Wednesday, October 28, 2009

The 2009 Fall Classic

With absolutely no apologies to William Rhoden of the New York Times, who wrote that America deserved a Yankee-Dodger World Series, THIS is the matchup we all deserve. The best team in the American League against the best team in the National League, which happens to be the defending World Series champs. New York vs Philadelphia. Free agent acquisitions vs a home grown core. Slugging offense vs... slugging offense. Former Cleveland ace vs... former Cleveland ace. Broadway vs Broad Street.

So how do these two titans matchup? Let's take a look. I would be willing to wager that you will not find a more comprehensive and informative preview anywhere. Not ESPN, not Sports Illustrated, not in a New York or Philadelphia media outlet. And not just because I wrote it...

Catcher- NYY- Jorge Posada vs. PHI- Carlos Ruiz
Posada had a very good offensive year for a 38-year old catcher, hitting .285 with 22 home runs, while Ruiz hit .255 with nine home runs in the eight hole for the Phils. Both backstops hit far higher at home than on the road (80 points for Posada, 110 for Ruiz), which doesn't figure to be important since both parks are good places to hit. However, in the playoffs, Posada is hitting only .258 with two HR and three RBI, while Ruiz is hitting .346 with a home run and seven RBI, including several big knocks. While both call a good game and block balls in the dirt well, Ruiz is outstanding at controlling the running game, while Posada, it could charitably be said, isn't. This is a bigger issue with Posada behind the plate than Ruiz, as the Phils have plenty of guys (SS, CF, RF, 2B, even 1B and C) who will swipe a bag, especially on a poor thrower. Four of the eight Phillie regulars stole 20 or more bags this year, while the Yankees had only one regular take more than 14. Jose Molina will likely continue to catch A.J. Burnett, which improves the defense, but is a severe dropoff at bat. Phillies backup Paul Bako has not appeared in the playoffs, and probably won't.
Advantage: None. This wouldn't be a tie except for Ruiz' offensive output in the playoffs and the Phillies' propensity to run.

First Base- NYY- Mark Teixiera vs PHI- Ryan Howard
Both Teixiera and Howard are outstanding players, but Howard is on another level right now. This playoff run he has tied records held by guys named Ruth and Gehrig, on his way to taking home NLCS MVP honors. Teixiera has it all over Howard with the glove (like maybe 10-2), but the glove isn't nearly as important at first base as it is at shortstop or catcher. Besides that, Tex has been awful at the plate so far in the playoffs.
Advantage: PHI. Defense is nice, but you can't pitch to Howard right now.

Second Base- NYY- Robinson Cano vs PHI- Chase Utley
Cano hit .320 this season and added 25 bombs, which makes him a nice second baseman. However, he never walks and hit 35 points higher at home headed towards the friendly right field stands of new Yankee Stadium. Utley, at this point, is the best second baseman in baseball. His defense still has room for improvement, but he gets on base almost 40 percent of his plate appearances and sets the hard-nosed attitude for the rest of the Phillies. He could probably use a few more off days throughout the season, because his slight frame and grit leave him worn down come September. Cano's defense isn't as good as it should be, and he was caught stealing more times (seven) than he was successful (five), traits that reflect poor baseball instinct and acumen. Utley was 23-23 in stolen base attempts.
Advantage: PHI. Cano is a good player, but he's not a winner on his own right at this stage. He's a complimentary player, while Utley is an engine that powers a great team.

Shortstop- NYY- Derek Jeter vs PHI- Jimmy Rollins
Easily the most evenly matched aspect of these two teams, each serves as his teams leadoff hitter and inspirational leader. They're both very cool, good leaders and consummate professionals. Jeter hit .334 this season, the highest batting average for a shortstop as old as he since Honus Wagner. Yes, the million dollar baseball card guy Honus Wagner. Rollins struggled offensively for much of the year and into the playoffs, but he's a red light guy, the type that hits much better when it's 2-1 in the ninth than when it's 10-1 in the fifth. Rollins' arm and range are far superior to Jeter's (much more important at SS), as is his speed, evidenced by stealing one more base than Jeter in 75 fewer opportunites on base. Rollins got the majority of the time at SS for Team USA in the World Baseball Classic, but you can't go wrong in either direction here.
Advantage: None. Say whatever you want, but would you complain if you missed out on one guy but got to have the other on your squad? Didn't think so.

Third Base- NYY- Alex Rodriguez vs PHI- Pedro Feliz
What? Seriously? A-Rod is in the same category as Ryan Howard right now, which is to say that you can't get him out. He's also very good defensively, so there are no holes in his game as of today. Feliz consistently shows no plan and no patience at the plate, often gets himself out, but can run into a ball once in awhile and pop one. Feliz is about as good as it gets defensively, but his bat is just average for a premium offensive position.
Advantage: NYY. Nothing else to say here.

Left Field- NYY- Johnny Damon vs PHI- Raul Ibanez
The leftfield position for both teams features pros who have been at it quite a long time. Damon was one of the 'idiots' with the 2004 Red Sox, while this year marks the first trip to the Series for the 37 year old Ibanez. The two had similar numbers for the year, with Damon holding an edge in batting average and on-base percentage, while Ibanez had more home runs and and RBI. Ibanez was actually better against lefthanded pitching than righties, but Damon held his own against lefties. The biggest difference in the two is that Damon hit 70% of his home runs and 68% of his RBI at home, while Ibanez actually produced more power wise away from home. Neither is an especially good fielder at this stage, and Ibanez is likely to DH in the games in New York.
Advantage: None. Ibanez hits good pitches better than Damon does at this stage; Damon runs better, but also throws very poorly. They're close enough to call it a draw.

Center Field- NYY- Melky Cabrera vs PHI- Shane Victorino
Playing centerfield for any team carries a certain amount of cache with it, especially for historically significant franchises like the Yankees and Phillies. Cabrera is fine as a nine hole hitter for a powerful lineup, but, like Cano, he's not a player that should be a difference maker in a series like this. Victorino is the yappiest and spunkiest of the Phillies, a player who loves the stage when everyone's looking at him, and when everyone's yelling at him. Victorino has a higher average, higher on base percentage, and stole more bases. Cabrera had more home runs and RBI, but hits ninth in an order where everyone is on base, while Victorino is one of the guys always on base in a similar lineup. Cabrera's home/road power number splits also skew homeward. Defensively, Cabrera is a guy, while Victorino's range and arm are as good as any centerfielder in baseball.
Advantage: PHI. Cabrera is still only 25 and may develop into an All-Star, but Victorino is one right now.

Right Field- NYY- Nick Swisher vs PHI- Jayson Werth
For the last of the everyday positions, I'm going to be blunt. Nick Swisher stinks and Jayson Werth is an emerging premier player. Swisher hit only .200 this season against 2009 playoff teams, and while his numbers look ok, they're inflated against bad pitching. Werth, like Utley, is a hard nosed attitude player that doesn't talk about it, he just is about it. 36 home runs, 99 RBI, and 20 steals tell the story. He's also got great range and a good arm.
Advantage: PHI. Not even close. Swisher brings some levity and fun to otherwise uptight and corporate team, but those are his biggest contributions. Werth can do it all, and is currently doing just that.
Designated Hitter- NYY- Hideki Matsui vs PHI- Ben Francisco
Matsui has been the Yankees DH all year, and in fact hasn't played in the field at all in 2009. He remained productive in the DH role, hitting .274 with 28 home runs and 90 RBI in numbers that were relatively constant across home/road and left/right splits. Francisco has DH'd some in the AL, but will likely play LF in NY as a better fielder, thus moving Ibanez to the DH slot. He has some pop, but his average hasn't been great since arriving in Philadelphia as part of the Cliff Lee deal. He is, however, the best the Phils bench has to offer.
Advantage: NYY. Matsui is a legit DH, while the Phillies always seem to struggle in the DH slot, be it in interleague or in the World Series last year. However, Matsui's bat is out of the lineup in Philadelphia, which is a much bigger loss than the Phillies losing Francisco.
Bench- NYY- Brett Gardner, Jose Molina, Jerry Hairston Jr, Eric Hinske vs PHI- Ben Francisco, Matt Stairs, Paul Bako, Greg Dobbs, Eric Bruntlett
The Yankees have a servicable sub in Jerry Hairston, good backup catcher in Jose Molina and speed in Brett Gardner. The Phillies bench hasn't given them much of anything this year, as Dobbs has been hurt, Staris has looked old, Bruntlett's modest ability has been tempered even further by not playing consistently, and Bako is a zero offensively.
Advantage: NYY. The only real impact is likely to be Gardner's speed vs nothing of substance coming from the Phils bench.
Overall Baserunning
Advantage: PHI. The Phils run alot, and with alarming success, due in large part to the help of first base coach Davey Lopes. Again, the Yankees had only one regular (Jeter) take more than 14 bases, while the Phillies had four of eight (Rollins, Victorino, Utley and Werth) take 20 or more. Ruiz throws better and and controls a running game better than Posada, and he shouldn't have as much to worry about as Posada does.
Overall Defense
Advantage: PHI. The Phillies are better defensively at all the premier defensive positions (catcher, shortstop, centerfield), which by itself wins it for the Phils. Neither second baseman or leftfielder is great (althought Francisco is pretty good if he plays LF in New York), both third baseman are really good. The Yankees are much better at first, the Phils are much better in rightfield. Teixiera is the only Yankee clearly better than his Phillies counterpart.
Ace- NYY- C.C. Sabathia vs PHI- Cliff Lee
Who hates this series more, Met fans or Indian fans? (My money is on Met fans). Both have been horses for their new team, especially in the postseason. Both are lefthanders, which figures to be important against lefty-laden lineups that both teams possess. Neither has started a World Series game before, but don't appear likely to be spooked by the stage. Lee has a bit more history with the Yankees than Sabathia does with the Phils, however, the Phils roughed up Sabathia in the playoffs last season when he was with Milwaukee.
Advantage: NYY. Almost like shortstop, you can't go wrong either way. I give Sabathia the edge, because in order for him to go three times in the Series he'd be on short rest twice, which he's used to, while Lee has never pitched on short rest.
Starting Pitching Depth
The Yankees have only three starters, as evidenced by the fact that they've only thrown three guys so far. They're scared to use Joba Chamberlain or Chad Gaudin in a starting role in the playoffs, and they should be. In order to get through the Series without using one of them, Andy Pettitte would have to go on short rest, which he's not equipped to do. A.J. Burnett could be great, or he could get rocked. He owns a career ERA over 5.00 against Philadelphia. The Phillies have two guys in Cole Hamels and Pedro Martinez who have been great in the playoffs over the years. Hamels looked shot against the Dodgers, but by the time he starts game three, he will have had nine days off, which could be just enough to give him a boost. Or could just make him look bad again. Martinez was untouchable against the Dodgers, and his start in New York is must see TV, given his history with the Yankees and the fans there. Joe Blanton may be the key for the Phillies, as he will likely start game four. Blanton has been the Phils most consistent pitcher all season, has been good in a relief role early in the playoffs while the cavalry (Park, Myers) got healthy, and could shut it down. J.A. Happ has looked scared throughout the playoffs, but he is another option Charlie Manuel can turn to.
Advantage: PHI. Basically, the Yankees have two good starting pitchers they can use after their ace (Burnett and Pettitte), while the Phillies have four (Martinez, Hamels, Happ, Blanton).
Middle and Short Relief
This area is a study in contrasts between the regular and postseason. During the regular season, the Yankees relief corps was pretty sturdy, and did a good job getting the ball to Mariano Rivera at the end. However, during the playoffs, the main setup guys Phil Hughes and Joba Chamberlain have been really shaky, and have thrown the type of stuff that would get hammered by the Phillies lineup. Hughes and Chamberlain have 'stuff', which makes them the only potentially reliable pieces. Damaso Marte, David Robertson and Alfredo Aceves stink. Sorry. They stink. The Phils whole bullpen was bad during the regular season with the exception of Ryan Madson, and in the playoffs they've been lockdown, with the exception of Ryan Madson. Chad Durbin and Chan Ho Park have been outstanding since returning from injury, and Scott Eyre has made the absence of J.C. Romero much easier to handle. J.A. Happ has looked scared from the outset, and Antonio Bastardo is too young and has one pitch to be a reliable lefty. Brett Myers could be an X factor in the Phils pen.
Advantage: PHI. Like the rotation, the Phillies have more usable pieces than the Yankees.
Closer- NYY- Mariano Rivera vs PHI- Brad Lidge
Rivera and Lidge are 1-2 in career postseason saves and series' closed out, so it's not a surprise their teams meet on the game's greatest stage. Statistically the two greatest closers in postseason history, Rivera and Lidge have taken different paths to this point this year. Rivera, even at age 39, has been his normal great self, posting a 1.76 ERA and 44 saves. Ho-hum. Lidge, after his perfect 2008 season, was abysmal during the regular season, blowing 11 saves, including two at Yankee Stadium. However, in the playoffs, Lidge has looked closer to regaining his dominant form, closing out all three of his chances, not allowing a run and striking out a batter an inning.
Advantage: NYY. Rivera may be the greatest pitcher ever, not just closer. However, if Lidge continues his resurgence, this is pretty close to a draw. Rivera is great, but he isn't unbeaten in World Series. Just ask the Diamondbacks.
Manager- NYY- Joe Girardi vs PHI- Charlie Manuel
Girardi is in his second year managing the Yankees, his second managerial stint after his last season in Florida saw him win NL Manager of the Year honors and then get fired. Manuel is in his fifth season in Philadelphia, and has morphed from country bumpkin to good ole boy genius in the mold of Casey Stengal. Amazing what a title will do for you. Girardi has a tendency to overmanage, as seen in the ALCS where he twice replaced pitchers with like handed pitchers, usually not to great results. He was roundly criticized for consulting a book in the dugout and then immediately making a pitching change against the Angels. From his time in Florida, Girardi showed no interest in pitching to Ryan Howard, and it will be interesting to see if that continues, especially with an improved cast including Werth and Ibanez right behind him. Manuel, on the other hand, has managed the pants off of Joe Torre two years in a row in the playoffs, and what he lacks in rhetorical flourish, he more than makes up for in his handling of his players and feel for what button to push at what time.
Advantage: PHI. Name one instance when Joe Girardi shrewdly outmanuevered anyone. Besides himself. And it worked out well for his team.
Home Field- NYY- Yankee Stadium vs PHI- Citizens Bank Park 
Both parks are newer, gorgeous settings to take in a ball game, and tend to favor hitters over pitchers. Right field in Yankee Stadium is an absolute disgrace, and the Yankees have taken full advantage through most of the season. However, the main advantage the Yankees have in their stadium is their home run prowess, which is completely offset by a team capable of out homering them like the Phillies. Citizens Bank Park plays small in the alleys and to left, but fewer broken bats and pop ups actually leave the yard there. Fan wise, I'll probably get some crap for this, but it's not even close between the Yankee and Phillie crowds. I don't want to hear about how much the fans impact the game in New York, not when seats right around home plate are empty through the first half of a League Championship Series game. This ain't Atlanta folks, come on, you're better than that.
Advantage: None. The Phillies won't be intimidated by Yankee Stadium, or by Mystique and Aura, who Curt Schilling once famously quipped about. But if they Yankees think the stadium helps them play better, then it does. Philadelphia isn't a place likely to give a warm reception to any visitors, from New York or otherwise.
This Phils team is not one that is going to be intimidated by New York or the storied franchise that is the Yankees. The Phils are a team with steely resolve, a million pounds of heart, and fear of no one. The Yankees have been a lot looser this year, thanks in large part to Nick Swisher, but remain a bit corporate and stuffy. The Phillies have been off for a week, which could work wonders for their guys that are clearly tired (Utley, Madson, Feliz, Hamels), but could also leave them a bit rusty at the outset. The actual effect remains to be seen. 17 Yankees will be in the World Series for the first time, while only six Phillies (Ibanez, Lee, Francisco, Bako, Park and Antonio Bastardo) have not been to the Series prior to this year.
Advantage: It's intangible. If we could tell with any certainty, it'd be tangible. 
Yankees Win If - They effectively eliminate middle relief and get the ball to Rivera... A-Rod continues his hot streak and either Teixeira or Posada join in on the hot streak... Sabathia goes 3-0... They improve dramatically at hitting with runners in scoring position... They're not spooked by the Philadelphia crowd, or their 17 World Series newcomers aren't overwhelmed by the moment... Jeter is always on base... They can win twice at Citizens Bank Park, even with homefield advantage... Chad Gaudin doesn't get blitzed as a game four starter in Philadelphia... The Phillies let A-Rod beat them... If all these things go right, the Yankees win in a short series.
Phillies Win If- Rollins and Victorino get on base and cause trouble... Lidge continues to be playoff Brad Lidge, and not regular season Brad Lidge... Cole Hamels or Pedro Martinez pitch like they're capable... Cliff Lee goes 2-0... They get anything substantive from the bench/DH... Ryan Madson looks right... Utley, Werth or Ibanez has a monster series... The bottom of the order (Ruiz, Francisco, Feliz) get on base... The Yankees let Ryan Howard beat them... If all these things go right, the Phillies win in a short series.

Etc, Etc, Etc- This year's matchup is a rematch of the 1950 Series, which the Yankees won, 4-0... The Phillies are 16-4 in their last 20 postseason games, which has never been done by a National League team... The Phils would have swept the Yankees in New York earlier this season in interleague play, except for two blown saves by Brad Lidge... Jimmy Rollins predicted this World Series matchup in Playboy before the season started... The Yankees had the best home record in baseball, while the Phillies had the best road record... Neither team has a player on its active roster that has played for the other team... Phillies reliever Chad Durbin is on a World Series team for the third time in four years, having reached the Series with Detroit in 2006 and Philadelphia last year... He did not appear in a playoff game for Detroit... Only five Yankees have been to the World Series with the Yankees, and only four (Jeter, Posada, Pettitte, Rivera) have won a World Series with the Yanks... 18 of the Phillies 25 active roster players for the '09 Series were on the roster in '08... Three more Phillies on the '08 roster (J.C. Romero, Jamie Moyer, Clay Condrey) are inactive... Yankee reserve Eric Hinske struck out against Brad Lidge to end the 2008 World Series... The Phillies have never won a playoff series in which they have lost game one... Of course, prior to 2008, they had only ever won four playoff series... They've won five playoff series since since start of 2008, and look to make it one more before the start of 2010... 20 of 23 baseballl analysts picked the Yankees to win the Series, while 11 of 12 baseball analysts at picked likewise.

NYY World Series Roster- 2 Derek Jeter, 11 Brett Gardner, 13 Alex Rodriguez, 14 Eric Hinske, 17 Jerry Hairston Jr., 18 Johnny Damon, 20 Jorge Posada, 24 Robinson Cano, 25 Mark Teixeira, 26 Jose Molina, 30 David Robertson, 33 Nick Swisher, 34 A.J. Burnett, 41 Chad Gaudin, 42 Mariano Rivera, 43 Damaso Marte, 46 Andy Pettitte, 48 Phil Coke, 52 C.C. Sabathia, 53 Melky Cabrera, 55 Hideki Matsui, 62 Joba Chamberlain, 65 Phil Hughes, 91 Alfredo Aceves, 99 Brian Bruney

PHI World Series Roster- 4 Eric Bruntlett, 6 Ryan Howard, 7 Pedro Feliz, 8 Shane Victorino, 10 Ben Francisco, 11 Jimmy Rollins, 12 Matt Stairs, 19 Greg Dobbs, 23 Paul Bako, 26 Chase Utley, 28 Jayson Werth, 29 Raul Ibanez, 34 Cliff Lee, 35 Cole Hamels, 37 Chad Durbin, 39 Brett Myers, 43 J.A. Happ, 45 Pedro Martinez, 46 Ryan Madson, 47 Scott Eyre, 51 Carlos Ruiz, 54 Brad Lidge, 56 Joe Blanton, 58 Antonio Bastardo, 61 Chan Ho Park


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  2. Great stuff, Andy! You're right on the money. A fair and balanced rendering -- going into Game 1 -- supported by incredible detail and history. For one who does not follow the game, like me, you have provided the kind of personal and articulate commentary that draws one in -- bringing one in to the dugout with an "up close and personal" view of each player. Thank you, Andy! I look forward to reading your other blogs as the Series progresses. GO PHILLIES! -- from Hugh