World Series preview
The Rays were the better team playing in the toughest division of the better league. They went through two division winners, including the best or second-best team in baseball, in the playoffs to get here. They have more talent, 1 through 25, than the Phillies do.
The Phillies played very well in the NL postseason, but there's no way to avoid the fact that had you seeded the playoff teams 1-8, the Brewers and Dodgers would have been 7 and 8 in some order. That's how you can go 7-2 with
One entertaining aspect of this matchup is that we have two teams that steal bases very well, but that get their offense from power rather than speed. The Rays have gone 17-for-19 on the bases after leading the AL in steals, but their offensive strengths are walks and, with 22 bombs in October, home-run power. The Phillies have famously been the best basestealing team in history, successful on 86 percent of their attempts over the last two seasons. But they also led the NL in home runs and were second in slugging. You cannot put either of these teams in a box.
In terms of the lineups, Phillies manager
One key difference between the two teams is how much the Phillies' lineup falls off at the end. The
Now, unlike a number of recent NL entrants, the Phillies actually have a pretty good DH option. It should be
The Rays will platoon
The Rays beat the Red Sox in part because they went a bit nuts at the plate, hitting 16 homers and slugging .508. That's a bit outside their range, but the Phillies' starters do get the ball in the air and allow their share of home runs, while their relievers have had an odd year with respect to their HR/FB rates, which were very low. It would not be surprising, and in fact, it may be a key to the Series, if the Rays were to continue bashing their way through October.
The Phillies' bench is not a strength. They have virtually no speed or defense, and their backup catcher is about the third-best hitter there. Bruntlett emerged as the defensive replacement for Burrell, leaving Taguchi as a fifth outfielder with no discernable reason for his roster spot. He and
The Rays have a bit more flexibility. Floyd and Gross are the other halves of platoons, but
The decision to flip Kazmir and
For the Phillies, it's really all about Hamels. The lefty has three of the team's seven wins in October, and he hasn't been challenged in any of them. For the Phillies to win the World Series, they'll need to win both of his starts. In fact, were I in charge, I'd push Hamels to 1-4-7 and either drop Blanton from the rotation or use him in Game 5 and put Myers in the bullpen after his start. The gap between Hamels and every other Phillies' starter is large, and the gap between Hamels and Blanton, given the Rays' team platoon split, is massive. If the Rays beat Hamels even once, they should win the Series handily. This makes Game 1 even more significant than it already is.
The Phillies' full set of lefty relievers could come in handy, as a redundancy in lefty specialists that was overkill in the NLDS and moderately helpful in the NLCS becomes a feature in the World Series.
We've seen the Rays' bullpen in action, and it's a very good one, with power arms missing bats, two effective tactical guys and now David Price. It's not clear how Maddon will use Price in the Series, although given the importance of his last two appearances, it seems fair to say that Maddon is comfortable with his rookie in high-leverage situations. If Price supplants
Let's not let a few high-profile mistakes drive the story; the Rays were one of the best defensive teams in baseball in 2008, and remain so right now. We saw some flaws close up over the last couple of weeks.
The Phillies were also strong defensively, sixth in the majors in
Maddon is entertaining, and I think the one thing you can say for him is that he's not going to get tied down to roles. That was
I mentioned earlier in the postseason Manuel was growing on me. The refusal to separate Utley and Howard in the lineup is grating, as is the refusal to play Dobbs more often. Outside of that, though, he runs his pitching staff well, even using Lidge for four outs for the first time all year because the situation warranted it. There was one massive gaffe in the NLCS, asking Victorino to bunt in a clear swing situation. That seems to reflect less an affinity for one-run strategies as an inflated opinion of the bottom of his lineup. That's not fatal.
Both of these guys are assets, and the only thing I'd note is that Maddon might be more likely to make a costly mistake. He is the man who issued a bases-loaded intentional walk during the season and let
For all of the detail above, I keep coming back to one point: The Rays are a much better baseball team than the Phillies are. The gap between the leagues is real, and when you adjust for it and other factors -- as
Three of the last four World Series have been AL sweeps. The presence of Hamels makes that result unlikely, but even he won't be enough to save the Phillies.