Wednesday October 28th, 2009

To read Lee Jenkins' five reasons the Phillies will win, click here.

At one point, the ALCS appeared as if it might turn into a referendum on Joe Girardi's managerial talents. That point was Game 3, when a hyperactive Girardi raced back and forth to the pitcher's mound so frequently that he likely got in a week's worth of cardio work. He also made several questionable decisions that might have cost the Yankees the game, as I detailed in its immediate aftermath. Had the Yankees gone on to lose the series, Girardi would have been in water of a temperature that can only be achieved in New York.

The Yankees, of course, won the ALCS. Now Girardi is matched against Charlie Manuel, an intuitive type who leads him in championships won and in saying "good" in a single press conference response. (Of his catcher Carlos Ruiz, the plain-spoken Manuel said in October '08, "He blocks the ball good. He receives the ball good. He's really improved in calling the game. The pitchers really relate to him good, and he throws good.")

Manuel's Phillies represent a formidable challenge to New York, but here are five reasons the Yankees will win their 27th championship -- starting with their skipper:

As his players exuberantly celebrated their franchise's first AL pennant in five years early Monday morning, Girardi explained how, in his mind, it had come to be. "We've had big players do big things," he said, "and that's why we've got a chance to go to the World Series."

After his dies horribilis in Game 3, Girardi seemed less slavishly devoted to the binder of scouting reports he keeps in the dugout and more faithful to the talents of his "big players" -- of whom he has more than any other manager in baseball. After making seven pitching changes in Games 2 and 3, he made just seven in the final three games.

He did remain enamored with the idea of the pinch runner, particularly in Game 5, when he pulled, with two outs in the top of the ninth and a 7-6 deficit, his best offensive player, Alex Rodriguez, in favor of arguably his worst offensive player, Freddy Guzmán -- and then had Guzmán maintain a narrow lead, from which he couldn't even think about stealing second.

The chances that Guzman's speed over that of Rodriguez (who himself possesses above-average speed, and is an above-average base runner) would have allowed Guzmán to tie the game in a situation in which Rodriguez could not -- on, say, a double in the gap -- were minuscule. And if the Yankees had tied the game (which they didn't), they would have had to play the rest of the contest without Rodriguez's clutch bat. Curious, indeed.

Girardi left Guzmán off the World Series roster in favor of the power-hitting Eric Hinske, and while the manager shouldn't hesitate to use his remaining prime pinch-running candidate, Brett Gardner, in late game situations in favor of players like Nick Swisher or Hideki Matsui, he likely won't be pulling Rodriguez anytime soon. Now is the time for a manager to put his trust in his best players. Girardi's managerial decisions in the final three games of the ALCS, and his construction of the World Series roster, suggest he's realized that.

The Yankees' ALCS-clinching victory in Game 6 was important in that it allowed them two full days off before the World Series. It also allowed them to avoid the psychic toll that a winner-take-all Game 7 can have on a club. But it was absolutely crucial in that it enabled them to set an optimal World Series rotation against the well-rested Phillies.

CC Sabathia would have been the Game 7 ALCS starter, and that would have precluded him from pitching again until Saturday's Game 3. He probably would have been able to make two World Series starts. Now, though, Sabathia can start Game 1, Game 4 and, if necessary, Game 7, and he'll likely match up in all three against his former Indians teammate Cliff Lee. Lee against, say, A.J. Burnett would have represented a clear advantage for the Phillies. As well as Lee has been pitching, Lee against the utterly dominant Sabathia constitutes an advantage for the Yankees.

The Yankees' bullpen, due mainly to their incomparable closer Mariano Rivera and young setup men Phil Hughes and Joba Chamberlain, was supposed to be the best playing in the postseason. The Phillies' bullpen, which ranked ninth in the NL in ERA (3.91) and features the major league leader in blown saves, Brad Lidge, was supposed to be among the worst. Things did not work out exactly that way during the playoffs' first two rounds.

Rivera was better than ever, and his multiple Houdini acts enabled the Yankees' 'pen to enter the Series with a 2.28 ERA. Hughes, on the other hand, who had been the best setup man in the majors since the Yankees made him a reliever in June, had a 5.79 ERA and a 2.36 WHIP in six playoff appearances. Chamberlain, meanwhile, allowed a ghastly seven hits -- four of them for extra-bases -- in just 3.1 innings of work. Contrast that with Lidge, who allowed a single hit over five appearances (three of which resulted in saves) and who leads a group that has been generally solid.

Hughes, though, wasn't quite as bad as his numbers suggest -- he was victimized by a few poorly located pitches, which the Angels and Twins turned into mainly ground-ball singles -- and both he and Chamberlain should benefit from the Phillies' lack of familiarity with them. Only four Phillies hitters have ever faced either Hughes or Chamberlain.

The patient Yankees, however, should have little trouble exposing Philadelphia's relievers -- particularly Lidge, whose slider has become average, and whose fastball has become eminently hittable. Lidge alone should cost the Phillies at least one game in the series, if he even gets the chance.

The Yankees have won seven of the nine games they've played this postseason, but their offense has yet to click. Just three of their regulars are hitting better than .258, and their cumulative OPS of .800 is 39 points below their MLB-best regular season mark. A prime offender has been top-three MVP candidate and first baseman Mark Teixeira, whose 39 home runs led the AL. Teixeira hit the 11th-inning homer that won Game 2 of the ALDS, but he's batting .205, and his .580 OPS is worse than that which erstwhile A-Rod replacement Cody Ransom mustered during the regular season.

Teixeira, though, had three hits in his final six ALCS at-bats, including the three-run double that ignited the Yankees' ultimately-for-naught comeback in Game 5. He has also performed well against the Phillies' pitchers -- especially Lee and Cole Hamels, against whom he's hit .350 with three home runs and 11 RBIs in a combined 40 career at-bats (23 against Lee, 17 against Hamels).

Meanwhile, Teixeira's counterpart on the Phillies, slugging first baseman Ryan Howard, has two hits in 36 at-bats against the seven current Yankees pitchers he's ever faced. He has struck out in a third of those at-bats, and has yet to draw a walk.

Both Teixeira and Howard, in other words, appear likely to reverse their postseason fortunes in this series. That's bad news for the Phillies (Howard has hit .355 this October, with 14 RBIs), and good news for the Yankees.

He gives boring answers during press conferences. He sees the ball. He hits the ball. He is not sure why. He hits the ball when games are close. He hits the ball when they are not. He is batting .438 during the playoffs. He is slugging .969. He is in the midst of one of the greatest offensive postseason performances of all time -- the fourth-best, as measured by OPS (1.516). He is Alex Rodriguez. He will not allow the Yankees to lose.

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