Philadelphia Phillies

The Deciding Factors: Howard and A-Rod

NEW YORK - OCTOBER 29:  Ryan Howard #6 of the Philadelphia Phillies reacts after striking out against the New York Yankees in Game Two of the 2009 MLB World Series at Yankee Stadium on October 29, 2009 in the Bronx borough of New York City.  (Photo by Nick Laham/Getty Images)
Nick Laham/Getty Images
William SharonCorrespondent IOctober 31, 2009

This year’s World Series is chock full of marquee positional matchups.

From Lee and Sabathia to Rollins and Jeter to Martinez and Burnett to the plethora of other equals scattered throughout both lineups, the Yankees and Phillies have very similar teams.

But no individual matchup of skill stands up to that of Ryan Howard and Alex Rodriguez.

While they play different positions, the decision of who is more valuable hardly comes down to which one is the better fielder. While there are many other hitters on both teams who intimidate the heck out of pitchers and managers alike, none cause the same pants-wetting fear as Howard and A-Rod.

These two players both had good regular seasons, although A-Rod did not perform at his usual level. But now that the postseason is underway, both Howard and Rodriguez have exploded.

A-Rod has boosted his average nearly 100 points from what it was during the regular season. Howard was the NLCS MVP and gave his team a strong morale boost going into the World Series.

Despite their success in the early rounds, after two World Series games both Howard and A-Rod are struggling. Howard is off to a 2-for-9 start in the Fall Classic, while Rodriguez is 0-for-8. Each has six strikeouts.

Is it possible that the two best hitters so far this post season will fail to impress in the World Series? Or is the sample size small enough to overlook their struggles?

The answer, sadly, is that we fans are doomed to see A-Rod and Howard struggle for the remainder of the postseason.

Since 2004 A-Rod has done poorly in the postseason, and despite having a monstrous start to this year’s playoffs, he will regress to the his historically poor playoff performance for the remainder of the World Series. In addition to A-Rod’s weak performance in recent postseasons, the Phillies know how to pitch to New York’s finest.

With the World Series comes a new kind of pitching. Rather than letting back-of-the-rotation starters get rocked by hitters like A-Rod and Howard, a front of the rotation pitcher takes the hill every night. Presumably, any pitcher good enough to earn a start in the playoffs knows exactly where and what to throw these superstars.

Everyone knows that Ryan Howard struggles against left handed pitchers, and that outside breaking balls reduce him to taking Little League swings. So far in the series Howard has seen almost nothing but curves, sliders, and changeups, which will likely continue until he overcomes this weakness.

In all likelihood, Howard will face CC Sabathia and Andy Pettitte at least three times in the remaining three-to-five games of the series, and it is doubtful that he will be able to continue his success.

While it is unlikely that either player will regain to their Championship Series mojo, if one of them can do so, it will be the deciding factor in this year’s Fall Classic.

I give the advantage to Rodriguez, as his weaknesses appear more surmountable.

My World Series prediction for 2009 is A-Rod's New York Yankees in seven.

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