Phils' Pitchers Prepare for Rays' Potency

Dave MulhernCorrespondent IOctober 21, 2008

No, not that kind of potency. Get your head out of the gutter. What the headline meant was that the Phladelphia Phillies' pitching staff, especially the starting rotation, should be gearing up over the next few days as the World Series approaches. With their matchup with the Tampa Bay Rays finally official, after last night's ALCS Game Seven, the Phillies will have their work cut out for them against a young, energetic, and powerful lineup.

With young stars like B.J. Upton, Evan Longoria, Carlos Pena, Dioner Navarro, Carl Crawford, and with Rocco Baldelli even getting himself in the mix late in the year, the Rays have one of the best young lineups in the Majors. Filling in around these guys are talents like veteran Cliff Floyd, Japanese import Aki Iwamura, Gabe Gross, Willy Aybar, Fernando Perez, a whole different cast of characters, who, at one time or another, have stepped up and made important contributions to the offensive success of their team.  For Phillies fans, this should sound pretty familiar, and for Phillies starters, it should sound pretty frightening. 

That is not to say that I think the Phillies will be unable or unprepared to handle the Rays' hitters, just that they definitely should not take them lightly. After watching the success of the Phillies' lineup, a similarly young lineup that a lot of people expected to falter down the stretch or as the postseason wore on, the starters for the Phils have had a front row seat to see just what kind of attitude and ability will be present in the Rays' hitters.

So what should we expect to see out of the Phillies' rotation in the World Series?  Let's take a look and see what we can determine.

First things first, who will be the starting pitchers for the Phillies in this World Series? Cole Hamels and Brett Myers were locks to pitch Games One and Two, respectively, from the moment Carlos Ruiz snagged that pop fly out of the dark Los Angeles night sky in front of the 84 Dodgers fans still present at Game Five.

However, after two straight shaky outings, it was unsure whether or not Jamie Moyer would start a game or not. Charlie Manuel has since announced that he will stick with the crafty veteran southpaw and give him the nod in Game Three. Joe Blanton would probably be pencilled in for Game Four, with the rotation resetting to Hamels afterward.

But depending on how the series plays out, it is entirely possible that Blanton would get skipped in favor of more innings with Hamels on the mound.

Cole Hamels is a bona fide major-league ace and one of the best left-handed pitchers in the league. Boasting a strong fastball, a functional curveball, and a devastating change-up, Hamels can make even the best hitters look foolish in big at-bats. Maybe even more important than his pitching ability, though, is the NLCS MVP's mentality and personality on the pitching mound.

He has grown up a lot since he came into the league and seems to have put the hot-headed days of his past (see, 2005 broken hand resulting from a bar fight) behind him without losing the competitive fire that makes him a great pitcher. This guy has some of the best stuff in the game, and even though he has quite an ego, he has shown that he can really put people away consistently.

Even in his bad starts, you can watch a game pitched by Cole Hamels and think to yourself at least once an inning: "Wow, there's not many pitchers that can make a pitch like that." 

Cole should be able to handle the Rays' lineup, as long as he gets a little run support and stays on an even keel when the Rays do get to him. I think the Phillies should be able to win the game(s) pitched by Hamels and am excited to see how he goes after them.

Brett Myers should have a pretty good shot at a win, too, but keeping his composure is even more important for a guy like Myers than anyone on the Phils' pitching staff. As fantastic as Brett has been this postseason (on the mound, as well as at the plate), he can be prone to some serious blow-ups.

He lives and dies by the success of his fastball, playing with a pretty good curveball and occasional change, but those two become a lot less frequent and a lot more hittable when Myers is angry with himself over difficulties with his fastball.

Myers is a fiery guy, one of the most competitive players in the game, and can use that to his definite advantage in getting guys out.

However, if he is not on his A-game, and the Rays really get to him, it could be a short outing for the pitcher with the short temper. In his recent string of success, he has been able to maintain composure, even through some rough spots, so expect this level-headed Brett to come out again and work hard for a win.

Jamie Moyer has no such temper issues. In fact, of all the things to pick on about Jamie Moyer's pitching ability, temper and mental makeup are about the last two things anyone should worry about.

He has been around the majors for 22 years now and just may hold the all-time record for a pitcher making the opposing batter say: "How the hell did I miss that pitch?"

The talking heads on TV will tell you that because the Rays are a young team, they will be eager and Jamie Moyer will have a field day with them. That has proved to be untrue in these playoffs, with young lineups from the Brewers and the Dodgers pummeling Moyer pretty soundly.

What really will make the difference for Jamie Moyer when he is on the mound is whether or not he is getting the calls on the outside corner of the plate, where a pitcher like him really makes his money. When that outside pitch is consistently being called a strike, hitters are forced to swing at it for self-preservation, and that's when you see guys diving at the ball and hitting a lot of the weak grounders and pop-ups that Jamie Moyer lives on.

Radar-gun fans should be afraid (very afraid) of Jamie Moyer, with a fastball topping out around 84 miles per hour and a change-up that typically clocks in around the high 60s, which explains the frustration you see on hitters faces when he makes them look foolish.

A good hitting team like the Rays, though, with the appropriate amount of patience, can hit Jamie Moyer and get into him for some serious runs. If Moyer is missing run support and/or a generous strike zone, look for him to possibly struggle.

Joe Blanton has been a pleasant surprise since arriving in Philadelphia. After being acquired in a seemingly desperate deadline move aimed at keeping Adam Eaton as far away from the Citizens Bank Park pitcher's mound as possible, Blanton has come in and been a rock in the Phillies rotation. Well, as much of a rock as you are going to find from a fourth starter, anyway. 

Blanton will consistently go anywhere from five to seven innings, giving up between two and four runs, or just good enough to keep himself in the game. A typical innings eater, Blanton will pitch well enough for the manager to talk himself into leaving him in, but is almost guaranteed to make fans sweat by getting himself into a few jams throughout the game.

His ability to buckle down and make crucial pitches when he gets into those jams will decide just how much of a rock he is in his World Series debut.

He could turn in another solid, borderline heroic outing as he has in the Phils' two previous series, or he could easily let one of his jams get out of hand and see first-hand just how potent this Rays lineup is. Another guy looking for run support, he will also be counting on his fielders to play solid defense, as he is not an overpowering strikeout pitcher.

All in all, I think the Phillies have a good chance in this series, and a lot of it has to do with the way they have been pitching. They have been able to get some really timely hits and guys have come up big defensively so far in the postseason, but what has kept them successful has been their impressive pitching.

Their starters have been able to keep them in games all year, and I see no reason why that will not continue. If the Phillies lose this series, my guess is that it will have more to do with the Rays' equally impressive young pitchers shutting down the Philadelphia hitters than with the Phillies' starting rotation not doing their job.

SERIES PREDICTION: Phils in seven (though four would be sweet because I have Game Four seats).


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