October 1st has come and gone, and all eagerly anticipate many World Series firsts. Kosuke Fukudome and Akinori Iwamura will be playing in their first World Series games. Troy Percival and Derrek Lee return to the Series for the first time each since 2002 and 2003, respectively.
The Chicago Cubs play in their first World Series since World War II, and the Tampa Bay Rays host their first World Series of their young franchise.
These two teams had the best records in baseball on July 1st, best records at the All-Star break, and best records at the end of the regular season. This is the first meeting of best record teams since 2000, when the Mets were crushed by the Mighty Yankees of the turn of the century.
This is the first World Series since 2001 to exclude at least one Wild Card team. So why so many firsts? Why these two teams? Why did the best records make it through the playoffs?
These two teams are marked by one commonality: pitching. Sure the Cubs led the majors in runs scored for most of the season. Sure the Rays did everything right, with the hit and run play of Iwamura, Carl Crawford and B.J. Upton, and the home run pop of Carlos Pena, Eric Hinske and Evan Longoria. But the constant throughout the season was the pitching.
Much has been made of the Cubs deadline acquisition of ----- ------. While this arm made a significant contribution to the team, the pieces where already in place. Carlos Zambrano and Ted Lilly compliment each other very well, mixing contrary styles. Z throws grounders, sinkers, and records a few strike outs. Lilly throws fly balls, big overhand curves, and loves to strike out a dozen at a time.
Ryan Dempster and Jason Marquis have been more than average, eating innings and dominating games from time to time. Then the bullpen, with middle men Jose Ascanio, Neal Cotts, Scott Eyre and Michael Wuertz getting the ball to Bob Howry, Carlos Marmol and Kerry Wood.
This team goes deep into ballgames, and they hold the lead.
Similarly in St. Petersburg, Matt Garza, James Shields, Scott Kazmir and Andy Sonnastine are known to dominate through the sixth inning or more, and the pen featuring Dan Wheeler, Grant Balfour, Percival and the rest.
These two offenses will have their hands full, with both staffs more than capable of shutting down lineups . A slight edge goes to the Cubs, if you believe you learn more from a loss than a win; the Cubs took that adage to heart, when they dropped three in a row to the Rays in a June series. But the games were close, and could have easily turned into a Cubs sweep, had the bounces off the turf been kinder.
First time in a franchise history, or first time in 100 years? Weigh in!