After about as many off-days as game days, we’re finally down to two teams in Major League Baseball: the last dynasty against a team hoping to build one. It’s Yankees-Phillies in what many expect to be the most exciting World Series since 2001.
Resident Yankee fan John S. and Phillie hater Tim break it down.
LEADOFF: ROLLINS V. JETER
TIM: So, John, make the case to me that Derek Jeter is not only a better leadoff hitter than Jimmy Rollins (which he is), but that he’s the best leadoff hitter the Yankees have had during this 15-year run. Am I forgetting somebody better?
JOHN: As for why he’s better than Rollins, do I need to say more than that Rollins OBP this year was .296? That’s 110 points less than Jeter’s. As for in the last 15-years of the Yankees, that’s similarly obvious. NY has basically had 3 lead-off hitters since then: Chuck Knoblauch, Alfonso Soriano and Johnny Damon. Knoblauch was good his first 2 years, but never as good as Jeter’s been this year. Soriano was always miscast in the leadoff role, and Damon’s best years were in Boston. Jeter wasn’t actually new to the leadoff spot this year, as many people thought him to be; he did it for pretty much all of 2005, and he’d done it over 400 times in his career before 2009.
SECOND: VICTORINO V. DAMON
JOHN: OK, so why should Yankees fans be worried about Shane Victorino? How good can a guy be who wears that stupid double-flap helmet?
TIM: I actually liked the double-flap helmet when Victorino first came up. I also didn’t mind Victorino then. Simpler times.
As much as the credit for sparking the Phillies’ offense goes to Rollins, Victorino is really the catalyst for them. I heard several Philadelphians make the argument that Victorino was really the team MVP this season (I disagree, but it’s not unreasonable). Right now, he’s not too dissimilar from Damon in his prime: His average is right around .300, his OBP over .350, he led the Majors with 13 triples, and added 10 home runs. He’s pesky, but unlike David Eckstein, his long at-bats end up in hits and occasionally home runs. He owns a postseason grand slam off CC Sabathia and, in fact, has six home runs in 97 career playoff at-bats, including three this year. He’s good from both sides of the plate and is also an excellent center fielder, despite that whole gaffe that led to an inside-the-park home run at Citi Field.
THIRD: UTLEY V. TEIXEIRA
TIM: You know what I didn’t realize before the postseason? Mark Teixeira’s a great first baseman. Mark Teixeira is such a great first baseman that we’re going to totally overlook the fact that Mark Teixeira has done nothing (“nothing” here neglecting those two pretty big hits he’s had) offensively this postseason despite having the hottest hitter imaginable behind him. Are you willing to let Teixeira off the hook (you know, because he’s such a great first baseman), or does he need to have a good World Series?
JOHN: First of all, I’ve been saying how great Teixeira is defensively is all season. As for his nonexistent offense, he seemed to come out of his shell a little with his bases loaded double against Darren Oliver in Game 5, but he hasn’t been hitting well overall. A-Rod has, in fact, masked a lot of offensive struggles on the Yankees so far this postseason, and the easy answer to your question is, if A-Rod continues his surge, Tex’s struggles will go on largely forgiven. If not, fans are going to want him to step up, or he’ll get slammed with an A-Rod pre-2009 reputation.
What about Utley? His LCS wasn’t much better than Teixeira’s? Do you see him breaking out? How worried should I be?
TIM: I’d be pretty worried about Chase. It’s weird that this felt, to me, like such a down year for him, and he still hit .282 with 31 home runs. Just from watching him hit at Citi Field this season, you could tell he’s a guy who knows how to take advantage of a short right-field wall. Throw in the facts that both his average and power numbers are better against lefties this season, that the Yankees are starting two left-handers, and that Joe Girardi will almost certainly look to Phil Coke and Damaso Marte for late-inning matchups with Utley, and I’d be very worried indeed.
Of course, his slump–which started way back in September–could run right through the Series.
FOURTH: HOWARD V. RODRIGUEZ
TIM: Do you realize how good Ryan Howard is when hot? If so, how petrified are you? And what other hitters in your Yankee postseason fandom have scared you on a similar level? Please appropriately rate Juan Gonzalez in ’97 or whatever.
JOHN: I mean, Howard has put up more or less the same numbers as A-Rod so far this postseason to much less fanfare. I’m not really looking forward to being on the other side of someone on that kind of run. The over/under on times Girardi pulls the starter early for Damaso Marte vs. Utley and Howard is probably about 2.5, which absolutely terrifies me. As for Gonzalez (in 1996, btw), I wasn’t really scared of him; his run took me by surprise, but has never been topped in my mind. His OPS in that series was almost 2. I suppose Ortiz in 2004 was, as much as I hate to admit it, the closest. Howard’ll probably be on par with Ortiz, and he’s in possibly an even deeper lineup. I’m not looking forward to this at all.
The best hope, in my mind, is for A-Rod to cancel Howard out. Have two players on this kind of tear ever met in the WS before?
TIM: Without doing any research at all and so long as there are no follow-up questions, no.*
*I suppose Glaus and Bonds in ’02, maybe? Each had four home runs entering that World Series, but neither had the kind of average A-Rod and Howard have put together thus far. Anything further back is beyond my recall.
It is amazing how one small little hot streak for A-Rod has completely overhauled his New York reputation. Remember when he took steroids? I don’t.
This brings me to my next point, which is…
FIFTH: WERTH V. POSADA
TIM: …that this is the most important offensive matchup of the series. Howard and Rodriguez aren’t going to see that many good pitches; you saw it in Game 6 when the Angels walked A-Rod three times. Has Jayson Werth and his just-as-many-as-A-Rod five home runs this postseason proven to you that he’s a really, really good player, and do you have confidence in Hip Hip Jorge in the five-hole?
JOHN: Well, since this is a two-parter, let’s go one at a time. I’m more impressed with Werth than I was going into the postseason, when I was shocked that he hit ahead of Ibanez. Still though, I’m not all that worried about him. The Yankees have a better pitching staff than Colorado or LA, and Werth hasn’t done much besides the home runs, (you know, besides all five of them).
As for Posada in the five-hole, I’m not happy about it. I’m more comfortable with Matsui, but since the Phillies have two lefty starters, and the Yankees are going to lose the DH in Games 3-5, Matsui will probably on hit there only in Game 2. Posada is a good hitter, but I don’t have nearly the same confidence in him in a big spot that I have in Teixeira, Rodriguez or even Matsui and Cano. When he comes up with men on base, my first thought is always “double play.”
SIXTH: IBANEZ V. MATSUI
JOHN: From this point on, I think the Yankees have the advantage in terms of lineup depth. Matsui has had such a good year that I think the Yankees have to at least consider resigning him, despite the fact that his knees seem to made of Jello at this point. Plus, Matsui has big postseason hits in his history. Should I be more worried about Ibanez?
TIM: As our good buddy Joe Posnanski pointed out (is it possible for a “good buddy” relationship to be more one-sided than ours with Joe?), Raul has an off-the-charts 50-game stretch each year, and then becomes an above-average everyday player. This year, he had that 50-game stretch right at the start, hitting well over .300 with 17 home runs in April and May. Since then, he’s hit no higher than .258 in a month and has…17 home runs.
I think Ibanez will hit a home run in this series, but I doubt it will be as significant as the hit Hideki Matsui will get off Pedro Martinez when Charlie Manuel leaves him in for too long.
SEVENTH: FELIZ V. CANO
TIM: I’m surprised you said earlier that you were confident in Cano in a big spot, and I’ll admit his numbers this season were far better than I thought. Still, isn’t he dreadfully inconsistent and a little flaky?
JOHN: Cano is like a totally different hitter with men on base. He’s an MVP candidate with them empty, and a below-average second baseman with guys on. He also hits into a ton of double plays. And he hasn’t hit that well so far in the postseason. And he doesn’t usually hit well when it’s cold. So yeah, I probably shouldn’t be so confident in him. But hey, he hat that big triple in Game 5 of the ALCS!
What’s Feliz’s deal? I probably couldn’t have told you what team he was on before the postseason.
TIM: Before this season (and I suppose last one, when he was still the starter on the World Series champion), Pedro Feliz’s claim to fame was being the “Who?” that started at DH for the Giants in Game 7 of the ’02 Series despite not starting any of the first six games.
Feliz is a good fit for the Philly lineup: He’s not a great average guy, but he can go deep in that park (and probably Yankee Stadium, too). He’s also an underappreciated (in national circles) third baseman.
EIGHTH: DOBBS/FRANCISCO V. SWISHER
TIM: Now we get to the part where I’ve long maintained the AL gets an unfair advantage with the DH in the World Series. Greg Dobbs will probably DH against lefties while Ben Francisco will get the nod (with Ibanez shifting to DH) against righties. Neither is really an everyday player although Francisco was a pretty good add-on in the Lee deal. I don’t think either is as good as Nick Swisher, unless Swish keeps airballing at the plate. See what I did there?
JOHN: That was very clever. Swisher definitely needs to turn it around, but I like a player like him. Even when he slumps, he works the count, sees a lot of pitches and wears the pitcher down.
This might be an argument for another day, but the “AL gets an unfair advantage” thing is one of your dumber arguments. The Yankees losing Matsui for three games affects the game in a much bigger way than the Phillies adding a utility bat.
I used to argue that the AL had a much bigger disadvantage, that losing a key part of the lineup was a potentially huge disadvantage, while getting to use a DH is an advantage, no matter who you use in the position. But I don’t argue that anymore.
The problem is really that AL fans and NL fans view the “lineup” as normatively different. You’re looking at it as a lopsided addition (which it is), but AL fans look at it as an unfair subtraction (which it is). It would be like if the Giants got to the Super Bowl and were told that they couldn’t use Ahmad Bradshaw after the first quarter because the AFC team doesn’t use tandem running backs.
NINTH: RUIZ V. CABRERA
JOHN: Anyway, back to the task at hand. Both of these guys overacheived in the LCS, but neither of them is really key to their team’s offense. Although, Phillies fans should watch out, since Cabrera seems to have added the drag bunt to his arsenal. Is there anyway Ruiz can compete with that?
TIM: I’ll state my case as quickly as possible, using your NFL analogy: I’d be OK with losing Bradshaw so long as half the time the AFC team was required to use a second running back who was invariably of far lesser quality because no quality backup running back would sign to play in a league that prohibits them. There’s also the smaller issue that NL pitchers aren’t accustomed to deeper lineups, mitigated in this series by Lee and Martinez’s long stints in the AL.
One of the lesser played storylines of the last two baseball seasons is Carlos Ruiz’s postseason heroics. Carlos Ruiz is a career .246 hitter, but if you take out a 1-for-14 against the Brewers in last year’s NLDS (bear with me), he has a .343 postseason average. His OBP in the NLCS was .586, and he has 10 RBIs in his last 14 playoff games. He has a remarkable knack for getting big hits in the playoffs when he is a terrible regular season hitter.
Cabrera, by the way, was huge in that ALCS in my opinion. It seemed like a lot of the Yankees’ big innings were sparked by him at the bottom of the order. If he turns the lineup over, a pitcher’s in trouble.
Read on to Part II, where we look at the pitching staffs and issue our final verdicts.