Tuesday, October 27, 2009
The 2009 World Series begins Wednesday, October 28, at Yankee Stadium in New York with the defending world champion Phillies visiting the Yankees for the first of their seven-game series. There's little doubt that these are the two best representatives of their respective leagues, as the Yankees finished the regular season with the best record in baseball and stormed through the playoffs, beating the Twins 3 games to none and the LA Angels 4 games to 2. The Phillies easily captured the NL East by 6 games over the Florida Marlins before taking out Colorado, 3 games to 1 and the overhyped LA Dodgers for the second straight year in the NLCS, 4 games to 1, blasting LA by a combines score of 35-16 over the five game span. The Phillies wrapped up their series with the Dodgers last Wednesday, and come into the series well-rested, with a full week off. This series has all manner of story lines, such as the emergence of Alex Rodriguez as a major post-season threat, the question of whether the Yankees, with the highest salary in baseball, can finally buy their way to a World Series win, and whether the Phillies can become the first National league team to repeat since the 1975-76 Cincinnati Reds. The Game One match-up includes two pitchers who weren't with their current teams last season, and in fact were at one time teammates on the Cleveland Indians: New York's C.C. Sabathia and Philly's Cliff Lee. That pitching engagement shoudl be one of the best in recent memory, though both will be facing lineups loaded with solid power hitters. The two teams led their respective leagues in home runs, and with the smallish ballparks in New york and Philadelphia, there should be no shortage of bombs, especially to right field in both arenas. New York manager Joe Girardi will opt for the three-man rotation, with A.J. Burnett and Andy Pettitte following their workhorse, Sabathia, to the hill in games 2 and 3. Pedro Martinez will start game 2 for Philly, with Cole Hamels slated for game 3. Once again, Philadelphia manager Charlie Manuel hans't exactly tipped his hand over his game 4 starter. He could use Lee again, or opt for J. A. Happ or reliable Joe Blanton. Besides Rodriguez, players to watch on the Yankee side are, naturally, leadoff hitter Derek Jeter, along with first baseman Mark Teixeira, who struggled mightily under playoff pressure thus far. Others who will have impact on the outcomes are catcher Jorge Posada, who is tough in the clutch and has home run power, and Robinson Cano, whose smooth stroke adds pop at the bottom of the lineup. For the Phillies, the goal is to get Ryan Howard to the plate with runners aboard as often as possible. Howard was among the home run and RBI leaders in the NL, and was a monster at the plate in the playoffs. Batting ahead of him are Jimmy Rollins, Shane Victorino and Chase Utley, three of the best contact hitters in the game. If Howard doesn't get the job done, Yankee pitchers will have to deal with Jayson Werth, who is likely the most improved player from last season on either team. He has demonstrated extreme power at the plate and a tendency to deliver in the clutch, both at bat and in the field. Further down the Phillies' order are more maulers, in the form of Raul Ibanez, who can be a one-man gang when he's hot, and catcher Carlos Ruiz, who emerged during the playoffs as a steady, if not spectacular, performer. Much has been made of the bullpen dilemma facing the Phillies, especially in closer Brad Lidge, ho encountered a series of blown saves late in the regular season, but seems to have found his best form in the NLCS. What may be more of a problem for both teams is the middle relief. Both teams struggled to get to their closers, but the Yankees seemed pressured when they had to use either Joba Chamberlain or Phil Hughes. Once past them, Mariano Rivera, arguably the best closer ever, is generally nails in the final innings. This should be a series full of fireworks, and if any of the games are low-scoring, it would be when either or both Sabathia and Lee are on the mound, but even then, each of these squads are capable of multi-run innings, home run barrages and scores of 10 runs or more. A couple of 12-10 or 11-7 games would surprise nobody. In the final analysis, the Phillies actually look like the better team. They all, except Ibanez, have World Series experience from last season, and can draw on that to guide them through the games. All of the pressure is on the Yankees. They have to prove they can win it all. The Phillies already have their rings, but they'll have to be dragged down, beaten and bloodied before they relinquish their title. They have slightly better hitting overall and maybe even an edge in starting pitching due to the depth of their staff. If Cole Hamels and Jayson Werth come up big, this series could be over in 5 games, but it will more than likely go to the Phillies in 6. If it goes to seven games, the Yankees have a fighting chance, being that they'll have home field, and that's the only way the Yankees win it, in seven.