Why the Yankees vs. Phillies Might Become the Greatest World Series Ever
We should have known.
Back in late May, during Memorial Day weekend, as people were lighting up the BBQ, cuing up the music, and opening up swimming pools, a series was being played in Yankee Stadium.
In a rare and intriguing interleague match up, the world champion Philadelphia Phillies paid a visit to the new Yankee Stadium to play the Bronx Bombers. At the time, both teams had identical records coming in; the Phillies were 23-17, and struggling to take off on the 2009 season.
In fact, the Mets were in first place at that time!
The Yankees were 24-18, far behind the Red Sox, who got out of the gate quickly in the American League East. Even though it was an early summer series, it was a great one.
The Phillies took two of three, as two of the games were decided by one run apiece. Both teams combined for 11 homers, and there were flares of dramatics from Alex Rodriguez's walk off homer in Game Two, and Carlos Ruiz's game winning double in Game Three to take the series.
Since that time, both teams came back with a vengeance in their respective divisions.
The Yankees won 103 games and blew away the Red Sox and Tampa Bay Rays in the East. The Bombers' ability to win games in their final at bat became a staple of team victories. Images of A.J. Burnett smacking people in the face with shaving cream became sweet visions dancing in the heads of the Yankee faithful.
The Phillies became a winning machine as the summer wore on.
They, too, found ways to come from behind in games, even after their shaky bullpen blew the game in the later innings.
Once the Phils developed a large lead over their closest challenger, the Florida Marlins, they picked up Cliff Lee from Cleveland, and the lefty quickly became staff ace No. 2, going 7-4 with a 3.39 ERA in 12 starts.
Since postseason time began, the Phils turned it up to a even higher level. They rolled over the Rockies and Dodgers with clutch hitting, and even big time pitching from its closer Brad Lidge, who did not have a good regular season.
Now, both the Yankees and Phillies are ready to meet again in the fall classic.
Sure, the World Series is home to many spectacular moments, but very rarely have we seen a match-up where there is clearly no favorite. The New York Yankees will make their return to the fall classic for the first time in six years when they square off against the defending world champion Philadelphia Phillies.
In short, this figures to be one of the greatest World Series ever played! The New Jersey Turnpike Series. Congrats, Jersey, you are now a part of history.
Let's dissect this match-up and find out who will be crowned king.
FIRST BASE: Ryan Howard (PHI) vs. Mark Teixeria (NYY). EDGE: EVEN.
Here is a match-up to make fantasy baseball owners mouths water. Two of the best hitting first basemen the game has to offer in Teixeira and Howard will square off in this series.
Teixeria spearheaded the Yankees through the regular season with clutch hitting, superb defense, and strong clubhouse leadership. He had a fantastic regular season, blasting away 39 homers and driving in 122.
It has been Teixeria's superior defense that makes him so valuable to New York. In the ALCS, Teixeria made a handful of spetacular defensive plays to save the inning for the Yankee pitchers. His glove will be key in any Yankee victory.
As for Howard, he is a monster offensively. He hit 45 homers and drove in 141 runs to lead the Phillies offense. 2009 marked the third straight year of 45 plus homers and 135 plus RBI seasons for Howard, who is easily one of the best offensive first baseman in all of baseball.
SECOND BASE: Chase Utely (PHI) vs. Robinson Cano (NYY). EDGE: Phillies.
Chase Utley is one tough cookie. Defensively, Utley is a gold glove second baseman, having made three trips to the All Star game. However, it is Utley's bat that is most impressive.
Every year, the second baseman becomes more lethal with his sweeping left handed swing. This year alone, Utley hit 31 homers and 98 RBI; the RBI total a low for him, since he usually drills in over 100 in a season.
As for Cano, he earned the reputation as a knucklehead in 2008, with lackluster play in the field. 2009 has been a different story however.
Cano hit .320 with 25 homers and 85 RBI in the regular season, and he played in all but one game this year. He is hitting .229 in the playoffs but is still a dangerous bat to deal with in the Yankee order.
SHORT STOP: Jimmy Rollins (PHI) vs. Derek Jeter (NYY). EDGE: EVEN.
Arguably the two players are the game's two best short stops; they will square off in the series. Rollins is building a Jeter-like reputation for big hits at key moments; his strong on the field/off the field presence and his swagger make him the clear captain of the Phillies.
Rollins is the king of swagger. He boastfully predicted that the Phillies would beat the Yankees in five games. Predictions are not new for Rollins who predicted that the Phillies would beat the Mets for the NL East crown in 2007, and he was right.
He then went on to rip the Mets after the Phillies won the 2008 World Series. If the Phillies win again in 2009, he will not only rip the Mets, he will also unleash his biting tongue on the Yankees as well.
As for Jeter, he is the king of professionalism. No player comes up bigger in the clutch than Jeter does in October; in fact, he is hitting .297 with three homers and five RBI in the playoffs this year.
He never puts up flashy statistics, but no batter strikes more fear in opposing pitchers than this guy. Jeter will likely have a couple of big hits in this series, and, if he does, the Yankees could romp.
THIRD BASE: Pedro Feliz (PHI) vs. Alex Rodriguez (NYY). EDGE: Yankees.
With all due respect to Pedro Feliz, who hit over .300 for most of the year, Alex Rodriguez can trump any third baseman head to head in the game. Not only did Rodriguez put up impressive numbers after hip surgery and the steroid mess in April, he has exorcised his postseason demons.
In the playoffs, A-Rod is hitting .438 with five homers, 12 RBI, nine walks, and only five strikeouts. He has been in the zone all month, and one would have to think that the addition of Teixeria in the lineup has taken a lot of pressure off A-Rod, who used to be "the big out" in the Yankee lineup.
If A-Rod continues to rake in this series, the Yankees should win it all; if not, it could be another long series for the Bombers, and questions about A-Rod when the lights are brightest will rise once again.
CATCHER: Carlos Ruiz (PHI) vs. Jorge Posada (NYY). EDGE: Phillies.
This is a tough debate, but Carlois Ruiz is turning into a fantastic clutch hitter for the Phillies. When he last faced the Yankees in late May, Ruiz killed New York, batting .750 with a homer and three RBI; he even had the game winning hit in Game Three of that regular season series.
The kid can hit when it matters. In the regular season he was not flashy, hitting .255 with nine homers, but when the schedule turned to October, Ruiz turned it on, batting .346 in the NL playoffs with a homer and seven RBI. Ruiz could be that silent, but deadly bat that could kill the Yankees in this series.
As for Posada, the grizzled veteran still has something left. Even though his defensive skills are not what they used to be, Posada's bat is still something to be feared.
He hit .285 with 22 homers in the regular season and blasted two more in October. He won't catch A.J. Burnett in Games Two and Five, which will make him a lethal pinch hitting threat off the bench in this series.
CENTER FIELD: Shane Victorino (PHI) vs. Melkey Cabrera (NYY). EDGE: Phillies.
The Flyin' Hawaiian is as old school as they come. Shane Victorino is the definition of a scrappy player.
He can drill balls into the corner and take off on the base paths for triples; he can hit home runs, he can make tough catches in the outfield, he can do it all, and to top it off, Victorino is a cocky player, and he is cocky for a reason; he led the Phillies in batting average at .292, and led them in triples with 13.
If Victorino has a big series, that will be bad news for the Bronx Bombers.
Melky Cabrera got off to a great start this year; he had a couple of walk off homers early in the year to help lift the Yankees in April, but really hasn't done much since. Sure he had 13 homers and 68 RBI, but Cabrera is the de facto automatic out in the Yankee lineup. In the playoffs, Cabrera had four RBI, all of which came in one game.
LEFT FIELD: Raul Ibanez (PHI) vs. Johnny Damon (NYY). EDGE: EVEN.
Great match-up. Raul Ibanez got better with age when he spent time with the Royals and Mariners early in his career, and this trip to the series is something very special for him.
The veteran outfielder hit 34 homers and 93 RBI this year for the Phillies; in fact, he had 20 homers by the end of June! The guy didn't hit at all in October this year, but his big bat in the middle of the order should be a challenge for the Yankee pitching staff.
Johnny Damon has had a very weird postseason. He wasn't hitting at all with runners in scoring position, until he delivered a two run single against the Angels in Game Six that spearheaded the Yankee victory.
Damon is still a threat with the bat with his swooping left handed swing that is perfect for both Yankee Stadium and Citizen's Bank Park. His bat behind Jeter will be a key to the series.
RIGHT FIELD: Jayson Werth (PHI) vs. Nick Swisher (NYY). EDGE: Phillies.
Nick Swisher is really struggling. He hit only .125 in the AL playoffs and his goof ball antics are becoming tiresome for the Yankees, especially for a guy who doesn't do anything.
Jayson Werth is turning into a superstar. Werth hit .282 with five homers and 10 RBI in the postseason and has proven to become a nice right handed complement to Ryan Howard and Raul Ibanez in the Phillies lineup. The guy is money with the bat and solid defensively.
STARTING PITCHING: Cliff Lee (PHI) vs. C.C. Sabathia (NYY) EDGE: Yankees.
Two former Cleveland Indians will go at it in Games One, Four and, possibly, Seven. Cliff Lee was traded to Philadelphia this year and took over as staff ace, winning seven games for the Phillies in the regular season. In the playoffs, Lee has been brilliant, going 2-0 with a 0.74 ERA.
Cole Hamels is one tough customer, but he has struggled in the playoffs this year, pitching to a 6.75 ERA. That said, Hamels always finds a way to keep his Phillies in the game and will grind it out against the Yankees even when he doesn't have his best stuff. When Hamels is on, the guy is one of the best.
Pedro Martinez has a chance to win his second World Series ring. Just think, in his final year in Boston, he won a title, and in his first year in Philly he could win another. What happened in between? That farting sound you hear is Pedro's four years with the Mets.
C.C. Sabathia , the other former Indian, has been brilliant for the Yankees this year. He struggled early but managed to get it together as the summer wore on and won 19 games for the Bombers.
In the postseason, Sabathia won three games and pitched a 1.19 ERA. The guy pitched like he was in a rocking chair this month, mowing down his opponents with incredible ease.
A.J. Burnett should scare the Yankees. He was lit up against the Angels, and Burnett is not exactly the most mentally tough pitcher in the world when it comes to winning big games.
Andy Pettitte , like Jeter and Mariano Rivera, is captain clutch. Pettitte owns five series clinching victories in the postseason and 16 overall. He could, once again, be pitching the Bombers to a world championship if this series goes six games.
BULLPEN: Brad Lidge (PHI) vs. Mariano Rivera (NYY). EDGE: Yankees.
Even if Philadelphia had the Brad Lidge who locked down 48 consecutive saves in 2008, he would lose out to Mariano Rivera.
Rivera is the definition of the Terminator. The guy has ice in his veins and always finds a way to close out the game in calm, cool, and collected fashion as if it were an Apr. 23 afternoon against the Royals and not the World Series.
Rivera is the greatest closer of all time—no questions asked.
MANAGERS: Charlie Manuel (PHI) vs. Joe Girardi (NYY). EDGE: EVEN.
These two guys could easily put their respective teams in position to lose the series in embarrassing fashion. Both Giradri and Manuel are known for making odd moves, like Giradi's decision to pinch run A-Rod in Game Five against the Angels, and his call to remove David Robertson from Game Three for Alfredo Aceves.
Whoever makes the fewest managerial mistakes will win this series. Memo to Girardi and Manuel: Let the kids play, and just watch!
HOW IT WILL PLAY OUT: It's a cliche to say that the first two games are important in a seven game series, but in this one, the first two games at Yankee Stadium are critical.
If the Phillies grab one of the first two games, they will put the Yankees in the awkward position of trying to win baseball games in the wacky and wild confines of Citizens Bank Park in Philadelphia.
The Phillies home is a bandbox, and when the Philly crowd gets into it, it is usually a very long evening for their opponents. The Phillies not only love jumping up on people early in that ball park, they will step on their throats from start to finish.
Therefore, sweeping the first two games is a must for the Yankees. They have to go to Philadelphia up 2-0, putting all of the pressure on the Phillies; otherwise, the series could get really ugly, really fast.
PREDICTION: New York Yankees in seven.
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