoff horses and they’ve all performed well. With a young staff you always worry that they might implode if they get into trouble, but so far so good for the Rays.
The Phillies have a legit ace in Cole Hammels, whose change up is among the best in the league. He’s been as advertised in the postseason, posting a 1.23 ERA and 0.86 WHIP thus far. Unfortunately he can’t pitch every game and after him things get a little dicey. Everyone loves Jamie Moyer and the fact that he’s been able to pitch so well this far into his 70’s, but the fact is he’s the softest of all soft-tossers and in the playoffs you want guys that can miss bats. The only way Moyer is going to miss anyones bat is if he throws the ball into centerfield instead of to the plate. He’s been beat up all ready this postseaon with a 13.50(!) ERA in two starts which he only went 5.1 innings combined. Not so good. The other starters, Joe Blanton and Brett Myers, have fared better, but in Myers’ case not by much. One of these guys has to step up behind Hamels or things could get ugly real quick. The one other plus is that Moyer and Hamels are lefties and the Rays have struggled against lefties all season (though they did do a number on Jon Lester at least once).
Edge – Rays
And speaking of lefties, that’s a strength for the Phillies. They have three lefties that can come out of the pen, though only one is really reliable. But in the right situations those other guys will come in handy, like some No-Doz when trying to read this post. The other relievers leading up to the closer are all pretty decent with Ryan Madson being the best. Brad Lidge, the closer, was perfect in save opportunities in the regular season, 41 of 41, and strikes out roughly seven batters an inning. How is that possible? I don’t know, the guy just gets it done. He has five playoff saves already and as long as Albert Pujols doesn’t somehow end up on the Rays’ roster, he should continue to dominate.
The Rays’ pen was very good for most of the season, but broke down towards the end. Closer Troy Percival went down with old-itis late in the year and has not appeared in the postseason. He could end up on the World Series roster, but despite his championship pedigree (with the 2002 Angels, just in case you forgot) there’s no guarantee he’ll be effective. Two other top dogs in the pen, Grant Balfour and Dan Wheeler have struggled recently, but rookie David Price has emerged as a force and is looking for some rookie playoff magic a la Frankie Rodriguez (also in 2002). I expect to see him late in close games. They also have sidewinding Jackson, Mississippi native Chadwick Lee Bradford who came to the Rays just after fighting in the Battle of Vicksburg in the Civil War. During the fight he received a battlefield commission as a major in the Confederate army.
Edge – Philles, due to Lidge
The benches are pretty evenly matched, both having guys that can run and guys that can hit a ball out of the park when it counts (see Matt Stairs and Willy Aybar). Presumably Aybar will DH for the Rays at home and probably either Stairs or Dobbs for the Phillies. But these are bench players and thereby less interesting than starters. Lets not dwell on them anymore.
Edge – Push
I’ll admit that I’m partial to the Rays’ Joe Maddon because he was a coach for the Angels for years, has clearly changed the losing culture in the Tampa Bay clubhouse, wears uber-cool dark-rimmed glasses, and once used the word “amorphic” to describe an umpires strike zone. Plus he has this pollup on the left side of his neck which looks absolutely stunning in HD. But I won’t count out Charlie Manuel. The guys been aroundforever, had great success with Cleveland back in the day, and is doing all this with a heavy heart, his mom having died about a week ago. Don’t discount the “Let’s do it for Charlie” vibe the Phillies might be riding. That can be a powerful thing.
Edge – Rays, by a pollup
I’m throwing this one out there because the Rays just feel like That Team. They’re the underdogs, the worst-to-first crew. They’re young and exciting and appear to actually be having fun. Not that the Phillies aren’t, but they don’t have that same aura right now. But that could all change. Look at the Rockies last year. Red hot coming in and got absolutely spanked. Still, I like any team that can take a division from the Red Sox and Yankees, beat the Sox in the playoffs, fairly handily despite the seven games, and has every member, manager included, sporting a mohawk. Plus, don’t think its a coincidence that the year they drop “Devil” from their name is the year they just happen to get good. Hmmmmmm.
My Pick: Rays in 6