Editor’s note: This article was initially published in The Daily Gazette, Swarthmore’s online, daily newspaper founded in Fall 1996. As of Fall 2018, the DG has merged with The Phoenix. See the about page to read more about the DG.
For the first time since 1993, the Philadelphia Phillies made it into the World Series. The Phillies face the young and unlikely Tampa Bay Rays this year. The Phillies, who clawed past the New York Mets once again to reach the playoffs, coasted through the postseason by defeating the Milwaukee Brewers in four games and the Los Angeles Dodgers in five games. The Phillies are looking to win their first championship since 1980. Meanwhile, in the American League, the Rays continued their Cinderella season by defeating the Chicago White Sox in four games and outlasting the Boston Red Sox in a tense seven game series. The Rays dramatically improved from last season by winning 97 games – 31 more than last year. It was the franchise’s first winning season and the team set the record for most wins after having the worst record the previous year. Here is a look at how the two teams match up.
The Phillies boast a powerful lineup that proved itself throughout the playoffs. In fact, only one starting pitcher has made it to the sixth inning against the Phillies thus far in the playoffs. The lineup is jump started by shortstop Jimmy Rollins, who offers an unmatchable mix of speed and power. Baseman Ryan Howard and second baseman Chase Utley are two batters who demonstrated they can drive in plenty of runs as well as hit the ball out of the ballpark at ease. The Phillies lineup boasts several other offensive threats such as Jayson Werth, Pat Burrell, and the speedy Hawaiian – Shane Victorino. In addition, Philadelphia has a natural designated hitter in Matt Stairs, who will come in handy when they play in Tropicana Field. The Phillies can not only hit the ball out of the ballpark, they are extremely efficient at stealing bases having been successful at a historic clip of 86% the past two years.
Despite these strengths, the lineup does have its weaknesses. Their most powerful bats, Howard and Utley, are both left-handed hitters who are weak against lefty pitchers. This could become a glaring flaw in the late innings of games when lefty relievers will face both hitters in key situations. In addition, the bottom part of the batting order and the Phillie bench is weak, leaving a black hole in the lineup that can help Tampa Bay pitchers.
The Rays also feature a potent offense, however of a different style. They take an enormous amount of walks and wear down opposing pitchers while also stealing bases at a high clip. Don’t be fooled though, the Rays can hit the ball out of the park as well and they have done so twenty-two times already in this postseason. This team is packed with explosive young bats, such as third baseman Evan Longoria, outfielder B.J. Upton, outfielder Carl Crawford, and first baseman Carlos Pena. Each of these hitters can drive the ball out of the ballpark and both Longoria and Upton are poised to set the record for the most home runs in a post season. High speed features the strengths of the lineup. Overall, the Ray’s lineup is more balanced than the Phillie lineup as the bottom half of the order hits for a solid average. Tampa Bay will platoon both in right field and at the DH slot which means that whoever is not playing will be a viable option off the bench.
The heart and soul of the Phillie rotation is young lefty ace Cole Hamels. He has three of the Phillies seven wins in the post season and the Phillies will need him to win every time out if they want to win this series. Most likely he will pitch Game One, Three, and if necessary Seven. After Hamels comes Brett Myers who has been inconsistent throughout the season, pitching brilliantly for a stretch and then following it up by getting lit. These two are the only solid options for the Phillies as after this the talent drops off significantly. James Moyer will most likely start Game Three, but he has been downright awful this postseason. However, Moyer is a seasoned veteran and is unlikely to be rattled by the big stage. Game Four starter Joe Blanton has had several rough outings against the Rays in the past. Each of these two starters are prone to fly balls, which can become very dangerous in Citizen’s Bank Park.
The Rays match up favorably with the Phillies with the exception of Hamels. Both Scott Kazmir and James Shields can shut down any lineup. Kazmir has had shaky control thus far in the playoffs, but he can dominate if he limits his walks. The Rays also have the advantage in both games Three and Four as they can throw out ALCS MVP Matt Garza, who was simply electric against the Red Sox, and Andy Sonnanstine who has been reliable in his past few starts.
The Phillie bullpen has been solid so far in the playoffs despite its tendency to implode during the regular season. Closer Brad Lidge is the best option out of the pen and he has been perfect in save opportunities so far this season and at times has appeared to be unhittable. Bridging the way to Lidge the Phillies have a decent corps with Ryan Madson, J.C. Romero, and Chad Durbin. In order to be successful the bullpen needs to limit its walks, which it has a tendency to give up in bunches. Between Tampa Bay’s patience and the hitter-friendly ballparks the bullpen will need focus more on control in order to prevent big innings late in the game.
The Ray bullpen has several viable options, though not a distinct closer. So while the Ray bullpen has done a good job of shutting down opponents (save Game Five against the Red Sox) manager Joe Maddon will have a decision to make for the ninth inning every game. This lack of a dominating reliever, like Lidge, may end up hurting the Rays as every big situation is a roll of the dice. What is important about the Ray bullpen is that they have three solid left-handed relievers to counteract the major Phillie bats. In addition, Dan Wheeler and Chad Bradford have been reliable arms that have effectively recorded outs. It will be interesting to see how Maddon uses lefty rookie phenom David Price, who was dominant in his short stint against the Red Sox. Don’t be surprised if he ends up closing a few games despite his young age.
The Phillies have performed admirably thus far, however, the Rays are just too talented and have too many advantages to falter at this point. Rays win in six games.