Tampa Bay Rays vs. Philadelphia Phillies
Tampa finished dead last in the AL East last year, and had never won more than 70 games in its 10 year history. They spent those 10 years stockpiling top draft picks to assemble a young core of stud players, led by Evan Longoria and BJ Upton, and Scott Kazmir and James Shields on the mound. The Rays have to be one of the first world series teams to be led entirely by homegrown talent. Even their veterans are homegrown, Rocco Baldelli and Carl Crawford. They plugged some holes with effective veterans (unlike the Twins) in Cliff Floyd, Johnny Gomes and Troy Percival. They are also really fun to watch. The ex-Twins factor is pretty significant with Matt Garza (ALCS MVP), Jason Bartlett (team MVP), and Grant Balfour (resident flamethrowing badass/Australian). I like this team because they can beat you in many different ways. They can play the long ball with the best of them, and play small ball with the best of them. (Note that small ball can be successful without bunting — the Rays had the fewest sacrifice bunts in the AL this year. One of the reasons their offense is so good is that they tend not to give away outs.)
I don’t really know much about the Phillies. They have the best starting pitcher on either team in Cole Hamels, a very solid bullpen anchored by Brad Lidge, and a powerful lineup led by Utley and Howard. Rollins is one of the best tablesetters in the National League. My concern for this team is lack of starting pitching depth, after Hamels it gets dicey. Brett Myers is hit or miss, and Jamie Moyer is really not an ideal choice as your third best starter.
The Rays DO have starting pitching depth. Game one is Kazmir, game two is Shields , game three Garza, and game four Sonnanstine. That is a formidable four headed monster. If the Phillies get down early they can start Hamels on three days rest in game 4, Blanton is set to start that game now, but if I were Charlie Manuel I would throw Hamels as often as possible. So look for Hamels to be in game four on short rest. I would predict the Rays have a two to one series lead at that point. Although home field advantage will be huge. That band box the Phillies will benefit the powerful Rays just as much as the Phillies. I expect Longoria, Upton and Pena all to have multiple homers in Philly.
Looking at all the possible potential World Series match ups I have to say this one is probably the best. The Manny-Red Sox thing didn’t interest me. I hate the White Sox, and any game played on the west coast would make for games going too late here. So that counts out the Angels, and the Dodgers (again), I wouldn’t have minded seeing the Cubs, but the Brewers make me mad because they untuck their jerseys after they win, show some class.
FunBobby: Rays in six.
While the Phillies are a good team with a good offense who call a hitter’s dream their home ballpark, it’s impossible to overlook the recent dominance of the AL over the NL in all phases of the game in which they compete — interleague play, All Star games, World Series — for years, it’s been all AL all the time. And in an amusing twist, this year’s All Star game, which annoyingly now decides home field advantage in the World Series, was decided by representatives by these two teams. Kazmir was the winning pitcher, while Lidge was the losing pitcher. I believe this is the first time that’s happened in the history of the “This Time It Counts” Marketing Campaign, and is just about the only thing that could possibly make Selig’s latest dream worthwhile or interesting. Usually the All Star game star is somebody from a team with absolutely no chance at the playoffs, which isn’t how The Marketing Campaign should work. Obviously a sample size of a couple innings doesn’t matter, but it’s an interesting little factoid that TBS and Fox will surely overplay to absurdity. (If they actually show the games.)
In the last couple of years, the team that finished their LCS first got beaten handily in the World Series, because a longer-than-usual layoff leaves them cold and rusty while their opponent continues to roll. This trend does not bode well for the Phillies, who will be cold despite being well rested. Just like the Rockies and the Tigers before them.
Ultimately this series will come down to the answers of the following questions: 1) After overcoming the Red Sox onslaught of postseason clutchiness, will the Rays be imbued with a newfound optimism and continue to dominate, or will they suffer a hangover after such an extreme range of emotions over a span of a few days? 2) Will the Phillies be able to overcome recent history and stay hot despite winning the NLCS “too” quickly?
sirsean: Rays in five