Wednesday October 28th, 2009

To read Ben Reiters' five reasons why the Yankees will win, click here.

The Phillies are the rare defending champions that return to the World Series as underdogs. They do not have as potent a lineup as the Yankees, as deep a starting rotation, as reliable a bullpen. But they are not far off in any phase and they have the edge in home-stadium advantage, recent World Series experience and possibly motivation. The Yankees are playing for yet another banner. The Phillies are playing for a place in history. They are attempting to become the National League's first repeat winner since the Cincinnati Reds in 1975-76, baseball's new Big Red Machine, and they are inspired by the notion that no one believes they can do it. This series will be full of high-scoring games, and just as the Yankees dynamic offense will inevitably wear down the Phillies pitching staff, the Phillies can do the same to the Yankees, with speed at the top of the order and power through the middle. Besides, as upset picks go, it's generally a safe strategy to take your chances with a team that just won the title.

Here are five reasons why the Phils will bring home another ring:

Cliff Lee has emerged as a legitimate ace in this postseason -- 2-0, 0.74 ERA -- and an obvious Game 1 starter. But after him the Phillies suffer a sharp drop-off in their starting rotation. They have been waiting for Cole Hamels to rediscover his 2008 form, but since he posted a 7.20 ERA in the NLDS followed by a 6.52 ERA in the NLCS, that probably won't happen. It is imperative that the Phillies win Lee's starts and string out the series to get him a third turn. This means he would have to pitch at least once on short rest, something manager Charlie Manuel said he would be willing to entertain. But given that games will be in New York and Philadelphia stretching into November, there is a good chance at least one of them will be postponed because of weather. A rainout could help the Phillies get Lee back on the mound faster. To win this series, the Phillies may have to go seven games, with Lee taking the ball in the seventh.

The Yankees led the world with 244 home runs this season, but the Phillies weren't so far behind, leading the National League with 224. Of those, 110 came from left-handed hitters Ryan Howard, Raul Ibanez and Chase Utley, who will be welcomed at Yankee Stadium by that tantalizing 314-foot porch in right field. The Yankees are built for their new launching pad, but the Phillies are built for it as well, with four hitters who posted more than 30 home runs this season -- Howard, Ibanez, Utley and Jayson Werth, who added two homers in the NLCS clincher against the Dodgers. Yankee Stadium plays a lot like Citizens Bank Park in Philadelphia, where the Phillies could not be more comfortable, going 11-1 in the past two post-seasons. If this World Series turns into a home-run derby, as the statistics suggest, Howard could become the headliner. After all, he has been in the real Home Run Derby three of the past four years, finishing first and third.

All season, the Yankees had one of the strongest bullpens in baseball, the Phillies one of the shakiest. But relief pitchers are like field-goal kickers, capable of wild momentum swings, and as Phil Hughes and Joba Chamberlain stumbled somewhat for the Yankees in the LCS, the Phillies bullpen was suddenly at its best. In the playoffs, closer Brad Lidge has not allowed a run in five games. Neither has middle reliever Chad Durbin. Lefty Scott Eyre has given up just one run. Ryan Madson and even Chan Ho Park have been effective in key spots. But most significant is the re-emergence of Lidge, whose many failures this season were well-chronicled. Lidge handled them all with his usual aplomb and now he is seeing the rewards. While Hamels may never recapture the rhythm he had in '08, Lidge clearly has, and he gives the Phillies a closer to counter Mariano Rivera. The bullpen match-up still favors the Yankees, but nowhere near as heavily as it once did.

The X-Factor is a farm animal. For weeks, Pedro Martinez has been referring to himself as "Old Goat," proof that he too knows the end is near. But Martinez does not do anything quietly, including retire. If is he is looking for a dramatic goodbye, the opportunity is here, against the team he famously referred to as his daddy. Martinez showed in Game 2 of the NLCS that he is no novelty act, throwing seven scoreless innings at the Dodgers and allowing just two hits. Because of the glaring gaps in the Phillies' starting rotation, they will hand the ball to Pedro in Game 2. Even Martinez, with his dramatic flair, could not have scripted this storybook finish: at age 37, after sitting out half the year, starting in the World Series at the new Yankee Stadium. The Red Sox will be rooting for him and perhaps even a few Mets as well. Martinez has obviously lost a few miles per hour off his fastball, but he is as wily as ever, and in this series he could be the Phillies second-best pitcher.

When a team wins the World Series, comes back the next year and wins the division, rallies from two runs down with two outs in the ninth to clinch the NLDS, and then rallies from one run down with two outs in the ninth to take control of the NLCS, they can no longer be considered a fluke. The Phillies are a legit champion, and the way their roster is set, they have a chance to build a dynasty. They have more at stake than the Yankees, but oddly enough, the Yankees are under more pressure. They have gone nearly a decade without a title -- longer in Yankee years -- and they are loaded with mercenaries who signed up for one. The Phillies have a few of those types, but by and large they are the same group that won it all last year, and the camaraderie they forged through the '08 playoffs has steeled them in '09. Over a long and difficult series, the heart of a champion is tested, and the Phillies have shown again and again that they have it.

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