The New York Yankees and Philadelphia Phillies both followed similar paths this season. On May 14th, both teams stood at .500, but then played according to expectations over the balance of the season to win their divisions by comfortable margins.
The Yankees exploded, playing at a .672 clip on their way to the best record in baseball. Their final regular season win total of 103, the marquee names on their roster and the weight of the New York media has many convinced that they will end the Phillies reign as World Champions. It is hard to argue against the talent or the success that they have had this season, but the Phillies will have something to say about the outcome.
The Bronx Bombers have returned, as the Yankees are a team built on power and housed in a park built for home runs. They lead major league baseball in home runs with 244 and runs scored. The team boasts a line-up with all nine players having hit double digit home runs, including seven with 20 or more. The fact that they hit 56% of them at home provides evidence that the numbers are a little inflated by their home park. The Yankees also led baseball with a .362 OBP, while ending 2nd in hitting at .283.
These are surely impressive offensive credentials, but they also played defense and pitched pretty well, too. The team ended 4th in the American League both in fielding and pitching with a 4.26 ERA. The off season additions of CC Sabathia, AJ Burnett, Nick Swisher and Mark Teixeira at a 2009 cost of $58 million surely helped in all regards.
Despite the impressive resume, and two playoff series victories, the Yankees have not yet faced a team like the Phillies. The National League Champions are also built on power and led their league in home runs and runs as well. The numbers are comparable when adjusting for the DH inflation in American League stats, and contrary to popular perception, they hit 116 of their 224 home runs on the road, which might suggest they don't play in a "band box", whatever that is.
The Phillies also can pitch and field. They placed 8th in the majors in pitching with a 4.16 ERA and second in fielding having committed only 76 errors. The team also possesses its own cadre of big names, including 2 recent MVPs, 2 CY Young Winners and 5 NL All-Stars in 2009.
Lets take a closer look at how they compare for the World Series:
The Phillies have more depth than the Yankees, who plan to counter that by handing the ball to 19-game winner Sabathia to start 3 games, if necessary. Their other two starters will be Burnett and Andy Pettite. Game 1 will be a match-up of former Indians teammates and the last two AL CY Young winners, Sabathia and Cliff Lee. In a mild surprise, Pedro gets the call for Game 2 against Burnett with Cole Hamels pitching Saturday back the Bank. Charlie Manuel may choose to risk bringing Lee back on 3 days rest, but if not, he has solid options in J.A. Happ or Joe Blanton. With both line-ups loaded with heavy artillery, pitching duels are not that likely, especially in Yankee Stadium, but look for the Phillies hurlers to turn in the better performances.
The Yankees have the ultimate playoff weapon in closer Mariano Rivera, who continues to add to his major league record 37 post season saves, obtained on the strength of a 0.77 ERA. Besides Phil Hughes, the Yankees bullpen is a little bit of an adventure, so they need to have their starters go deep into games. Much has been made of the Phillies bullpen struggles all season long, but they are functioning their best on the big stage of the post season. Brad Lidge has seemingly re-gained his confidence and his form that was instrumental in last year's run. Getting Chan Ho Park and Brett Myers back from injury, along with Happ and Blanton standing by, the Phillies have great depth, and besides Rivera, have a significantly better group.
As already covered, both line-ups are the best in each respective league. They rely on long ball power, but the Phillies have superior team speed. Look for Chase Utley and Raul Ibanez to break out in the World Series despite facing a steady diet of left-handers, finding the short porch in Yankee Stadium to their liking. Howard has evolved from slugger into all around hitter, with the ability to be clutch. Jayson Werth should have a big offensive performance as he typically wears out left-handers. And, Shane Victorino has hit extremely well against Sabathia, including his memorable NLDS grand slam a year ago. Rollins is the "X" factor for the Phils.
The Yankees have been riding the red hot Alex Rodriquez, who has shaken off his previous dismal post season performances in the black pinstripes. Mark Teixeira started to get untracked at the end of the ALCS and has historically hit well against the Phillies, so expect him to do some damage. Derek Jeter will continue to be steady, but the rest of the line-up has not contributed a great deal in the post season.
Rodriquez and Teixeira are very strong on the corners. Jeter and Robinson Cano are steady up the middle, but the former does not have great range. The Phillies outfield is superior and the Yankees outfielders weak throwing ability should be exploited. Utley and Rollins form the best duo up the middle, and Feliz has performed well at third. Overall, the Phillies have the best defense in baseball.
Although the Yankees have 26 World Series titles, this Phillies team has more post season experience than their opponent. Last year's experience, as well as their tremendous mental toughness and confidence will be the difference. Look for the Phillies indomitable spirit to show through as they do what other's couldn't and beat Rivera. Also, look for J Roll to be fueled by the big stage and attention from his pre-series prediction as he leads the Phillies to a second consecutive World Championship.