The 2008 World Series pits the Philadelphia Phillies against the Tampa Bay Rays. The Phillies last made it to the fall classic 15 years ago and fell to the Toronto Blue Jays while the Rays are making their first playoff appearance in franchise history a memorable one. While many thought the Phillies would contend for a playoff spot in the NL, no one could have foreseen the reversal in fortune for the Rays who, after enduring 10 straight 90-loss seasons, won 97 games and the AL East title.
Philadelphia Phillies (92-70, won the NL East)
Batting Average .255 (23rd) OBP .332 (16th)
SLG .438 (6th) HR 214 (2nd)
Runs 799 (9th) SB 136 (4th)
Strikeouts 1117 (12th) Extra base hits 541 (5th)
Starters ERA 4.23 (13th) Starters WHIP 1.36 (12th)
Starers BAA .264 (13th)
Bullpen ERA 3.19 (2nd) Bullpen WHIP 1.38 (14th)
Bullpen BAA .251 (15th) Save Percentage 76% (4th)
Batting Average–Shane Victorino .293 Runs–Chase Utley 113
Homeruns–Ryan Howard 48 RBI–Ryan Howard 146
Stolen Bases–Jimmy Rollins 47 OBP–Chase Utley .380
Wins–Jamie Moyer 16 ERA–Cole Hamels 3.09
Strikeouts–Cole Hamels 196 Innings Pitched–Cole Hamels 227.1
WHIP–Cole Hamels 1.08 Saves–Brad Lidge 41 out of 41 chances
Tampa Bay Rays
Batting Average .260 (21st) OBP .340 (10th)
SLG .422 (13th) HR 180 (10th)
Runs 774 (13th) SB 142 (1st)
Strikeouts 1224 (5th) Extra Base Hits 501 (12th)
Starters ERA 3.95 (6th) Starters WHIP 1.30 (4th)
Starters BAA .258 (9th)
Bullpen ERA 3.55 (5th) Bullpen WHIP 1.26 (2nd)
Bullpen BAA .220 (1st) Save Percentage 76% (3rd)
Batting Average–Akinori Iwamura .274 Runs–Akinori Iwamura 91
Homeruns–Carlos Pena 31 RBI–Carlos Pena
Stolen Bases–BJ Upton 44 OBP–.383
Wins–Edwin Jackson 14 ERA–James Shield 3.56
Strikeouts–Scott Kazmir 166 Innings Pitched–James Shields 215.0
WHIP–James Shields 1.15 Saves–Troy Percival 28 out of 32 chances
HOW THEY GOT HERE
The Phillies marched through the NL playoffs in convincing fashion. They took care of the Brewers in 4 games in the divisional round, outscoring Milwaukee 15-9. In the NLCS they dispatched the Dodgers in 5 games while outscoring them by a slimmer margin of 25-20. NLCS MVP Cole Hamels has been dominant thus far, going 3-0 in his 3 starts while surrendering just 3 runs in 22 innings. Brad Lidge continued his perfect season by going 5 for 5 in save opportunities. Offensively the Phils have been led by Pat Burrell (.300, 3, 7) and Shane Victorino .281, 2, 11, 3 SB).
Meanwhile the Rays had a bit tougher of a road. They took care of the White Sox in 4 games, outscoring the South Siders 21-13. In the ALCS the Rays caught fire and hit 16 home runs in the series (10 in games 2-4). However, despite being up 3-1 in the series, the Red Sox battled back and forced the a Game 7, where the Rays prevailed en route to outscoring Boston 43-28. ALCS MVP Matt Garza Has been the leader of the staff going 2-1 with a 3.32 ERA and shutting down Boston in two starts, including Game 7. James Shields, Scott Kazmir and Andy Sonnanstine all pitched well in the playoffs, while their bullpen by committee has held together thus far. BJ Upton led the offensive explosion with 7 HR and 15 RBI, while Evan Longoria (.262, 6, 11) and Carlos Pena (.333, 3, 8) joined in the slugfest.
Neither team had much playoff experience coming into the 2008 playoffs. Last year’s 3 game sweep at the hands of the Rockies was their first trip to the post-season since 1993 while the Rays made their first ever trip to the playoffs. While neither entered with much experience, the Rays gained far more with their 7 game battle with the Sox than the Phillies did with either of their series. All season long people have been waiting for the Rays to come back to earth believing they were too young to compete in the playoffs. What they’ve shown is they are damn good ball club.
Carlos Ruiz (.219, 4, 31) hit below the Varitek-line, but his value comes from handling one of the better staffs in the league and threw out nearly a third of would be base stealers. Ruiz’s numbers haven’t improved in the playoffs (.200, 1 RBI) and is a liability on the base paths.
Dioner Navarro has been one of the unsung heroes for the Rays in 2008. He gives them solid offensive production from behind the plate (.295, 7, 54) but has more importantly helped the Rays’ rotation blossom despite not having any starter over the age of 26 and most with minimal big league experience. Navarro also threw out over 50% of would be base stealers. Navarro has been decent at the plate in the playoffs (.268, 5 RBI), but he could go hitless in the World Series so long as he and the starters kept the Phillies’ bats in check.
Ryan Howard is the classic slugger, tons of power (48 home runs), run producing abilities (146 RBI) and ability to alter a game with a single swing. But he also has gaudy strikeout totals (199) and is a below average first baseman. Howard has just 3 RBI thus far in the post season and the Phills will need him to return to his run producing ways. It will be interesting to see if Charlie Manuel decided to DH Howard and move Greg Dobbs to first while the series is in Tampa.
Carlos Pena is also his team’s big slugger and run producer following a 2008 campaign where he hit 31 home runs and drove in 102 runs. He struggled a bit with injury in the middle part of the season and got off to a slow start, but he has been one of the Rays’ best hitters in the post season with a .333 average to go with 3 home runs and 8 RBI. While he too will strikeout a fair share (166), he is one of the better defensive first basemen in the league and can be a contributor to the team in the field even if his bat should go cold.
Chase Utley is perhaps the premiere second basemen in the game today. He hit .292 with 33 homeruns and 104 RBI. He also led the team with a .380 OBP and plays a very good second base. So far in the post season Utley has been held in check, hitting just .250 with 1 home run and 5 RBI. He has still managed to get on base and tied for second on the team with 5 runs in the playoffs, but like Howard, the Phills need his bat to come alive.
Akinori Iwamura has been the table setter for the Rays as he led the team in runs with 91. He does strikeout a lot for someone who bats near the top of the lineup (131), and his .349 OBP is also somewhat out of the ordinary for hitting that high in the lineup, but like the rest of the Rays lineup, he comes through in the clutch and has a greater impact than the stats would show. At .277, 1 HR, and 4 RBI, Iwamura is just about at what his season numbers were.
Jimmy Rollins, the 2007 NL MVP, struggled with an ankle injury early in the season and saw a decline in his numbers (.277, 11, 59, 47 SB), but came alive in September hitting .313, 2, 10 and a .411 OBP. However, Rollins has also struggled in the playoffs (.243, 2, 2). Getting him going will be more important for the Phills than Howard or Utley given he can be disruptive on the base paths and allow those hitting behind him to see more fast balls. Defensively Rollins is one of the game’s best as he took home the 2007 Gold Glove award.
Jason Bartlett was voted the Rays MVP by the local media for the regular season, despite posting somewhat pedestrian numbers (.286, 1, 37, 20 SB). However, he brings a great glove to the shortstop position and is a decent hitter for the bottom part of the order. He has struggled in the playoffs at the plate so far, but his primary responsibility is to sure up the middle of the infield.
Unlike the other members of the infield, Pedro Feliz is not a top tier offensive player (.249, 14, 58), but he is a solid fielder with a .974 fielding percentage (.956 league). Feliz has shared the third base duties with Greg Dobbs here in the playoffs, and his playing time will depend somewhat on who the Phills select to DH.
Evan Longoria was arguably the Rays top player this year, despite missing time with a wrist injury. He hit .272 with 27 HR and 85 RBI, and continued his power streak into the playoffs (6 HR, 11 RBI). Longoria also brings a fantastic glove to third base and, like most of the Rays players, is a smart and effective base runner despite not being the most fleet of foot.
Pat Burrell is a similar batter to Howard in that he brings a lot of pop to the line up (33 HR, 86 RBI), but struggles in other areas (.250 BA, 136 SO), and is considered to be average in the field while not being much of a factor on the base paths. However, Burrell has emerged as the Phills’ top hitter in the playoffs hitting .300 with 3 HR and 7 RBI. Until some of the other bats wake up, Burrell will need to shoulder the load in the middle of th line up.
In August it was thought that Carl Crawford would miss the remainder of the season with a finger injury, now he is about to play in the World Series. Good thing for the Rays as Crawford (.273, 8, 57) has been very productive for the Rays in the playoffs (.302, 6 RBI, 6 SB) while hitting out of the 5 spot. Defensively he is one of the top left fielders in the game while also being a terror on the base paths with 25 steals during the season.
Shane Victoriano (.293, 14, 58 36 SB) has become the table setter for the Phills here in the playoffs hitting .281, 2 HR, 11 RBI, 3 SB. His ability to get on base and drive in runs helped negate the lack of production from the middle of the line up, and he will cause problems for the Rays either at bat or on the bases while being a good center fielder for the Phills.
B.J. Upton had a ho-hum regular season (.273, 9, 67, 44 SB). The he got to October and absolutely exploded with 7 HR and 15 RBI while hitting a more than respectable .304. His offensive outburst helped the Rays get out to early leads against Boston and take the ALCS. His glove also came into play as he was able to turn would be hits into outs. It will be interesting to watch if Upton can continue his post season magic.
Jayson Werth quietly put together a solid season in Philadelphia by hitting .273, 24, 67, 20 SB and showed a decent glove in right field. However, he is another Phillies player who is slumping in the playoffs with just 1 RBI on 1 HR and a .243 average, not to mention 13 strikeouts in 37 at-bats. His playing time, like Feliz, could be based on what Manuel decides to do with Dobbs and Stairs when they play in Philly and no DH.
Gabe Gross came over early in the season from the Brewers and shared time in right with Eric Hinske and Johnny Gomes before taking over as the regular right fielder. His numbers did not overly impress (.242, 23, 42) and is hitting just .063 in the playoffs. He will probably share time with Roco Baldelli (.263, 4, 13) and Ben Zobrist (.253, 12, 30) during the series.
Thought they are a National League team, they do have the ability to roll out a legitimate DH for when the series is in Tampa. Matt Stairs (.294, 2, 5 in 17 AB) and Greg Dobbs (.301, 9, 30) will allow Manuel to not only add some pop with the DH, but also move Howard off from first and strengthen the defense as well.
Willy Aybar (.253, 10, 33) is yet another Rays hitter to catch fire in the playoffs (.367, 2, 7) and will more than likely see all of the DH duties. When the series shifts to Philly he will move to the bench and become a valuable pinch hitter and defensive replacement on the corners of the infield.
The Phillies bolster arguably the best pitcher in the series Cole Hamels (3-0, 1.23 ERA in 3 post season starts), with Jamie Moyer (16-7, 3.71 ERA), Brett Myers (10-13, 4.55) and Joe Blanton (4-0, 4.20 w/ the Phills) after him. Myers (2-0, 5,25) and Moyer (0-2, 13.50) have struggled in the playoffs. Myers pitched well against the Brewers but was roughed up for 5 earned in 5 innings in his lone start in the NLCS. Moyer, meanwhile, has lasted just 5.1 innings combined in his two starts. This has shifted the pressure onto Hamels and the bullpen. Myers has been streaky all season long and has a tendency to let his emotions dictate what he does on the hill.
Tampa had 5 starters reach double digit wins during the season, with their high win man, Edwin Jackson (14-11, 4.42), being relegated to the pen for the playoffs–an indication of their pitching depth. James Shields (14-8, 3.56) has arguably been their best pitcher all season long, and that has continued into the playoffs. Behind him are Game 1 starter Scott Kazmir (12-8, 3.49), Andy Sonnanstine (13-9, 4.38), and ALCS MVP Matt Garza (11-9, 3.70). Combined they have 5 quality starts amongst them with only Scott Kazmir’s Game 2 start against Boston considered to be the only "bad" start in the playoffs.
Between the playoffs and regular season, Brad Lidge is a perfect 46 for 46 in save opportunities in 2008–a far cry from his days in Houston. In front of Lidge are 7th and 8th inning guys Ryan Madsen (4-2, 3.05, 17 holds), JC Romero (4-4, 2.75, 24 holds) and Chad Durbin (5-4, 2.87, 17 holds). With this crew the Phillies can turn the game into a 6 or 7 inning affair, and they have come up huge in the playoffs with the rotation having some shaky starts.
With Troy Percival (team leading 28 saves) going down with an injury late in the season and not being available for the playoffs, the Rays have had to go to a closer by committee situation. Grant Balfour (6-2, 1.54, 14 holds), Dan Wheeler (5-6, 3.12, 26 holds) and JP Howell (6-1, 2.22, 14 holds) have made the Rays pen dominate regardless of having a true closer to trot out in the ninth innings. However, so far the offense has negated the need for a closer for the most part, but Dan Wheeler has blown two saves so far in three chances, showing that the Rays can be beaten even with a lead in the final inning.
WHY THE PHILLIES WILL WIN
-One team (Philly) cannot continue to remain so cold while the other (Tampa) cannot continue to be so hot. Something has to give and one would think that Howard, Utley and Rollins will waken from their playoff slumber and help the Phillies become an offensive juggernaut in this series. This layoff may be just what the hit doctor ordered for their lineup, and with guys like Victorino and Burrell hitting, there are still challenges in this line up for the Rays even if the other sticks take a game or two to get going.
-With a deep bullpen complete with a lights out closer, the games go from being 9 innings 6 innings. The Rays have been able to get out early on opponents in the playoffs, but that was against two beat up clubs in Chicago and Boston who were missing key personnel. Philly presents a new problem for Tampa has they have the ability to make up tons of ground on team, and once they have that lead, unlike Boston, there is no soft spot in the pen.
-Cole Hamels is almost a lock for 2 wins with the way he has thrown. Because of that, the Phills just need to eek two wins from Moyer, Myers and Blanton. Though it will be difficult against the Rays, it is very, very doable, and Tampa will need to win at least one, and maybe two, on the road in order to get back home.
WHY THE RAYS WILL WIN
-Not only do the Rays have 14 game winner Edwin Jackson in the pen, they also have first overall pick David Price at their disposal. Point being, if for some reason they have a starter falter, they have plenty of depth to step in. But given the way their 4 top starters have thrown, there is little reason to think that they cannot dominate the Phillies as well as they did in the AL playoffs. Hamels is the only starter that could give the Rays fits, but they certainly have an edge whenever Myers, Moyer and Blanton toe the rubber.
-With only two days off, the Rays should not only be rested but not lose any of the momentum they built up in the ALCS. Upton, Longoria and others should continue with their post season power surge and make life miserable for the Phillies’ starters. The lay off for the Phillies could hurt them as we saw with the Tigers and Rockies in recent years, and it may take them a game or two to shake out the rust. With Tampa getting home field advantage, Philly needs to at least split before heading home for Game 3.
-Home field advantage is huge in the World Series. Of the last 14 classics, the team with home field advantage has won 11 of those match ups. Tampa has been outstanding all season at home (57-24 regular season, 4-2 in the playoffs), and having Games 6 and 7 in Tampa will be huge should the series get that far–not to mention they have experienced elimination baseball in these playoffs.
Too much pitching, too much momentum, just too good. I am one of many who kept waiting for the Rays to falter, and all they have done is win. The Phills may be rusty coming off their lay off, but even if they are not, the Rays are just too good a club right now and will cap off a dream season.
RAYS IN 6.