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.