While the pinstripes may be red, the green monster may be Phanatic, and Manny is being Manny on the golf course, this October promises to be nothing short of classic. After improbable postseason runs, the Tampa Bay Rays and the Philadelphia Phillies meet in the World Series. The Varsity’s baseball experts provide five predictions of who will come out on top.
The Philadelphia Phillies were carried to the World Series by a strong pitching staff. Lead by ace NLCS MVP Cole Hamels, winning all three of his playoff starts, and a strong bullpen core of Ryan Madson, J.C. Romero, and Brad Lidge, the Phillies held the Brewers and Dodgers to an average of just over three runs a game.
While the Phillies possess a deep line-up that scored the second most runs in the NL, their core of Jimmy Rollins, Chase Utley, and Ryan Howard have failed to match their regular season production. Rollins is hitting .250 while Utley and Howard, who hit 81 homers combined during the season, have only one homer between them.The Tampa Bay Rays enter the World Series after nearly blowing the ALCS to the Boston Red Sox. One of the best stories of the season, the young Rays—their core of Evan Longoria, James Shields, Scott Kazmir, and B.J. Upton are all 26 years old or younger—were supposed to improve, but no one outside of St. Petersburg expected them to be so good so soon.During the regular season, the Rays relied on great starting pitching and a stingy bullpen, while their offence scored just enough to win. But their offence has picked up, led by Longoria and Upton who have 13 homers in 11 playoff games.The bullpen is another story, with late inning specialists Dan Wheeler and Grant Balfour allowing nine runs in less than 12 innings. Boston’s eight-run surge in Game 5 of the ALCS is alarming for a unit so efficient during most of the season.The Rays have the edge in this series, with a deeper starting staff and a balanced offence that always seems to come through with clutch hits. Even with Balfour and Wheeler struggling, rookie David Price could emerge as a lights-out late-inning stopper. The Phillies have a chance if their big three start hitting, but that won’t be easy against Shields, Kazmir, or Garza. Upton, Longoria, and the rest of the Rays bats won’t slow down either.Prediction
: Rays in five
Somewhere, Red Sox manager Terry Francona is standing on the green with a five iron in his hand and a wad of Bazooka gum in his mouth, pontificating about what went wrong during that game. While Tito may have won the 2008 All-Star Game, he’s regretting it now, or at the very least, wishing he brought in the Rays injury-prone pitcher Scott Kazmir earlier than the 15th inning. It’s ironic that Francona’s management skills won his new rivals the Tampa Bay Rays home field advantage in the World Series. Even the comic in his pack of gum isn’t this funny.
While Tampa boasted a 57-24 record at home—the best in the AL—it remains to be seen if they can take full advantage of Tropicana Field. Watch for the Phillies star sluggers Ryan Howard and Chase Utley to launch a ball to one of the Trop’s ubiquitous catwalks and have it ruled a home run. For all of Tropicana Field’s idiosyncrasies, it lacks the diehard fans that can make or break ballgames. The Rays’ lackluster ten-year history is not long enough to acquire the type of long-suffering fans that haunt Philadelphia’s Citizens Bank Park. While every fair-weather baseball fan cheers for the “underdog” Rays, the rest of Florida is hitting the beach or the early bird special, going to bed before the games even begin.The city of Philadelphia has been waiting a quarter-century for a professional championship. In their 126-year existence, the Phillies have one World Series win, a record worse than the perennially disappointing Cubs. The oldest player in baseball, Jamie Moyer—who made his Major League debut when Tampa’s Evan Longoria was still in diapers—will make the first World Series start of his career. The Phillies owe it to their city, their supporters, and themselves to come out victorious. As long as ace Cole Hamels and his 1.88 postseason ERA and closer Brad Lidge and his perfect save record show up, the Phillies will shutdown the red-hot Rays.This is an improbable match-up. No matter who wins, expect an inspirational sports movie to be written about it. Let the slow clap begin!Prediction
: Phillies in seven
: Cole Hamels
While the ascendancy of the Tampa Bay Rays is a fantastic story, many baseball fairy tales end in disappointment. This series bears similarity to the 2006 World Series, in which the Detroit Tigers lost to the St. Louis Cardinals. Managers Jim Leyland and Joe Maddon are cut from the same cloth. Joel Zumaya and David Price are flame-throwing rookie pitchers. Justin Verlander and Jeremy Bonderman, meet Scott Kazmir and James Shields. The all-around brilliance (yet inconsistency) of Tigers centrefielder Curtis Granderson is similar to the Rays’ centerfielder B.J. Upton. Oft-injured right fielder Magglio Ordóñez is no different than Rays’ outfielder Rocco Baldelli. It was said that the St. Louis Cardinals would be pushed aside by Detroit’s magical run, but in the end Detroit imploded, foreshadowing what may happen to these 2008 Rays.
The collapse in Game 5 exposed Tampa Bay’s lack of a lights-out closer. David Price may have been right in the ALCS, but Brad Lidge of the Phillies did not blow a save the entire season, and struck out 92 batters in fewer than 70 innings. Tampa Bay’s middle relievers can only get the job done for so long. Their young starters shone against the Red Sox, but the teams faced off 27 times this season. Against an unfamiliar team like the Phillies, Scott Kazmir, James Shields, and Matt Garza may be out of their league. The Rays starters will have to contend with the bandbox that is Citizens Bank Park, where the powerful bats of Ryan Howard and Chase Utley could easily stroke a home run.The Rays are a lousy road team, hitting below .250 away from Tropicana Field. This may harm their chances of winning in a deafening Citizens Bank Park in Games 3 to 5. Tampa doesn’t hit well with runners in scoring position, so expect to see a lot of Rays’ strikeouts at critical junctures.What may tip the series in the Phillies’ favour are the fans. The Rays possessed a great home record, but their fans never truly explode. The city of Philadelphia has not won a professional championship since 1983, and their fans are desperate for a win. Ultimately, it will be the “phanatics” in Philly that will finally get another chance to feel the joy of winning the World Series.Prediction
: Phillies in five
: Jayson Werth
Offensively, the Rays and the Phillies mirror each other. They both boast big time sluggers like Carlos Peña, Evan Longoria, Ryan Howard, and Chase Utley. As the Phillies’ players Jimmy Rollins and Shane Victorino and the Rays’ teammates B.J. Upton and Carl Crawford manufacture runs with excellent baserunning.
Both teams have a comparable pitching staff. While lackluster in the regular season, the Phillies’ starting pitchers have been outstanding this postseason. Unhittable this October, Cole Hamels has shined alongside Joe Blanton. Highlighted by performances by ALCS MVP Matt Garza and James Shields, the Rays’ starting pitching team maintains a great record throughout the postseason. While the Rays have a young and skilled bullpen, without Troy Percival they lack a true closer. The Phillies boast closer Brad Lidge, who has not blown a save this season. Evident in their late-inning collapse against the Red Sox in Game 5 of the ALCS, the Rays have no such talent. Instead, the team’s only saving grace is Rookie David Price, who closed out the Red Sox in Sunday night’s Game 7.If the Rays use Price as their closer, they will win. Even without Price, the Rays are the better team. They conquered the toughest division in baseball. They took out the 2005 World Champions, the Chicago White Sox in the ALDS, and then defeated the defending champs in a seven-game thriller. Talk of a lack of postseason experience no longer applies to the Rays. This Cinderella is for real, and they will not rest until they can sip champagne from their glass slipper.Prediction
: Rays in six
: B.J. Upton
Back in March, no one would have predicted that the Rays would be in the playoffs, let alone the World Series. After blowing a seven-to-nothing lead in the seventh inning against the Red Sox last week, it looked like the Rays might finally choke, as their critics long predicted. However, these Rays are not the same team that had the worst record in baseball last season. They’re scrappy. After fighting the Yankees in Spring Training, they’ve engaged in brawls with the Red Sox, winning 97 games in the competitive AL East. They even survived Boston’s comeback magic by clinching the AL Pennant Sunday night. The Tampa Bay Rays are the whole package, beating tough teams to get to baseball’s biggest stage. Quick on the basepaths and on defence, the Rays hit for power, and most importantly, they can pitch. The Rays are on a mission to be baseball’s Cinderella team.
The Philadelphia Phillies pale in comparison. They didn’t compete in the toughest division in baseball. Once again, their biggest competition, the Mets, demonstrated their ability to choke in September. Next, the Phillies defeated wild card Milwaukee and the Los Angeles Dodgers one-man show of Manny Ramirez. But this team hasn’t overcome the odds to get to the World Series; they have just played good baseball.But good baseball isn’t enough to contend against the amazing Rays. The National League usually doesn’t stand a chance against the American League in the World Series, and 2008 will be no different. The Phillies will not inhibit the Rays’ mission to go from worst to first.Prediction
: Rays in four
: Evan Longoria