So here we are, standing again upon the precipice which is the day before Game 1 of the World Series. This year, the 2008 World Series is between the Tampa Bay Rays and the Philadelphia Phillies.
Both teams were not picked to make the World Series back in spring training. Actually, back in February if one said the Rays wold be contending in the fall classic 90% of baseball fans would give a chuckle and go, "Yeah right, and the sky is green and the grass is blue right?"
Virtually the same applies for the Phillies. Sure, everyone in baseball knew they were a talented team that was coming off a season in which they made the playoffs for the first time in over a decade. But as with any Philadelphia team, they choked in the first round of those 07 playoffs- so the feeling in Philly was really up in air concerning how far this team could go in 08.
All these long months, 162 regular season games, and 2 exciting rounds of playoffs later we arrive here, staring at what we considered impossible back in February.
The Tampa Bay Rays not only won 97 regular season games but also succeeded in defeating the 05 World Champion Chicago White Sox as well as the 04 and defending World Champion Boston Red Sox in thrilling 7-game fashion.
Since Tampa Bay has only gotten their first taste of playoff experience this fall, they have absolutely nothing to lose and everything to gain.
The Phillies, in contrast, have been progressively climbing the ladder in Major League Baseball over the past few seasons. Departing the 07 playoffs after playing merely one round of baseball left a bitter taste in their mouth. This year they've shown their stuff and made the fall classic. Can they continue to move forward in their quest for the city of Philadelphia's first World Title in over 25 years? Or will they live up to Philadelphia's bill of professional chokers?
Both teams are virtually identical with young budding stars, dynamic offenses, and solid pitching.
The Phillies have Ryan Howard, the NL Rookie of the Year in 05- a season in which he only played half the year, filling in for Jim Thome after he got hurt in the beginning of July. He would later become the NL MVP after his first full season in the majors in 06. He is arguably one of the best cleanup hitters in baseball when, "he's going right," as Phillies manager Charlie Manuel would adequately put it. He is also a contender for the 08 NL MVP.
They have Jimmy Rollins, the 2007 NL MVP, one of the best lead-off hitters and one of the most solid defending shortstops in all of baseball.
They also have Chase Utley, arguably the 08 NL MVP and considered one of the best hitting second baseman of all time after only playing his sixth season this year.
These three are the Phillies core players, their A-list players; however the team is littered with B-list players as well.
Pat Burrell, Shane Victorino, Matt Stairs, and Gregg Dobbs are all excellent support players. Dobbs and Stairs are excellent pinch-hitters. Burrell has hit 251 home runs in his 9 seasons as a Phillie including 33 this year and three more in these 08 playoffs. Victorino is the speedy center-fielder who can steal bases, play stellar defense, and get the team the big hit they need when they need it most.
Then you throw in Jayson Werth's stats and Pedro Feliz's defense and you got a pretty solid lineup right there.
You look at what the Phillies did pitching this year and you have to rub your eyes to make sure you're not sleeping. This is the first Phillies team I've seen with a team ERA of under 4.00 in um, well... I can't remember a team with an ERA that low, maybe 1993??
Cole Hamels stayed healthy all year and anchored the starting rotation with the maturity of a 30 year-old at the age of 24. Granted he did not meet his goal of 20-wins this season, but the Phillies are playing in the World Series- there's always next season to get 20 wins. Winning NLCS MVP isn't a bad consolation prize to say the least.
With Hamels at the helm followed by Myers, Moyer, and Blanton, the Philles have a solid contrast of lefties to righties and power pitchers to crafty ones to baffle opposing hitters for six or seven innings before turning the ball over to the teams sterling bullpen.
Brad Lidge has been perfect in save situations since donning a Phillies uniform in both the regular season as well as the playoffs. Pencil him in for the ninth and then support him with good pitchers like JC Romero, Scott Eyre, Rudy Seanez, Chad Durbin, and Ryan Madson and it's no wonder the Phillies are like 100-0 when leading after the eigtht inning. Ok, they're actually 87-0 if you include the playoffs, but at this point who's counting? They don't lose games in which they lead after the 8th, that's all we need to know.
Tamba Bay isn't a team of slouches either. The Phillies have seven players who have hit 10 or more home runs, so does Tampa Bay. Tampa also boasts five starters with 10 or more wins this season. And they have Troy Percival and Dan Wheeler in their bullpen.
With a lineup that consists of Akinori Iwamura, Carl Crawford, Carlos Pena, Evan Longoria, Eric Hinske, and BJ Upton- Tampa Bay has shown themselves to have just as good an offense as the Phillies.
The Phillies scored 799 runs during the regular season- Tampa Bay scored 774. That's not much of a differential.
The Rays allowed 671 runs, 618 of which were earned this season. The Phillies allowed 680 runs, 625 of which were earned. Not much of a differential there either.
So we look at both teams and see they both have good offenses, good starting pitching, and good bullpens. How are we to make a determination as to who's gonna win this thing?
Every game is going to be determined on solely who executes better in every facet of the game. Who wants it more?
If the Phillies hit and pitch to their potential they are unbeatable, but the same applies to the Rays.
Despite having a good bullpen Tampa Bay also has a more vulnerable one than the Phillies, though not by much. Their pen does not boast a closer who's been perfect all season, and it's not as deep as the Phillies.
The Phillies haven't played a competitive game in almost a week- so while they're rested they may also be rusty from the layoff. Tampa Bay clinched their berth in the fall classic this past Sunday, their layoff is only 3 days- they're rested but not overly so. They will come out ready to play tomorrow night and the Phillies have to do the same.
Both teams will be nervous, so it'll be interesting to see which team that effects more.
My prediction, if the Phillies and Cole Hamels go out and win game 1 tomorrow night they take the series in 6 games. If Tampa Bay wins game 1, then the series goes 7 and it's up in the air who takes the prize. Either way, it should be a very exciting and memorable fall classic- for Phillie fans, for Tampa Bay fans, and for all baseball fans.