The prevailing question during last week’s baseball playoffs was “Who would watch a Philadelphia Phillies-Tampa Bay Rays series?”
Well, me, for one!
I appreciate a team like the Tampa Bay Rays, a club who is building their franchise much like my Minnesota Twins. The Rays have built a solid nucleus through the draft as well as an occasional trade. Of course, two of the most noteworthy deals involved them fleecing the Twins and New York Mets, respectively, for starting pitchers Matt Garza (the ALCS MVP) and Scott Kazmir. Both pitchers are only 24-years old. The #1 overall pick in 2007, 23-year old left handed pitcher David Price, has already made an impact. He recorded a win in Game 2 of the LCS and the save in a decisive Game 7. With an upper 90s fastball and a devastating slider, Price may be just what the Rays need to stabilize a shaky bullpen. Combine that with a batting order featuring budding superstars like B.J. Upton (.383 On Base percentage) and Evan Longoria (27 HRs and 85 RBIs in only 122 games), the speed of outfielder Carl Crawford and the power of first baseman Carlos Pena, you have the makings of a potential dynasty. The steely calmness of manager Joe Maddon is just what this young Rays team needed after their Game 5 collapse in the LCS.
The Phillies have been the stoppers in this 2008 postseason. In the Division Series they needed only four games to dispatch a Milwaukee Brewers team that had won six of their last seven just to get in the postseason. Then in the NLCS the Phils knocked out the Los Angeles Dodgers in five games with timely hitting and a near flawless bullpen (0.96 ERA in 18 2/3 innings pitched). Ryan Madson and J.C. Romero have been very effective as the righty/lefty combo the Phillies turn to in the seventh and eight innings. Closer Brad Lidge has been a perfect 46 for 46 in save opportunities, including postseason. It’s a good thing for the Phils that they’ve had a full week off given how overworked their bullpen was in the LCS. Outside of NLCS MVP Cole Hamels’ two starts, the Philly starting pitchers averaged only four innings per outing against the Dodgers. The likes of first baseman Ryan Howard (2006 MVP; 177 home runs in only 3 ½ seasons), shortstop Jimmie Rollins (2007 MVP) and second baseman Chase Utley (100-plus RBIs three of the past four seasons) are finally gaining the attention of baseball fans outside of Philadelphia. Manager Charlie Manuel, a good ol’ boy from West Virginia, has somehow maintained his “aw shucks” demeanor in a notoriously tough sports town. He’s averaged nearly 90 wins per season in four years with the Phillies.
I believe the difference in this series will be Tampa’s superior starting pitching. If the Phils can steal Game 1 at Tropicana Field with Hamels on the mound, they have a shot.
Nevertheless, I’m going with the Rays in six.