With the start of Game 1 of the 2008 World Series less than an hour away, though the actual start will depend on how long FOX can drag things out, here is our much anticipated World Series preview.
Joe Maddon and Charlie Manuel are both managing their first World Series, and of course this is the first for the Tampa Bay Rays. But the Philadelphia Phillies don't have much more experience. They've only been to the series five times previously, and have just one title, won in 1980.
Lets take a look at the position by position match ups to see who has the edge.
Ryan Howard vs. Carlos Pena
There is no question that Howard is the superior hitter, putting monstrous numbers up year after year in his young career (Averaging 51 home runs and 143 RBI over the last three seasons). Pena had a huge contract year (.282-46-121, all career highs) last season and struggled early on with injuries. But he still led the team with 30 home runs and 103 RBI in '08. Howard's a liability defensively, so Manuel could DH him on the road.
Pena is clearly the better defender, an underrated gold glove caliber first baseman. But the edge has to go to Howard for his ability to be a game changer. He has not hit for power in the post-season and the Rays better hope that trend continues.
ADVANTAGE - Howard, PHI
Chase Utley vs. Aki Iwamura
You know how good Chase Utley is. He's the guy you wish Robinson Cano was like. Utley has been a model of consistency at the plate, averaging 28 home runs and 103 RBI over the last four seasons. Like Howard, he's looking to bust out after hitting just .250 with one home run so far in the post-season.
Iwamura is an outstanding defender. He made a smooth transition from third base to second base this season. The Rays lead off man may have a swing similar to his fellow countryman, Ichiro Suzuki, but that's where the similarity ends. Iwamura led the Rays in average with just a .274 mark. He did hit .295 at home, but the advantage here easily goes to the Rays.
ADVANTAGE - Utley, PHI
Jimmy Rollins vs. Jason Bartlett
Rollins is the heart and soul of this team and its vocal leader. He won the NL MVP last year after boasting the Phillies would win the NL East and then backed it up with his play. Injuries caused him to miss 25 games and his production was down considerably from his 2007 career best numbers. He did still manage to swipe a career high 47 bases and committed just 7 errors.
Jason Bartlett was acquired, along with Matt Garza, from the Twins during the off-season for Delmon Young. Bartlett provides speed (20 stolen bases during the regular season), but doesn't have much pop in his bat. He hit just one home run in 454 at-bats this season. However, Bartlett crushed right handed pitching to the tune of a .379 mark. Bartlett is a decent defender (16 errors, .970 FPCT in '08) who made a costly error in game 6 of the ALCS and nearly had another in game 7. The Phillies get another one.
ADVANTAGE - Rollins, PHI
Pedro Feliz vs. Evan Longoria
Feliz won't hit much for average (.252 lifetime), but he does have an underrated power stick. He averaged 21 home runs over the prior four seasons and then hit 14 in 133 games in his first year in Philadelphia. Feliz is also a pretty good defender, having made only 19 errors over the last two seasons.
What can you say about the AL's rookie of the year (in our opinion) that hasn't been said already. The numbers don't lie. Longoria started the season in the minors then missed a load of games down the stretch with a broken arm. He still managed 27 home runs and 85 RBI in 122 games, with 31 doubles and an .874 OPS. He made 12 errors this season while compiling a .963 fielding pct., but he's got the goods to be a solid hot corner man. Any guess who gets the edge here?
ADVANTAGE - Longoria, TB
Pat Burrell vs. Carl Crawford
Wow, this is a good one. You've got one of the better power guys in the game against one of the best all around players and athletes in the game. Burrell heard trade rumors during the season, but it didn't seem to effect him. He hit slightly below his career average, .250., but the rest of his numbers were comparable to his prior years - 33 home runs, 86 RBI, and 102 walks. Burrell has been big thus far in the post-season, hitting .300 with 3 home runs and 7 RBI.
Like Longoria, Crawford missed a big chunk of time due to injury, playing in 109 games, the least since his rookie season in 2002. Everyone talks about Crawford's speed, but he's also got power and has a .293 career average. He matched his career high for errors this season with....just 4! You won't see too many balls fall between him and B.J. Upton in center field. Crawford's all around play gets the edge here.
ADVANTAGE - Crawford, TB
Shane Victorino vs. B.J. Upton
Another good match up of a pair of spark plugs. Victorino's emergence allowed the Phillies to let Aaron Rowand wander off to the bay area. The Hawaiian native set career marks with a .293 (team high) average, 14 home runs, 58 RBI, 102 runs scored, 167 hits, and had one less steal (36) than 2009. He's also done a very good job replacing the gold gloved Rowand in the outfield.
Upton emerged last season as the player the Rays organization was counting on. Though in comparison to last season (.300-24-82, 22 SB), his '08 numbers (.273-9-67, 44 SB) don't look very good, and he had some discipline problems, the 24-yr old can still be counted on. He's been on fire in the playoffs, hitting .304 with 7 home runs, 15 RBI, and a whopping 1.191 OPS. Though he's still learning the position, Upton put together a .983 FPCT. These two mean so much to their teams, that we really can't separate them.
ADVANTAGE - DRAW
Jayson Werth vs. Gabe Gross/Rocco Baldelli
The 29-yr old Werth had a break out season with 24 home runs and 67 RBI, and made only 2 errors in playing all three outfield positions, primarily right field. Though he has hit in 7 of 9 playoff games, he's just .243 with 1 home run and that one lone RBI.
Rocco Baldelli came back from the brink of going nowhere to playing a significant role down the stretch for Tampa. Fighting off a mitochondrial disease that zaps his strength, Baldelli hit .263-4-13 with 12 run scored in 28 games. He has struggled (3 for 14) in the post-season, and played in just two games in the ALCS, but did have a big 3-run home run in game 5.
Gross came over from Milwaukee in an in-season deal, and hit .242-13-38 in 127 games. He's a decent right fielder, though nothing that legends are made of. As of this writing, there was talk Eric Hinske could replace him on the roster.
ADVANTAGE - Werth, PHI
Carlos Ruiz vs. Dioner Navarro
Ruiz was impress at all with his bat, .219-4-31, but he calls a good game and plays a strong all-around defensive game. The Phillies will benefit from road games when they won't have both Ruiz and the pitcher batting in the bottom of the order.
Navarro has emerged as the type of catcher the Yankees were hoping they would see, except not with another team. A first time All-Star, Navarro, still just 24-yrs of age, hit .295-7-43 in 120 games. He also become one of the best defensive catchers in baseball and clearly gets the edge in this head to head match up.
ADVANTAGE - Navarro, TB
Cole Hamels, Brett Myers, Jamie Moyer, Joe Blanton
Scott Kazmir, James Shields, Matt Garza, Andy Sonnanstine
Hamels is clearly the best of the lot and could be a series changer, especially if he were to go three times. He could even have an impact out of the pen like Randy Johnson had for Arizona. Though Hamels is the best of this lot, the Rays staff is deeper. Garza is the hottest pitcher on the staff right now, Kazmir is still a borderline stud, and Shields emerging as a top notch young pitcher. Sonnanstine is nothing to sneeze at either even if his name is hard to pronounce.
ADVANTAGE - TB
Game 1 - Hamels vs. Kazmir
Game 2 - Myers vs. Shields
Game 3 - Garza vs. Moyer
Game 4 - Sonnanstine vs. Blanton
Game 5 - Kazmir vs. Hamels
Game 6 - Myers vs. Shields
Game 7 - Moyer vs. Garza
The pen, always a horror for Tampa in the past, was a strength this season. But injuries to closer Troy Percival has put more pressure on a team that now has no true closer. Joe Maddon mixed and matched to perfection in game 7 of the ALCS, but will it always work out so well?
Brad Lidge and Ryan Madson have formed a formidable 1-2 punch out of the Phillies pen, though we still don't trust Lidge (46-46 in save situations during the regular season). Though we don't trust him, we still will give Philly a slight edge in their ability to close out a game.
ADVANTAGE - PHI
And the winner is........in 6 games, the Tampa Bay Rays. The Rays starting pitching is the difference maker here, especially if it were to come down to a game 7. Matt Garza is on fire right now and Jamie Moyer is looking like he's 85 not 45. It should be an entertaining series, but the Rays will take it. Who the "Devil" would have thought it? ;)