Now that the Yankees were finally able to get past the Angels, we know who the Phillies opponent will be in the 2009 World Series. Yes, the fans finally get the long awaited rematch of the 1950 World Series!
At this point, most Yankees fans probably think the Phillies will be in awe of the Yankees mystique and simply roll over so that they can collect another championship. Of course, Yankees fans tend to think that the baseball world revolves around their team. (To their credit, this belief is fueled in part by Fox and ESPN) I’ve heard Yankee fans say in all seriousness, “It’s good for baseball when the Yankees win.” That smugness will make it all the better when the Phillies take them down.
Quick Fact: The Yankees have lost the World Series a record 13 times
I’ll take a look at some of the myths that the Yankee supporters will undoubtedly be spewing this week as evidence that their team is going to win.
Myth #1 – The Yankees’ championship experience will give them an advantage
The Yankees do have a core group of players who were part of their multiple championships from 1996-2000. But aside from Derek Jeter, Mariano Rivera, Jorge Posada, and Andy Pettite, most of the Yankee players have never been to the World Series. On the other hand, being the defending champions, almost the entire Phillies roster is wearing a ring. If one of these teams is going to be initimidated by being in the spotlight, it won’t be the Phillies.
Myth #2 – CC Sabathia will be too much for the Phillies
Sabathia is a great pitcher, and he’s been having a strong postseason thus far. On the other hand, so is Phillies’ ace Cliff Lee. If these two square off, does Sabathia really have an appreciable edge?
Oh, and the Phillies have faced Sabathia in the postseason before. If you need a reminder: http://mlb.mlb.com/media/video.jsp?content_id=3586180
So yeah, the Phillies can beat Sabathia. I’m not saying it will be easy, but they certainly won’t be in awe of him.
Myth #3 – The Yankees bullpen is too good
Mariano Rivera is probably the greatest closer ever. And he’s been a big part of the Yankees success this decade. But is he unbeatable? No. Ask the 2001 Arizona Diamondbacks about that. If the Phillies are down in the 9th inning, is it going to be tough for them? Of course, but it’s tough for any team to come back when down in the 9th. That didn’t stop them from making comebacks against the closers for the Rockies or Dodgers, both of whom looked pretty solid up until that point.
And as for the rest of the Yankees bullpen, I’m not impressed. If the Phillies can score runs off of George Sherill and Jonathan Broxton, they certainly can do so agains the likes of Phil Hughes and Joba Chamberlain.
Myth #4 – Yankee Stadium is too much of an advantage for the Yankees
The Phillies had the best road record in the majors this season, and went 2-1 when the two teams played there in May. Sure, Alex “Lattimer” Rodriguez may have mastered the cheap home run that bloops over the right field fence, but I bet that Chase Utley and Raul Ibanez are anticipating some easy home runs as well.
Quick Fact: Alex Rodriguez is an admitted steroids user.
So now that the myths have been dispelled, does either team truly hold an advantage? A quick comparison:
Both teams have strong lineups. Lattimer Rodriguez is finally playing well in the postseason after all his failures in the past. In case you hadn’t heard, Derek Jeter is the Yankees all-time hit leader and has been a World Series hero before. Surrounding them is a talented cast that includes Mark Teixiera, Robinson Cano, and Melky Cabrera. Those supporting hitters have not had especially great postseasons thus far, but they certainly are dangerous, and are capable of doing damage, especially in the two hitters’ parks in which the series will be played.
The Phillies have been led thus far in the postseason by Ryan Howard, who has channelled his 2006 form when he was probably the best hitter in baseball. Looking past all the RBIs that he’s picked up, an even more promising sign was that in game five of the NLCS, he laid off bad pitches and took walks, having faith that the other hitters would pick him up. Jayson Werth rewarded that faith with a huge game, and has been a reliable right handed power threat all year.
The rest of the Phillies lineup is loaded. At the top of the order, Jimmy Rollins may not have the best numbers, but has been coming through in the big spots (His game winning hit in game four of the NLCS is probably the most clutch hit in Phillies history). Chase Utley hasn’t been driving the ball, but has been serving as more of a table setter – not a bad idea considering how hot Howard has been. And they’ve even gotten big production out of Carlos Ruiz – typically in the lineup more for his defense – out of the 8-hole.
Both teams have dominant aces, but the rest of the rotations are filled with question marks. For the Phillies, last year’s World Series MVP Cole Hamels can’t seem to recapture the same magic. Joe Blanton has been consistent all season, and did pitch well in the World Series last year, but after being used in the bullpen early on in the postseason, he may not have the necessary stamina. And I have no idea what to expect out of Pedro Martinez. He could deliver another gem like in the NLCS, or he could implode against the team that used to be his nemesis.
The Phillies bullpen was much maligned coming into the postseason, but they’ve looked strong thus far. After his horrendous regular season, Lidge has performed flawlessly in the NLDS and NLCS. Although if you ask any Phillies fan if they honestly trust him, I don’t think any would say that they did. As far as the setup guys go, the re-emergence of Chan Ho Park and Chad Durbin has given the Phillies some late inning options to go along with Ryan MADSON!!!
The Yankees have two dominating pitchers in Sabathia and Rivera. However, manager Joe Girardi doesn’t seem to have faith in any pitchers besides those two. They appear to be planning on pitching Sabathia three times in the series, going on three days rest both times. Sabathia has proven able to go on three days rest in the past, and this probably won’t diminish him too much. If he can deliver multiple dominant performances, that might be enough to give the Yankees an edge.
Their second best starter is AJ Burnett. The matchup between him and Hamels may decide the series. Both pitchers are uber-talented but they have disappointed so far in the postseason. The final Yankee starter will probably be Andy Pettite who has plenty of World Series experience, and despite being near the end of his career, he has still done well this postseason. It would be very interesting to see him matched against Pedro Martinez.
And while Rivera does give the Yankees a huge advantage in the 9th inning, if they bring Rivera in for two-inning saves too many times, will he wear down?
So who wins?
The Phillies, of course. They obviously have the talent to win the World Series, but so do the Yankees. So what’s the deciding factor?
Many people are going to point to the “Yankee Mystique” as a reason why the Yankees will win the series. People expect that the Yankees opponents will be so intimidated by the history and the pinstripes that they’ll be off their game. And this belief is supported by the way the Yankees two previous postseason opponents – the Twins and Angels – made uncharacteristic mistakes and seemed to beat themselves.
I think that for the Phillies, the “Yankees Mystique” may actually work in their favor. I’ve heard media types say things along the lines of “The Phillies title last year doesn’t seem legit because they only beat the Rays. It’s not like they went through the Yankees or Red Sox.” (Quick aside: Why do the Red Sox even belong in this conversation? Two titles in 80 something years all of a sudden makes you a standard bearer?) Obviously this is crap, since a title is legit no matter who the opponent. But I’m sure the Phillies have heard the talk. This team knows that their legacy is on the line. If they win a second straight title – going through the mighty Yankees to do it – then they’ll ultimately be remembered as an all-time great team. And if this Phillies team has shown one thing, it’s that they can come through when the pressure is highest.
It won’t be easy – winning the World Series never is – but the Phillies have the talent to win, they know how to win, and they have the desire to win. The Yankees won’t know what hit them.