World Series: The Biggest Questions Facing Tampa Bay

Nino Colla@TheTribeDailySenior Writer IOctober 21, 2008

You have to like the position you are in if you are the Tampa Bay Rays.

Not many teams would have had the mental toughness to fend of the Boston Red Sox and their unbelievable resurgence.

Now they have a quick turnaround to the game's toughest stage, the World Series.

The Phillies have a lineup built for the American League, while the Rays have one built for the National League. However, both can obviously play in their own leagues. That's what makes this series intriguing.

The starting pitching for both clubs has been fantastic and both have bullpens that can shut you down late in the game. You can't get a matchup any more equal than this one.

The Rays don't have much to worry about; they don't have long to worry about it. But there are questions that need answering before they take on the Phillies.

Will the short-layoff help the Rays? Is Troy Percival going to close for them? Can their power numbers continue to fuel their offense? All these are questions concerning the Rays and their run at winning the World Series.


Will the Rays power surge continue?

16 home runs is a single-series record in the postseason. That's exactly what the Rays did against Boston in the ALCS.

B.J. Upton went from hitting just nine home runs in the entire regular season to bashing seven in just 11 games against both Chicago and Boston.

Their 22 home runs in this years postseason is far and away the most out of any team, even the Phillies, who have three dangerous power hitters in the center of their lineup.

The question now becomes: Can the Rays power carry into the World Series against Philadelphia?

Upton is finally healthy, which explains the reason for his low total in the regular season. We know he can hit the home run, but can he really keep up the pace that he's on now?

Don't forget Evan Longoria, who only has 11 hits, but six of them have gone over the fences. Carlos Pena has hit three home runs, all of them coming in the ALCS, so maybe he's prone to find his power stroke.

Carl Crawford and Dioner Navarro are the lone regulars who haven't gone deep yet for the Rays. One thing to keep in mind is Crawford's past success in Citizen's Bank Park. In his one and only interleague series against the Phillies, Crawford went deep twice.

Citizen's Bank Park is known for giving up the long ball, so the possible three games in Philadelphia will surely help the Rays.


Is Troy Percival going to pitch, and who will be the closer?

Right now, it is unknown if Troy Percival will be activated for the World Series. The first question is: will he? And the one that follows that is: Whom will he replace?

If Percival was to be activated and re-inserted into the Rays' bullpen, would you feel comfortable with him as your closer? He hasn't pitched since the last game of the regular season, a little under a month ago.

How effective would he be after the long layoff, coming off an injury, not playing in a real game, with that type of pressure?

I'd have my doubts about Percival, not only as the closer, but even being on the active roster. He'll be a nice boost for their clubhouse, but could he contribute if called upon?

Dan Wheeler took over for Percival in the regular season when he went down and has been the default option in the postseason. However, Wheeler has struggled in this postseason, with a 6.00 ERA in six games.

Grant Balfour started out great but has struggled in his past few appearances. He gave up four runs to Boston in the famous Game Five and was only used for one out in Game Six.

J.P. Howell has been the most reliable reliever for Tampa. He's given up just two runs in his nine appearances and probably is suited to close, but as someone who can be stretched out, can you really save him for the ninth? A left-handed pitcher who can probably pitch in all seven games, maybe go multiple innings in one is valuable.

It's not that Howell can't close; it's more like Howell probably shouldn't close.

That leaves David Price, the rookie who shut the door on Boston in Game Seven of the ALCS.

How would being anointed the closer impact Price? He didn't seem to have much of a problem with being called upon in probably the most pressure filled moment. That was far from dumb-luck; Price can bring the heat with the heat on him.

If I was Joe Maddon, I'd probably use Price as my closer, but not officially say it. If the media asks, just tell them you'll do it based off how the game is going. But because you have Edwin Jackson and a guy like J.P. Howell, there is no need to worry about long relief. Save Price for the ninth and go from there.


Does Tampa have the advantage in Philadelphia, lineup wise?

We already talked about the power that Tampa Bay has displayed so far in this postseason. Philadelphia probably has more sluggers than the Rays do. What's funny though is that Tampa is built on moving runners and getting key hits.

This is a speedy bunch; they were only caught stealing once by Boston. Carl Crawford has stolen six bases, while the team as a whole has stolen 17 bases this postseason.

Dare I say that the Rays have an advantage in a National League park? Jimmy Rollins and Shane Victorino is a dangerous pair at the top of the Phillies' lineup, if that's indeed what Charlie Manuel decides to do.

But how much of an adjustment are the Rays going to have to make when the series shifts to Philadelphia? They'll lose someone like Cliff Floyd or Rocco Baldelli, but just think of this lineup if Fernando Perez is roaming the outfield.

Crawford will probably continue to hit in the lower half, behind Pena and Longoria, while Upton is at the top, under Akinori Iwamura. Perez slides into the bottom of the lineup with Jason Bartlett and Dioner Navarro.

The Phillies could pitch around a guy like Perez in the eight hole to get to the pitcher. Perez steals a base, the pitcher bunts him over, and all of a sudden we are set up for Rays baseball with a runner in scoring position where a hit scores a run.

Even if Jason Bartlett continues to hit near the bottom, that's the last guy you want to be pitching around. He stole 20 bases in the regular season, and he really doesn't hit for much of a high average; he's in there for defense.

Will Carlos Ruiz or Pedro Feliz steal many bases at the bottom of the lineup? Perhaps Victorino should be left at the bottom to generate some chances.

The Rays may have the advantage in Philadelphia, which isn't often for an American League team in a National League park. But the Rays aren't built with the traditional slugging mentality that has a regular DH in there.


Will two days off compared to the Phillies' six put the Rays at a disadvantage?

Here we are again, with a team making quick work of their Championship series opponent and having to wait as their World Series opponent plays an extended series.

In 2007, the Red Sox beat the Rockies in just four games after going the distance with Cleveland while Colorado swept Arizona in the NLCS.

A year before that, the St. Louis Cardinals went seven games against the Mets, ended up beating the Tigers in five after they swept Oakland in the ALCS.

From 2001 to 2004, both LCS winners won their series in the same amount of games, but some of the hotter teams in recent postseason history have ended up winning the World Series in quick fashion. The White Sox in 2005 and Boston in 2004, both swept their National League opponents.

Past history suggests that the Rays are actually in the advantage on this one. They’ve got a short layoff, with hot bats, sound pitching, and their opponent coming off a longer layoff.

Will that layoff for the Phillies kill that momentum and emotion they've built up during their postseason run? That's a question for the Phillies to answer and the Rays to try and take advantage of.


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