Trying to predict this year's World Series has been a torturous exercise - both teams are hungry, both teams are hot, and both teams are loaded with an abundance of young, relatively inexperienced talent. It's tough to gauge how these kids will respond under the brightest lights this sport has to offer. The interesting thing is that, despite the fact that Philadelphia is the team that had playoff experience prior to this season, they probably can't lay claim to having a truly playoff tested squad; after-all, being the victim of a 3 game broom job at the hands of the Colorado Rockies in the 2007 NLDS probably doesn't give them that right. Perhaps, it would be best to do this the old fashioned way, with position by position match-ups.
First off, let’s take a look at the every day line-ups (Phillies on the left):
Catcher: Carlos Ruiz (.219 Avg., 4 HRs, 31 RBIs) vs. Dioner Navarro (.295, 7 HRs, 54 RBIs) – Edge Tampa (Navarro has the better bat and is one of the best defensive catchers in the game).
First Base: Ryan Howard (.251 Avg., .543 Slg., 48 HRs, 146 RBIs, 105 Runs) vs. Carlos Pena (.247 Avg., 31 HRs, 102 RBIs/Postseason: 1.053 OPS) – Even (As good as Howard was in the regular season - the probable NL MVP - he has cooled off quite a bit . . . Pena was solid all year and has been great in the playoffs).
Second Base: Chase Utley (.292 Avg., .535 Slg., .915 OPS, 33 HRs, 104 RBIs, 113 Runs) vs. Akinori Iwamura (.274 Avg., 6 HRs, 48 RBIs) – Edge Philly (Utley is the more dangerous all-round player).
Third Base: Pedro Feliz (.249 Avg., 14 HRs, 58 RBIs) vs. Evan Longoria (.272 Avg., .531 Slg., 27 HRs, 85 RBIs/Postseason: 1.102 OPS) – Big Edge Tampa (Longoria is red hot in the playoffs, and Feliz is stone cold).
Shortstop: Jimmy Rollins (.277 Avg., 11 HRs, 59 RBIs, 47 SBs) vs. Jason Bartlett (.286 Avg., 1 HR, 37 RBIs) – Big Edge Philly (At the plate, in the field, and on the base-paths).
Left Field: Pat Burrell (.250 Avg., .507 Slg., 33 HRs, 86 RBIs/Postseason: .964 OPS) vs. Carl Crawford (.273 Avg., 8 HRs, 57 RBIs) – Slightest of Edges to Philly (Crawford is producing in the postseason, but Burrell had the better year, and has continued it into the postseason).
Center Fielder: Shane Victorino (.293 Avg., 14 HRs, 58 RBIs, 102 Runs, 36 SBs/Postseason: 1.003 OPS) vs. B.J. Upton(.273 Avg., 9 HRs, 67 RBIs, 44 SBs/Postseason: 1.191 OPS) – Slight edge Tampa (Each team’s hottest player in the postseason . . . too tough to argue with Upton at this point, notwithstanding how well Shane is playing).
Right Field: Jayson Werth (.273 Avg., 24 HRs, 67 RBIs) vs. Gabe Gross (.242 Avg., 13 HRs, 38 RBIs) – Edge Philly (Just a better ball player).
Designated Hitter: Greg Dobbs (?) (.301 Avg., 9 HRs, 40 RBIs) vs. Willy Aybar (.253 Avg., 10 HRs, 33 RBIs/Postseason: .988 OPS)/Cliff Floyd (.268 Avg., 11 HRs, 39 RBIs) – Slight Edge Tampa (A little more versatile).
Catching Defense: Navarro has a wicked arm (38.4% CS), and Ruiz is perhaps below average (23.5%) – Edge Tampa.
Infield Defense: Philly has a phenomenal infield defense with Rollins leading the way . . . Tampa is sure-handed, but lacks the quickness of the Phillies – Edge Philly.
Outfield Defense: Few teams in baseball have the speed to match the Rays outfield, and Philly comes up just a bit short . . . Burrell has a better arm than Crawford (12 Assists to 2), but Upton’s trumps Victorino’s (16 Assists to 7); right field is about even – Edge Tampa.
Games 1 and 5(?): Cole Hamels (14-10, 3.09 ERA, 196 Ks/Postseason: 3-0, 1.23 ERA) vs. Scott Kazmir (12-8, 3.49 ERA, 166 Ks) – Slight Edge Philly (Kazmir appears to be back on track, but Hamels is the best pitcher in this series).
Games 2 and 6(?): Brett Myers (10-13, 4.55 ERA, 163 Ks) vs. James Shields (14-8, 3.56 ERA, 160 Ks) – Edge Tampa (Myers is too schizophrenic, and Shields is a rock).
Games 3 and 7(?): Jaime Moyer (16-7, 3.71 ERA, 123 Ks) vs. Matt Garza (11-9, 3.70 ERA, 128 Ks) – Edge Tampa (Garza is pitching too well to not have an edge over the aged Moyer who has looked awful in the postseason).
Game 4: Joe Blanton (4-0, 4.20 ERA, 49 Ks) vs. Andy Sonnanstine (13-9, 4.38 ERA, 124 Ks) – Even (This match-up could go either way).
Middle Relief/Set-up: With Grant Balfour (1.54 ERA, 14 Hlds), J.P. Howell (2.22 ERA, 14 Hlds/Postseason: 1.86 ERA, 4 Hlds), Dan Wheeler (3.12 ERA, 26 Hlds), Chad Bradford (1.42 ERA, 5 Hlds/Postseason 1.50 ERA, 1 Hld)), and now Edwin Jackson (Postseason: 0.00 ERA), Tampa is fairly solid; that being said, Philly is also set with J.C. Romero (2.75 ERA, 24 Hlds/Postseason: 0.00 ERA, 3 Hlds), Ryan Madson (3.05 ERA, 17 Hlds/Postseason: 1.00 ERA, 3 Hlds), Chad Durbin (2.87 ERA, 17 Hlds), and Scott Eyre (1.88 ERA, 4 Hlds) – Even.
Closer: Brad Lidge (41 Saves, 1.95 ERA/Postseason: 5 Saves, 1.23 ERA) vs. David Price (?) (Postseason: 1 Save, 0.00 ERA) – It appears that the kid might be the answer for the Rays . . . however, Lidge has had a season for the ages . . . obviously, if Price is for real, this is a very interesting match-up; however, Lidge has been the devil we know – Edge Philly (for now).
Depth: I like Rocco Baldelli (.263 Avg., 4 HRs, 13 RBIs), Floyd, and Ben Zobrist (.253 Avg., 12 HRs, 30 RBIs) a bit better than their counterparts on the Phillies – Slight Edge Tampa.
Team Speed: The Phils, as a team, stole 136 bases in the regular season, and have Rollins (47 SBs), Victorino (36 SBs), Werth (20 SBs), and Utley (14 SBs), while the Rays, who stole 142 bases for the season, counter with Upton (44 SBs), Crawford (25 SBs), and Bartlett (20 SBs); this is even on paper, however, I do like the Rays ability to steal on Ruiz more than the Phils ability to do the same on Navarro - Slight Edge Tampa.
Intangibles: I like the fact that the Phils seem to be the more seasoned squad, but the Rays do have the home field advantage, and are coming off a game 7 victory, whereas the Phils have been hanging out for a bit – Even.
Prediction: Rays in six or seven . . . this has the makings of one of the best World Series match-ups we’ve seen in a long time.