Breaking down tonight's World Series game. All stats for starting pitchers are postseason only.
Series: World Series, Game 2; Phillies lead 1-0
Time: 8:29 p.m. ET
Starters:Brett Myers (2-0, 5.25) vs. James Shields (1-2, 3.72)
The Phillies did what they needed to do last night, winning Game 1 behind their ace, Cole Hamels. Tonight it's the Rays' turn to cash in their home-field advantage with James Shields on the hill. Shields isn't an ace on the order of Hamels, but he was the Rays' most consistent starter this season and has continued to be that during the postseason, despite losing a pair games in the ALCS by scores of 2-0 and 4-2. Including the postseason the Rays have gone 23-13 in Shields' starts this year. By comparison the Phillies are 23-14 when Hamels takes the mound. Tonight's game, like Shields' three previous postseason starts, is at Tropicana Field, where Shields is 10-4 with a 2.74 ERA on the year.
The Phillies counter with Brett Myers, who hasn't pitched in 11 days. Myers' last start was a shaky outing in Game 2 of the NLCS in which he allowed five runs on six hits and four walks in five innings. That was Myers' third poor outing in his last four starts dating back to the regular season. In those four starts, over which he has posted a 9.30 ERA, he has made it past the fifth inning and allowed fewer than five runs just once, in his strong NLDS start against the Brewers.
Thus far this postseason, Myers has made a bigger impression with his bat than with his arm, drawing a crucial walk against CC Sabathia in the NLDS and going 3-for-3 with three RBIs in the NLCS. Of course Myers' four hits this postseason match his regular-season total, so it's no real loss that his place in the batting order will be taken by one of the Phillies' trio of lefty bench bats tonight. Greg Dobbs, who is 6-for-11 this postseason, is the best choice to DH for the Phillies in Game 2. Fellow lefty Matt Stairs, the only Phillie with a double-digit sample of plate appearances against Shields, has hit just .150/.227/.300 against the Rays' righty in 22 trips. For the Rays, only Cliff Floyd, the likely DH tonight, has as many as 10 career plate appearances against Myers, hitting .364/.400/.697 against him in 35 career plate appearances, though they haven't faced each other since 2006, when Floyd was with the Mets.
Though the Phillies won Game 1, they were unable to get a big hit after Chase Utley's two-run home run in the top of the first. Over the final eight innings the Phillies put 12 men on base but plated only one of them, that RBI coming on a groundout. With the bases loaded and one out in the second, Jimmy Rollins flied out and Shane Victorino was thrown out at home trying to score on the play, ending the inning. In the third they got a man to third base with one out, but Ryan Howard and Pat Burrell struck out to strand him. In the fifth they stranded two more. In the sixth they couldn't take advantage of a leadoff single. In the seventh they failed to score a man from third with one out when Howard and Victorino struck out. In the ninth the Rays used a one-out double by Jayson Werth as an excuse to walk Utley and pitch to Howard. Howard struck out for the third time in the game and defensive replacement Eric Bruntlett popped out to strand both runners.
That last sequence, in which the Rays walked Utley to pitch to a once-again scuffling Howard in an attempt to quell a burgeoning rally, is one we could see again tonight, leading one to wonder if Philadelphia manager Charlie Manuel might counter that strategy by shuffling his lineup. Howard looked lost at the plate during his 0-for-4 night. Swapping him with Burrell would effectively stagger the team's two pure left-handed bats, and would protect Utley with perhaps the team's most consistently productive hitter this postseason. Then again Burrell went 0-for-3 with a pair of strikeouts last night, so making that move tonight might be hasty, but it's something to consider for Game 3 if Howard is again unable to support Utley tonight.
Speaking of scuffling, the Rays have scored just seven runs over their last three games since jumping out to (and subsequently blowing) that 7-0 lead in Game 5 of the ALCS. One can use a Game 6 hangover from that shocking collapse and the fact that they were facing lefty aces Jon Lester and Hamels in the last two games to explain that performance, but at a certain point those excuses start to mask a slump. With a vulnerable -- and possibly rusty -- Myers on the mound tonight, the Rays need to start hitting again.
Another reason why the Rays need to get to Myers tonight is that the Phillies' bullpen posted a 0.96 ERA in the NLCS and contributed a pair of perfect innings in last night's game. At the same time the Rays' bullpen, which worked three scoreless innings last night, hasn't allowed a run in 8 1/3 innings since its meltdown in Game 5 of the ALCS, allowing just four hits and striking out nine along the way (though also walking seven). The one concern for the Rays' relievers going into tonight is that Grant Balfour struggled in his final two ALCS appearances, threw 27 pitches last night and hasn't pitched the day after throwing that many pitches all year.