Tuesday, October 27, 2009

2009 World Series preview

By Rick Morris

While the rest of the country is not very much engaged in a championship tilt or series between any two of the three Northeastern cities of New York, Boston or Philadelphia, it is undeniably compelling anytime that it happens because it is so very rare (indeed, it cannot even happen in the modern NBA or NHL because of the geographic alignment of the conferences). Historic sports cities, fanatical fans ... it's a great atmosphere.

Now, I had forecast an all-SoCal World Series before the LCS began and my overall playoff prediction record is only 2-4 right now, so I'm not going to say that I saw this one coming. For what it is worth, though, I did forecast these two teams to win their LDS series.

Here are a few interesting tidbits before we break it down in earnest:

^ This is the 19th time since the divisional playoffs began in 1969 that a manager with a World Series title (Philly Cholly) has faced a manager who hasn't won one yet. Previous winners are 10-8 in that span, although they are only 1-3 this decade. The good news for Joe Girardi? The last time before this year that a manager was the only one in the Final Four without a World Series title, he captured it that autumn (Ohio University's Bob Brenly in 2001).

^ Both teams can make a real argument for "Team of the Decade" with a win here, especially the Yankees, who would have two World Series titles (bracketing the decade) with two additional pennants.

^ The Phillies are trying to become the first NL team to repeat since the Reds of 1975-76 and the first MLB team since ... well ... the Yankees! Back in 1998-2000, to be exact.

^ With the Knicks-Sixers and Giants-Eagles games this weekend (and those NBA and NHL teams being the ones with the highest percentages of Yankee fans among their fanbase among Gotham franchises), the NY-Philly hatred will be on overdrive.

Now some notes on the matchup itself:

^ At least in recent history, has there ever been a better infield vs. infield matchup in the World Series? Granted, the Phillies' approach to putting together an infield is to find three All-World players and put the equivalent of yours truly at third base, but these are easily the two best such units at the game and both would rate high in the history of the game. Within these infields are great individual matchups, such as Elite Power Hitter (ARod) vs. Elite Power Hitter (Ryan "The Temp" Howard) and two of the best all-around players in the game in ARod and Chase Utley. Neither team has a world-class outfield, but they are either slightly above-average (the Yankees) or above-average (the Phillies, paced by career years from Raul Ibanez and Jayson Werth). Overall, both teams are very powerful and with the bandbox parks hosting the games, we are probably in for several slugfests.

^ The AL almost always has a significant World Series advantage in terms of being built for the games where a DH will come into play, but the disparity is magnified this year. While New York can get by without Hideki Matsui in Philly, the Phils will be very wounded by having to insert the slaptastic Ben Francisco in the lineup in the Big Apple.

^ The matchup of Two Aces vs. Two Aces tilts away from Philly, Cole Hamels' big success last October notwithstanding, because he hasn't quite been the same pitcher this year. Cliff Lee has been awesome since the Phillies stole him from the hapless Mark Shapiro, but the Yanks have the edge on paper with the CC/AJ combo. Surprisingly, Sabathia has put his lifelong "big game choke" tendencies behind him this fall and by pitching up to the level of his abilities, he has been the pitcher the team so desperately needed. The Yanks have better depth also. Pedro Martinez in Game Two? Uh, somebody might want to tell that old-timer that this won't be a September game against the Padres!

^ The Philadelphia bullpen has been excellent so far this postseason and it will have to continue to vastly outperform the regular season tallies in order for the team to win. Brad Lidge in particular may well be the key player in the series. New York, meanwhile, has won despite surprisingly mediocre setup pitching in this postseason. They cannot win the series with more of the same.

^ This is ARod's first World Series appearance. It's notable that some of the most dominant hitters of this generation haven't been on this stage that much (i.e. Barry Bonds in 2002 and Albert Pujols in 2004 and 2006).

^ The Yankees still have some pieces remaining from their championship core of 1996-2003 that won four World Series titles and two additional pennants: Derek Jeter, Mariano Rivera, Jorge Posada, Andy Pettitte. It's unusual, but not unprecedented, in the recent history of the game for such a core to return and win a world title over half a decade after the last appearance. Meanwhile, the Philadelphia nucleus of Hamels/Howard/Utley/Jimmy Rollins can make an outstanding case for being regarded as big-time winners on a par with the aforementioned Yankees or the Big Red Machine with a successful title defense.

How will this one end up? Well, it's one of the rare times when we can be sure that the two best teams are meeting for all the marbles, especially with what they surmounted thus far. The Yankees tore up the American League as the season moved along. As Tim Foust and I discussed during a late-season baseball roundtable on THE FDH LOUNGE program, the Yankees spent money last offseason that will surely be very inefficient in a few years (just as it was from 2005-08, repeating the cycle) but is supremely efficient in the short term. Right now, and likely for the next two years or so barring injuries, they are getting their monstrous money's worth. Meanwhile, the Phillies have been a machine over the past two offseasons and arguably could be going for a three-peat had they not run into the Colorado buzzsaw in that lethal October of '07. Philadelphia just keeps coming at the other team, finding ways to beat them and being led by their awesome stars. In this matchup, though, with a bench that is inferior to New York's, a bullpen that cannot yet be assumed to be solid once again and a rotation that seems marginally less effective on paper, the champs have their toughest battle yet. I have loathed the pinstripes my entire life, so this one hurts and I dearly hope I am wrong. Yankees in 6.

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