By Ted Keith
October 27, 2009
World Series Positional Breakdown
Where's Michael Buffer when you need him? This World Series cries out for a ring announcer to follow up the national anthem before Game 1, as this will be the type of heavyweight World Series matchup that has become increasingly rare in the wild-card era. For only the second time in the past eight years, neither wild-card entrant advanced to the Fall Classic. Moreover, the win totals of the Yankees and the Phillies (196) is the second highest this decade, surpassed only by the 2004 matchup between the Red Sox (98) and Cardinals (105). Throw in their robust histories, particularly the Yankees' mystique and the Phillies' status as defending champions, and this sets up as the most compelling World Series matchup in years. It will need to be, since the postseason's dramatic moments thus far have been drowned out amid a sea of bad umpiring, shaky defense, atrocious baserunning and numerous weather problems. If nothing else, the Series promises to be a TV ratings windfall, and if it becomes the first series since 2003 to actually last more than five games, all the better for the folks at Fox, and, more importantly, baseball fans everywhere. Let's get ready to rumble!
Mark Teixeira
.292 39 122 344
Teixeira led the American League in home runs, RBIs and total bases during the regular season, and though he's slumped in the playoffs -- .205, 1 HR, 5 RBIs -- he's made his hits count. He lined a home run to beat the Twins in Game 2 of the ALDS and a three-run double to start the Yankees' comeback in Game 5 of the ALCS. His defense has been spectacular, with great range to either side, quick reaction time and good hands.
Ryan Howard
.279 45 141 .571
Howard has been on a tear since late in the regular season, and he's carried it over into the postseason, where he has 14 RBIs in just nine games to go with a 1.203 OPS. The Dodgers chose not to give him the Albert Pujols treatment and got burned to the tune of a .333 average and two home runs. His pitch recognition has gotten much better, and he is willing to take a base on balls, working six walks in the NLCS. He is still prone to striking out too much and is not much of a presence with the glove.
Robinson Cano
.320 25 85 204
Perhaps no player in baseball makes as many head-scratching plays as Cano -- witness his two errors in Game 2 of the ALCS or his astounding baserunning gaffe in Game 4 -- but he is an incredibly productive hitter who led all AL second baseman in batting average, slugging percentage and hits. Has good range at second base, especially to his left.
Chase Utley
.282 31 93 23
Showed few, if any, ill-effects from offseason hip surgery. Compensated for slight power drop (.508 slugging, down from .535 in 2008) by working more walks (a career-high 88, up from 64 in 2008) and, interestingly, led the NL in hit-by-pitch for the third straight season, with 24. Also, he is a stolen base threat. Had surprising throwing issues early in the NLCS against the Dodgers but corrected the problem in the last three games and was error-free. Now he must resurrect his offense after batting .211 with one RBI in the NLCS.
Derek Jeter
.334 18 66 .406
The career leader in postseason games, at-bats, runs and hits is back for his seventh World Series looking more dangerous than he has in years. At 35, Jeter moved into the leadoff spot and boosted his batting average by 34 points from a year ago, his on-base percentage by 43 points and his slugging percentage by 57 points. Even his much-maligned defense remarkably improved this year in nearly every category. He has enjoyed two very productive rounds so far in the postseason, with 11 hits (including three home runs) and nine walks in nine games, and he is a lifetime .302 hitter in 32 World Series games.
Jimmy Rollins
.250 21 77 100
Just as Jeter got better this year, Rollins got worse. His batting average dropped 27 points from 2008, his on-base percentage fell 53 points and his slugging percentage slumped by 14 points. The Phillies will keep relying on him, as evidenced by the fact that he led the National League in plate appearances and at-bats despite posting the fifth-worst OBP in the majors. His game-winning double in Game 4 against the Dodgers notwithstanding, he's never been much of a postseason performer, only once topping .270 in his six previous playoff series. With 31 stolen bases in the regular season, he's very much a threat to run (though he hasn't attempted a single steal in the postseason).
Alex Rodriguez
.286 30 100 .933
His disastrous spring of steroid revelations and hip surgery preceded a disastrous start, but that is now a distant memory. From June 24 to the end of the regular season, Rodriguez batted .321/.422/.572, and he has been more of a force this month than any player in the game. Not only has Rodriguez hit .438 with a 1.516 OPS, he has hit five home runs -- three of which have tied the game in the late innings -- and driven in 12 runs, including at least one in eight of the Yankees' nine playoff games. What's more, his red-hot hitting has changed the way opposing managers pitch to him and those around him in the lineup and how they use their bullpen.
Pedro Feliz
.266 12 82 .386
Numbers that aren't that eye-catching to begin with take a further hit when looking at his splits. Feliz, a right-handed hitter, bats just .208 with a .278 on-base percentage against lefties, compared to .282 and .317 against righties. Since the Yankees will be pitching left-handers CC Sabathia (twice) and Andy Pettitte in the first four games alone, that is an ominous sign.
Johnny Damon
.282 24 82 12
Damon's swing is tailor-made for the inviting right-field fences in both Yankee Stadium and Citizen's Bank Park. He matched a career-high with 24 home runs in 2009 and 17 of them came in the Bronx, where he proved adept at hooking balls into the seats. He doesn't run nearly as often as he used to, but can still steal a base from time to time. He still has good range in left field, but his arm is atrocious, and the Phillies, an aggressive baserunning team to begin with, are likely to take advantage of it at every opportunity.
Raul Ibanez
.272 34 93 .899
Got off to a torrid start in his first season in Philadelphia, batting .312 with 22 home runs and 59 RBIs in his first 62 games before spending a month on the disabled list. After returning, he batted just .232 with 12 homers and 34 RBIs in 72 games, but he's rebounded enough to drive in nine runs in nine postseason games. Also set a career-high this season with 119 strikeouts.
Melky Cabrera
.274 13 68 .336
His numbers may be modest, but they represent a career year and aren't too shabby for a No. 9 hitter. The Yankees don't bunt very much, but when they do, Cabrera is the most likely option, as he already has two sacrifices in the playoffs after having four (tied with Jeter for the most among regulars) during the season. Cabrera's greatest value, however, is on defense, where he has tremendous range in center and can shift to either right field or left field late in the game once Joe Girardi goes to his bench.
Shane Victorino
.292 10 62 13
Victorino led the league with 13 triples, part of a season in which he accumulated 62 extra-base hits, including a career-high 39 doubles. His 25 stolen bases are a drop from the previous two seasons, but he teams with Rollins to give the Phillies excellent speed and hit-and-run options at the top of the lineup. Has been outstanding in the playoffs, batting .361 with a .439 OBP and three home runs and is one of the game's best defensive center fielders. He made only one error all year and ranked in the top five among NL center fielders in assists.
Nick Swisher
.249 29 82 97
What once looked to be a crowded Yankees outfield became solidified once Swisher grabbed the starting job in right field early in the season. He never let go, proving valuable as a switch-hitter who can bat in multiple spots in the lineup and has terrific plate discipline, ranking second in the American League at 4.26 pitches per plate appearance. He has been a dreadful postseason player, with zero home runs in 70 plate appearances and only two RBIs. He's hit just .125/.222/.156 with 11 strikeouts in this postseason.
Jayson Werth
.268 36 99 .506
Werth made his first All-Star team in 2009 -- a breakout season in which he smashed 36 home runs and drove in 99 runs while scoring 98 times. Like Swisher, he is exceptionally patient, leading the majors in pitches per plate appearance at 4.51. He has tremendous power, with more home runs to center field (17) than left field (15). Has a very good arm in right field and is yet another stolen-base threat, with 20 successes in 23 chances during the season.
Jorge Posada
.285 22 81 .522
Posada bounced back from an injury-ravaged 2008 to finish with another quietly productive season in 2009, giving the Yankees still another run-producing threat in the bottom half of their order. Posada figures to be tested often in this series by the Phillies phalanx of base stealers, and he's never been much of a force with throwing out runners, catching 28 percent of would-be thieves this year and 29 percent in his career. When A.J. Burnett pitches, Posada will sit behind Jose Molina, a terrible offensive player (.217 average, one home run in 52 games) and then take over as soon as Burnett is removed from the game. In those instances, he will usually be in the eight or nine spot, which boosts their offense considerably.
Carlos Ruiz
.255 9 43 39
Is there a more puzzling postseason development the last two years than the transformation of Ruiz? During the regular season, his offense is mostly noteworthy just for the fact that he walks more than he strikes out, but in the playoffs, he becomes even more selective, and thus a more dangerous hitter. In his last four playoff series, he has batted .345/.465/.517 with 11 RBIs in 19 games. Threw out only 27 percent of base-stealers this year, but the Yankees are far less likely to run than the Phillies.
Hideki Matsui
.274 28 90 .509
Matsui batted .274 with 28 home runs and 90 RBIs but will have to sit when the series shifts to Philadelphia. The rest of the bench is mostly specialized, and features no real threats with the bat. Brett Gardner is likely to see action in every game in the World Series, just as he has in each of the first nine games in the postseason, either as a pinch runner (26 steals in the regular season) or defensive replacement. The Angels cut him down both times he tried to steal in the ALCS, but Ruiz isn't likely to be able to match that feat. Freddy Guzmán is another player who is strictly a pinch-running option; he has been called upon to run for the big hitters in the middle of the Yankees lineup, a move Joe Girardi will only do if desperate. Jerry Hairston Jr. has hit just .237 since coming to the Yankees and has only had two at-bats in the playoffs. But he is the Yankees' supersub, capable of playing any of six defensive positions and could be especially valuable in Philadelphia. Francisco Cervelli is an emergency third catcher and pinch runner.
Ben Francisco
.257 15 46 14
The Phillies rarely go to their bench, with their five reserves combining for just seven at-bats in the NLCS. There isn't much speed here, but given the plethora of basestealing threats among their regulars, that's less of a concern. Francisco batted .278 after coming over from Cleveland in the Cliff Lee trade and often takes over for Raul Ibanez in left field in the late innings, where he has a decent arm. Eric Bruntlett can play all over the infield, Greg Dobbs is strictly a pinch hitter (0 for 4 this postseason) and Miguel Cairo is virtually a last resort option. Matt Stairs is Charlie Manuel's best postseason bullet for a big hit in the late innings. Stairs started only 13 games all season, and hits just .203 coming off the bench in 64 at-bats, but he did hit all five of his home runs as a pinch hitter. He almost never hits against lefties, going 0 for 3 versus southpaws this year, so the Yankees may try and match up Phil Coke or Damaso Marte against him. Paul Bako has yet to make an appearance in the playoffs.
CC Sabathia
3.37 19-8 197 67
By beating the Angels in six, the Yankees gave themselves the option of a three-man rotation for the World Series. That's obviously good news in that it allows them to give Sabathia (3-0, 1.19 ERA in playoffs) the ball up to three times, and surprisingly good news for A.J. Burnett, who is 4-0 with a 2.33 ERA on short rest in his career (although he hasn't done it since last season, when he was with the Blue Jays and in the midst of a career year). Andy Pettitte is no stranger to short rest in the postseason, either, having made five previous starts in such situations. He hasn't been on a normal routine for six weeks, so this would be nothing new for him, and the erratic schedule certainly hasn't affected him to date in the playoffs: he's 2-0 with a 2.37 ERA in three starts. Overall, the Yankees have gotten eight quality starts in their nine playoff games, and are able to throw pitchers with three distinctive styles at teams. Sabathia has a hard fastball and excellent slider, Burnett's ball moves more than any pitcher in the game, and Pettitte still gets hitters out with as varied an arsenal as any pitcher on the Yankees staff. If the Yankees do end up using a fourth starter, Girardi will choose between Chad Gaudin and Joba Chamberlain.
Cliff Lee
3.22 14-13 181 43
In the playoffs, Lee returned to the dominant form he first displayed after arriving in Philadelphia in late July. He has won all three of his starts with a 0.74 ERA, not far from his 5-0, 0.68 ERA beginning in his first five games with the Phillies. If he continues to pitch that well, he can counter Sabathia and give the Phillies the edge in the Series. It may be telling, however, that the rest of the rotation is still a mystery. Pedro Martinez was excellent in Game 2 against the Dodgers and if he starts Game 2 in this series, it will be on nearly two weeks rest, but this time it will be in much different conditions -- at night, much colder weather and against a far better offense -- than he faced in Los Angeles. Martinez has been batted around to a 5.93 ERA in his last five postseason outings against the Yankees. Cole Hamels certainly remains a mystery himself. He has allowed a .328/.344/.672 opponents batting line this postseason with a 6.75 ERA in three starts, numbers that don't bode well when facing the Yankees. If Manuel opts for a fourth starter, it will either be Joe Blanton, a mostly average pitcher who got a start in the NLCS, or rookie J.A. Happ, whom Manuel developed a fondness for out of the bullpen and could be a weapon there again to turn around the Yankees quartet of switch-hitters or neutralize lefties like Johnny Damon or Hideki Matsui.
Mariano Rivera
1.76 3-3 44 72
Rivera remains magnificent, so the key will be making sure the Yankees can get him the ball. Both of their primary setup men -- Phil Hughes and Joba Chamberlain -- struggled mightily in the ALCS. Chamberlain gave up five hits in 1 2/3 innings and Hughes has allowed nine hits in 4 2/3 innings this postseason for a .391 average. Both pitchers throw hard and have above-average complementary breaking balls, but if they don't locate their fastball, they can be punished. They weren't the only ones who had problems out of the 'pen, however. Alfredo Aceves gave up three hits and two runs in 1 1/3 innings against the Angels, which should give more key batters to David Robertson, another righty with a much better fastball. Girardi has two lefties at his disposal in Phil Coke and Damaso Marte. Lefties hit just .120 off Marte this year and Ryan Howard and Chase Utley are a combined 0 for 6 against him with five strikeouts in their careers, which is likely to mean Marte faces them in the late innings. Coke has allowed just one hit in six at-bats against the current Phillies in his brief career. Chad Gaudin will be an emergency starter or long man if need be.
Brad Lidge
7.21 0-8 31 64
Regardless of whether Happ or Blanton start Game 4, both are likely to be in the bullpen at the start of the series. They would serve as a bridge to a surprisingly effective Phillies bullpen that outpitched their more heralded Dodgers counterparts in the NLCS. Scott Eyre is equally effective against righties and lefties (though he's likely to be reserved for left-handers in this series) and had a 1.50 ERA this season, while Ryan Madson is an impressive strikeout pitcher (78 K's in 77 1/3 IP) with a hard fastball. Even Chan Ho Park, who missed the NLDS while recovering from an injury, has become a valued member of the 'pen. Chad Durbin walks too many hitters (47 in 69 2/3 IP), but the biggest question remains the continued resurgence of Brad Lidge, who has not allowed a run in five postseason outings. He claims to be healthier than he has all year, allowing for better mechanics and thus more bite on his slider and more velocity on his fastball. Still, there's always going to be a concern with a pitcher who blew 11 saves during the season and posted a 7.21 ERA.
Joe Girardi
Career W-L Postseason W-L
270-216 7-2
Joe Girardi had never managed in the postseason before this year and he at times appeared to be showing it, making some curious decisions such as bringing in right-hander Aceves to relieve righty Robertson with two out and nobody on in Game 3 against the Angels (and watching Aceves blow the game). He's shown a willingness to pinch run for A-Rod and Matsui, leaving himself with gaping holes in his lineup if those games had gone to extra innings, and even lost the designated hitter in Game 2 of the ALCS. Girardi is a good manager, but as he himself said, the Yankees are in the Series because their big players made big plays. It isn't because he made any particularly deft moves in the first two rounds to get them there. His biggest concern should be making sure he gets the ball to Rivera, safely and with a lead. He does have experience managing in the National League from his year with the Florida Marlins, so he shouldn't have any problems adjusting when the games move to Philadelphia.
Charlie Manuel
Career W-L Postseason W-L
667-553 20-11
While Girardi has been spotted consulting a thick binder (presumably filled with statistical data and scouting report information) during the playoffs, Manuel has talked at length about managing from his gut. It helps that he hasn't had to tinker at all with his lineup in recent weeks, but he's handled an unsettled pitching staff with aplomb, juggling his rotation and the roles of his bullpen effectively enough to get back to a second straight World Series. He doesn't rely much on his bench, and his team had the second-fewest sacrifice bunts in the National League this year. He's been more content to let his imposing lineup try to beat other clubs into submission.
Both teams thrived in the pressure-cooker of Northeast baseball, with its occasionally overzealous fans, rabid media attention and sometimes dreary weather. At first glance, it seems odd that a matchup between the Yankees (seven World Series appearances since 1996) and the Phillies (making their seventh appearance ever in the Fall Classic) would give the Phillies the edge in experience, but that is indeed the case. The Yankees still have the core four of Jeter, Posada, Pettitte and Rivera, but otherwise this is a group that has never played in the Series, among them Rodriguez, Teixeira, Cano, Sabathia, Burnett and every key member of their bullpen. The Yankees have only two days off to get ready for the defending champions, but that is still enough time to set their pitching rotation to their liking. Home-field advantage may be the deciding factor here, as the Yankees had the best home record in the majors at 57-24, and are a perfect 5-0 in the Bronx in the postseason. The Yankees led the American League in home runs, runs scored, walks and slugging percentage, had the best record in the AL against teams at .500 or above, and had the second-best record in the majors against left-handed pitching, which bodes well in a Series where they'll face at least two lefty starters.
How evenly matched are these clubs? Start with the fact that the Phillies can counter the Yankees home success with the best road record in baseball, and a 3-1 mark away from Citizen's Bank Park in the playoffs. Philadelphia led the National League in runs, home runs and slugging percentage, just like the Yankees. They also had the NL's best record against teams that finished .500 or better and had the game's third-best record against lefty starters. They have a major edge in World Series experience among position players (only Ibanez was not on the team a year ago) and in the bullpen. Although among starting pitchers it's slightly negated, as Lee, Pedro and Happ, who may get the call in Game 4, all were not a part of the Series-winning team from last season. They also had six days of rest, but for a team that was swinging the bat as well as they were, that might actually be a disadvantage.

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