First off, we’d like to thank the New York tabloids for getting the Phillies all worked up. In particular, we’d like to thank the New York Post for putting a photo shop image of Shane Victorino in a cheerleader’s skirt on yesterday’s front page, bearing the caption “Only in the city of Brotherly Love could Shane Victorino pass for a slugger!” (Whoever said Victorino was a slugger?) The Phillies are the defending champions, and if they needed any insults to fire them up for the Series, the New York press has supplied it.
Second, let’s stop gloating over the Yankees’ sweep of the Whiz Kid Phillies in the 1950 World Series. Fifty-nine years ago is then, now is now. For the record, sweep or no, the 1950 Series was a tough one for the Yanks. The first three games were tense, one-run contests, the second of which went ten innings. The Yankees got all the breaks in that Series. Their hotshot lefty, Whitey Ford, was available to pitch even though he had to report for military service right after the Series, but the Phillies’ ace southpaw, Curt Simmons (17-8 during the regular season) wasn’t granted such a privilege by the draft board. The Phillies were forced to yank their great reliever Jim Konstanty, the NL’s MVP that year, out of the bullpen and put him in the starting rotation. Konstanty pitched brilliantly in his first two starts, but the move grievously weakened the Phillies’ bullpen; when DiMaggio won the second game of the series with a tenth inning home run, he hit it off a tired starter, Robin Roberts. If Ford’s draft notice had come up a week sooner, or if Curt Simmons’ notice a week later, there’s a very good chance the Phillies would have won the 1950 World Series.
Despite the low esteem in which the New York press is holding the Phillies, there’s a very good chance they can win this one, too.
Stated as simply as possible, the Phillies are younger, have more World Series experience, and having beaten the Yankees two out of three during the regular season at Yankee Stadium, are unlikely to be intimidated in front of the New York crowd. And — here’s the revelation — the Phillies have more power, pitching and speed.
At least they do on paper. Let’s start with the power. Both teams led their leagues in home runs. The Yankees hit 244 to the Phillies 224. But the Yankees did this with Hideki Matsui, who finished with 28 home runs, at DH for most of the season. If they had to bat their pitchers in the ninth spot like the Phillies, the Phillies would almost certainly have hit more home runs.
Speed: the Yankees did very well on the bases, stealing 111 with 28 caught stealing for an excellent success rate of 80 percent. Philadelphia, who had 119 stolen bases with 28 caught stealing, were even better — 81 percent. But here’s where the Phillies have a substantial edge — they grounded into just 90 double plays to the Yankees’ 144.
If we caught your attention with those numbers, try these pitching stats: The Phillies had a slightly better ERA, 4.16, than the Yankees, 4.26. Their starters, while often inconsistent had a 4.29 Era to 4.48 for the Yankees starting rotation. And here’s a kicker: the two teams had identical bullpen ERAs, 3.91.
The Yankees bullpen is supposed to be deeper and better than the Phillies, and at least in the second half of the season it was. But much depends on hold man Joba Chamberlain and set-up man Phil Hughes, who for the most part have been ineffective during the playoffs. In truth, the Phillies unheralded Ryan Madson (3.26 ERA, 10 saves) has been less spectacular than Hughes but more consistent.
But the Phillies bullpen is full of question marks, too. Closer Brad Lidge was unhittable last year but posted a horrendous 7.21 ERA during this year’s regular season. In the playoffs, though, he’s done a stunning turnaround, having allowed no runs in five appearances. Close games for the Phillies are pretty much going to turn on whether the regular season or postseason Lidge comes out of that bullpen in the ninth inning. For a set-up man, the Phillies have to ask themselves if Scott Eyre is for real. Eyre appeared in 42 games during the season with an even lower ERA — 1.50 to 1.76 — than Mariano Rivera. In the playoffs he was less effective with a 3.86 ERA in five appearances.
Nonetheless, the Yankees are likely to win, and here’s why:
— Starting matchups. The Phillies Cliff Lee has been ever more sensational than C.C. Sabathia in the playoffs; both have had three starts, and Lee has the better ERA, 0.74 to 1.19. Both have struck out 20 and walked just three. Sabathia, though, could be pitching two games in his home ballpark and, whatever happens, will be pitching to a lineup of mostly left-handed hitters, against whom he has been devastating. The Yankees, with four switch hitters and Matsui (who hits lefthanders even better than he does righties) have more balanced batting order.
The second game will match A.J. Burnett against Pedro Martinez, and who can say how this one will turn out? Even if both are on their game, you don’t expect to see them around by the sixth inning.
Then, for game three, there’s the mystery of Cole Hamels when he goes up against Andy Pettitte. Pettitte is a known commodity and as much as anyone can be counted on to give a good start at either Yankee Stadium or Citizens Bank Park. Hamels, though, might be the single biggest difference between last year’s Phillies and this year’s. In 2008, his ERA was 3.09 during the regular season and 1.80 in the post season; this year he was 4.32 and 6.75. On the whole, his ineffectiveness has been a source of bafflement for Philadelphia. If the 2008 Hamels shows up, the Phillies probably win. If the 2009 edition, the Yankees batting order will eat him alive and he’ll be gone by the third inning.
— DH/Pinch hitter. When the games are in the Bronx, the Yankees have a big edge at designated hitter with Matsui over anyone the Phillies can send to the plate. The Phillies could counter by using Raul Ibanez, who hits about as well as Matsui at DH, but then they have to use the relatively light-hitting Ben Francisco in left field. As a pinch hitter when the games are in Philadelphia Matusi is again better than anyone the Phillies can bring off the bench.
— Home park advantage. No matter how you look at it, the Yankees are the best home team in baseballs with a 57-24 record at Yankee Stadium III. An odd and inexplicable fact is that during the season the Phillies were actually better on the road, 48-23, than at home, 45-36. The Yankees were better on the road, 46-35, than the Phillies were at home.
— Mariano Rivera.
Expect the Yankees to win, probably in six games, but at least four of those will be excruciatingly close.
Oh, one more thing. In today’s Daily News Mike Lupica, always looking for a way to cut down Alex Rodriguez, writes that “As dangerous as he’s been, nobody is more dangerous than Ryan Howard. Try telling Phillies fans that A-Rod is the best hitter in the world.”
Thanks, Mike, and we do tell both you and Phillies fans that Ryan Howard has been great (.355, two home runs in the playoffs) but that A-Rod (.438 with five HRs) is the best hitter in the world. Or at least in this World Series.