Written by: MJK
The Breakdown- These two teams represent almost mirror images of one another. The similarities between them are pretty remarkable and as such makes it a bit more difficult to define differences between the two to exploit.
The Lineups- If the Divisional and Championship series’ weren’t example enough, maybe now would be the appropriate time to recognize that it is time to let the statistics of the regular season fly right out the window. The cliché, “make every pitch count” never rings truer than at this point in the season, and both of these teams will look to make that a reality.
Both shortstops play integral rolls on their respective teams. Not only do Jimmy Rollins and Derek Jeter assert themselves as clubhouse leaders, but they also play the role of top of the order table setters for the potent lineups that lurk behind them. While it would be interesting to harp on the all the little things that make up a complete lineup, there is no ignoring the immense power potential that oozes top to bottom of either of these teams.
The 3-4 hitters will be sure to provide pitching matchup nightmares, as four of the games best sluggers will be on display in this series. For the Phillies, Chase Utley and Ryan Howard are almost the perfect complement to each other. Utley has a pure stroke with few holes in his swing and can drive the ball to any part of the field with relative ease. He will undoubtedly be the toughest out for the Yankees to get due to his short swing and near perfect mechanics, especially in high-pressure situations with men on base. Now, none of this is to discredit the threat that Ryan Howard poses. Obviously, he is one of the games best power hitters and can hit the ball a mile. While his stroke and his eye at the plate have improved a great deal over the course of this season, he still lacks much of the discipline that makes pitchers truly fear him. The problem with the Dodgers pitchers in the NLCS was that they kept missing their location with pitches on the inside half of the plate. A huge no-no against Howard. They missed badly on the inner half of the plate with so many important pitches, they basically gift wrapped every battle versus Howard. If the Yankees don’t allow the slugger to extend on pitches and are able to execute properly on the inner half, then they will have a great deal of success against him. Easier said then done of course.
With the Yankees you get two of the most complete bats in the league in Mark Teixeira and Alex Rodriguez. Sure, lots of people are looking to A-Rod’s so –called “clutch” at bats this postseason, but I don’t see it. Sure he’s been locked in more so than at any other point in his postseason career but nothing has been extraordinarily high pressure. The mere fact that he is as locked in at the plate right now as he is, is enough reason for the Yankees to feel confident when he steps in to the box. This is a is a far cry from his previous struggles in the postseason. It will be interesting to see how he reacts to continued success or if certain demons begin to creep up on him once again. One thing is for sure, he is not getting a free pass from me for hitting a few game tying home runs. After all that is essentially what he is paid to do. Its time to take it to the next level. Big Tex on the other hand has been a near godsend for the Yankees this season, however, much of that production seemed to taper off against the Angels in the ALCS. He did spring to life a bit in the final few games, but he really needs a strong showing in this series for the Yankees to operate as they would like to. I really feel strongly about the outcome of this series being decided by these four batters.
The Rotation- It appears as though both teams will move forward with three-man rotations for the balance of this series. If that is the case then the pitcher to pitcher matchups are nearly identical. Not necessarily when mashed into a game to game basis but more along the lines of available content.
AJ Burnett and Pedro Martinez look to face off in a Game 2 that should be one of the more intriguing of the season. AJ’s electric stuff is well documented but his inconsistency (as noted by his lackluster 6 inning-6 earned run performance in the ALCS) should not be tolerated in this series. We all know the history between the Yankees and Pedro when he was with the Red Sox. Of course, he is not even close to the pitcher he was when dodging flailing Don Zimmer punches but that’s not to say he wont be getting a ringing chorus of “who’s your daddy” chants from the Bronx faithful as well. Should be a party.
Andy Pettitte will play the roll of Pedro Martinez in Game 3 when he matches up with Cole Hamels. Pettite relies heavily on his ability to control the strike zone much like Martinez as his lack of over powering stuff can be a draw back if pitches aren’t executed well. Cole Hamels has been an anomaly this season as he seems completely unable to restore the magic he was able to harness during last years championship run. It really is a shame. He has more upside than any pitcher in this series but his inability to locate his curveball with any sort of consistency has been a huge setback as he now finds himself a two-pitch pitcher going forward. His changeup remains one of the best in the game but teams have been able to sit on it without having to worry about the threat of another out pitch.
Both of these rotations provide a good amount of quality pitchers, two aces and an uphill battle in facing the two best lineups in all of baseball. The Yankees will have to rely on their ability to get left handed batters out and not allow the bottom of the order beat them as the Angels did. If the heart of the Phillies order gets to bat with men on base, they will make you pay. The Phillies on the other hand will look to attack, attack, attack. It would be unrealistic to think that just throwing strikes would be the key to their success but in all reality it will be very important if they want to continue to keep pitch counts down and innings quick. The starters will need to go deep into the game as manager Charlie Manuel will surely not want to tap too much into his bullpen.
Intangibles- While the Yankees offer a much more balanced lineup top to bottom, the Phillies possess an element of speed, which can quickly change the pace of any game in a short series. It might go without saying that considering the potency of both of these lineups, the series will fall into the hands of the bullpen. While the Yankees looked to have a stranglehold on this aspect in the ALCS, both Phil Hughes and Joba Chamberlain got knocked around quite a bit and now manager Joe Girardi cant be nearly as confident as he was coming into the postseason. That being said they still have a considerable amount more depth than the Phillies, even with the relegation of former Phillies starters JA Happ and Joe Blanton to the bullpen. Brad Lidge has shown signs of coming out of his season long funk but I feel like I have told myself this one too many times throughout the season. Only time will tell. The Yankees will be able to make any game a 7 inning game with Mariano Rivera’s penchant for the two-inning save.
The Verdict- Its tough because the Yankees have been the best team in baseball all season long but the Phillies are riding real high right now and have probably been the most impressive team thus far in the playoffs. Momentum could play a very important roll but that being said could also be vastly overrated, especially in a short series versus two quality teams. This series will not go less than 6 games. Period. But it won’t go more either. The Yankees take home the crown in 6 games and bring the title back to the Bronx.
Written by: MJK