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.
Prediction
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.

And That Happened: Tuesday’s Scores and Highlights

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Here are the scores. Here are the highlights:

Yankees 3, Red Sox 2: The Red Sox could’ve clinched the AL East on the Yankees’ home field but their bullpen had different ideas. After Nate Eovaldi tossed six shutout innings, Brandon Workman and Ryan Brasier teamed up to cough up three runs, capped by a Neil Walker three-run homer in the seventh. To their credit, the Yankees tried to give up the lead in the ninth with some bad defense, but their effort fell just short. Aaron Judge made his return to the Yankees lineup and went 0-for-4, but he made a lot of contact and, to be honest, didn’t look too terrible for a guy who has been on the shelf four a couple of months.

Phillies 5, Mets 2: Philly mounted a sixth inning rally, scoring all five of their runs that inning, three of which crossed on Jorge Alfaro‘s three-run jack. After the game Gabe Kapler analyzed the homer thusly:

“It was quite evident from the very beginning that he was standing a little looser in the batter’s box and swinging with a little less, I guess, ferociousness . . . And the bat was whistling through the zone.”

Recently people have been debating whether or not overly-complicated advanced stats have alienated fans from the game. No one seems to want to ask whether post-hoc b.s. is doing so.

Pirates 2, Royals 1: Ryan Lavarnway hit a walkoff single in the 11th to give the Buccos the game. This has been your once every three or four years or so Ryan Lavarnway report. This is the second night in a row that a backup catcher has had a walkoff hit for the Pirates, with Jacob Stallings doing it on Monday. And we’re not talking your standard catcher caddy here. Lavarnway and Stallings are closer to “bullpen catcher” than “starting catcher” on the old depth chart.

Blue Jays 6, Orioles 4: Toronto spotted Baltimore a 4-0 lead and still led 4-2 in the seventh. That’s when third baseman Steve Wilkerson made a two-run throwing error to tie the game, after which Lourdes Gurriel hit a two-run single to put the Jays up for good. Not fun thing: the O’s broke the record for their most losses in Baltimore, surpassing that 1988 team that began the year 0-21.  Fun thing: the Orioles had their team and player names spelled out in Braille and fans were given cards with Braille letters on them so they could spell out their favorite players. This was done in celebration of the 40th anniversary of the National Federation for the Blind moving its headquarters to Baltimore. Definitely not the usual ballpark promotion, but certainly more interesting than anything else the O’s have done this year:

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Indians 5, White Sox 3: Corey Kluber struck out eleven batsmen and allowed three runs over eight innings to pick up his 19th win. I’m gonna guess I have not used the word “batsmen” all year and I just wanted to do that there. OK, I checked. The last time I used the word “batsmen” was on August 4 of last year, describing the Nolan Ryan-Robin Ventura fight. The last time I used it in a recap was on July 13 of last year, in an “And That Happened: Classic” during the All-Star break. That was for 1903 games and I was purposely using over-the-top antiquated language, which I suppose “batsmen” is. Anyway: batsmen.

Twins 5, Tigers 3: Jake Odorizzi had his second strong performance in a row, allowing two runs on four hits while working into the seventh. Tyler Austin doubled and knocked in three and Chris Gimenez had two hits, including a homer. The Tigers lose their 90th game, making them the third team in the AL Central to do so. How you can have three such awful teams in one division in the age of an unbalanced schedule — and a second place Twins team that is also going to finish below .500 — yet have the division leader, Cleveland, still be the worst playoff team in the league is a hell of a trick.

Nationals 4, Marlins 2: Stephen Strasburg struck out 11 in six innings and Anthony Rendon knocked in a couple as the Nats take their seventh in their last ten. They’re six and a half out. One has to wonder what might’ve happened with this squad had they not intentionally blown up their bullpen over perceived character issues and decided to pack it in at the deadline. Because, folks, neither the Braves nor Phillies are particularly good.

Cardinals 8, Braves 1: This is what I’m talking about. That’s four losses in a row for the presumptive NL East champs. Paul DeJong hit a two-run homer and Yadier Molina hit a two-run single in the Cardinals’ four-run eighth inning, giving St. Louis its third straight win and padding its lead for the second Wild Card to a game and a half over Colorado.

Reds 3, Brewers 1: Milwaukee is in the first Wild Card slot, but they’re now only two games ahead of the Cardinals. In other news, it sure would be nice for their offense to wake up, eh? Here they scored two or fewer runs for the third time in four games and, not surprisingly, have dropped those three of four. Milwaukee got only three hits against five Cincinnati pitchers all dang game. Jose Peraza hit a two-run homer for the Redlegs.

Rays 4, Rangers 0: Blake Snell seems to be putting the finishing touches on a Cy Young season. Here he picked up his 20th win which, while not necessary in our more enlightened, pitcher-wins-aren’t-terribly-important age, is a nice grace note. More importantly he allowed only one hit over five shutout innings, reducing his ERA to 1.97 and putting him on pace to be the first American League pitcher with enough innings to qualify for the ERA title to finish below 2.00 since Pedro Martinez did it back in 2000. Chris Sale has a chance at that too, but he’s borderline right now on having enough innings. Willy Adames hit a two-run homer for the Rays.

Astros 7, Mariners 0: Five Houston pitchers, led by Josh James, combine for the five-hit shutout. Marwin Gonzalez hit a two-run homer. With the win, the Astros eliminated the Mariners in the race for the AL West title. Not that anyone was holding their breath here.

Cubs 9, Diamondbacks 1: Javier Baez and Daniel Murphy hit two-run homers and Mike Montgomery gave up only one run on four hits while striking out eight over six. After a week or so of sweating, the Cubs are now back three and a half games ahead of the Brewers in the Central. The Dbacks fall to six back as their depressing late season fade continues.

Angels 9, Athletics 7: Oakland led 4-1 entering the top of the sixth inning and boy howdy did the wheels fall off. Two pitchers combined to load the bases and then a third pitcher, Lou Trivino, came in to face Andrelton Simmons. Trivino induced what should’ve been the second out of the inning in the form of a foul popup, but an A’s fan had other ideas:

Which, oh man, that’s bad. I guess, in her defense, I’ll say that Piscotty seemed to be feeling that wall, looking down a bit, and may very not have caught that ball — that’s why, I suspect, the replay crew decided not to call fan interference — but it’s not like she knew that. She wanted a souvenir. With new life, Simmons smacked a two-run single to pull the Angels to within one and then, following a plunked batter which loaded the bases back up, Kaleb Cowart hit a grand slam to put the Angels up by three. Mike Trout hit his 35th homer of the year and stole his 24th base. Oakland loses yet another game of ground to the Yankees for home field advantage in the Wild Card game.

Dodgers 3, Rockies 2: Kyle Freeland and Clayton Kershaw figured to be a pitcher’s duel but, while it was low-scoring, neither ace looked particularly sharp. Chris Taylor‘s infield single in the fifth inning tied the game at two and the bats were silent for some time after that. Taylor’s dinger in the 11th ended things:

That gave the Dodgers a 3-2 win over their closest competition for the NL West crown, pushing their lead to one and a half games over Colorado. It may be safe to say that the Dodgers are, finally, playing their best baseball of the season.

OK, it’s definitely safe to say it.

Giants 5, Padres 4: Hunter Pence homered, doubled and drove in three and Chris Shaw hit a go-ahead, two-run single in the eighth to give the Giants the win. In so doing, it also guaranteed the Padres last place in the NL West.