Simpson: A World Series for the ages

The World Series has not gone a full seven games since the Angels beat Barry Bonds and the Giants in 2002. In fact, of the last five Series, there have been three sweeps, and the other two were won in just five games. For the sake of baseball, we need a competitive World Series. And while it’s always difficult to predict a seven-game duel, the matchup between the Philadelphia Phillies and the New York Yankees, which starts Wednesday night, has the potential to be one of the best we’ve seen in a long time.

The 2009 World Series will feature the two most powerful teams in Major League Baseball. The Yankees led the Majors with 244 home runs, and the Phillies tied for second place with the Texas Rangers at 224. Both teams also led their respective leagues in runs scored, the Yankees with 915 and the Phillies with 820. Add this is to the fact that both teams’ stadiums are notoriously friendly to hitters. This is going to be one heck of a slugfest.

This World Series could have historical significance, as well. As a lifelong Philadelphia sports fan, I clearly remember the euphoria of last October when Brad Lidge struck out Eric Hinske of the Tampa Bay Rays on an 0-2 slider to secure the Phillies’ second world championship.

But it hasn’t always been this good. Before 2008, the last major Philadelphia sports franchise to win a championship had been the 1983 76ers, the longest drought of any four-sport city in the United States. The Phillies did not win their first championship until 1980, making them the last of the original MLB clubs to do so. In 2007, they became the first professional sports team in the world to amass 10,000 losses. Yet now they have the chance to win back-to-back titles, something no National League team has done since the Cincinnati Reds did it in ’75 and ’76, earning the nickname “The Big Red Machine.”

This Series has the potential to be an important one for the Yankees, too. By defeating the Angels in the League Championship Series, the Bronx Bombers secured their 40th American League pennant. In their storied history, they have won 26 championships, far more than any other team. The only other meeting between the Phillies and Yankees in the World Series came in 1950, when the Yankees swept the so-called “Whiz Kids,” who featured Hall of Famers Richie Ashburn and Robin Roberts.

On paper, these teams were the two best teams in baseball. As mentioned before, they have equally powerful lineups provided that they’re playing with the same designated hitter rule. The Yankees’ relief pitching was superb throughout the regular season, while Phillies closer Brad Lidge — impeccable during the 2008 season — was statistically the worst closer in baseball in 2009. On the other hand, the Phillies are vastly superior to the Yankees defensively, with an advantage at every position except for left field and first base.

The two teams look fairly even in terms of starting pitching. Game one will pit the two most recent American League Cy Young Award winners against each other: C.C. Sabathia for the Yankees and Cliff Lee for the Phillies. After them, both rotations feature solid pitchers with varying levels of playoff experience.

I am not going to pretend to be unbiased here. The Yankees look like the favorite, but my gut (and heart) tells me the Phillies are going to pull this one out. The Phillies have an absurd amount of power from the left side of the plate, and the right-field porch in Yankee stadium is extremely short — expect Ryan Howard and Chase Utley to deposit plenty of balls into those seats.

I also think that the Phillies have a slight edge in terms of the depth of their starting rotation. After Cliff Lee, they have four solid options in Cole Hamels, Pedro Martinez, J.A. Happ and Joe Blanton, two righties and two lefties, so they can go with whatever matchup they want. The Philadelphia bullpen, after a disappointing regular season, has really stepped up during the playoffs, while Joba Chamberlain and Phil Hughes have struggled to get the ball to Yankee closer Mariano Rivera.

I think Cliff Lee will sparkle, Pedro Martinez will come up with a great game and the Phillies sluggers will steal a couple of games off of the struggling Yankee relief corps in the seventh and eighth innings.

My biased, fingers-crossed prediction: Phillies in seven.

If you’re a baseball fan, make sure you catch this series. I think it will be one to remember.

Comments

  • Eddie

    “On the other hand, the Phillies are vastly superior to the Yankees defensively, with an advantage at every position except for left field and first base.”

    Good thing you don’t let facts get in your way.

    Ultimate Zone Rating has Jeter over Rollins.

    Not to mention, arod, a multiple gold glover at shortstop (the harder position).

    Melky also destroys Victorino in the stats.

    Posada AND Molina also have better CS than Ruiz.

    And even on pitching? Give me a break. Your #1 starter STUNK in the american league this year. Pedro your #2 OWNED by the yankees, and he’s even older. Cole Hamels? They still let him pitch.

    Give me a break.

  • Eric Simson

    Eddie, I appreciate your feedback. However, if you want to try to talk about SABRmetrics, you’re going to have to be a little less selective.

    ARod: A great shortstop back in his 20s. Problem: he’s no longer in his 20s, and he doesn’t play shortstop any more. Pedro Feliz, since becoming a a regular player in 2004 has been a far better 3b every year, according to UZR.

    Jeter: this is the first year he’s ever posted a positive UZR. Ever. In fact, since UZR data became available in 2002, Rollins has beaten him in UZR by an average of 11 points. It’s not even close.

    Cabrera: didn’t play enough games in CF to qualify as a league leader. You’re right, though, his UZR was much better than Vic’s this year.

    As for pitching….
    I’ll grant you, Hamels hasn’t been good this year, and hasn’t shown signs of turning it around. But consider the following counters to your arguments.
    Cliff Lee: 3.14 ERA in the AL this year. That’s better than CC. Does CC “stink”, too?

    Pedro Martinez: 11-11 career record against the Yankees, but a 3.20 ERA. That’s hardly “owned”.

    As I said, I’m not an unbiased observer, but please don’t accuse me of being uninformed.

  • Tanner

    He might be a topic for another column. Is it only me or has the quote, “One for the Ages” become as tired a cliche as “Take it one game at a time”? I believe Sportscaster Jim Nantz first used it during Tiger Woods first Masters win and true its heard begining every March as CBS promots their Masters coverage, but it seems that one for the ages happens at least once a month or at least for a season. Seems this never happend with “Do you Believe in Miracles” as far as sports perhaps it was used in the ulitimate upset and everything else pales. Or perhaps its the 24 hours sport chat who knows.

  • eddie

    my, my, those predictions worked out well, didn’t they…

    “Pedro Martinez: 11-11 career record against the Yankees, but a 3.20 ERA. That’s hardly “owned”.”

    If you have to go back to the 70s for the stat, you know you never had much of a case… ;-)

    “In fact, since UZR data became available in 2002″

    Yes, again, ignore the current, and focus on 2002. Perfect!

    No wonder why the prediction was off…