We are finally here! It's World Series time!
While Major League Baseball and most of its fans may have been salivating over the thought of a Dodgers versus Yankees World Series, an "I-95" series, as some have dubbed it, is definitely the better series from a baseball standpoint.
The Yankees and Phillies easily boast the best lineup in each of their respective leagues.
Headlined by Mark Teixeira and Alex Rodriguez, the Yankees led the American League with 244 home runs this year, while Ryan Howard and the Phillies led the National League with 224.
Together, both teams have hit 468 home runs! That shatters the previous record for the most combined home runs by two teams playing each other in the Fall Classic.
There is also the aspect of one team trying to defend its title from the previous year, while another tries to claim what it believes is its rightful place in the sport.
Last year, Philadelphia rolled over the "Cinderella Story" Tampa Bay Rays in five games to win their first championship since 1980.
This year, the core of the team is the same. However, there have been multiple additions to the team since last October that make the Phillies even scarier than before.
While Philadelphia superstars Ryan Howard and Chase Utley did their thing batting third and fourth in the lineup once again, the offseason addition of left fielder Raul Ibanez and midseason pickups Cliff Lee and Pedro Martinez seemed to make the Phillies even more complete than last year.
The breakout seasons of Jayson Werth and catcher Carlos Ruiz didn't hurt either.
Up in the Bronx, the Yankees are finally looking like "The Yankees" again, returning to the World Series for the first time since 2003 and their 40th time in franchise history.
I would venture as far as to say that last winter's addition of Teixeira to the New York lineup was the smartest offensive signing that the Yankees have made since Reggie Jackson in 1977 (maybe even better, as Teixeira doesn't carry any extra baggage along with his big bat).
Despite his .205 average in the playoffs this year, Teixeira's MVP-caliber season was one of the chief reasons why the Yankees have returned to the playoffs in 2009 after a brief hiatus in 2008.
While the old guard of Mariano Rivera, Derek Jeter, Jorge Posada, and Andy Pettitte have gotten their share of the postseason spotlight, the ALDS and CS were all about two players for the Yankees: CC Sabathia and Alex Rodriguez.
While Sabathia ended up being granted the ALCS MVP Award, most believe that both men equally deserved it, as Rodriguez managed to hit .429 with three home runs in the series.
If they can carry their positive play into the World Series, then it is going to be very hard to beat New York—especially if Sabathia pitches on short rest, as he did this past week.
The keys to victory for both teams are as follows:
For Philadelphia, the bullpen, which struggled mightily in the regular season, must continue to display the dominance that it has in the postseason.
Closer Brad Lidge, who blew 11 saves during the regular season, has been a perfect three-for-three in save opportunities during the playoffs.
In addition, relief pitchers such as Chan Ho Park, Chad Durbin, and Scott Eyre have made it exceedingly difficult to score on the Phillies in late innings.
If the Phillies have any hope of taking home another trophy this year, the 'pen must continue this trend against the Yankees, who have proven to be the comeback kids of 2009.
The Philadelphia lineup must also continue to stay consistent when it comes to getting on base. With the exception of Jimmy Rollins, each of the Phillies' big bats are hitting over .300 during the postseason.
As for New York, A.J. Burnett must continue to turn in decent starts.
While he has not been anywhere near dominant during his three postseason starts, he has given the Yankees a chance to win each time he has gone out to the mound.
However, the reason why Burnett is so important to New York goes beyond just giving a good effort. It is because he has the chance to truly set the tone for the series in Game Two.
All assumptions are that CC Sabathia will be able to out-duel Cliff Lee in Game One. If this happens to be the case, Burnett has the opportunity to put the Yankees in prime position with a 2-0 series lead.
But if Sabathia is defeated by the potent Phillie lineup in Game One, Burnett could decide if the Yankees go to Philadelphia in an 0-2 hole or tied 1-1.
It is also important to note that manager Joe Girardi has stated that Jose Molina, who has become Burnett's personal catcher during the playoffs, will not be a guarantee to be Burnett's catcher, particularly if Burnett is called on to pitch Game Five in Philadelphia, where the lineup will already be weakened by the pitcher's spot in the order.
In addition, the Yankee bats must wake up and deliver with runners on base.
It has been easy to overlook the failure of the New York lineup to both get on base and drive runners in with Rodriguez carrying the offense on his back. However, many of the Yankee starters have been in a bit of a slump. Melky Cabrera is the only other Yankee starter hitting over .300 for the postseason.
Even Derek Jeter, who posted excellent numbers in the ALDS, struggled a bit in the ALCS, batting .259 (7-for-27).
While Girardi continued to keep the same lineup on the field for the entire ALCS, it will be interesting to see if he makes any moves involving players such as Nick Swisher or Robinson Cano, who have slumped for the majority of the postseason.
In the end, I expect New York to persevere and defeat Philadelphia due to two words: Mariano Rivera.
A great challenge will be constructing a bridge from the starting pitcher to Mo each game, but if this can be done, the chances for the Yankees go way up.
Prediction: New York Yankees over the Philadelphia Phillies in seven games.