Wednesday, October 22, 2008

World Series Point/Counterpoint: Mike Woods on the Phillies

Last year, former Journal sports editor (and current features editor) Mike Woods and I had a great tradition of writing point/counterpoint pieces around the major professional sporting events and issues of the year. He beat me in the World Series predictions (though to be fair, I was more making a case that the Rockies could win rather than they would), but I got my revenge in the Super Bowl. Anyway, we weren't able to fit a point/counterpoint on this year's series in the paper, but Mike and I figured we'd each write one for this site to keep the tradition alive. Here's his piece on why the Phillies will win. My case for the Rays will come later tonight.
- Andrew

Phanatical about the Phillies
(Andrew's title)
By Mike Woods

No last-place team in any professional sport has won its league’s championship the following year. Admittedly, the Tampa Bay Rays have shockingly passed one test after another this season. It looked like their best days were behind them when they lost seven games in a row before the All-Star break, and many had their downfall marked for September.

Despite their miraculous run, the Rays remain young and fragile—and bravado can only take you so far. It looked like the Boston Red Sox were going to exploit that lesson after that stunning 8-run comeback in game five of the ALCS, but Boston doesn’t have the hitting depth they used to, they were tired from winning last year, and Josh Beckett had an off-series. As a result, Tampa still hasn’t been taught a lesson about the big time. The Rays are a bit late getting to school, through no fault of their own, but the Phillies should make for some fine teachers.

The Rays beat the Red Sox on the strength of their big bats. While the Phillies’ Jimmy Rollins, Ryan Howard and Chase Utley get the bulk of opponents’ attention—and rightfully so—the Phillies cleaned the field with the Dodgers with 2 RBI from Howard and Rollins hitting .143. It’s the second-tier hitters like Pat Burrell and Shane Victorino that propelled the Phillies to where they are. The Phillies had seven players with at least 58 RBI this season. B.J. Upton and Evan Longoria can’t hit home runs every at-bat. The Phillies’ bench has been strong this postseason with guys like Greg Dobbs, Geoff Jenkins and Matt Stairs (O Canada!) contributing offensively. Ryan Howard seemed to remember how to hit at the close of the NLCS, which Scott Kazmir probably had nightmares about last night. And now the Phillies get a DH, too!

Pitching depth also favours the Phillies. The Rays might have a slight edge in the rotation, but the Phillies never lost a game this year with a lead through eight innings, and Brad Lidge hasn’t blown a save in 46 tries. As much as David Price has been tough as nails, he’s still a rookie. The Phillies also have a unique influx of lefties like J.C. Romero and Scott Eyre to take on Carl Crawford and the other Rays’ righties. Let’s not forget, Ryan Madson might be the best set-up man in baseball this year.

Coming off a seven-game series surely won’t help the Rays sort out their rotation. Fatigue might be a factor later on in the series for Tampa’s starting pitchers. Philadelphia’s had plenty of time to line up who they want to start which game. Tonight they’ll start Cole Hamels, who’s been baseball’s best pitcher these playoffs.
People seem to be making a big deal of the Phillies not having played on turf all year, the surface at Tropicana Field. It may give the Phillies some trouble in the first couple of innings tonight, but consider the Rays were 38-35 on grass this year. Meanwhile, the Phillies had the NL’s best road record this season. Oh, and it’s COLD in Philly. The last time the Rays played in the cold, they gave up a seven-run lead.

None of Philadelphia’s four teams has won a championship since Dr. J and the 1983 Sixers did it. This series should be incredibly evenly-matched—even though it’s a TV ratings nightmare for baseball—and entertaining. But the Phillies have an edge in the two areas that will decide the series in my mind: the bullpen and hitting depth. The Rays are a fast, aggressive and confident team. If the Phills’ defense keeps them in check on the basepaths and these other areas play out as they should, Philadelphia’s professional sporting agony can finally end. Maybe their fans can finally stop booing—that’s something we could all cheer for.


  1. Is Mike trying to get FJM'd?

    The Phillies have more pitching depth? The Rays dropped a 14-game winner (Edwin Jackson) from their roster for one series.

    The Rays led the best division in the better league for 75 days. If they were going to go nips-up, they'd have done it already. How could the Red Sox be tired? They swept the series. Travelling to Japan hurt, but everyone else logged thousands of miles in the air too.

    As for rest, the Tigers had a long layoff in 2006. They lost. The Rockies had a long layoff in 2007. They lost. This ain't hockey; you need to keep playing in baseball, every day. All the rest in the world will not make Joe Blanton into Steve Carlton.

    Anything can happen in post-season

  2. That's always been my problem with baseball analysis...everything's so statistics-based. I know stats are paramount, but I think intangibles have a place too (as much as DJF make fun of people for that). I guess that gives me away as a hockey guy.
    To play the stats game, though, 10 of the last 11 game one winners have won the World Series (I know, that's a cheap one given my timing).
    I think rest is only a factor in terms of the rotation, not in general. Besides, the Rockies and Tigers lost because their opponents were better, not due to rust.