Wednesday, October 28, 2009

World Series 2009: Phillies vs Yankees

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-Digger's Daily-

Baseball's two best teams are getting ready to face off in tonight's opening game of the 2009 World Series. Philadelphia Phillies are trying to become the first team to win consecutive titles since 2000 and the first National League repeat champion since Cincinnati's "Big Red Machine" went back to back in 1975-76. Standing in their way is the last team to repeat, New York Yankees. Yankees are taking aim at their 27th franchise World Series title.

World Series 2009 is one of the best pairings in recent history. Both teams have very talented lineups, pitching staffs, fielders and managers. Here's how I break it down position by position. On paper, Philadelphia vs New York could turn out to be one of the best ever.

Starting Pitchers: Even
Home ballparks for both clubs favor power hitters and pitchers had better beware. It looks like 3 man rotations for both clubs. Lee, Martinez & Hamels go for Philly vs Sabathia, Burnett & Pettitte for NY. All 6 rely in changing speeds for maximum effectiveness. None are strangers to post-season play. At times all have pitched like future Hall of Famers. Going deep into games is an essential ingredient for success which will be no easy task against baseball's best lineups. Philadelphia's bullpen during the regular season was very inconsistent. NY had better success. On paper, I'm rating them as equal. We'll soon see how well they can handle pressure packed situations with everything on the line.

Catchers: Even
Ok, before New York fans have a cow, here's why. Posada is by far the better hitter. But, he's yet to come through in the clutch this post-season on a consistent basis. If he does get hot then Phils are in trouble. His pitch calling is also very suspect. Plus, Burnett would rather pitch to backup Molina which could factor into Game 2. I don't see Posada riding the bench and this could throw off AJ's effectiveness or confidence.
Ruiz has been sensational in the playoffs for Phils (.346, 7 RBI). Defense has been solid, clutch hitting and good pitch calling. He's the hotter player right now (not the better player).

1B: Edge Phillies
Phils Ryan Howard is a monster at the plate. 14 post-season RBI in 9 games while batting .355. He's one of baseball's best clutch hitters. Howard vs Rivera in 9th inning situations will keep nervous fans sitting on the edge of their seats. Howard's defense has improved but is still shaky and a booted ball or bad throws could be game changers.
Mark Teixeira recovered from a slow start in pinstripes to become the AL leader in HR and RBI. However, he's struggling in the playoffs (.205). Time and time again he failed to deliver this postseason with runners in scoring position and is not looking good at the plate. Yanks need him to get back on track. Defensively, there's no better.

2B: Even
Phils fans turn to have a cow. Utley possesses great power (31 HR). His playoff defense hasn't been great. 2 playoff RBI isn't exactly clutch hitting either.
Robinson Cano is starting to turn it on after many failures to deliver with runners in scoring position. He must come through as bottom 3rd of lineup needs to produce. His defense has been excellent.

SS: Edge Yankees
Rollins can explode at any time. However, 2009 performance is far below career numbers. He struggled in playoffs so far (.244, 0 BB, 0 SB) except for a clutch game winning double on a meatball pitch. His defense is always strong. As Phils leadoff hitter, he needs to get it going vs a Yanks staff usually around the strike zone.
Yanks have Captain Jeter. He's been on fire (.297, 3 HR, .455 OBA). He's baseball's all time playoff hit leader (164). He's patient at the plate and usually comes thru in clutch situations. He's the table setter. Yanks will go as far as Jeter takes them.

3B: Edge Yankees
3B is the greatest disparity in my position by position analysis. Pedro Feliz will never be confused with Alex Rodriguez offensively or defensively. Feliz playoff stats are horrible (.161, 2 RBI). His defense hasn't been great either. However, never underestimate a slumping player. World Series are often won by non star-like characters when opposing pitchers take them for granted.
Alex Rodriguez has been enjoying the greatest postseason of his career. Can he keep it going vs Lee & Pedro? He's in the zone (.438, 5 HR, 12 RBI) coupled with flawless defense. ARod's biggest career challenge to date... producing in World Series play.

LF: Even
Phils might have a slight edge here with Ibanez. Ibanez was 1st half MVP candidate. But, he's struggled to regain his stroke at the dish. While Ibanez didn't hit for much of an average during playoffs (.236).. he has come thru time and time again with runners on base (9 RBI). He's been subbed out in late inning defensive situations but does play a decent LF.
Yanks Johnny Damon is a big game player waiting to turn it on. 24 regular season HR, 107 runs scored. So far, only batting .238. But, Phils pitching style is exactly the type he thrives on. We'll soon see. Damon has no arm in LF and can't throw anyone out. He's been lifted for stronger arms in late innings.

CF: Edge Phillies
Victorino is Phils leading hitter in playoffs (.361). He's showing no signs of slowing down after batting .292 during regular season. This guy will become a hero in the City of Brotherly Love if he remains the Phils catalyst. He's an excellent defensive CF to boot. He'll see plenty of activity.
Yanks free swinging Cabrera (.314) has deceptive playoff numbers. His average appears good in the surface, but he's failed in many clutch situations and is tied with RF Swisher with 11 K's. Not a good formula at the bottom of Yanks lineup. It might be time to give Gardner a shot. It won't happen since Gardner is Damon's late inning defensive replacement.

RF: Edge Phillies
Werth is tied with ARod for most playoff HR's this year (5). This kid keeps getting better. Werth is the Phillies key player in this series. Can he handle pressures of World Series play in NY? Probably. Coming in hitting .281, 5 HR, 10 RBI. Utley, Howard & Werth hit 3-4-5 and usually come through when needed in late game situations.
Swisher became Yanks everyday RF after Nady's season ending injury. He played very well during regular season (29 HR, .371 OBA). Playoffs have been another story (4-32, .125, 0 HR, 1 RBI, 11 K). He looks lost at the plate with feeble pop ups and plenty of strikeouts. He's a slug on the bases who is not alert. He seems to get picked off with ease. Luckily, his defense has been very good from tracking down balls to strong throws.

DH: Edge Yankees
Phils might play around with DH. Rumors state Ibanez might DH vs lefties with Francisco in LF. Matt Stairs might play vs righties.
Yanks strut out Matsui who has struggled (.233) in key playoff situations after a clutch '09 regular season (28 HR, 90 RBI). He was red hot during the final weeks but it hasn't carried into playoffs. His contribution in home games is vital.

Middle Relievers - Set up: Edge Yankees
Phils bullpen during regular season was horrific and cost this team a shot at 100 victories. They've done much better in '09 playoffs. Last season, their pen was instrumental is securing the title. They must pitch the games of their lives vs a potent Yanks attack in key situations for Phils to prevail. JA Happ, Chan Ho Park, Joe Blanton will be first out of the pen in early innings if needed or could take center stage in extra innings.
On the flip side, Yankees relievers enjoyed great success during the regular season after a horrendous '08 effort. Most have done well in the playoffs except for set up man Hughes who is clearly feeling the pressure of playoff baseball. Aceves has also faultered which might change Girardi's normal late inning plans. Joba Chamberlain will probably be the long middle reliever even though I'm all for him being used as a setup man and future closer.

Closer: Edge Yankees
Lidge was phenominal in '08 and pathetically bad in '09 until the playoffs. He might be back on track which is bad news for Yankees hitters. He's only given up 1 hit in 5 scoreless appearances spanning 4 innings. Not much of a litmus test but it's encouraging for a player coming off the worst year of his career.
Mariano Rivera owns the playoff record book for relievers. 37 postseason saves is 21 ahead of #2 (Lidge). He's most effective pitching only one inning per appearance.

Bench: Even
Not much to speak of here for either team. Matsui will be the big name off the bench when games shift to NL Phillies. Otherwise, it's mainly late inning defensive replacements in LF or pinch runners.

Managers: Even
Both teams love their managers. Most playoff moves have paid dividends (not all). Talented and well liked field generals who have kept clubs under control and believing in themselves no matter what the scoreboard reads. How they handle relievers could be the key to this series.

Philadelphia and New York lineups are very strong. Yankees have more power 1-9. Yankees play better overall defense. Yankees bullpen better. Yanks relying on early long ball power. Clutch hitting belongs to Phillies. Yankees pitchers used to facing tough lineups. Phillies pitchers used to NL DH-less weaker lineups. Yankees in 6.


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