Here in Philadelphia, fans are gearing up for the highly anticipated 2009 World Series between the Phillies and Yankees. In the Bronx, the media circus has begun. Over 300 writers attended today’s media day at Yankee Stadium. Among them was the New York Times ’ Yankees writer Tyler Kepner.
Tyler was kind enough to speak with me this morning, about the Yanks, the Phils and how they match-up, in what promises to be an exciting World Series.
SHAY RODDY: You haven’t gotten to see much of the Phillies this year, covering them in just one series back in the spring. Give us an outsider’s take on the Phils.
TYLER KEPNER: Well, I’d say I follow the Phillies closer than I follow any other NL team, because I grew up outside Philadelphia and my parents have season tickets. They’re a tough team—tough-minded and confident. They know they can come back, they’re not intimidated by anything, and they’re cocky in a way that translates to success on the field. Charlie Manuel seems to have a tremendous feel for his players, both the subtleties of their personalities and their strengths/weaknesses on the field. Just a very impressive team all the way around.
SR: The Yankees are a franchise with a rich history of winning. The Phils won the title just last year with virtually the same team. Talk a little about how experience plays to each team’s advantage.
TK: I don’t think experience matters very much in the postseason. The first year I covered the Yankees was 2002. They had been to five of the last six World Series. Their playoff opponent was the Angels, who had one player (Kevin Appier), with one series of postseason experience. So what happened? The Angels pounded the Yankees in four. Then the next year, in 2003, the Yankees played a young Marlins team in the World Series and lost. So I just don’t think it matters. And even if it did, in this case, both teams have lots of postseason experience.
SR: Yankee Stadium and Citizens Bank Park are both hitter friendly parks which, coupled with both team’s explosive offenses, could lead to high scoring games. However, both teams have solid pitching, the Yankees with Sabathia, Petite and Burnett and the Phillies with Cliff Lee, Cole Hamels and Pedro Martinez. What do you anticipate the scoring will be like?
TK: Good hitting. Good pitching. So who wins? The cliche is good pitching stops good hitting, but we’ll see. I wonder if the Yankees can neutralize Howard because they have two very good lefty starters. If they do, that’s a big problem for the Phillies. But all six of those starters can shut down any lineup when they’re on. Still, these teams can hit so well that I’d expect a fair amount of home runs.
SR: What is the key to winning this year’s series?
TK: Pitching’s usually the key, so I don’t see any reason why it won’t be just as important in this series as it usually is in all the rest. Specifically, though, the bullpens will make a huge difference. The Yankees devoured opposing bullpens this season, and my guess is the Phillies did the same. Both teams have a knack for late comebacks, especially at home. Obviously that puts a lot of emphasis on the relievers, and the Yanks’ late-inning guys have been a little shaky lately.
SR: Talk a little about this Yankees club. The common stereotype is that they are more of a group of talented players put together rather than a real team. Is that description accurate?
TK: No, I wouldn’t say so. When you’re around them, they actually work together quite well. The free agents they imported last winter all had the nice bonus of being good team guys (Teixeira, Burnett and especially Sabathia), and they’ve really seemed to enjoy each other’s company since spring training. The four stalwarts (Jeter, Rivera, Posada and Pettitte) bring stability and leadership, and I’d throw Matsui into that category, too. Damon keeps them loose, and A-Rod has cut way, way back on his usual distractions and just focused on baseball this year. That has made a big difference, too. He’s not the preening diva of past years; he’s just a really, really good ballplayer.
SR: Lets do some head to heads. Who has the advantage…
Howard- Teixeira: Teixeira
Utley-Cano : Utley
Sabathia-Lee : push
Manuel-Girardi : Manuel
SR: And finally, your series pick…
TK: Yankees in 7, but only because they have home-field advantage. That’s the only obvious difference to me that distinguishes between these two extremely evenly matched teams. It really could go either way, and I’m just hoping for a hard-fought, compelling World Series. I think we’ll get it this year.