World Series preview: Phillies vs. Yankees

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Except for that provided by some brutal umpiring, it’s so far been a postseason without a whole lot of drama. We’ve yet to see a decisive game in any of the six series to date. In fact, those series have lasted a total of 24 games, just four more than the possible minimum.
So, it’s going to be up to the World Series to give us a nail-biter. If it happens, it’d be quite a change. Three of the last five World Series have been sweeps and the other two lasted just five games. There hasn’t been a seven-game series since 2002.
Fortunately, we’re getting what looks like the best possible matchup. FOX would have preferred Yankees-Dodgers, but they’ll be glad they got the Yankees and they certainly have plenty of storylines. It’s the defending champs versus the all-time champs. Former Indians starters CC Sabathia and Cliff Lee just might face off three times. Future Hall of Famer Pedro Martinez, out of the league for most of the year, is set to start Game 2 against his old nemesis. The much-maligned Alex Rodriguez could have a postseason for the ages. For that matter, Ryan Howard and Jayson Werth just might set some postseason records themselves.
Maybe it won’t be a classic, but it hardly looks like a potential sweep, either.
World Series Probables
Game 1: Cliff Lee vs. CC Sabathia
Game 2: Pedro Martinez vs. A.J. Burnett
Game 3: Andy Pettitte vs. Cole Hamels
Game 4: CC Sabathia vs. Cliff Lee
And that’s as far as we’ll try to go with those. There’s no extra day off in the World Series, so it’ll be very difficult for either team to go with a straight three-man rotation. Both the Phillies and Yankees, though, appear to be lining up their aces to start Games 1, 4 and 7. Once Game 5 comes around, we’ll probably see Joe Blanton or maybe J.A. Happ for the Phillies, as Martinez hardly seems like a strong candidate to start on short rest. The Yankees could go to Chad Gaudin, though that would seem to indicate that Pettitte would make just one start.
The battle of the aces is the one everyone will want to key in on. Sabathia, who has already pitched on short rest once, is 3-0 with a 1.19 ERA. Lee is 2-0 with a 0.74 ERA, having lost his chance at a third victory because of a Jimmy Rollins error.
This won’t be Sabathia’s first postseason start against the Phillies. While toiling for the Brewers, a fatigued CC gave up five runs in 3 2/3 innings to take a loss in the NLDS last year. Lee, of course, has plenty of history against the Yankees, having gone 4-4 with a 5.02 ERA against them while a member of the Indians. He was 1-1 with a 3.00 ERA in two starts this season.
Both are left-handed hitters going against lineups that rely on plenty of left-handed hitters. Maybe it will all go wrong, but the potential for a couple of outstanding pitcher’s duels seems high.
The other matchups aren’t all that much less interesting. Martinez appeared to be fifth in line for starts for the Phillies at the beginning of the postseason, but upon getting the call against the Dodgers, all he did was limit L.A. to two hits over seven scoreless innings. He’s also plenty rested, having pitched just once all month. And don’t underestimate the chip on his shoulder. Burnett was strong in his first two postseason starts before a dreadful first inning in Game 5 against the Angels. He rebounded well after that, but he hasn’t faced World Series pressure yet. In the stuff department, he has Martinez beat hands down. Whether it translates remains to be seen.
Pettitte vs. Hamels pits one of the game’s most successful October starters against the left-hander who put the Phillies on his shoulder and carried them to the title last year. In this case, though, it certainly seems to be advantage Pettitte. He’s 2-0 with a 2.37 ERA this month, while Hamels has managed to give up six homers and 11 runs in 14 2/3 innings. They’d never admit it, but the Phillies wouldn’t have bumped him behind Martinez in the rotation had they possessed a whole lot of confidence in him. With the way things are shaping up, Hamels will probably make just the one start.
If it is Gaudin vs. Blanton in Game 5, it’d seem to favor Philadelphia. Blanton, though, is 0-3 with an 8.18 ERA in four career starts versus the Bombers. The Phillies might prefer to go with the left-handed Happ, but it would depend how he’s used in relief. Both Blanton and Happ will be in the pen to start the series.
The offenses
The Yankees and Phillies finished first and second, respectively, in homers this season, and both led their leagues in runs scored. The Yankees have a clear edge, especially at the bottom of the lineup, but they will give that up on two occasions if Jose Molina continues to replace Jorge Posada in Burnett’s starts. Also, they’ll lose a lot when Hideki Matsui takes a seat in Philadelphia.
Both teams figure to go with pretty set lineups. It’d take a couple of more bad games from Nick Swisher before the Yankees would consider a change in right. The two starts Molina gets, assuming that they materialize, might be their only changes.
The Phillies will use Ben Francisco in left field and Raul Ibanez at DH in Game 1. Against the right-hander in Game 2, they’ll probably put Ibanez back in the field and start Matt Stairs at DH. Outside of the DH, they’ll use the same personnel every game.
Whether the Phillies can match the Yankees run for run may come down to Jimmy Rollins. While he recovered from a brutal first half this season, he’s been lousy again in October, hitting .244 with an 8/0 K/BB ratio and no steals in 41 at-bats. There’s no way that Charlie Manuel is going to remove him from the leadoff spot now, so he really needs to step it up.
Overrated angle
The Phillies’ DH situation
Unlike many NL teams in recent memory, the Phillies come to play when adding a DH to their lineup. Francisco hit .278/.317/.526 in 97 at-bats after coming over in the Cliff Lee deal, and he’s a big upgrade from Ibanez defensively in left field. Stairs hardly ever got to start for the Phillies this year and his average suffered as a result, but he did manage five homers and 23 walks in 103 at-bats. Also, he has a couple of homers in 11 career at-bats against Burnett. It’s not a given that the Phillies will use him — Francisco’s defense is enough of an upgrade that keeping him in left field against the right-hander would be justifiable — but it’d be a shame if Stairs didn’t get at least one start.
Underrated angle
The AL experience of Philadelphia’s starters
Lee, Martinez and Blanton are certainly no strangers to opposing loaded lineups, and they’re not going to be surprised when suddenly faced with the prospect of dealing with a bunch of very patient, All-Star caliber hitters. The Rockies in 2007 and the Cardinals in 2004 just weren’t ready for the Red Sox, and the Yankees can maul an erratic pitcher even faster than those Boston teams could. The Phillies, though, will rely on starters with a ton of AL experience. Only Hamels, who will probably start just one game, doesn’t have any.
It’s up for debate, but I think this is the first time since at least 2004 and probably since 2001 that the World Series has matched the best teams in each league. The Phillies truly can win this series. The non-Lee starters can’t risk pacing themselves, though. If Pedro and Hamels can give the team five good innings, manager Charlie Manuel shouldn’t push his luck and ask for much more. To his credit, he’s handled his pitching staff exquisitely to date. There’s no shutdown reliever in the Phillies pen this year, but there are a bunch of capable pitchers to provide lots of different looks and keep the Yankees off balance. If Lee can match Sabathia, if Pedro and Hamels can keep the team in games and if Chad Durbin and Chan Ho Park can keep it together in the sixth and seventh innings, then the Phillies have a real chance.
The Yankees, though, need less to go right. They know they own the ninth inning, when it comes down to Mariano Rivera vs. Brad Lidge. They have a slight advantage in both the rotation and in the starting lineup. It’s not a landslide, but they are the better team, as one should expect given the $80 million payroll advantage. Home-field advantage won’t hurt either. My guess is that we finally get our first suspenseful World Series in six or seven years, but I expect the Yankees to claim it in seven.

Erik Johnson likely to open 2016 in the White Sox rotation

DENVER, CO - APRIL 09:  Starting pitcher Erik Johnson #45 of the Chicago White Sox delivers against the Colorado Rockies during Interleague play at Coors Field on April 9, 2014 in Denver, Colorado. The Rockies defeated the White Sox 10-4.  (Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)
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With the White Sox losing Jeff Samardzija to free agency, Erik Johnson will likely get a shot to contribute out of the rotation to open up the 2016 season, GM Rick Hahn said in a conference call on Wednesday, per a report from’s Scott Merkin.

“As we sit here today, I think it will be an opportunity for Erik Johnson to convert on sort of the return to form he showed back in 2015 when he was International League pitcher of the year for [Triple-A] Charlotte,” Hahn said. “Obviously, he got some starts in September and continued to show the progress in Chicago he had shown in the Minor Leagues over the course of the last season.

“So if Opening Day were today, then I think Johnson is penciled in to that spot in the rotation right now. In all probability, once we get closer to spring, there will be some competition for him to earn that spot. But if we were strictly looking at today, then I would think Johnson has the inside track on filling Samardzija’s innings.”

Johnson was called up from Triple-A Charlotte in September and made six starts, allowing 14 runs (13 earned) on 32 hits and 17 walks with 30 strikeouts in 35 innings. That followed up an impressive five months in the minors where he compiled a 2.37 ERA and a 136/41 K/BB ratio across 132 2/3 innings.

Baseball America, Baseball Prospectus, and each included Johnson on their top-100 prospect lists, ranking him 63rd, 67th, and 70th, respectively. The right-hander was selected by the White Sox in the second round of the 2011 draft.

Major League Baseball will investigate Yasiel Puig for his role in Miami nightclub brawl

Yasiel Puig
AP Photo/Lenny Ignelzi

It was reported on Friday afternoon that Dodgers outfielder Yasiel Puig was involved in a brawl at a Miami nightclub. Details were scant at the time, but he reportedly left with a bruise on his face.

Dylan Hernandez of the Los Angeles Times reports that Major League Baseball plans to investigate Puig under the league’s new domestic violence policy for his role in the brawl. Citing a report from TMZ, Hernandez notes that Puig shoved his sister, “brutally sucker-punched” the manager of the bar, and instigated the brawl.

The Dodgers and Puig’s agent have thus far refused to comment on the situation.

Rockies shortstop Jose Reyes was the first player to be investigated under the league’s new domestic violence policy earlier this month, as he allegedly assaulted his wife. Reyes has pleaded not guilty after he was charged with domestic abuse in Hawaii.

As our own Craig Calcaterra pointed out, commissioner Rob Manfred does not need to wait for Puig to plead guilty or to be found guilty to levy a punishment.

Dayan Viciedo close to signing with Japan’s Chunichi Dragons

Dayan Viciedo
AP Photo/Carlos Osorio
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Patrick Newman is reporting that the Chunichi Dragons of Japan’s Nippon Professional Baseball and outfielder Dayan Viciedo are close to an agreement on a contract. Newman notes that the Dragons are close to signing pitcher Jordan Norberto as well.

Viciedo, 26, has struggled since making his major league debut in 2010 with the White Sox, batting an aggregate .254/.298/.424 with 66 home runs and 211 RBI in 1,798 plate appearances. He spent the 2015 season with Triple-A Charlotte (White Sox) and Nashville (Athletics), hitting a composite .287/.348/.450. While Viciedo can hit the occasional home run, he hasn’t shown the ability to do much else at the big league level. Given his age, he could prove himself in Japan and parlay that into a renewed shot in the majors in the future.

The White Sox signed Viciedo out of Cuba in December 2008, agreeing to a four-year, $10 million deal. The club re-signed him to one-year deals in 2013 and ’14 for $2.8 million each and $4.4 million ahead of the 2015 season.

Blue Jays sign J.A. Happ to a three-year, $36 million contract

J.A. Happ
AP Photo/David Zalubowski

Update (8:45 PM EST): Per Sportsnet’s Shi Davidi, Happ will get $10 million in 2016 and $13 million each in 2017 and ’18.

*’s Gregor Chisholm reports that the Blue Jays have signed lefty J.A. Happ to a three-year deal worth $36 million.

Happ, 33, had a rebirth as a member of the Pirates last season after starting the season with 20 subpar starts with the Mariners. He made 11 starts for the Buccos, boasting a 1.85 ERA with a 69/13 K/BB ratio over 63 1/3 innings.

Travis Sawchik of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review reported this past August that Happ’s newfound success had to do with a delivery tweak suggested by Pirates pitching coach Ray Searage. The Blue Jays are certainly hoping that adjustment is the full explanation for his success.

The Jays’ signing of Happ most likely signifies they won’t be pursuing free agent lefty David Price.

This will be Happ’s second stint with the Blue Jays. The Astros dealt him to Toronto in a July 2012 trade. He posted a 4.39 ERA with a 256/113 K/BB ratio in 291 innings with the Jays, then went to the Mariners in a trade this past December that brought outfielder Michael Saunders to the Jays.