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World Series Preview Part I : Opening Thoughts

Here we are, the World Series. On one side is our Phillies, champions of the National League in a 7-2 run of the Brewers and Dodgers. On the other side is the Tampa Bay Rays, champions of the American League in a 7-4 run of the White Sox and Red Sox.

This was not the World Series most people picked. In fact, a good majority of baseball pundits had the Red Sox, Angels or Yankees coming out the American League, and the Mets, Braves or Cubs coming out of the National League. Phillies-Rays was probably in the bottom 50-percentile.

Still, this is your matchup.

Initially, the Rays come across as a young, exciting team. Their starting lineup features just two players (Carlos Pena and Cliff Floyd) at 30 or older, while their rotation’s average age is 25. Together, the Rays are about 27 years old.

Meanwhile, the Phillies feature a starting lineup where not one player is younger than 27. Instead, the Phils are decidedly /30 years old, right down the middle, or, at or near their peaks. Chase Utley, Ryan Howard, Jayson Werth, Pat Burrell and Jimmy Rollins are all in their peak years. On the pitching staff, just one player (Cole Hamels) is younger than 27.

Strengths & Weaknesses

What do the Rays do well offensively? They get on base (2nd, AL in walks; 4th, AL in OBP) and get to more bases (1st, AL in SB). They’ll also hit some home runs (4th in AL).

But, they strike out a lot (2nd, AL), they don’t get a lot of hits (13th, AL) and they actually don’t score a heck of a lot (11th, AL).

No, the Rays will beat you mainly on the hill. Their 3.82 team ERA was second in the AL. They don’t give up a lot of hits (2nd, AL), but if they do, it’s a fair amount of longballs (9th, AL). They will strike out hitters (4th, AL), but not walk so much (8th, AL).

So, if you’re just looking at statistical trends, I’d say the Phils match up very well. They don’t quite get on base, but knock guys home with the longball. They’re a very good pitching staff and are pretty good at limiting home runs. Call me crazy, but I wouldn’t automatically give the Rays any upper hand.

Very Different Teams

Who would I have rather faced in the fall classic? The Rays. Why? Because the Sox have … experience, the matchups that hurt the Phils, extra-base hit power, a sterling bullpen. The Rays are going to play with fervor, which will help them, but very likely also hurt them. The Phils, with their business approach, may be the perfect antithesis to the Rays.

On the surface you have two younger teams with loads of stars. The Rays have Evan Longoria, BJ Upton, Dioner Navarro, Scott Kazmir and Matt Garza. The Phils have Chase Utley, Ryan Howard, Pat Burrell, Jimmy Rollins, Cole Hamels and Brad Lidge. Both teams — their current representations — are in the series for the first time. Both teams played well all season and came out of their leagues as purely, the leagues’ best teams. There ain’t no 2007 Rockies, no 2006 Cardinals.

But the similarities end there. The Rays have played like your typical drama queen baseball club. They’ve soared with ups, they’ve crashed with downs. They played an emotional, spirited series with big-brother rivals the Red Sox. Meanwhile, the Phils have stood strong through a postseason without much challenge. While the offense has had dull moments, clutch hits have boosted the team. And pitching has been sensational. The Phils have looked like your typical championship club.

That’s not to say the Phils will win, or I think they’ll easily take the trophy. But at this point, going into the World Series, I can confidently say the Phils are my early favorite to take the series.

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