In 1923, the Yankees christened the new Yankee Stadium with a pennant and World Championship. 53 years later, Chris Chambliss christened the renovated Stadium with the franchise’s 30th pennant. Both teams faced off in the World Series that year against the respective defending World Champions, and the 2009 squad is no different: winning a record 40th pennant in New Yankee Stadium’s inaugural season, facing off against the defending World Champion Philadelphia Phillies.
The Phillies come in hot, steamrolling the Rockies and Dodgers in four and five games respectively, and showing mettle in coming back in the ninth inning in the fourth game of both series to avoid series-tying losses. They won’t give up their title easily, and the Yankees will have to be at their best to take it from them. Despite the general dislike of the Yankees and frustration over the cold weather that this series will be played in, it is generally conceded that this World Series offers the best possible matchup, and is likely to present a worthy battle for Major League Baseball’s championship.
When they met in late May during interleague play, the Phillies took two of three at Yankee Stadium to break a nine-game Yankees winning streak, but the Yankees came back in the ninth inning of both of the last two games, the first time to win, the second to force extra innings. Those three games showed how well-matched these teams were, and how hard the Yankees will have to play to triumph.
There are some clear advantages for the Yankees coming into this series, beside the obvious home field advantage. For starters, they are clearly, on paper, the more talented team.
The middle of the Phillies order—Chase Utley, Ryan Howard, Raul Ibanez and Jayson Werth—appears to match up extremely well to the Yankees’ middle—Mark Teixeira, Alex Rodriguez, Hideki Matsui and Jorge Posada—but it’s the top and middle of the lineup where the Yankees have a heavy edge. Derek Jeter and Johnny Damon are much better at getting on base than Jimmy Rollins and Shane Victorino, work the count better, and also displaying comparable power and base-stealing ability.
The bottom of the Phillies lineup drops off, as most lineups do, with Pedro Feliz and Carlos Ruiz, while the Yankees’ keeps going with Robinson Cano and Nick Swisher, who posted OBPs over .350 and hit 25 or more homers each. Melky Cabrera is the “weak” spot in the lineup, but his numbers were above league-average for a center fielder, and he was able to tear up the Angels in the ALCS with a .391 batting average. The loss of the DH in the NL parks obviously drops Matsui from the lineup, but the depth of the Yankees’ lineup means that their three through six hitters remain about the same in quality, and in CC Sabathia’s second start, they’ll even have the edge in the 9th batting slot.
The Phillies are also extremely reliant on the home run, scoring just 450 runs without a homer, compared to the Yankees’ 540. If the balls do not fly out of the park in the World Series, the Phillies might have a hard time keeping up with the Yankees’ attack, which Twins manager Ron Gardenhire characterized as a “continuous pressure”.
Lefty-righty matchups don’t faze the Yankees, either. The only two Yankees hitters to show any kind of platoon split are Derek Jeter and Johnny Damon, a righty and a lefty. The same can’t quite be said for the Phillies, who did hit lefties slightly better than righties as a team this season, but whose best hitter, Ryan Howard, has grown increasingly inept against lefty pitchers, which the Yankees will be starting in four or five of the seven games, with two other lefties coming out of the pen.
Those starters are another edge for the Yankees, who will likely be using CC Sabathia twice on short rest in the series, and his matchup against Cliff Lee in Game One negates what would normally be viewed as a certain win by the Phillies. Philadelphia isn’t intimidated by Sabathia after knocking him out of Game One of the NLDS last season, but that start was Sabathia’s fifth in 17 days, while tonight’s start will be Sabathia’s fifth in 27 days.
The rest of the rotation for the Yankees offers solid but less overpowering talent, with A.J. Burnett and Andy Pettitte posting a 3.38 ERA against two of the best offenses in the American League during the first two rounds, with the only bad start being Burnett’s six-run Game Five in the ALCS.
The Phillies on the other hand are a little shakier after Cliff Lee. The Yankees are 23-15 all-time against Game Two starter Pedro Martinez, including seven wins in their last 10 times facing him. Cole Hamels was the 2008 World Series MVP, but who struggled for much of the season and has put up three poor starts so far in the postseason.
Should the games be decided by the bullpens (as more than one certainly will be), the Yankees have a probable edge as well. Despite some struggles in the first two rounds, Phil Hughes has been a dominant setup man for the Yankees all season, and is more likely than not to continue being so in the next week. Mariano Rivera is his untouchable self (and had the Rockies or Dodgers had him, the Phillies’ first two postseason series might have gone very differently), and the rest of the Yankees’ pen was generally effective in the first two rounds.
The Phils, on the other hand, struggled to find reliable relievers in the bullpen all season, with their previously untouchable closer, Brad Lidge, posting an astonishing 7.21 ERA in almost 60 innings and leading the majors with 11 blown saves. He’s been perfect in the postseason so far, but five games do not negate a whole season of struggles, and he remains a bit of a question mark in the ninth inning of a close game.
So all of these factors, all of which seem to clearly favor the Yankees, make the Bronx Bombers a cinch for their record 27th World Championship, right? Wrong.
The difference in all of these things is relatively insignificant, and seven games are too few for whatever advantage the Yankees might have to become apparent. The series will be decided by the little unpredictable things: a two-out rally, a double by a light hitter, a double play by a big slugger. Errors, bad pitches, bad managerial decisions and perhaps another blown call by an umpire will have a greater impact than who had a better No. 7 hitter, talent-wise. The Phillies’ extended wait for the start of the series may have an impact, but it didn’t last year in a similar situation with the Rays. Rain may mess up the Yankees’ pitching rotation, or even enhance it by allowing them to start just three starters on full rest in the first six games, should they get rainouts at the right times. Chad Gaudin, Joe Blanton or J.A. Happ may get starts later in the series, and may either pitch their team out of the game, or singlehandedly win it for them with a dominating performance.
Still, I expect the Yankees to prevail. There is so much front-line talent complemented by so much depth that the Yankees need a lot to go wrong for them to be defeated. This is the team that the Yankees have tried to put together since tearing apart the core of the late ’90s teams after the 2001 World Series. This is more or less the roster that Brian Cashman wanted to put together after taking total control of the front office in2005. They’re four wins away from reaching that goal they’ve chased for almost a decade. They’re the best team in baseball, and they have seven more games to prove it.