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2009 World Series Preview:

Philadelphia Phillies vs. New York Yankees

by Keith Glab, BaseballEvolution.com
October 27, 2009

The New York Yankees are playing in the World Series for the first time since 2003 and are trying to win it all for the first time since 2000.   The Philadelphia Phillies won the World Series last year. Interestingly enough, the buzz around the upcoming matchup between these two teams is that the Yankees have an unbeatable mystique about them.  While the Yankee teams from 1996-2000 certainly had that feel, this Yankees squad looks surmountable.

Certainly, the Yankees finished with the best record in baseball and did so while playing in the second-toughest division in baseball, the AL East (that's right, the AL West teams finished with a better record).  On the other hand, the Yankees played well above their Pythagorean expectation of a .588 winning percentage and have the same record this postseason as the Phillies do.  While the Angels appeared to be stiffer competition than either the Dodgers or the Rockies were, there is no question that the Twins were the worst team in the postseason.

The Yankees have home field advantage, every home team in this postseason has won so far, and much has been made about the Yanks' record at home since the All-Star break.  It is worth noting, however, that the Phillies were tied with the Angels for the best road record in baseball and the only team besides the Florida Marlins to have a better road record than home record this year.  And by the way, not having home field advantage didn't seem to bother them much last year.

So we have the Phillies, who have enjoyed more recent postseason success than the Yanks have, versus the Yankees, who have a more storied history and 10 more regular season wins than the Phils have.  Seems to me that this should be a very competitive series.

Offense

Okay, so the Yankees do have a serious edge on offense.  They outscored the Phillies by 95 runs; the designated hitter doesn't quite account for that disparity.  Besides that, the loss of Hideki Matsui for the games in Philadelphia could actually help the Yankees.  Matsui is one of the better clutch performers of our generation, as evidenced by his .326 batting average and .967 OPS in Late and Close situations for his major league career (503 PA).  Having him come off the bench in a key situation against a crummy Phillies bullpen could turn some games around.

One myth about the Phillies is that they are better at manufacturing runs than the Yankees are.  They have stolen 119 bases and been caught 28 times while New York has 111 steals and has also been caught 28 times.  Not only is that not a big edge, but the Phillies' 55-to-31 advantage in sacrifice hits is almost entirely due to pitcher sacrifices.  Finally, the Yankees have walked more times (663 to 589) and struck out fewer (1014 to 1155).

So far in the postseason, however, the Philadelphia offense has been hot.  They have scored seven more runs than the Yankees in roughly eight fewer innings.  Whereas the New York offense has been the Derek Jeter and Alex Rodriguez show, the Phillies have been getting contributions from most of their lineup.  Ryan Howard, Jayson Werth, Shane Victorino, Chase Utley, and even Carlos Ruiz have been fantastic.  The Phillies have the option of walking A-Rod in key situations, whereas the Yankees' pitchers have few weak options in the Philadelphia lineup.

Rotation

Game 1: Cliff Lee at C.C. Sabathia

This one will be painful for Indians fans to watch, won't it?  Maybe not.  The Phillies - ostensibly susceptible to left-handed pitching - had a 29-16 record against southpaws this year.  The Yankees were even better at 36-18.  These offenses can handle good left-handed pitching.

Since 2008, Sabathia has gone 36-18 with a 3.02 ERA, 448 strikeouts, 126 walks, and 37 home runs allowed while Lee has gone 36-16 with a 2.89 ERA, 351 strikeouts, 77 walks, and 29 home runs allowed.  While Sabathia certainly has been a good pitcher for a longer period, you might have to give an edge to Lee over the past two years.

Even with three dominant postseason starts this month, Sabathia is 5-3 with a 4.72 ERA overall in eight playoff starts.  Lee's entire postseason experience has come this month, and he has been even more dominant than Sabathia has, going 2-0 with a 0.74 ERA in three starts.

Since evolving into a different pitcher in 2008, Lee is 2-1 with a 1.89 ERA against the Yankees.  Sabathia's last two starts against the Phillies were an 8-inning no decision this season and a 3.2-inning disaster last postseason.  Blasphemy, I know, but you probably have to favor Lee here.

Game 2: Pedro Martinez at A.J. Burnett

I'm not sure anyone quite knows what to expect from Pedro Martinez.  He made the Dodgers' hitters look like little schoolgirls for seven innings in the NLCS.  On the other hand, he is 0-2 with a 5.93 ERA over his last five postseason games against the Yankees.  Those numbers come from 2003 and 2004, when Pedro was still one of the best pitchers in the game.  This year, there was a big controversy in Philly when he was named the fifth starter over the 400-year old Jamie Moyer.

At the same time, I am somewhat at a loss with A.J. Burnett.  He led the AL in walks and tied for the major league lead in wild pitches, yet he's pitched very well so far in the postseason aside from the first inning of his third start.  He had a 1.81 ERA in his 13 wins this year and a 7.09 ERA in his nine losses.

Really, how well these two pitchers fare in games two and six will pretty much determine the series.  I give Burnett a slight edge because both games will be played at Yankee Stadium, where Burnett posted a 3.51 ERA this year.

Game 3: Andy Pettitte at Cole Hamels

Cole Hamels went from being an unstoppable force in the Phillies' run to the ring in 2008 to a liability in their postseason rotation this year.  What is it about the Phillies developing inconsistent starting pitchers?  Remember when Brett Myers was the next great thing?  Vicente Padilla had two good years for the Phillies before falling apart.  Everyone who saw Kyle Kendrick's strikeout rate in 2007 knew he wasn't for real, but he's still a valid example of inconsistency.  Randy Wolf has certainly had his share of ups and downs.  Is it the fans?  The cheesesteak?  I am very skeptical about J. Happ's future to say the least.

But I still like Hamels in this matchup, as he had a 3.76 ERA at Citizen's Bank Park this season.  Andy Pettitte has a 3.71 road ERA, but is a left-handed pitcher who often struggles against good left-handed hitters.  That sounds like a recipe for disaster against this Philadelphia lineup.

Game 4: Chad Gaudin at Joe Blanton

I am not a big believer in long layoffs hurting you in the postseason, but Chad Gaudin has thrown exactly 2.1 innings over the past month and isn't a particularly good pitcher to begin with.  To avoid pitching Gaudin, the Yankees could use Sabathia on three days of rest, but then they would need to pitch both Burnett and Pettitte on three days rest in games five and six, plus Sabathia once again on three days of rest in game seven.  I don't think Joe Girardi would do that, and I don't believe he would shuttle Joba Chamberlain back to the rotation again, as he had an 8.22 August ERA, 6.85 September ERA, and has allowed seven hits in 3.1 postseason innings.

Joe Blanton is not a great pitcher by any means, but he is 2-0 with a 3.45 ERA in his postseason career and is more than capable of defeating Gaudin.

Bullpen

Basically, this is Mariano Rivera and a bunch of uncertainty.  Rivera has tossed 10.2 innings of 1-run ball in eight games this postseason.  He has reduced the need for the Yankees to use their middle relief in key situations.  The non-Mo portion of their bullpen has posted a 3.18 ERA.  That's actually quite good, but A) they have only needed to throw 17 innings over the nine postseason games, which is ridiculous given that three of those games went into extra innings, and B) Rivera bailed them out of several 8th-inning jams.  If the Phillies can knock out a starter early - and they certainly have the firepower to do that - they can get into the soft underbelly of the Yankee staff and feast on its tender flesh.

The Phillies are actually solid from the left side, as J. Happ and Scott Eyre have been just fine.  But right-handers are needed to combat the Yankees - particularly with Lee and Hamels already throwing left-handed, as you would ideally like to turn the four switch-hitters in New York's everyday lineup around in the middle of the game.  But if that means turnin' to Chad Durbin, the Phillies are in big trouble.

Some people are saying that Brad Lidge has turned his season around based on four decent postseason innings.  I am not so easily convinced...  I've always been a big Mad Max Madson fan, but even I realize that he should not be your team's best option out of the bullpen (I may be mad, but I'm not crazy).

X-Factors

It seems that in every postseason series, there is a scrappy hitter who performs way better than everyone expects.  A Mark Lemke, or a Timo Perez, or a Jeff Mathis.  Melky Cabrera hit .391 with a .462 OBP against the Angels and may be that X-factor that New York needs, as they are currently relying too heavily on just Jeter, A-Rod, Sabathia, and Rivera.  For the Phillies it has been Carlos Ruiz, who had a 1.271 OPS with no strikeouts in 19 plate appearances against the Dodgers.  But they probably don't need an X-factor on offense as much as they do in the bullpen.

Who can be their bullpen X-factor?  It is possible that Lidge really does think it's 2008 now and can shut down the 9th inning.  Beyond that, Charlie Manuel has shown a willingness to use his starters out of the bullpen this postseason.  With everything on the line, he may well do so even more prominently.

The good thing for the Phillies is that a late blown lead is not going to demoralize them.  They've been blowing late leads all season long.  Who would have guessed that they would come back with three ninth-inning runs of their own after allowing the Rockies to score three in the eighth inning of the NLDS Game Four?

Their bullpen is going to blow some leads, but it may not blow them to the point that the Phillies can't come back themselves.  We've already seen a lot of good, back-and-forth games this postseason, and we're going to see some more.  It should be a fantastic series, and fantastic series go to game seven.  Unfortunately for Philadelphia, the past seven World Series game sevens have gone to the home team.

Unfortunately for the Yankees, they will probably have Andy Pettitte going.  Pettitte has a 4.59 ERA, 1.49 WHIP, and 14 homers allowed in 100 innings at New Yankee Stadium.  Is he a big game pitcher based on his strong game six start versus the Angels?  Hardly.  His postseason ERA rests at 3.83 and his World Series ERA is 3.82.  He even has a losing record in the World Series, believe it or not. 

The alternative to Pettitte?  Sabathia on three days of rest for the third time in four starts.  According to Phil Rogers, teams using a starter on three days rest against one with at least four days rest are 8-27 in playoff games since 1999.  And again, doing this would mean that Burnett and Pettitte would go on short rest in the series as well. 

Girardi said that he would not pitch Sabathia on short rest twice in a seven game series.  So unless there is a postponement, it looks like Andy Pettitte in game seven.  He's going to blow it, but he will still be unjustly remembered as a big game pitcher a la Livan Hernandez.

Phillies in Seven.

Get Asher's take




Disagree with something? Got something to add? Wanna bring up something totally new? Keith resides in Chicago, Illinois and can be reached at keith@baseballevolution.com.

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