Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Yankees vs. Phillies

As previously stated, my #1 prediction for the 2009 World Series is that it should be a great one. After pretty much not a single good series in the entire 2009 playoffs so far on either side -- I know the Angels made it to six games with the Yanks, but in truth that series was never in doubt -- this World Series more than anything else will hopefully deliver. It doesn't have to be extra-innings-in-Game-7 amazing, but damn doesn't a 7-game World Series sound great right now? And despite some really intriguing pitching matchups, we are likely to see some serious power on display over the next week on both sides of this matchup, as this is the first time in World Series history that the #1 teams in home runs and runs scored from each league are meeting in the Fall Classic. I do believe both teams have the talent, the depth and the heart to extend this series to at least six games. Here's how I get to that point:

Game 1 pits CC Sabathia against Cliff Lee in what is probably the only matchup of starters in this series with the potential to create some pitcher's duels. Both pitchers have been absolutely brilliant in the postseason, and they will probably pitch fairly well against these respective lineups although I expect more runs than the roughly 1 per 9 innings each pitcher has ceded so far in the postseason. Looking at the intangibles, I am definitely convinced that Sabathia will come to play, but the Phils have roughed his ass up good in recent years, in particular last year in the NLDS against the Brewers when the Phillies beat Sabathia with the longball to advance to the NLCS against the Dodgers, so that will work to neutralize Sabathia's greatness to some extent. The Yankees went a league-best 57-24 at home in 2009, although the Phillies were a league-best 48-33 on the road, so those two also kind of balance each other out. Game 1 seems to hard to pick in my mind that I find myself thinking how this game is the first World Series game in New York in what feels like a long time, the Yankees and their fans are gonna be hungry as hell. Now I know that over recent history, home field advantage has meant very little in the World Series (see the Phils' championship win last year in five game against the homefielded Tampa Bay Rays), but it's really more the "last licks" thing that matters most about having home field advantage IMO. This is made all the more valuable when the Yankees are at home and playing a team with a shaky closer situation like the Phillies certainly have. In what is really otherwise a complete tossup for me, I'm picking the home team to find a way to eke out a win in the bottom of an inning in Game 1.

Game 2, however, is a different story, as we now know that Phillies coach Charlie Manuel has decided to pitch old man Pedro Martinez in Game 2 against the Yankees' AJ Burnett. And this matchup I think definitely favors the Phillies, for two key reasons. First, P-Mart has simply been awesome since his return to baseball in the middle of the summer, something which I find funny that even most of the big-name commentators in the media, as well as the Yankees fans out there, do not seem to have picked up on yet. There's just no other way to describe how great and gutty Pedro has been this season. His fastball has consistently been over 90 mph and he's been very effective in placing his pitches and mixing up speeds. Pedro has also shown some depth, even throwing 130 pitches a couple of months back in his first complete game in years, and going 7 strong in a 2-hit shutout against the Dodgers last week in the NLCS. Pedro has been really rested over the past 6 weeks or so, and he has had a knack with Philly for showing up for all of his big games. Getting to appear and start in the World Series should really get Pedro's juices flowing, and I expect him to pitch fairly well against the Yankees in Game 2 -- let's say 3 runs or less in 6 innings. And on the other side of the coin, I've watched AJ Burnett pitch a couple of times so far this postseason, and he is just exactly the kind of inconsistent, mentally suspect guy that this Phillies lineup feasts on. I feel confident that the Phils can get to Burnett early, as we saw in the ALCS, and Philadelphia can wear him down in the middle innings as well like they did throughout the Colorado and LA series this postseason. With the heart that this Phillies team has, going down 1-0 in the World Series will mean bupkis to them, and I expect the team to ride on Pedro's back to a Game 2 victory and even up this series heading back to Philadelphia for three key games. And I know this team can get to Burnett even here in the new Yankee Stadium -- let's not forget that these two teams played a 3-game series in NY earlier this season, and the Phils crushed Burnett in Game 1, including Jimmy Rollins hitting Burnett's first pitch out of the park and Jayson Werth becoming the first player to reach the second deck in left field on their way to smashing four homers and easily taking the series opener.

Game 3 will feature Cole Hamels against Andy Pettite. To be honest, I have absolutely no faith in Cole Hamels, which is why I believe Charlie is making the right decision in starting Pedro in Game 2, in front of a hostile New York crowd that Pedro will eat up. Giving Cole his start in Game 3 in front of the home town fans is the best chance the Phillies have of getting a productive performance out of him. Unfortunately, I don't see how anyone can expect Hamels to bounce back here, and he'll probably put up the 4- or 5-run, 4- or 5-inning performance that has become his usual this postseason. The question will be, can the Phillies get 5 or more runs off of Andy Pettite? The Phils did score 4 runs in 7 innings off of Pettite on May 23 in the Bronx, so there is some recent history on this to work from, and we know the possibility is there. I think this will be a very close one, as Pettite is a great steroid userpitcher and an incredible stopper for the Yankees over the years, but it's not like the Phillies won't be able to hit him. In the end this has a chance of coming down to the teams' bullpens, and once again I will have to go with the Yankees to win a close one based on favorable pitching matchups.

Game 4 looks like it is shaping up to be a probable matchup of Chad Gaudin against J. Happ Joe Blanton. Down 2 games to 1 in the series, at the Bank, Blanton should be tough and keep the Yankees at bay enough for the Phillies' bats to do the job against Gaudin. I think if the Yanks are not up 2-1 at that point, Girardi may opt to push it and go with Sabathia again on three days rest, but if they are up 2-1 in the series like I am expecting, I think it's going to be a good day for the Phillies against Gaudin to even up the series at two games apiece.

Game 5 then should feature Lee vs. Sabathia once again. And this time, I'm going to go with the last licks thing again, but that means this time the Phillies get the win and take a 3-2 series lead heading back to the Bronx in what should be another very intriguing matchup between baseball's two best teams.

This all is why I find it very hard to believe that this series does not end up for at least a Game 6 back in New York. I do not see the Phillies winning more than one of the first two games in New York, nor do I see them losing more than one of the three games in Philadelphia, and as long as both of those statements are true then this series has to last at least 6 games. The big question I think is whether the series score is 3-2 Phillies or 3-2 Yankees going into that Game 6. What the Phillies can do in one or two must-win games at Yankee Stadium at the end of this series is going to determine the 2009 World Championship. And with the way this Phillies team has played on the road, and especially with Burnett up again in Game 6, the Phillies will know that one is very winnable for the visitors, which could hopefully set the stage for a rockin' Game 7 for all the marbles in the Bronx. And even though Cliff Lee won't be available to start, the Phils could go with any combination of Hamels or soon-to-be rookie of the year winner J. Happ on full rest, Joe Blanton on 3 days rest, and Cliff Lee could always be available for a crucial inning or two late in a World Series Game 7 even on two days rest if it looks like the difference between winning and losing the championship. So Game 7 in New York could go any which way, although to be honest I don't know how you end up picking anyone but the home team Yankees, who once again will get to bat that incredible all-star lineup in the bottom half of the innings against the Phillies' totally untrustable bullpen. But we can cross that bridge of Game 7 when we come to it.

One thing I've seen a lot of analysts doing is comparing these two teams position by position. So, for example, at catcher the Yankees get the nod, as Jorge Posada is better than Carlos Ruiz overall, even though Ruiz is better at playing the position than his Yankee opponent. At first base, it's a clash of the titans in Ryan Howard vs. Mark Teixeira, which is senseless in a way to even have to pick one over the other. Teixeira is really good in the field in a way that even Howard is not, but when I look at Howard's body of work this season and the performance of the two players so far in the postseason, Ryan Howard gets the slight nod on that one. At 2nd base, Chase Utley is a better baseball player than Robinson Cano. Period. At short, you've got Jimmy Rollins and Derek Jeter in a battle of leadoff men who many would argue have been the heart and soul of their teams over the years. This is another one that really feels too close to call, but if pushed I would give the slight nod to Jeter given his career and the better regular season he had than J-Roll in 2009. At third base it's not even close of course, A-Rod takes it down over Pedro Feliz. And then there's the outfield, where I contend that the Phillies win in every single position. In left field, it's Johnny Damon vs. Jayson Werth. Who would you rather have on your team? Exactly. In center it's Melky Cabrera vs. gold-glover Shane Victorino. Exactly. And in right it's Nick Swisher vs. Raul Ibanez. Again, exactly. So, looking at the series this way, the Phils are better in three outfield positions, at first base and at second base for 5 of the 8 total fielding positions, while the Yankees have the big advantage at 3rd base as well as superiority at catcher and shortstop. So does this mean the Phillies will win this series?

Looking at the upcoming 2009 World Series in still a different way, I think there are a couple of distinct advantages for each team over the other. For the Yankees, the biggest and most dramatic advantage over the Phillies as a team has got to be the bullpen. This statement has to be tempered somewhat after the Angels series which saw both Phil Hughes and Joba Chamberlain look pretty much worthless and scared in that late-relief slot the Yanks have relied so heavily on to bridge them to Mariano Rivera in the 9th, but the presence of Rivera there means the Yankees usually only have to go 8 innings with the lead, and sometimes less as Mariano has been known to put in the 4- or 5-out save as needed as well. Not only do the Phillies not have any go-to guy for that spot, but they seem to think that 162 games worth of suckjobiness out of Brad Lidge has now all been erased in the postseason, which seems absurd to me. So the bullpen is a huge advantage for the Yankees over the Phillies, one which take it from me every single Phillies fan fears down to his or her soul for this World Series. I've said this before and I'll say it again now: the thought of Brad Lidge facing this Yankees lineup, in either stadium in this matchup, is enough to keep me up at night. I just don't see that matchup ending up in Philadelphia's favor in this series. The Phils will need to hope they don't need to use Lidge much, as happened in the Dodgers series, if they really want a chance to win the way I see it. Brad Lidge = Big Losses for the Phightins.

It should be mentioned that the existence of a designated hitter in potentially four of the games in this series is also an advantage for the Yankees in my view. They can play a great hitter like Hideki Matsui in that spot, whereas for the Phillies, who obviously do not make any effort to spend money to get a big stick like that who can't play baseball the field, they are likely to be left with a Matt Stairs or Greg Dobbs type to hit in the DH spot in the games in the Bronx. And the Yankees' pitchers include guys like Sabathia and Burnett who have played some part of their careers in the NL, and a guy like Pettite who has appeared in 58 world series, and have thus spent time batting in NL parks as opposed to being those AL pitchers who make themselves look like clowns every October because it's the first time they've picked up a bat in the past ten years.

Another slight advantage I believe the Yankees have going in to the 2009 World Series is in the overall strength of the lineup. This is the first time I've said that about the Phillies in this postseason, and frankly the Yankees are the only team in baseball I would ever say that about, but the Yankees have so many high-priced all-stars on their roster that it's hard to argue they aren't better than what any other team can throw out there, even the Phillies. In Philly, it's Jimmy Rollins (.250, 21 homers, 77 RBIs), Shane Victorino (.292, 10, 62), Chase Utley (.282, 31, 93), Ryan Howard (.279, 45, 141), Jayson Werth (.268, 36, 99), Raul Ibanez (.272, 34, 93), Carlos Ruiz (.255, 9, 43) and Pedro Feliz (.266, 12, 82). For the Yankees it's some combination of Derek Jeter (.334, 18 homers, 66 RBIs), Johnny Damon (.282, 24, 82), Mark Teixeira (.292, 39, 122), A-Rod (.286, 30, 100), Jorge Posada (.285, 22, 81), Hideki Matsui (.274, 28, 90), Robinson Cano (.320, 25, 85), Nick Swisher (.249, 29, 82) and Melky Cabrera (.274, 13, 68). When I look at those numbers, as much as the Phillies' lineup was superior to everyone else it faced in the National League, that Yankees lineup is simply even better.

The last thing I would mention is something that many people -- especially in the Philadelphia area -- would disagree with me on, but I think Joe Girardi is a slightly better manager than the Phillies' Charlie Manuel, and I trust Girardi more not to make key mistakes based on what I've seen out of Manuel in 2009. And don't get me wrong -- with the heart that this Phillies team plays with, their incredible focus on fundamentals, all the wins, Manuel has obviously proven himself to be a far better major league manager than he may come off as. He deserves a ton of credit for what this team has done over the past two seasons, and I won't take anything away from him on that. But unfortunately, that doesn't change the fact that Manuel has made a very annoying and costly habit of sticking with "his guys" for too long. He leaves his starting pitchers in the games for an inning or two longer than he should, pretty much every single game when things aren't going great, like clockwork. Hamels comes out and goes down 2-0 against the first four batters he faces in the Dodgers series, and Manuel doesn't even get anyone up in the bullpen until the 5th inning when Hamels has already given up four or five runs. All this while J. Happ -- one of the best starting pitchers in the NL this season -- just sits on the Phils' bench and rots away his arm that could easily come into any game in the 3rd inning and pitch all the way through the 9th, not even needing to give that shitbag Lidge a chance to ruin another one for the team. But Manuel has demonstrated to me a significant lack of understanding about how to use his pitching staff in this season, from about the middle of the year on in fact when it started to become obvious that Lidge was worthless, and this trend has disturbingly continued all the way through the postseason so far. Despite some idiot Yankee fans questioning his every move of course, Girardi really has done a very good job through this whole season and right into the postseason, and I definitely see another advantage there for the Yankees in terms of the decisions being made by the guys at the helm of the respective teams.

On the Phillies side of the ledger, they also have a few key advantages IMO, the biggest one of which is something that I'm not hearing anyone else talking about: pressure. Or more specifically, in the Phillies case, the total lack thereof. Now I know this team wants to defend its title and win the World Series again this year, of that I think there is absolutely no doubt. But the Phillies don't have to win it. They are already the current World Champions, and unlike the Yankees they don't play in a city that demands at least one sports title every single year. The city of Philadelphia and the Phillies franchise and fans will be just fine if they lose to the Yankees this week. Especially after plowing their way back to a consecutive World Series appearance here, this Phillies team has already proven everything it could possibly have to prove, almost regardless of what happens over the next week along Route 95 in the northeast.

The Yankees, on the other hand, have an immense amount of pressure to win this series. The team spent more than $400 million in the offseason to acquire talent that put it leaps and bounds above any other team in the sport, both in terms of payroll and in terms of raw talent, and their opponent in the 2009 World Series is not even in the top 5 payrolls in the major leagues as far spending money on their players. With all the money spent by this team over the past few years, and with how great that talent has performed here in 2009, for the Yankees not to win this series would be a big blow to the organization and to the fans. They expect to win, they know they have the best talent money can buy on both sides of the ball, and they have home field advantage to boot. Especially given my prediction that this series has to go at least 6 games, those last couple of games in the Bronx are going to be absolute pressure cookers for the Yankees, while the Phils will still kinda be playing with the house's money. This can only bode well for the Phillies, especially given the choke history of some of the Yankees' players like A-Rod, and even Sabathia last year against the Phillies in the playoffs.

One other advantage the Phillies should definitely have in this series is on the basepaths. Yankees catcher Jorge Posada -- who we should see more of this series than in the ALDS or ALCS due to the DH being available on only half the games -- has a great bat but behind the plate has only thrown out 28% of the runners who have attempted to steal a base off of him in 2009. He can definitely be run on. And the Phils have those spark-plug type of players -- the Rollins, Victorino, Utley and Werth types -- who will grind out at bats, get on base, and will definitely run. And the Phils have the big bats behind those players to drive them in once they run themselves into scoring position. Carlos Ruiz is a much better fielding catcher than Jorge and can throw the ball better as well so should have better luck keeping the Yankees runners from wheeling around the bases at will, but this is one area I expect the Phillies to have to take advantage of if they are to have any chance of winning this series.

The last advantage I would mention is the Phillies' incredible road performance this year. Yes the Yankees won 57 games at home in 2009, which is truly sick no matter how you slice it, but my point here is that the Phillies are simply going to feel more comfortable and more confident going into Yankee Stadium -- where they already won 2.9 out of 3 games in May this spring -- than the Yankees are coming into the Bank in Philly. While the Yankees lost two of three games at Anaheim in the ALCS, for example, the Phillies split two games in LA and went 2-0 in two games in Colorado in the NLDS. It's just another game to this Phillies team regardless of the location of the stadium, the unfamiliarity of the surroundings, or the noise of the fans. Just another game.

In all, I keep coming back to the fact that the 2009 World Series is going to end up back in New York for Game 6 (sorry Jimmy Rollins, I don't buy your prediction of Phillies in 5 -- that worked for the Dodgers, but they sucked balls compared to the Yankees and you should know that), and I think the Phillies will have a decent shot of getting to Burnett in Game 6 and turning that game into a Phillies W. If the Phils can get back to New York up 3-2 in the series, then Game 6 is probably the team's best chance to capture back-to-back World Series for only the fourth time in National League history. If the Series extends to Game 7, however, I think the Yankees' chances of being victorious increase dramatically as the starting pitching matchups tend to even out and the bullpen is likely to take more focus as the game wears on, a position where the Yankees have their biggest advantage in the entire matchip between baseball's two greatest teams.

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Blogger Riggstad said...

I didn't predict it on the blog, but I have had more than several conversations with friends that the Phils would take game 1.

We just own sabathia and Lee is unstoppable.

Game 2 is still a huge game. If Pedro can perform like he did against the Dodgers, and the pen isn't given the opportunity to screw it up, the Yanks will be in trouble.

Coming back to Philly down 2 will be one monster hurdle.

That being said, The yanks will open up their bats against this philly bull pen at some point and their wins will come.

I'll write up my thoughts on game one tonight or tomorrow on game one and pre game two.

I also have no faith in Cole, but hold out hope that he'll bring some magic back from last years post season.

11:01 AM  

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