Why the Phillies will win the World Series

I meant to write a World Series preview that would be available to read on Tuesday night, but unfortunately, life gets in the way. With that said, maybe it was a blessing in disguise, as this series will be much easier to break down following Cliff Lee’s absolutely dominant performance in Game One.

The Phillies prized mid-season acquisition continued his unreal 2009 postseason by pitching a complete game in a 6-1, statement-making Phillies win. Unfortunately, he lost the shutout in the ninth inning due to an error by Jimmy Rollins, who continued the Phillies’ streak of throwing into the opposing dugout rather than first base. All told, Lee allowed six hits and no walks, while striking out 10. He hasn’t allowed a free pass in three of four postseason starts, leading to a ridiculously low 0.60 WHIP. The most impressive aspect of Lee’s outing was his superiority over Mark Teixeira and Alex Rodriguez, who went a combined 0-for-8 with five strikeouts.

Best ever?

No writer should ever have to say this, but Cliff Lee’s performance in these playoffs has transcended words. His 0.54 ERA is the lowest ever recorded by a pitcher with 30 or more postseason innings. That’s right, the lowest in the history of this sport, which has been played since the presidency of Chester A. Arthur.

Looking ahead

Before the World Series started, I was ready to pick the Phillies to win in six games. Needless to say, that didn’t change after Game One. No, Lee will not be available to pitch again until at least Game Four, but that does not change the fact that the Phillies lineup came to play Wednesday night, scoring twice off Yankees ace CC Sabathia, twice off setup man Phil Hughes (both runs were inherited by AL K/9 leader David Robertson), and, for good measure, twice more off of Brian Bruney in the ninth inning.

Big hits came from all spots of the lineup, as Chase Utley homered twice, Ryan Howard doubled twice and drove in a run, Raul Ibanez had a huge two-out, two-run single, and Carlos Ruiz, Jimmy Rollins, and Shane Victorino all contributed to a few more insurance runs. Just like the previous two rounds, the offensive output was a complete team effort, showing that from top-to-bottom, this Phillies lineup is as good as it gets.

A.J. vs. Pedro

Traditional thinking would give the Yankees the advantage in Game Two, as they have their high-priced No. 2 starter, A.J. Burnett, on the mound, to face a “past-his-prime” Pedro Martinez. But Burnett does not have a pretty history against this specific Phillies lineup, and Martinez is coming off a seven inning, three hit performance that was easily his best outing with his new team.

Since 2006, Burnett is 1-2 with a 5.89 ERA in three starts against the Phils. He has allowed six homers in those three starts and hasn’t gotten out of the sixth inning in any of them. Rollins, Utley, Ruiz, and Jayson Werth have all homered once off Burnett, and Ryan Howard and likely-DH Matt Stairs have homered off the righthander twice.

Burnett has struggled against the Phillies because he is precisely the type of pitcher that this team is built to hit: a hard-throwing righty with bad control. This year, Burnett had the worst walk rate of his career since his first season, checking in at 4.22 walks per nine innings. Slightly more than half of his pitches—50.1 percent to be exact—were out of the strike zone, which doesn’t bode well against a patient Phillies lineup that includes five players (Ruiz, Utley, Werth, Rollins, Ibanez) who swing at less than one quarter of the pitches they are thrown out of the zone.

Burnett, much like Pedro, will have to rely on the generosity of Game Two’s home plate umpire. If Burnett isn’t getting calls on borderline pitches, his effectiveness will drop significantly, because he is wild enough as it is. If Martinez can’t get calls on the corners, he, too, will assuredly struggle.

Movement and corner-painting are Pedro’s “bread and butter” at this point in his career, and the Yankees lineup will not give in—they’re even more patient than the Phillies. All Yankees regulars not named “Robinson Cano” are above league average at not swinging at pitches out of the zone.

Leaving the past

Much has been made about Pedro Martinez’s history vs. the Yankees, but I don’t see how the events of 2003 will impact his performance in Game Two. The numbers I’ve laid before you concerning Burnett have all been compiled in the last four seasons against a Phillies lineup that has remained the same, for the most part.

But this Yankees lineup is completely different from the one Pedro faced while pitching for the Red Sox, aside from Derek Jeter and Jorge Posada, two hitters that Martinez has held in check in his career. Posada has displayed a bit of power against Pedro, homering four times in 60 at-bats, but he is hitting just .183 off the right-hander. Jeter is hitting .256/.347/.395 off Pedro, with an OPS more than 100 points lower than his career number.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I am fully aware that Pedro Martinez circa 2003 possessed a different skill set than he currently does. Therefore, all numbers that he compiled against hitters like Jeter and Posada in that span of time should be thrown out the window. Jeter and Posada, in 2009, are better than Martinez, in 2009. If common sense tells you to throw out his outings against the Yankees in 2003, it also tells you to remove the batter-vs.-pitcher numbers Pedro put together during the prime of his career, when he just so happened to be one of the greatest pitchers to ever toe the rubber.

To me, the Game Two pitching matchup is even. If Pedro can maneuver in-and-out of the strike zone like he did against the Dodgers, he should out-pitch Burnett, who, despite his price tag, has never cemented himself as an elite pitcher.

Game Three

In Game Three, the advantage goes to Andy Pettitte, a pitcher the Phillies have only faced twice since 2006. In each outing, the lefty went seven innings and gave up four earned runs. The reason I see the Phillies struggling, however, is because Pettitte, the major-league record holder in pickoffs, will completely neutralize their running game, even with Jorge Posada behind the plate.

Pettitte’s splits are practically the same against righties (.270, one home run in 45 at-bats) and lefties (.271, one home run in 45 at-bats,) so it’s not as if the Phillies are facing a truly dominant southpaw. But after going up against two flamethrowers in Sabathia and Burnett, Pettitte could spell trouble for this lineup.

Tired of waiting

Cole Hamels has struggled all season and, quite frankly, I’m sick of making excuses for him. Early in the season, I blamed it on his absurdly high BABIP that would eventually regress. Then, I blamed it on the “Order of Operations” theory, which would explain his struggles as being the result of going “double-walk-homer-strikeout” rather than “homer-double-walk-strikeout.”

None of his peripherals decreased in 2009, which is a good sign, but last year’s World Series MVP just has not shown any ability whatsoever to recapture the magic he once had. More importantly, Hamels hasn’t been able to pitch effectively as a frontrunner. In all three of his prior postseason starts, he’s been handed a big lead and failed to hold his opponents down. If he pitches well against the Yankees, it will be an example of his true talent coming out at the right time.

But don’t bank on it.

No more bullpen talk

In my opinion, the one proven fact of the 2009 playoffs has been that bullpen-talk is meaningless. Pitchers who toss fewer than 50 or 60 innings simply cannot be viewed as “shutdown” guys. Rafael Betancourt, Huston Street, Jonathan Broxton, George Sherrill, Hong Chih-Kuo, Ronald Belisario, Phil Hughes, and David Robertson were all touted as great relievers, coming off of strong regular seasons. But all have fallen victim to the Phillies multifaceted offense.

The reason for this? Well, it’s all about the situation. During the regular season, all of these men were used primarily in leads. Facing the Orioles or Padres with nobody on and nobody out in the eighth inning of a game in mid-July is much different than coming in with the bases loaded and one out in September. Therefore, it doesn’t matter which team may have a better bullpen on paper. Don’t believe me? Look at Brad Lidge’s 2009 season, then his 2009 postseason.

The situation will always dictate a reliever’s level of effectiveness.

The impact of Game One

The Phillies have now won the opening games of their last six playoff series—every round in 2008, and now every round in 2009. The road gets easier from here, as the Phillies now have the same number of home-games remaining as the Yankees do, and> hold a 1-0 advantage.

Eleven of the past 12 Game One winners have gone on to win the World Series, and since 1995, teams that win Game One on the road are 4-1.

It sure is nice building an early lead, especially when home-cooking is on the horizon.

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  1. mando3b said...

    Great stuff here. I’m always impressed by the level of analysis I find at The Hardball Times. That being said . . . Go Phillies!

  2. Gilbert said...

    “His 0.54 ERA is the lowest ever recorded by a pitcher with 30 or more postseason innings. That’s right, the lowest in the history of this sport, which has been played since the presidency of Chester A. Arthur.”

    Impressive.  But since you need 4 starts or extra innings to get that far this only goes back to Richard M. Nixon… although Bill Dinneen had 35 IP (8 ER) in the best-of-9 1903 WS for Boston.  Don’t know how to get postseason combined stats by year to know how many candidates for the 30 IP threshold.

  3. Joe said...

    i think Lee went to long to go on 3 days rest and would not be as effective as CC on such short rest

    Lee threw 122 pitches and Sabathia threw 113.  I’m not sure that’s a significant advantage for CC being able to come back on short rest.  Of course, Lee did make a few more warmup pitches.

  4. Dick Allen said...

    @Gilbert: I’m going to guess, without looking it up, that Sandy Koufax, Don Drysdale, Whitey Ford, Christy Mathewson, and Lefty Grove have all managed to cross the 30IP threshold in the playoffs. Neither Nixon nor Arthur is the pertinent president; it’s TR.

  5. Corey Seidman said...

    To Gilbert – The 30 IP is a stat that translates through generations because, despite fewer rounds in years past, pitchers also went on shorter rest and went deeper into games (which I guess could be a contributing factor to no other pitcher going as many innings as Cliff Lee while allowing two or fewer runs.)

    To Dick Allen – Chester A. Arthur took over in 1884, and it just sounded better using his name, lol. Since the first teams were founded in 1876, though, maybe Rutherford B. Hayes should have been the name used.

    Either way, if there’s one thing I’ve learned, it’s that anytime you can mention Arthur or Hayes in a baseball article, you gotta do it.

  6. Matt said...

    It is a fact that game one winners of the world series have a higher percentage chance of winning the world series.  This year I think it is much different.  Pedro is getting old and is not nearly as dominant as the past.  I think the yankee lineup is much better than the past and will have much success against a pitcher that tops out around 89 mph. Second Cole Hamels has been awful and I don’t see the yankees having much trouble getting past him either.  Yankees pitching while not a sure thing is overall in my opinion better than the phils….except Lee who is exceptional….So with all that said I think the yankees will win games 2 and 3.  They will head into game 4 in which nobody knows who will pitch.  I think the yankees should go with CC and play the phils hand….i think Lee went to long to go on 3 days rest and would not be as effective as CC on such short rest…..so yanks will win game 4….if lee waits until game 5 and faces Gaudin then phils win game 5 and yanks will have burnett and pedro in game 6 which will ultimately end up with the yankees winning that game and being world series champions…i truly believe the yanks will win because i have less faith in the remainder of the phils rotation than that of the yanks.

  7. Devon said...

    I think AJ Burnett is overrated. He’s never been an ALL-Star, and the past 2 seasons he’s posted an ERA over 4.00. Altho, he has good numbers against lefties and good numbers at home this year….but the Phillies lit him up pretty good on May 22.

    Phillies will probably lose the night Pettitte starts, but the rest of the games should be relatively in their control. Rollins may be right, and I began suspecting that before he spoke up. Did you see how non-dominating the Yanks played the Angels? They really only beat ‘em ‘cause the Angels defense fell apart at key times and the Yankees had a few unmpires who were blind at the right times.

  8. Felicia Parker said...


  9. Corey Seidman said...

    What “bullpen excuse?” Nowhere in this article, or any prior article, have I stated that guys like Sherrill, Kuo, Broxton, Robertson, Hughes, etc. are bad, or ineffective, relievers.

    I don’t know where your Rivera comment came from, because I certainly didn’t mention him.

    What I DID say, is that when facing a lineup like the Phillies/Yankees in October, a short reliever’s success from his previous 40-50 innings cannot deem him a “shutdown” guy. In the playoffs, many things become a crapshoot. Bullpen impact is a prime example of this.

    You basically misinterpreted what I wrote and exaggerated it as much as possible.

  10. lol said...

    Again with the bullpen excuse?  It’s like saying Ryan Howard can’t be called a good hitter because he didn’t face C.C. Sabathia for 600 PA.  Genius.

    I’m sure Mariano Rivera is really just a sample size fluke and doesn’t have skills.

  11. lol said...

    The entire playoffs is a crapshoot.

    But there are “shutdown” bullpen guys in the same way there are “ace” starting pitchers or “superstar” hitters.

    If you’re going to argue semantics about the term “shutdown” then i’m done here, but there is certainly superiority in bullpen skills, and it does exist regardless if that’s the way it worked out so far or not.

    The argument that the bullpen skills don’t matter much is as invalid/valid as saying a superior lineup or superior rotation is meaningless.  At least in the sense of small sample size being a crapshoot.  It’s just odd that you make it such a point of reference, though I have a pretty good idea why.

  12. Sej said...

    The 30 ip requirement is over postseason career, not just in a single year.  Lee has the lowest ERA of any pitcher that has ever accumulated 30 postseason innings.  Actually, now he’s at 0.94 (good for 6th ahead of Koufax) and if he goes the rest of the game with only the 2 er can’t end with lower than 0.85 (putting him in 3rd just ahead of Babe Ruth) unless he gets some relief innings.

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