For those who fancy themselves baseball analysts, two teams have been thrown around as World Series favorites since the Hot Stove season started heating up.
With Philadelphia’s pitching making headlines and Boston’s offense creating water cooler conversation, many are hoping for an NL/AL super postseason pair up.
While anything can happen in a series, never mind during the season, let’s take a look at what team has the advantage on paper headed into April 1.
Before you slide headfirst into baseball, it’s best to fill up your stomach. Whether you’re catching a World Series game down in Philadelphia or strolling Yawkey Way up in Boston, you need to indulge your taste buds and sample the local favorites.
In a match of flavor, the Philly cheese steak minces the New England clam chowder, giving the City of Brotherly Love an early lead thanks to the caloric collaboration of beef and cheese.
Just a year ago, there was an early rumble of hype circulating the 2010 Red Sox starting rotation. Many thought that they would be the best set of arms the Major League had seen in years—and then Beckett imploded, Lackey bombed and Dice-K remained erratic.
Fast forward 12 months; now it’s Philadelphia’s turn to ride the hype bus, though unlike Boston’s pitching hoopla from a year ago, Philly’s seems more than justified. With Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee, Cole Hamels and Roy Oswalt serving as the fearsome foursome, there’s little opposing players can do other than hope for an off day and a hanging breaking ball.
For years, the Red Sox had the backstop position solidified—first with team captain Jason Varitek and then with Victor Martinez. When Martinez headed west for Detroit in the offseason, the Sox had to improvise, awarding unproven Jarrod Saltalamacchia with the full time job.
Meanwhile, Philly backstop Carlos Ruiz has had a bit of a roller coaster career offensively, though he did turn in his best statistic season to date in 2010. While he may not hit .302 again, he’s been a part of that team since 2006 and is comfortable in the role. The same thing can not yet be said for Salty.
Philadelphia’s Ryan Howard is no slouch. His home runs have dipped in the last few years, peaking at 58 in 2006, but his strikeouts have also dropped, which was and always will be a lingering frustration for Philly fans.
An RBI machine with plenty of power potential, Howard is a welcome addition to any team. However, Adrian Gonzalez has a lot to prove in his first season in Boston and could easily surpass Howard’s RBI and home run production while playing full time in Fenway Park.
As far as defense goes, you also can’t look past A-Gone’s gold glove approach to covering first.
Philly fanatics have been on pins and needles waiting to hear just how much of Chase Utley they’re going to see in 2011. If his lingering knee tendinitis is an issue all year and carries him into the postseason, Boston’s dirt dog Dustin Pedroia would easily trump anyone they could throw out there as a replacement.
That being said, it’s hard to imagine Utley sitting the season out. While I love Pedroia’s blue collar approach to playing the game, this is a match the former MVP just can’t win.
Once a sure thing at a position that didn’t offer many sure things, Jimmy Rollins has been inconsistent and hampered by injuries the last few years. After a monster season in 2007, he seemed to have hit a wall, spending much of 2010 on the DL and replaced at leadoff by Shane Victorino.
Meanwhile, Boston’s issues with the position are well documented. After trading away Nomar Garciaparra in 2004 and shipping top prospect Hanley Ramirez to Florida, the BoSox have had a revolving door of players at shortstop, none of which have stuck.
Yes, Boston has another top prospect—Jose Inglesias—in the minors, but this year will see mostly Marco Scutaro holding the position with the occasional tagging in of Jed Lowrie. Scutaro and Lowrie will get the job done, contributing where they can, but even an unexceptional Rollins is more exceptional than what Boston will put out on the field.
Placido Polanco started the 2010 season on an absolute tear, but eventually his production slowed down and he lived up to expectations as opposed to living beyond them. At 35 he won’t be a game changer, but he’ll still serve the position well and help his team.
Kevin Youkilis, however, is a game changer. Whether he does it with his bat or with his ability to rile up his team, the Greek God of Walks is passionate about the game—and it shows through every time he takes the field.
Yes, Domonic Brown is on the DL with a broken hand, but the much hyped rookie should be back within a month and settling into right field.
No, J.D. Drew is not on the DL, but chances are good that he will sit out just as many games as Brown with a continuous string of nagging injuries.
Neither is an overly intriguing option at this point in their careers, and while Brown has plenty of upside, he also had a hard time hitting Major League pitching when he got called up in 2010.
For the time being, it makes more sense to go with experience over potential.
It seems people want Jacoby Ellsbury to fail this year, or at the very least, under perform. Sitting out almost all of the 2010 season with a rib injury, he’s back to full health and over performing throughout the preseason, even showing some pop at the plate.
Philadelphia, meanwhile, has their own speedy center fielder, Shane Victorino. Although he didn’t hit for average, Victorino had a surprising 2010, whacking 18 long balls and knocking in 69. Not too shabby for someone who was dropped into leadoff most of the year.
Nevertheless, I don’t have as short of a memory as it seems most fans do, and I recall quite clearly what Ellsbury is capable of—especially when he has the green light on the base paths.
Boston’s surprising acquisition of Carl Crawford in the offseason had everyone excited about the possibility of two of the fastest players in baseball on the same team. Dynamic with both his bat and the glove, Crawford is easily one of the most exciting players in the game, and he casts a large shadow over Philly’s option in left.
Sorry, Raul Ibanez.
Boston’s bullpen was one of many bruises visible on the 2010 team, so they went out and made a handful of substantial acquisitions in the offseason, including Bobby Jenks and Dan Wheeler. Although unproven as of yet, the addition of those arms—along with workhorse and future closer Daniel Bard—could be enough to make this one of the best bullpens in the majors.
Brad Lidge’s recent bicep tendinitis made all of Philadelphia gasp, but he seems to be feeling fine after throwing a bullpen session on Friday. Unfortunately for Philly, even a healthy Lidge won’t be enough to help them take the closer category.
2010 was not his best year, but Jonathan Papelbon still delivered, ending the season with 37 saves. Papelbon has a lot to prove headed into free agency, especially to his bank account, so expect the fire to be reignited.
In a close race, the winner of the “who’s better on paper” battle goes to Boston, taking seven of the 12 categories. Now it’s up to Philadelphia to prove the paper wrong.