This headline might not make sense, considering the Rays have four solid young pitchers all capable of winning their matchup. However, I consider the Phils pitching across the board to have a considerable advantage over the Rays.
My opinion is based on a few assumptions, and if the majority of them are not accurate, then the Rays will win. I also believe that if this series gets back to Tampa for Games Six and Seven, the Phillies are in trouble.
Assumption No. 1: Cole Hamels will be lights out and win Game One.
This is the safest assumption by far; there is no conceivable argument to the contrary. I went to Game One of the NLDS against the Brewers. Although Hamels pitched very well the previous year in the playoffs against Colorado, I was still feeling a little uneasy.
By the third inning, he was in a zone I can't fairly describe. The Phillies scored three runs in the bottom of the third innning and their bats went cold. Yet I went the rest of the game with absolute confidence we would win.
I simply didn't think Hamels could give up that many runs. He went on to give up two runs in eight innings and struck out nine. In fact, in his three postseason starts, he has only given up 13 hits and has 22 strikeouts. That is unheard of.
This assumption makes me the most confident because getting at least a split in the first two games of the series is huge in a 2-3-3 format.
I will say this, if the Phillies don't win Game One, I don't like their chances to win the series at all. This game is as must-win as a Game One can be.
Assumption No. 2: If the game is close in the seventh inning, the Phillies will have the edge in the bullpen.
All the Phillies' starting pitchers need to do is stay in the game and give five or six innings. I believe that whatever the score is, if the two teams are within three runs of each other at this point in the game, the game is very winnable for the Phillies.
Although the Phillies have struggled at times this season in the eighth inning, I will still give them a huge edge over the Rays. The big difference for the Phillies has been Ryan Madson, whose fastball was clocked at 97 mph consistently against the Dodgers.
Chad Durbin and J.C. Romero wore down a little towards the end of year, but Madson is very reliable to lay down the bridge to the ninth inning to get to Brad Lidge. Lidge already has five saves this postseason and did not blow a save all season.
If the Phillies are ahead going into the ninth, they will win. If they are ahead going into the seventh, they will most likely win. This is because Madson has been that good, and Romero and Eyre are still reliable situational pitchers.
In the case that the game is tied or the Phillies are behind a couple of runs going into the seventh inning, their bats could still get hot and have a big inning. They showed their ability to do that in Game Four of the NLCS, which turned the series completely around. This paves the way to my third assumption.
Assumption No. 3: The Phillies' offense is more than capable of bailing out their pitching.
See Game Two of the NLCS if you need a perfect example. I was fortunate enough to attend this game. The Phillies put up four runs in the second inning and another four in the third. This gave Brett Myers an 8-2 lead.
Myers proceeded to give up another three runs in the fourth inning and was knocked out of the game, but the Phillies won 8-5. This isn't a consistent recipe for success for most teams, but scoring eight runs in any game is not a tall order for the Phillies offense by any means.
Rollins, Utley, and Howard have all been fairly inconsistent this postseason but have still had huge contributions. The fact of the matter is anyone in the lineup can contribute at any time and gives the scenario of Assumption No. 2 a very good chance of coming into play.
The only game the Phillies fell far behind and couldn't catch up was their loss in Game Three to the Dodgers. Even if they get a bad outing from one of their starting pitchers, their bullpen and offense is good enough to play catch up.
Keep in mind that if they tag a starting pitcher early in the game and force the Rays to use their bullpen early, they can put up seven or eight runs with no problem.
Assumption No. 4: Both teams can hit the long ball, but the Phillies will actually do it.
I believe the Phillies will hit their home runs because they have hit them in the most crucial situations and they haven't needed Howard to do it. Rollins has led off the game with home runs twice this playoffs.
When Game One of the NLCS wasn't looking good, Utley hit a game tying home run after only hitting two in his previous 40 games. Burrell followed up with the game-winning home run, having previously hit the three-run bomb in Game Four of the NLDS that put the Phils ahead for good.
Victorino hit a grand slam off Sabathia which I believe won the series for them and had the epic game tying home run against the Dodgers in Game Four. Hell, Matt Stairs, who was picked up in early September, hit the game-winning blast.
What I'm saying is that anyone in this lineup can hit crucial home runs that will win the tight games. They have proven this without any home runs from Howard and how can you rule out Howard hitting two or three this series.
That being said, I don't think our starting pitchers will give up the long ball. The only one I worry about is Brett Myers and if this becomes a problem for him, perhaps Assumption No. 3 will apply. Myers concerns me because he is a fastball pitcher and the Rays are a lineup of fastball hitters.
The Rays get their home runs by hitting fastballs. Moyer is a low velocity location pitcher and is unlikely to surrender home runs to younger, possibly overanxious bats waiting for the 90 mph fastball. I think he is more than capable of frustrating the hell out of their lineup.
Blanton could go either way, but given his command in his first two postseason starts and his ability to hit his spots, I don't think the Rays will be jumping on any of his pitches either. Hamels is a fastball pitcher, but his change-up has been so nasty and he has used it so much that there's no way the Rays can sit on his fastballs.
Even if they are capable of knocking one out of the park, Hamels is well known for not giving up homers with runners on base.
Assumption No. 5: The Phillies' offense will hit the Rays' starters.
Kazmir being a lefty is the only starter who concerns me. However, he is nullifed as far as I'm concerned because Assumption No. 1 is too strong. Even so, the scouting report on Kazmir is that his slider and change-up have not been as effective in the second half of the season.
The Phillies batters are very patient hitters and if they can run deep counts, Kazmir is notorious for wearing down fast. If they knock him out of the game early and get to the Rays' bullpen, the Phillies will be in great shape.
I will give it to him, he had an unbelievable performance his last start against the Red Sox, pitching six innings of shut out ball. The remaining three starters are all right-handers, which favors the big lefty bats in the Phillies' lineup.
Shields loves to throw his sinker, which Lowe had a great deal of success with against the Phillies in Game One of the NLCS. However, in Game Five they adjusted and Lowe was knocked out of the game by the third inning. I like Lowe more than Shields, so I have confidence the Phillies will hit him.
This could potentially be the turning point in the series, because if this holds true and Myers gives a decent outing, we are looking at the Phils going up 2-0 heading back home.
Moyer versus Garza is where I get concerned, because he looked unbelievable in Game Seven when everything was obviously at stake. In both starts against the Red Sox he only gave up one ER in each start. But Moyer did win 16 games this year and is capable of keeping things close.
Sonnastine has pitched very well but so has Blanton and I think this one is a toss up. All in all I respect the Rays pitchers and I understand they have put up some unbelievable performances, but the fact is the Phillies have hit tough pitchers already.
They hit Sabathia, who might have been pitching on short rest for the third straight start, but the manner in which they did it was impressive. They knocked around Billingsley twice and Lowe in his second start, who was a very clutch postseason pitcher for the Red Sox. If they can hit these guys, I believe they will hit the Rays pitchers.
Assumption No. 6: If assumptions No. 2-5 apply for the most part, the Phillies will win at least two of Games Two through Four, putting them up 3-1.
Myers, Moyer, and Blanton combined have an ERA over 6.00 in the playoffs. However, a large chunk of those runs comes from Moyer's Game Four appearance in the NLCS (he only lasted two innings) and Myers in Game Two.
All three are capable of putting together a sixth inning, three runs or less outing. And even if they get roughed up, the Phillies bats have proven to win most of their games that have turned into slugfests this year.
If both these statements are true I don't see how the Phillies don't win two of the next three following a Hamels win. Which sets up the final assumption and my prediction:
Assumption No. 7: Cole Hamels will win Game Five at home, become the Steve Carlton of this generation, and be known forever in Philadelphia as the lefty who broke the championship drought in Philly.
Maybe I'm typing with too much heart and not enough brain, maybe I'm being a little too idealistic, but the fans of Philadelphia deserve to dream big. Anytime I talk to my dad about the 1980 team, he doesn't refer to Schmidt or Bowa or Matthews or McGraw. The first person he mentions is "Lefty."
Steve Carlton was the most dominant left-handed pitcher in the history of the game and carried the Phillies rotation for many years.
Schilling did it 1993, starting the Phillies playoff run by striking out the first five in game one of the NLCS. He was beloved in Philadelphia with some exceptions, but still never brought home a title.
With power pitchers going long into games becoming a dying breed in baseball, what better way could the Phillies win the World Series than by having Cole Hamels pitching a complete game?
He deserves to be the one to celebrate the final out, the final third strike. His immediate reaction should be the freeze-frame that will be etched in the minds of Philly fans forever.
I called him a whiner earlier this year when he complained about his salary, his desire to have chiropractors, and his unwillingess to pitch on short rest. His performance throughout the year and this postseason has been borderline immortal in my mind, considering the lack of quality pitching these days.
It still amazes me that with this much at stake in this city that a man my age has stepped up this big. He got the ball in Game Five to win us the pennant, the rest of the team has to pave the way to get him back in Game Five to win it all.
I know all of this comes with a fair amount of bias at times and maybe I am blurring dreams with predictions. But by no means do I believe it is far-fetched. Obviously I am pushing all of my chips in with Hamels and I don't think it is a bad play given what we've seen so far.
I believe that despite the fact that on paper the Rays rotation is better than the Phillies, the way the rotation is aligned still plays to our advantage, especially given the 2-3-2 format. That being said, I will stick to my prediction of Phillies in five, but if I am wrong about Hamels or if another assumption is proven very inaccurate, I think the Rays will win in six, maybe seven.