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2009 World Series Preview:
Philadelphia Phillies vs. New York Yankees
by Asher B. Chancey, BaseballEvolution.com
October 27, 2009
In 1950, the Philadelphia Phillies and New York Yankees met in the World Series, with the Yankees sweeping the Phillies on the strength of three one-run victories in the Series’ first three games. In that 1950 series, the teams combined for 16 total runs, which would be a good over/under for just one game of the Series in 2009. Nevertheless, while we're certain the score will not be the same in 2009, will the outcome be any different?
There will be some that will try to paint this Series as a match-up between the evil money-happy New York Yankees and the built-the-right-way Philadelphia Phillies. This is not an entirely accurate picture. This Series would more properly be billed as the Best Team Money Can Buy versus the Best Team Money Can Build, for as surely as the Yankees success has been built upon high priced free agent acquisitions like Alex Rodriguez, Mark Teixeira, CC Sabathia, and A.J. Burnett, the Philadelphia Phillies are not exactly a small-market team, and have seen the benefits of being able to spend big money to hold onto its young stars like Ryan Howard, Chase Utley, and Jimmy Rollins while being able to add crucial pieces like Raul Ibanez, Cliff Lee, and Pedro Martinez.
At the end of the day, though, the Evil Monolith narrative may provide some comfort to Yankee-haters and Phillies fans alike, as this looks to be a relatively easy Yankees victory, won on the strength of one of baseball’s most durable pitchers and one of baseball’s most elite offenses.
One of the stylish narratives of the 2009 World Series has become dispelling the so-called “myth” that the Yankees have a significantly better offense than the Phillies. Indeed, many reports I’ve heard in recent days have been using a phrase I’ve never heard before, referring to the Philadelphia Phillies’ “American League style offense.”
Are you kidding me?
First, let’s dispense with the latter point – a team does not have an “American League style offense” until it can go nine hitters deep. The Phillies’ designated hitter in this Series will be either Ben Francisco (actually, it would be Ibanez at DH with Francisco in left field) or Matt Stairs. Francisco is a great fielder, and Stairs can hit nice looking homeruns in tough spots, but neither player is an everyday hitter.
Second, while the Phillies have good offensive players at each position in the lineup, the Yankees have better offensive players at each position. The Yankees core of A-Rod, Teixeira, Matsui, and Posada is better to a man than the Phillies core of Howard, Utley, Werth, and Ibanez. I’d take Jeter leading off over Rollins everyday of the week. Damon and Victorino is a toss-up, but the bottom third of the lineup demonstratively favors the Yankees – Cabrera, Cano, and Swisher could be the 3-4-5 hitters on some teams, while Feliz, Ruiz, and Francisco/Stairs represents three offensive liabilities and a guy who couldn’t score from third on a double.
In my NLCS preview, I said that if the series were going to be won on offense, it would be won by Phillies. I cannot say the same thing here.
As one might imagine, Philadelphia has been a city in which non-baseball people have become baseball people these last two years. As such, I am regularly asked Baseball 101 questions by my non-baseball friends, which is always delightful.
On Saturday night, sitting at a kid’s birthday party, a friend and his wife posited the following question: in Game One of a big playoff series, against one of the best pitchers in baseball, why wouldn’t the road team send out its worst pitcher to pitch in a game that they will almost certainly lose anyway?
My answer? You’re preaching to the choir. I have always thought that in Game One on the road, a team should never start their best pitcher unless there is a legitimate chance of taking the game. This question becomes significantly more important against the Yankees, who have a thin rotation and face the very likely chance of pitching C.C. Sabathia on short rest for the second series in a row.
Do the Phillies have a chance to win Game One? In truth, every team has a chance to win every game in playoffs, but practically speaking the Phillies can not win Game One. These aren’t the light-hitting Los Angeles Dodgers, and C.C. Sabathia isn’t the young-and-inexperienced Clayton Kershaw. Sabathia is a shut-down playoff pitcher, and the Yankees can hit the long-ball from any spot in the order.
The situation is worsened by the performance of the Phillies rotation in the playoffs – Lee has been the only guy the Phillies can count on. Why would you waste that against Sabathia at home. Pitch Lee in Game One, and he may not even get the chance to pitch in a Game Five.
The funny thing about the pitching matchup between these two teams is that the Yankees are absolutely going to pitch Sabathia on short rest, and somehow Sabathia appears to be immune to the struggles that usually plague pitchers working on short rest. The result? The Yankees have two CC Sabathia caliber pitchers in their rotation.
So, here are two “Don’t Start Cliff Lee in Game One” alternative scenarios:
Scenario One: the Phillies do the same thing they did against the Dodgers in the NLCS – send out Hamels and Pedro in Games One and Two in New York, hoping to steal a game, and then go with Lee in Game Three back in Philadelphia to lock down the win in the first game back at home. Plus, that sets Lee up to pitch again if the Series goes to seven games.
Scenario Two: If Sabathia is going to pitch in Games One and Four, then he will be facing Cliff Lee and Joe Blanton. Why not pitch Blanton first? Assuming that the Phillies cannot beat Sabathia in New York, pitch Blanton first, and then take your shot with Pedro in Game Two against Burnett, against whom the Phillies have a far better chance of winning. Back in Philadelphia, pitch Hamels in Game Three against Pettitte, as the Phillies have shown that they can win at home even when Hamels doesn’t have his best stuff. Finally, in Game Four bring out Lee for Sabathia’s second start, which will be on short rest on the road.
Both of these options would be better than going with Cliff Lee in Game One; if the Phillies pitch Cliff Lee and lose Game One, the Series is over.
This matchup is a lot closer than it may initially appear. Brad Lidge and Mariano Rivera would appear to favor Rivera, but Lidge appears to be back to form in the playoffs.
Both Rivera and Lidge have a rollicking gang of ne’er-do-wells backing them up. The Phillies have Chan Ho Park, who can only succeed in Los Angeles, but even then not always; Ryan Madson, who has forgotten how to pitch; and Scott Eyre, who retires about as many guys as he allows on base. Rivera has Joba Chamberlain and Phil Hughes, neither of whom has been consistent, and Alfredo Aceves, who should be fine as long as he is not required to pitch.
This series may be dictated by how well the Yankees and Phillies get from their starters to their closers. In this regard, the fact that Joe Girardi can confidently bring Rivera in to start the eighth inning and let him finish the game, compared to the fact that Charlie Manuel doesn’t like to let any one reliever face more than a batter or two in the middle-to-late innings, favors the Yankees.
It has been five long years since we’ve had a competitive World Series. From 2001 to 2003, we had one of the most thrilling World Series ever between the Yankees and the Arizona Diamondbacks, the epic collapse of the San Francisco Giants against the never-say-die Anaheim Angels, and the David-beats-Goliath victory of the Florida Marlins over the Yankees. Since then, we’ve had three sweeps (Boston Red Sox twice, Chicago White Sox once) and two Series go five games (St. Louis Cardinals in 2006, Phillies in 2008).
There doesn’t seem to be any rhyme or reason to this phenomenon.
In the Wild Card Era (1995 to present) only two teams have won the World Series after losing Game One. So winning Game One seems to be inordinately important, which would seem to indicate that the Phillies should take their best shot at winning Game One with Lee.
Or, the lesson could be: lose Game One with your Ace on the mound, and it is all downhill from there. Conversely, lose Game One, but come back with your Ace the next night, and maybe you can stop the momentum.
Oddly, the two teams that managed to win the World Series despite losing Game One managed to do so despite losing their Game Ones at home. In 1996, the Atlanta Braves won the first two games of the World Series in New York and somehow managed to lose the Series after the Yankees peeled off four straight wins. In 2002, the Giants won Game One of the Series in Anaheim before losing the Series in seven games.
So if the Yankees lose Game One, all hope may not be lost for the Yankees. If the Phillies lose Game One, the Series is over.
There was a time when the World Series meant a matchup between hitters and pitchers who had not faced each other before. That time has passed. With free agency and the dissolution of distinctions between the leagues, pitchers and hitters pass between leagues with more fluidity. The Phillies in particular have made a habit of acquiring American League pitchers, and thus Pedro Martinez, Cliff Lee, and Joe Blanton all have experience against the New York Yankees.
And how have they done against the Yankees?
Cliff Lee: 52.0 IP; 4-4, 5.02 ERA
Joe Blanton: 22.0 IP; 0-3, 8.08 ERA
Pedro Martinez: 216.2 IP; 11-11, 3.20 ERA
Not a lot of reason for optimism there. This should not be much of a Series. While these teams will likely combine for a lot more runs than they did back in 1950, it would not be surprising to see the same end result:
Yankees in four games.
Get Keith's take
Questions? Concerns? Comments? Asher lives in Philadelphia, PA, and can be reached at email@example.com.
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