Okay, now that we are a mements away from the biggest game in the Tampa Bay Rays history, we have to select and disect and rumble under the hood to see what team maight have a “leg up” on this series. you can look at it in a million different angles, toss the cliche’s out the window, and book the champagne for almost anytime after the 4th game. This series is about the under-30 stars of Major League Baseball.
I do not know if this is the youngest accumulated age on a World Series roster, but it is one of the most exciting to me, and not just becuase the home team is involved in it. This series might just be the stepping stone to one of these two teams going on a spree of a few years of domination in their divisions. Time will tell if this hold true, but for now, let’s match these guys up and see where they fall:
Now I know that the Phillies have gotten alot of great contributions from their starting catcher, Carlos Ruiz in the regular season and in the playoffs up to tonight. He hit .313 with 5 hits in the NLCS, and has hit only .200 in the entire playoffs this year. Ruiz has been a constant plus behind the plate for the Phillies.
But you have to admit that the Rays Dioner Navarro has risen from the ashes to become one of the up and coming catchers in the MLB. He started his journey after the All-Star game last year by improving his plate discipline and taking more chances at the plate. In the off season, he went back to Venezulea and worked out and even played some Winter ball to get into the best shape of his career.
He came back to the Rays in Spring Training leaner and meaner than any other time in his brief career. This was his pitching staff to lose, and he went about his job with confidience and a renewed vigor that translated to the young staff. He may of only hit .268, with 5 RBI’s in the playoffs so far, but his leadership behind the plate, and his cannon on his arm lead to the Boston Red Sox only getting 2 stolen bases the entire series.
ADVANTAGE: Dioner Navarro of the Tampa Bay Rays.
Ryan Howard is a superstar in the league at a young age. I compare the pressure on him to the amount thrust upon a young Ken Griffey Junior when he was in Seattle. Howard has risen to the challenge more times than not this season. In the regular season, he hit 48 homers, with 146 RBI’s while striking out 199 times at the plate. He is not a liablity at first base as a defender, but he did post 16 errors this past season.
Carlos Pena has been one of the cornerstones of the Rays offense for the past 2 years. This year an injury in Boston took him out of the flow early and he is just getting his stroke back now in the playoffs. Some people believe if you are going to peak as a hitter, it a gift to peak in the playoffs. I think Pena, who hit .245 for the year with only 31 homers during the regular season is just getting started after stroking 3 homers, with 8 RBI’s. Pena has also posted a .333 average in the playoffs so far for the Rays.
The one thing Pena has going for him over Howard in a big way is his defense. For the season, Pena only committed 2 errors in 991 put outs. Pena has made the Rays defense better by being a Gold Glove caliber fielder on a team with high-throwers like Evan Longoria and Jason Bartlett. Having Pena at first is worth 1 earned run a game.
ADVANTAGE: Howard on Offense…………………….Pena on Defense
This is another position where on the Phillies it depends on which hitter shows up for the series. If the Chase Utley shows up who was a MVP, then it is a no-brainer here. He had an off year by his standards by hitting .292, with 33 homers in the regular season. He also committed 13 errors at second this year. In the playoffs, he had caught fire and hit .363, with 6 walks in the NLCS to give the Phillies a boost in that series.. This series will depend on if the same Utley that sparked in the NLCS comes to head, or the guy who was just a bit above average in the regular season.
Akinora Iwamura had to learn the entire nuances of playing second base in the off season this year. He came nito camp invigored and willing to put his best foot forward at the position. For the year he made the transition look easy and the smoothness and grace when he makes the double play pivot is ballet in motion.
He had struggle a bit at the plate this year only hitting .274, with 172 hits in the regular season. But he has been a reliable lead-off hitter for the Rays this year. He is one of the hardest players to produce a double play against in the league again this year, and committed only 7 errors at his new position. But his numbers during the playoff have slumped a bit, only hitting .277, with 6 walks after a hot start in the ALDS.
ADVANTAGE: Chase Utley of the Philadelphia Phillies
Jimmy Rollins has always been the sparkplug of the Phillies. It is common to think that as Rollins goes, the Phillies go this year. He is the primary base threat on the team, having swiped 47 bases and only been caught 3 times this past regular season. During the playoffs, he has hit only .243, with 5 stolen bases.
Jason Bartlett has been a cog pin for the Rays this year on defense. Even though he is the team leader in errors with 16, it was his range and his committment to making the defnese better that has gotten Tampa Bay to the playoffs. The team’s defense is anchored by his play at short this year. Bartlett is hitting only .243 this playoff season, but his solo homer in Game 7 against the Boston Red Sox was a key moment in the game for the Rays.
ADVANTAGE: Jimmy Rollins of the Phillies
The Phillies have had a third baseman by committee outlook most of the season, with Gregg Dobbs holding it down offensively while Pedro Feliz is the better man on defense for the Phillies. Dobbs has gone 6 for 11 in the postseason for a .545 average, while Perez has hit a lowly .192 for the Phillies. Feliz has seen action in 9 postseason games, while Dobbs has been at third in 6 games for the Phillies. Feliz has committed no errors in the playoffs, while Dobbs has been hit with 1 this playoff year.
Evan Longoria did not play with the Rays for the first 12 games of the season. He is a rookie in the league this season, but he has not played like it in the field or at the plate for the Rays. During this playoff season, Longoria has committed 3 errors at third on rushed throws, but his countless stops behind the bag and on liners to the hole have kept the Rays in games this post season.
Longoria has hit .262, with 6 homers and 11 RBI’s. He is the clean-up hitter for the Rays as a rookie. A huge honor and responsibility, and had shown great maturity and patience at the plate this year. Longoria is by far the class of the rookies this year in the American League, and should win the Rookie of the Year honors fater the playoffs are completed.
ADVANTAGE: Evan Longoria of the Tampa Bay Rays.
The Philies have relied on Pat Burrell most of the year in left for the team. He is working on tired knees, but has been a hustling ball of enery all year for the team. He has hit .300, with 3 homers and 7 RBI this post season, and is coming off a .333 average during the NLCS.
Carl Crawford is a two-time All Star for the Rays and missed the enite month of September after surgery to repair a tendon on his right hand. He was expected to take a few weeks to get up to speed, but Crawford had a 5 for 5 night in Game 3 against the Red Sox during the ALCS, that boosted his average to .302 for the playoffs with 6 stolen bases.
He is one of two big threats on base for the Rays this post season. He is also one of only 4 outfielders’ to get a triple in the playoffs. The other 3 are also in this World Series.
ADVANTAGE: Carl Crawford of the Tampa Bay Rays.
The Phillies have Shane Victorino in centerfield. Victorino is one of the fastest outfielders in the National League and cover alot of ground that normal outfielder let fall into the gaps. His home stadium of Citizen’s Park is made for a guy with his speed. Victorino has been another offensive star for the Phillies in the playoffs. He has a .281 average with 3 stolen bases and 11 RBI’s.
B J Upton is closing in on the all-time homer mark by a single player in the post season. Not even the legendary Reggie Jackson has had a year like Upton this years playoffs. He was truly the offensive MVP for the American League during the Rays playoff push this year. He currently has a .302 average, with 7 homers and 15 RBI’s. He is also a threat on the basepaths swiping 2 bases during the playoffs.
ADVANTAGE: B J Upton of the Tampa Bay Rays.
Jason Werth of the Phillies has been a godsend to the team this season. He is not a guy they wrote into the lineup early in the year, but his offensvie number got better and his outfield arm is second to none in the National League. For the playoffs, he is currently hitting .243, with 4 doubles. It is his defense that has kept the Phillies in games this postseason.
The Rays have done a rightfield by pitching matchup this season. Against lefties, Rocco Baldelli has gotten the call this post season for the Rays. After taking time off to conquer a medical situation, Baldelli came on late in the season to sparkplug the Rays rightfield hole. He is hitting only .214, but his 1 homer during the ALCS, and his 5 RBI’s have been huge for the Rays.
Gabe Gross has been the player-designate during the righties this year for the Rays. Gross came into the World Series on a batting slump and is currently 1 for 16 in the playoffs. With his bat, his outfield confidence had been ahken and recently he has been replaced in late innings by Ben Zobrist.
ADVANTAGE: Jason Werth of the Philadelphia Phillies most nights
Rocco Baldelli of the Tampa Bay Rays against Lefties
Bench and DH’s:
The Phillies actually have a great DH on their bench in Matt Stairs. I actually think that the Phillies traded for him with the hope that they would make the World Series and use his experience as a key to their games in the American League parks. Stairs is also a bit of a Rays-killer, having hit 3 homers and 5 RBI’s off the Rays while with the Toronto Blue Jays earlier in the season. He will be used primarily against the Rays tough right-handers in the series.
The Rays have used Cliff Floyd as their Designated hitter this season against right-handers. Floyd has shown some excellient leadership and set a great postive example for the young Rays. Floyd has hit only .200 for the playoffs with 1 homer and 1 RBI.
But the real star for the Rays has been the play of super-sub Willy Aybar for the team. Aybar, a switch-hitter has come in late in the game as a DH for the Rays, and has been a constant threat at DH against righties this postseason. In Game 3 against the Red Sox, he had a 5 RBI night.
Aybar is hitting an impressive .421, with 2 homers and 6 RBI’s. He has been the Rays secret weapon all year long off the bench for the team. Rocco Baldelli has also been used as a DH this postseason against left-handers when not stationed in rightfield. The Rays also have a speedster on the bench in Fernado Perez, who was called the “Fastest man in the International League” by Baseball America this season as a pinch-runner.
ADVANTAGE: The Tampa Bay Rays Bench
So with the matchups done for the field players’ you would think I was going to give the edge to the Philadelphia Phillies. I actually think this area both teams are a push in the series. Each team will give and take on defense with the Rays winning the majority of the battles on defense.
I would put B J Upton’s arm against anyone in the league, much less anyone on the Phillies. The corner outfielders for both teams will have a say in who is the better team. Both squads hit alot of balls into the gaps and down the lines. How they respond to the plays will be critical in this series. An error in the outfield during this series will cost a team runs.
Offensively, I think it is the Phillies strength on offense that gives them the lead right now. They have an explosive lineup that could be crippled a bit by the hard throwing righties of the Rays later in the series. Tonight’s game will go a long way in decididng the winner of this year’s World Series. I do not think either team will or can win this series based on their fielders’ only.
This series will be decided by the next group I matchup later in the day…………..The pitchers’ and the Bullpens. I will post that after 4 p.m. today E.S.T.