There is a small part of me…OK, a BIG part of me…that feels a sense of smug pride because the World Series match-up we have before us was almost certainly at the bottom of the Fox executive’s wish lists. Now, I must admit that this series will probably not break any ratings records, but I would argue that anyone who doesn’t watch will miss a lot of great baseball.
The Rays, clearly, are an amazing story; Going worst to first while seeing their record do slightly more than a 180 (66-96 in 2007, 97-65 in 2008) with a starting lineup whose average age is just over 27. The starting pitchers are even younger, with ALCS Game 7 stud Matt Garza coming in at a youthful 24. Manager Joe Maddon looks like he should be at the front of a lecture hall, giving inspiring lectures on the origins of the universe, or the poetical works of Keats, or any number of scholarly topics. Instead, he is managing this team of energetic upstarts in the first World Series in franchise history.
The Phillies have their share of youth as well, led by star pitcher Cole Hamels, sluggers Ryan Howard and Chase Utley, and spark plug shortstop Jimmy Rollins. Phillies manager Charlie Manuel has garnered compassion and respect as he copes with the passing of his mother prior to game 2 of the NLCS. And after last year becoming the first professional team to lose 10,000 games, Philadelphia won its first pennant since 1993. One of my very first baseball memories came in that World Series, when Joe Carter won it for the Blue Jays with a walk-run home run in Game 6. Now, after more than a decade that saw them range from terrible, to thiiiiiiis close, the Phillies are back on the biggest stage in the game.
Catcher: Dioneer Navaro (TB) and Carlos Ruiz (PH) serve similar roles for their respective teams. They each fit the traditional catcher mold: Call a smart game, manage the pitchers, throw runners out, play sound defense, and get an occasional base hit. Both has done a great job all season, and especially in the postseason, handling their young pitchers.
1st Base: Ryan Howard and Carlos Pena each led their teams in HRs and RBIs during the regular season. Pena has been much more effective in the playoffs, however, with 3 HR while batting .333 as Howard is yet to go deep while batting .258. Although Howard seems due to heat up, it remains to be seen how often Tampa Bay will give him anything to hit. Pena also is better defensively, and has better range.
Advantage: Slightly Tampa Bay
2nd Base: Chase Utley had a sensational season for Philly, while Akinori Iwamura was your old-school defensive, slap-hitting second basemen. While their playoff performance lines are similar, Utley has much greater big-play potential. Each is strong defensively.
Shortstop: Jimmy Rollins is the heart of the Phillies, despite a down-year. He is the emotional and clubhouse leader. Jason Bartlett, like double-play partner Iwamura, is a traditional shortstop. He is a very light hitter, although he did have a big HR in game 5 against Boston. To add to the matter, Rollins may actually be better defensively than Bartlett as well.
3rd Base: Phenom Evan Longoria officially arrived on the baseball scene this year, and has been even better in the postseason, bashing 6 HRs, and hitting a crucial RBI double in the 4th inning of game 7 Sunday night. Pedro Feliz is a very average third basemen, and has struggled thus far in the post season.
Advantage: Tampa Bay
Right Field: The Rays mostly use either Rocco Baldelli, or Gabe Gross. Baldelli is another nice story, having not played until August due to a mitochondrial abnormality that left him excessively fatigued in spring training. Jayson Werth has been steady for the Phillies in the postseason and may offer slight upside defensively.
Advantage: Slightly Philadelphia
Center Field: B.J. Upton has been an absolute monster in the postseason, going deep 7 times and compiling 15 RBI and even stealing a pair of bases. He can cover practically the entire outfield by himself. Shane Victorino has been very steady for Philadelphia all season, and has stepped it up a bit in the playoffs. But Upton seems to be in a different world right now. It will be interesting to see if the youngster can keep it up.
Advantage: Tampa Bay
Left Field: Pat Burrell has been the Phillies’ best hitter in the postseason, and provides a veteran presence in the clubhouse. Carl Crawford is actually one of the longest-tenured Rays, despite being only 27. He covers a lot of ground in left, and is a speed demon on the base paths. He was huge in game 4 against Boston, going 5 for 5 and scoring three runs. Burrell is riding a 6 game hitting streak.
DH: For the games in Tampa, Cliff Floyd or Willy Aybar will get the call as designated hitter. For Philly, Geoff Jenkins or Matt Stairs likely will fill the role. Aybar had the go-ahead home run in the decisive game 7 against Boston. He and Floyd each present better options that either of the Phillies’ choices, despite Stair’s own game-winner in game 5 against LA. It will be interesting to see if perhaps Pat Burrell fills the DH slot some nights. But as long as he doesn’t, the Rays win this match-up.
Advantage: Tampa Bay
Bench: The Rays bench benefits from having the DH, as their bench often consists of either Cliff Floyd or Willy Aybar, along with outfielder Gabe Gross, Fernando Perez, and Be Zobrist. The Phillies bench consists of Matt Stairs (although he will likely DH in games played in Tampa), Greg Dobbs (who is hitting over .500 in the postseason), So Taguchi, and Geoff Jenkins. Both benches have the potential to go deep late in games, but neither features the type of pinch-hit threat that great teams often possess.
Starting Pitchers: The Rays will go with a rotation of Scott Kazmir, James Shields, Matt Garza, and Andy Sonnanstine, matched respectively against Cole Hamels, Brett Meyers, Jamie Moyer, and Joe Blanton. Hamels has given up just 3 runs in 22 postseason innings and has 3 wins, including clinching the NLCS against the Dodgers. Shields pitched well in two losses against Boston, while Meyers has one strong outing, and one outing in which he benefited from the Phillies offense. Matt Garza was brilliant in game 7 against the Red Sox, and has been the Rays best pitcher in the playoff. Jamie Moyer has struggled in the postseason, and many in Philadelphia wish Charlie Manuel would swap Moyer and Joe Blanton, who has won each of his playoff outings. Andy Sonnanstine pitched well in both his starts. Overall, the Phillies may have the better staff, but in the playoffs, it’s all about the match-ups.
Advantage: Tampa Bay
Bullpen: The Rays have some very strong arms in the bullpen. Newly anointed star David Price, Trevor Miller, Chad Bradford, and J.P. Howell all have sub-2.00 ERAs in the playoffs. Dan Wheeler and Grant Balfour have struggled, however. Philadelphia’s bullpen has been money, led by closer Brad Lidge, who has been perfect in 5 save opportunities. J.C. Romero, Ryan Madson, Chad Durbin, and Scott Eyre have been very reliable in getting the ball to Lidge.
Don’t let anyone tell you that this World Series won’t be worth watching. The Rays are an incredible story, and play a very exciting style of baseball, using a lot of small ball, while the Phillies’ sluggers ensure the team is always in the game. The rotations promise some exciting match-ups between up-and-coming young stars. And for the traditionalists and thrifty among us, we can take solace knowing that the Rays paid their entire roster $43 million; or in other words, approximately the same amount the Yankee’s paid the left side of their infield. While not quite as thrifty, the Phillies’ payroll is just the 13th highest in the league, at over $95 million. These two teams are quite evenly matched, and the series should go at least 6 games.
My prediction: Rays in 6. Go Tampa!
Dan Mason is an accountant who day-dreams about being in the wilderness, and has a perfectly healthy male-affection for Aaron Rodgers. He was just married in August to his girlfriend of 3 1/2 years. Visit his blog for more of his writing.
Dan Mason is an accountant by trade only – he would much rather write. He constantly daydreams about being in the woods or on the water, in the middle of nowhere. He resides in the Rochester, NY, area and is thankful the Adirondacks are only a few hours’ drive away. He is happiest when there is a pen (read: keyboard) or a canoe paddle in his hand.