At the beginning of the season, if you picked the Philadelphia Phillies to play the TAMPA BAY RAYS in the World Series, then you probably also predicted John McCain to choose Sarah Palin as a running mate in the presidential election. The Phillies were a popular pick in the preseason, but the Devil-less Rays were a fourth or fifth-place pick.
The Rays won a franchise record 97 games this season and won the A.L. East crown, clinching their first ever playoff appearance. They defeated the White Sox in four games in the ALDS. And they won a seven-game battle with division rival Boston in the ALCS.
The Phillies also won their division title in the N.L. East. It took the Phills four games to beat the Brewers in the NLDS, and it took them five to beat Manny and the Dodgers in the NLCS.
This series is going to come down to pitching and defense, and these two teams are two of the best in the league. The Phillies' four starting pitchers will be Cole Hamels, Brett Myers, Jamie Moyer, and Joe Blanton.
The lefty, Cole Hamels, throws one of the best changeups in the game. He had a 3.09 ERA to go along with 196 strikeouts during the regular season. He has only looked better in the postseason, and he reminds me a lot of how Josh Beckett played in the postseason last year. That's why he was awarded the NLCS MVP award.
Following Hamels will be Myers (2-0 in the playoffs), the 45-year-old Moyer (13.50 ERA in playoffs), and Blanton.
On the Tampa Bay side, the projected Game One starter is lefty Scott Kazmir. Kazmir led the Rays' pitching staff in ERA and strikeouts and was named to the American League All-Star team. James Shield has slightly struggled in the playoffs but went 14-8 with a 3.56 ERA in the regular season.
Matt Garza (11-9, 3.70) was outstanding in the ALCS. He was dominating the Red Sox with his mid-90s fastball and hard slider. He was the ALCS MVP. Andy Sonnanstine (13-9, 4.38) forces a lot of groundballs.
The bullpens for each team are about even, except for the closer position. The Phillies' closer, Brad Lidge, held 1.95 ERA while picking up 41 saves and blowing zero of them in his first season in Philadelphia. Tampa Bay has no permanent closer, but talented rookie David Price seems to be the favorite. Pitching Advantage: Even
CATCHER: At catcher, the Phillies use a two-headed monster of Carlos Ruiz and Chris Coste. The Rays use All-Star Dioner Navarro. Navarro had a .295 batting average in the season, and calls a game very well. Advantage: Rays
FIRST BASE: Ryan Howard led the majors in home runs (48) and RBI (146). He also plays an underrated defense at first base for Philadelphia. For the Rays, Carlos Pena led the team with 31 home runs and 102 RBI. Advantage: Phillies
SECOND BASE: Chase Utley is one of the best, if not the best, second basemen in the league. Not only is he a Gold Glover, but he had a .292 batting average, 33 home runs, and 104 RBI. Akinori Iwamura for Tampa is a very solid second baseman but didn't even have half as many RBI as Utley. Advantage: Phillies
SHORTSTOP: Last year's N.L. MVP, Jimmy Rollins, did not have the same kind of year he had in 2007, but he is still an MVP. He is still a Gold Glover with great speed (47 stolen bases). Jason Bartlett isn't an above-average shortstop. He has a below-mediocre bat and glove. Advantage: Phillies
THIRD BASE: Pedro Feliz had a bad year batting average-wise for the Phillies (.249) and a solid power year (14 home runs). Rookie, and eventual Rookie of the Year, Evan Longoria was amazing in his first year in the bigs. He made the A.L. All-Star team while finishing the season with 27 homers and 85 RBI. Advantage: Rays
OUTFIELD: The Phillies' outfield consists of Pat Burrell, Shane Victorino, and Jayson Werth. Combined, the three hit 71 home runs on the season. Burrell hit his expected 33 of them and also had 86 RBI. Victorino hit .293 and had 36 stolen bases. And Jayson Werth came out of no where and hit 24 homers.
The Rays have Carl Crawford, B.J. Upton, and Gabe Gross. This outfield is extremely talented and contains so much speed (Upton had 44 steals) that the defense is amazing. But altogether they have a combined 30 home runs in the season, and they all hit for very low batting averages. Advantage: Phillies
The great hitting and experience will be too much for the Tampa Bay Rays to handle. They won't get swept, but they won't beat the Fightin' Phills. Philadelphia in five. Philadelphia Phillies, your 2008 World Series Champs.