So here we are once more, another series prediction. This time the stakes are a bit higher: I’m predicting whether the Phillies end up on top of the baseball world.
And I think they do. I really, really do.
Everybody (okay, almost everybody) is picking the Rays to win the World Series. And I can’t blame them — the Rays are chic, they’re fun, they’re cool. Joe Maddon is probably the coolest guy in baseball right now. The babyfaces of the Rays are all practically my age. They dethroned the Evil Emp … err … Red Sox Nation. And they wear baby blue! Of course they’re the pick!
Look — the Rays offense has a flair for the dramatic despite no real gaudy numbers. And their pitching staff is pound-for-pound a bit better than the Phils staff. Their bullpen? About on par with the Phils. They have the homefield advantage and a ton of momentum after taking out the Sox in game seven of the ALCS.
But the Phillies have silenced everyone by simply playing their brand of baseball. Their starters will get the job done not by dominance, but by necessity, taking down as many batters as they can while allowing as few runs as they can. They leave with leads, they hand the ball to the bullpen. And that’s the difference with the Phillies: The playoffs are defined by the late performances, and the collection of Scott Eyre, Chad Durbin, JC Romero, Ryan Madson and Brad Lidge have emerged victorious throughout.
The offense hasn’t been flashy, but they’ve been clutch. Against these Rays starters, the Phils may put up some ugly averages, but you can count on a couple big hits, or a couple plays where they take advantage of Tampa Bay’s youth. Sure, the Rays will capitalize off the Phils smaller talent on the hill, but not as much as they’ll want.
The Phils will get to see a few righties who rely on their fastballs to work the count. Those are the pitchers the Phils enjoy. Matt Garza may prove a big challenge from that side, but he’ll have to silence the crowd at Citizens Bank Park. That may be too difficult for a kid who almost forgot who plays for the Phillies. Game four has to be another Phils advantage — while Andy Sonnastine can be tough to hit, he can be very easy to hit, and rock-solid Joe Blanton has this playoff thing down to a tee.
Back to the first two games. Game one will be a test of patience for both teams. Which big pitcher will crack first, if at all? I’m confident in Cole Hamels to throw his game and hold the lead. Game two scares me a bit, as Brett Myers doesn’t strike me as the arm that can defeat Tampa Bay. But Jamie Moyer is the arm. While he struggled against patient Milwaukee and Los Angeles teams, the mix of Tampa’s inexperience and the home crowd’s fury will lift Moyer. Game four, as I said, should go to the Phils.
To me, it’s a question of five or six games, and I’ll say six, because the Rays are really good. (I would love nothing more than for the Phils to win in five, at home, with Brad Lidge throwing the knockout punch.) Now, you’re thinking, Myers will end this series? Yeah. For some ridiculous reason, I see Myers delivering the one big start that wins something for the Phils, and the World Series is all that remains.
Now, there wouldn’t be much sweeter than for Moyer to deliver the win in game seven, but I’m sticking to six. And I’m sticking by a Phils win. Yes, the Rays can definitely win this series. Absolutely. But I can’t bet against the Phillies. Not now. Not as they’re standing by their businesslike approach. Not as they’re focused on one game and one game only. Not as they’ve completely disproved all of us throughout the season. A lot of us couldn’t see this series. A lot of us didn’t think this team had it in them. Well, they knew what they were doing. And they know exactly what they’re doing here. They’re taking the world championship.
Winner: Phillies, 4-2