Why the Phillies will beat the Rays

Well Bill—here we are, four wins away from seeing something I haven’t seen in 28 years: a Philadelphia Phillies World Series champion. Being older than dirt (to hear my daughters tell it) or at the very least older than you, I do have that much to fall back on. Hopefully you’ll get to experience what I enjoyed back in 1980.

While I wasn’t a Phillies’ fan per se back then, I was rooting for them against the Kansas City Royals (man, it’s hard to believe that they were among the class of the AL for almost a decade) since they had several of my favorite players: Tug McGraw, Mike Schmidt (although at the time he was still on my primary fecal manifest for his home run off of Stan Bahnsen in the final game of the season—he stayed there until replaced by Rick Monday a little more than a year later), Pete Rose (hangs head in shame), Garry Maddox and Steve Carlton.

My unquestioned favorite of the bunch was McGraw—and it isn’t close. When I used to play baseball, I made sure my hair stuck out under my hat the way his does, and my brother remarked that I bore a strong resemblance to the flaky southpaw.

But I digress.

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For those of you who haven’t been following the cyber-bromance during the postseason, Bill is Bill Baer of Crashburn Alley and Baseball Digest Daily and not this Bill (although word among the femininas of the blogosphere is that he is indeed possessed of dreamy eyes and tight buns rivaled only by the likes of Dustin Parkes).

Anyhoo, I really think this shapes up to be an epic battle. Admittedly, I am a little nervous that the Phillies clinched as early as they did (or the fact that the Rays’ bullpen didn’t put it away in Game 5 of the ALCS) since extended layoffs between competitive games always makes me a little nervous. Regardless, Tampa will have had a few days off as well, so hopefully if there is a bit of dulling about the edges that there won’t be much difference between the two teams.

John: Am I wrong when I say that these two teams seem evenly matched?

Bill: When you look at the team statistics, you’re hard pressed to give either team a definitive nod. The Phillies and Rays have similar offenses with OBP/SLG lines of .332/.438 and .340/.422 respectively. And the pitching is similar, too: the Phillies have SP/RP ERAs of 4.23*/3.22 and the Rays 3.95/3.55.
* Includes starts by Adam Eaton, Kyle Kendrick and “Bad” Brett Myers.

Since they’re so close in most general statistical categories, we will have to dig a little deeper to find the advantages for the Phillies.

A common note throughout our “Why the Phillies Will Win” conversations, the Phillies, under the tutelage of first base coach and base running guru Davey Lopes, are not just avid base-stealers, they’re efficient as well. In the 2008 regular season, the Phillies were 136-for-161 (84.5 percent). The Rays were 142-for-192 (74 percent). Both teams feature three key threats on the bases: the Phillies’ Jimmy Rollins, Shane Victorino, and Jayson Werth; and the Rays’ B.J. Upton, Carl Crawford, and Jason Bartlett.

John: I really think this is the series where we will finally see the running game. While I think the Phillies were simply better than the Brewers and the Dodgers, Charlie Manuel will have to use every tool at his disposal against the Rays. Tampa understands the value of speed on the base paths, and I watched them torment the Jays with it all season. While the Rays’ young starting staff has shown remarkable poise so far in the postseason, Philadelphia really should do as much as possible to keep them guessing and off balance. Yes, Dioner Navarro has to be taken into account, but ideally you want to be stealing bases off the pitcher and not the backstop.

When we were discussing this through e-mail, we agreed that to really demonstrate why the Phillies have the edge, we’d have to break it down position by position.

Bill: At specific positions, the Phillies have the advantage at second base, shortstop and in all three outfield positions. Using Chris Dial’s Offense Plus Defense (OPD) (Why are you referencing this doofus Bill? Hi Chris! *g* —Best Regards) we see that Chase Utley dominates Akinori Iwamura 51.20 to 0.01 at second base; Jimmy Rollins beats Jason Bartlett 21.30 to 4.50 at shortstop; Pat Burrell edges Carl Crawford 15.30 to 9.31 in left field; Shane Victorino surprisingly gets the nod over B.J. Upton 12.30 to 9.20 in center; and Jayson Werth trumps Gabe Gross 22.30 to 7.17 in right field.

Both teams, according to Dial, were great on both sides. The Phillies ranked second in the NL in OPD (69.2) behind the St. Louis Cardinals, and the Rays finished second in the AL (75.0) behind the Detroit Tigers.

John: Wow, as much as I love our “Hawaiian Punch” right now, Upton is absolutely unconscious right now and hope he jogs down to first base repeatedly. Regardless, I do think the Phillies have an edge in the outfield (at least offensively) and middle infield and since it’s not the Jays, I don’t worry as much about Carl Crawford.

There are two former Blue Jays manning right field; I’m not sure what it means, but it does show the Jays can develop a postseason club. Now if we can only improve their aim insofar as to which city to do it in. Since we’re on the subject of the Blue Jays (heh), let’s get to the part of the Phillies’ roster than is nearest and dearest to my heart: the benches.

Bill: As expected, the Phillies have an advantage with the bench (specifically Greg Dobbs, Matt Stairs, and Chris Coste), but what is surprising is how big the chasm is between the two teams’ benches. The Phillies had the NL’s second-best bench OPS (.727) behind the Atlanta Braves; the Rays have the MLB’s 28th-best bench OPS (.587). To give you an idea as to how bad the Rays’ bench players have hit, the worst hitter in baseball this year was Michael Bourn, and he had a .588 OPS. The Phillies’ bench OPS is most similar to A.J. Pierzynski (.728 OPS).

The advantage will be made even greater if the Phillies drop So Taguchi from the roster to add catcher Lou Marson, thus making catcher Coste (a much better hitter than Taguchi) available as a right-handed pinch-hitter. It is unlikely that this strategically-sound maneuver will be made, however. This advantage applies for the DH as well, despite how well Willy Aybar hit in the ALCS.

John: I don‘t think we need to insult anybody’s intelligence and try to convince folks that the Phillies have the edge with the starting pitching. I mean, the Rays have a sick front four while the Phillies are more of a mixed bag. I do think the setup of the World Series lessens the gap between the two clubs since Manuel does have the option of throwing Cole Hamels out there three times; Brett Myers can be lights out, and I think the Rays have the sort of young club against which Moyer could enjoy some success. Regardless, the Rays’ starting staff is simply better; I think it’s safe to say, however, that the Phillies have a definite advantage in the bullpen.

Bill: The Phillies and Rays both have great, deep bullpens, but the Rays have a closer-by-committee deal, while the Phillies organize the use of their relievers, capped by Brad Lidge, the best reliever in the National League this season. To boot, the Rays’ bullpen had an ERA close to 5.00 in the ALCS, while the Phillies’ bullpen put up an 0.85 ERA in the NLCS. The only concerning aspect of the Rays’ bullpen is the fact that they have three left-handers (J.P. Howell, Trever Miller, and David Price), which makes for unfavorable match-ups late in the game for Chase Utley and Ryan Howard. Utley, however, tagged left-handed pitching for an .888 OPS in the regular season.

John: Price scares me—I thought he’d be a non factor in the postseason, but props to Joe Maddon for going to him. He is scary good but the Rays still have to get the ball to him. To me, he’s the key guy when assessing the bullpens since he is such a wild card—he could be the latest October legend and he could be a complete non factor. Regardless, as a pure baseball fan I am looking forward to Utley/Howard vs. Price match ups; there could be another Bob Welch/Reggie Jackson moment during the Fall Classic.

This is going to be a fun series. Well Bill, we’ll have one more conversation to come, and I know what I hope the subject will be and it will involve tears of joy and not tears of sorrow. I’d like to thank you for all your hard work during the postseason and for your input. Just to reiterate, if you folks aren’t familiar with Bill Baer’s work I strongly suggest you check him out at Crashburn Alley and Baseball Digest Daily.

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