Let's cut straight to the chase: We might as well just skip the entire 162-game MLB season this year, skip the playoffs too, and let the Philadelphia Phillies and the Boston Red Sox play a seven-game series for the Commissioner's Trophy. Heck, why don't we make it a 15-game series, just for fun. Give them each a few games to warm up, and then let these titans go at it.
Okay, wait. Come back. Don't run to the comment section. Delete that angry e-mail you just started. Cancel that bounty you just put out on my head. It was just a joke, I swear. As the Giants proved last season, for the trillionth time in sports history, it's not always the best team on paper that wins the games. That my friends, is what makes sports so amazing.
All kidding aside though, these two teams...just go ahead and pick a superlative. To say they are the teams to beat in each league this year would be an understatement. To say they are unbeatable is a slight exaggeration.
Here is the short version of the story. The Phillies were a 97-win team last season, and they added Cliff Lee. The Red Sox were an 89-win team last year, in the toughest division in baseball, and they added Carl Crawford and Adrian Gonzalez.
Let's dig a little deeper. With the re-addition of Lee, the Phillies now feature a starting rotation with three bona fide aces—Roy Halladay and Roy Oswalt being the other two. Sorry Phillies fans, but Cole Hamels has not shown the consistency to be a true No. 1 yet. He is on the cusp, but not quite there.
The key stats when trying to quantify the dominance of H2O+Lee (if only Hamels were an ace we could call them "the four aces") are command and games started.
A pitchers command ratio (CMD) is how many batters he strikes out, compared to how many he walks (K/BB). The best starting pitchers in the league generally have a CMD of three or higher. Last season, 24 starters finished the season with a CMD of three or better.
Hamels, the aforementioned slouch of the Phillies staff, had a 3.46 CMD, 13th best in MLB. Oswalt was two slots ahead of Hamels with a 3.51 CMD. Lee and Halladay were by far first and second with a 10.28 CMD and 7.3 CMD respectively. No other pitcher in the league had a CMD better than 4.31. If anyone questions the importance of this statistic, feel free to leave a comment and we can discuss it further.
The other stat that I mentioned is games started (GS). In his "Baseball Forecaster," Ron Shandler acutely notes, "There are two kinds of pitchers: those that are hurt and those that are not hurt...yet." Basically, the ability to stay on the mound is almost as important as ability on the mound.
The Phillies' four studs have shown incredible durability. With the exception of Lee having 28 GS in 2010, each of these men has at least 30 GS in each of the past three seasons.
Aside from having healthy aces everywhere you look, the Phillies feature an offense that has led the NL in runs scored three of the past six seasons. The three years they did not lead the NL, they finished second.
True, the Phillies offense will suffer with the loss of Jayson Werth, but look for two stars to pick up the slack. Ryan Howard had 31 home runs last season, and that was an off year for him. Look for Howard to rebound and get back into the mid-40s in HR.
Age is beginning to take its toll on Jimmy Rollins. In 2010, nagging injuries led Rollins to the least productive season of his career. At age 32, Rollins probably has a few good seasons left in him. Expect him to rebound and be around 20 HR and 30 SB.
Red Sox Nation, you've waited patiently. Now it's your turn. For all the hype that the Phillies pitching staff is getting, for my money, the Red Sox hurlers are not far behind. With three straight outstanding seasons, it is fair to say that Jon Lester has joined the ranks of the aces. In the toughest division to pitch in, Lester is a combined 50-23 since 2008. Lester has maintained a sub-3.50 ERA and sub-1.3 WHIP during that time span. He has back-to-back 225 K seasons.
Clay Buchholz is not far behind. Last season, Buchholz posted a 17-7 record with a 2.33 ERA and a 1.20 WHIP. Lester and Buchholz are both young, at 27 and 26 years old respectively, they are entering the prime years of their careers.
In support of the Sox' two young guns, are two wily veterans in Josh Beckett and John Lackey. Both are coming off subpar years by their standards.
Despite being consistently above average, and incredible in big games, Beckett has shown a propensity for volatility over his career. Basically, a subpar 2010 does not necessarily forecast a decline for Beckett. He is the type of pitcher where a down season one year usually means a good season is coming the next.
You may be tempted to predict a decline due to age, but in reality both Beckett and Lackey are younger than three out of the four previously discussed Phillies starters.
Offensively, the Red Sox lineup is going to be a nightmare for opposing pitchers. Here's how it could look:
1. Carl Crawford
2. Dustin Pedroia
3. Kevin Youkilis
4. Adrian Gonzalez
5. David Ortiz
6. J.D. Drew
7. Jared Saltalamacchia
8. Jacoby Ellsbury
9. Marco Scutaro
Hitters one through four are all studs in the absolute prime of their careers. Crawford can hit 15 HR and have 50 SB. Pedroia is a former AL MVP with a career .305 AVG. Youkilis, aka "the Greek God of Walks," has a career .394 OBP. Gonzalez has averaged just over 34 HR per year the past four seasons in one of the hardest parks to hit home runs, with absolutely no protection in the lineup.
Big Papi is getting old, but he proved the last two seasons that if he gets 500 AB he will be around the 30-HR mark. Ellsbury is one injury-plagued season removed from a .301/.355, 94 R, 60 RBI, 70 SB year.
I could keep bombarding you with stats, but you get the point. This offense has the potential to be legendary.
So how do these teams stack up to one another?
Offensively I give the edge to the Sox. The Phillies may be able to match up in terms of star power, but the Sox stars are just entering their prime. Conversely, the Phillies' top hitters, most notably Rollins and Raul Ibanez, are closer to the back end of their prime years.
Starting pitching favors the Phillies. When bullpen is taken into account, however, the edge shifts back to the Sox. The Red Sox 'pen features closer Jonathan Papelbon, who had his worst season in 2010, but was still pretty decent. He should rebound.
In support of Papelbon, the Sox have the 25-year-old flamethrower, Daniel Bard. They round out their 'pen with former White Sox closer Bobby Jenks, lefty specialist Hideki Okajima, and veteran Dan Wheeler.
The Phillies bullpen might be their only weakness. The inconsistencies of closer Brad Lidge are well documented. The flip side to that is that Lidge can be as dominant as anyone when he is on his game.
The teams are comparable defensively, but if pressed I would have to give the edge to the Sox here also. Having a two-time Gold Glove winner in Gonzalez at first base will anchor the Boston infield. Though Ryan Howard has shown steady improvement defensively, he is still a below-average fielder.
Okay, I'm a Mets fan so I'm done hyping two teams that I despise. Let me finish by saying that, barring a Mets-esq string of injuries, the 2011 season has the potential to turn into a two-horse race. We all know anything can happen in a short playoff series, so no matter how good, no team is a lock to go to the World Series. For my money, if these two teams met in the 2011 World Series, it could be one of the best matchups of all time. Just imagine two of most dominant playoff pitchers of the generation, Josh Beckett and Cliff Lee facing off in a Game 7.
Is it October yet?