If somebody had said a month ago that these two teams would be meeting for the chance to win a World Series title, most of us would have laughed. The Rays had to beat a tough Chicago White Sox team and then knocked off the reigning world champ Boston Red Sox to get there. And after the the game 5 debacle and a tough loss in game 6, many had written the young Rays off, as momentum seemed to shift back the Red Sox way. The fact that they maintained their composure to come back and win an incredible game 7, only speaks to the the job that Joe Maddon has done with those youngsters. They won the best division in baseball during the regular season (AL East) with great pitching and a powerful offense; the same formula that now has them playing for their first World Series title in franchise history.
The Phillies too have traveled an improbable path to make it to their first World Series since 1993. After surviving a brutal division by beating out the New York Mets to win the NL East, the Phillies had to get past the Milwaukee Brewers in the NLDS and the hot Los Angeles Dodgers in the NLCS to make it to this point.
These two teams are actually quite similar in that they live and die by the long ball (or at least they have in the playoffs). Both have great pitching, as the Rays have one of the best starting rotations in baseball (led by Scott Kazmir, “Big Game” James Shields, ALCS MVP Matt Garza and Andy Sonnanstine) and the Phillies have maybe the best ace left in Cole Hamels and a resurrected Bret Myers. Their bullpens are deep as well with Grant Balfour, J.P. Howell and Titan Sized favorite David Price (whom we suspect will serve as the closer in this series) anchoring the Rays bullpen, while set-up man Ryan Madson and star closer Brad Lidge (zero blown saves this year) hold it down for the Phils. Philadelphia has not lost a game this season when leading in the 8th. That’s pretty impressive.
You’d be hard pressed to find a middle of an order with the power and speed of B.J. Upton, Carlos Pena, Evan Longoria and Carl Crawford. This righty, lefty, righty, lefty group could give Charlie Manuel a few headaches this series if they come up late in a close game, regardless of how good Philly’s bullpen is. Akinori Iwamura, Jason Bartlett and super-subs Willy Aybar and Rocco Baldelli have also come up with some key hits during the postseason. Against a very good Boston staff, the Rays became the only team in postseason history to hit three homers in three consecutive games (they actually did it four games). The Rays play American League ball, but what they lack in sacrifice bunts they make up in aggressive base running, and impressive team speed.
It’s been well documented that the Phillies have been very successful with the long-ball, but have also been prone to stretches without much power. Their offense came together against the Dodgers in the NLCS, with Chase Utley, Ryan Howard and Pat Burrell seeing significant improvement in their production as compared to the Brewers series. If the Phillies get that kind of production out of the heart of the order and Jimmy Rollins and Shane “go for the ribs man” Victorino can set the table like they did in the Divisional Series, than this is a team that can score a lot of runs.
In many senses, these teams look pretty similar. Both can score a lot of runs, and both have pitching staffs that are pretty deep top to bottom. If you go by the numbers you’d be hard pressed to argue that Philadelphia doesn’t have the best bullpen in the series (maybe in all of baseball). With that said, Philadelphia’s late relief obviously can’t protect a lead that isn’t there. Past Hamels, we think that Tampa Bay’s starters match-up favorably with the Phillies, and in a best of seven series that should matter a great deal. If it comes to a game seven, Joe Maddon probably won’t need to worry about throwing anyone out on short rest, whereas we’d probably be seeing Cole Hamels for the third time. The case can be made that that kind of opportunity is where legends are made, but factoring in the Rays’ superior defense and offensive consistency throughout the playoffs we don’t think this one goes seven.
Prediction: You saw the picture. Rays in 6.
- GM 1: PHILLIES @ RAYS 10/22, 8:00 PM ET
- GM 2: PHILLIES @ RAYS 10/23, 8:00 PM ET
- GM 3: RAYS @ PHILLIES 10/25, 8:00 PM ET
- GM 4: RAYS @ PHILLIES 10/26, 8:00 PM ET
- GM 5: RAYS @ PHILLIES 10/27, 8:00 PM ET
- GM 6: PHILLIES @ RAYS 10/29, 8:00 PM ET
- GM 7: PHILLIES @ RAYS 10/30, 8:00 PM ET