The Yankees and Phillies have more in common than just winning their respective league pennants. Both boast their league’s best offense (the first time the two top offenses have reached the World Series since the Red Sox and Cardinals met in 2004). Both are likely to try to get three starts out of a left-handed ace who won the Cy Young with the Cleveland Indians and has been dominant in three postseason starts this month. Both will have a lineup that includes three lefties when an opposing lefty is on the mound (both have two left-handers in their rotation). Both have seen their elite set-up men struggle in the playoffs to this point. Both play good defense and steal bases efficiently with speed not only at the top of the lineup, but from some of their big power guys as well. Both are home-run hitting teams that play in homer-friendly ball parks. Both have been led by a superstar cleanup hitter who has been white hot in this postseason. Both won the Eastern division and beat the Wild Card and Western Division champion to reach the World Series. Both have lost just two games all postseason. Both already have one championship this decade and are looking to tie the Red Sox with the most in the decade with another win.
The Yankees return to the World Series after a five-year break (which, amazingly, is their third longest pennant drought since the acquisition of Babe Ruth) as the favorites, but that seems disrespectful to the defending World Champions. The Phillies are the first team to win back-to-back pennants since the 2000 and 2001 Yankees, and the first championship team to defend their title in the World Series since that ’01 Yankee squad. When the Yankees last went to the World Series in 2003, many were of the mind that their knock-down, drag-out ALCS against the Red Sox was the real championship and that the ensuing World Series, which saw a battered Yankee team stumble to a six-game defeat, was an afterthought. That is not at all the case this year. While the ALCS was tightly contested six-game series against a hated rival, the Yankees were clearly a better team than the Angels going in. They are likely still a better team than the Phillies on paper, but the margin has closed to such a degree that the difference between the two teams is almost negligible.
Derek Jeter (.334/.406/.465, 18 HR, 30 SB @ 86%)
Jimmy Rollins (.250/.296/.423, 21 HR, 31 SB @ 79%)
Providing a nice set of bookends for the 2009 season, Jeter and Rollins began the year sharing the shortstop job for Team USA in the World Baseball Classic and will now conclude it as opposing shortstops in the Fall Classic. Back in March, I thought Rollins was the obvious choice to start over Jeter in the WBC as the two had been comparable at the plate in 2008, and Rollins was clearly superior in the field. Then the regular season started and Rollins fell into an awful slump that lasted three months (.205/.250/.319 though July 1), while Jeter rebounded from what had been one of his worst offensive seasons in 2008 to have a near-MVP-quality season. What’s more, Jeter, working with new first base and infield coach Mick Kelleher, had perhaps his finest defensive season, while Rollins brought his struggles out to the field. As a result, Jeter trumped the 2007 NL MVP in every phase of the game in 2009.
Rollins made a nice comeback over the last three months, hitting .288/.334/.510 with 20 steals in 23 tries after July 1, but he’s looked more like the first-half Rollins thus far this postseason, hitting .244/.279/.317 with no walks or steals to Jeter’s .297/.435/.595.
Johnny Damon (.282/.365/.489, 24 HR, 12 SB @ 100%)
Shane Victorino (.292/.358/.445, 13 3B, 25 SB @ 76%)
Damon’s road numbers (.284/.349/.446) look a lot like Victorino’s overall line this year, while switch-hitter Victorino get’s a nice spike against lefties (.314/.385/.459). If this Series goes seven games, Damon will get four games at friendly Yankee Stadium (.279/.382/.533, 17 HR), while Victorino could make four starts against lefty pitching. Damon shook off his Division Series slump with a .300/.323/.533 line against the Angels in the ALCS, but Victorio, is a career .299/.370/.577 hitter in 26 postseason games and has been red-hot this October, hitting .361/.439/.722 with a trio of homers. Folding in the larger regular season sample, I’m going to call this one even.
Mark Teixeira (.292/.383/.565, 39 HR, 122 RBI)
Chase Utley (.282/.397/.508, 31 HR, 93 RBI, 23 SB @ 100%)
Add those 23 stolen bases in 23 attempts to Utley’s total bases and his slugging jumps to .548. And, yes, Teixeira can switch-hit with similar results from both sides, but lefty-hitting Utley hit .288/.417/.545 against lefty pitching this season. Teixeira has been slumping this postseason, but he does have three big hits (the bloop before Alex Rodriguez’s game-tying blast in Game Two of the ALDS, the game-winning home run in that contest, and his bases-loaded double in Game Five against the Angels), and was 4 for his last 9 in the ALCS, which means a big World Series breakout could be around the corner. Utley, meanwhile, has just one extra-base hit this postseason. Tex has the edge here, but it’s small enough to be meaningless in a short series.
Alex Rodriguez (.286/.402/.532, 30 HR, 100 RBI, 14 SB @ 88%)
Ryan Howard (.279/.360/.571, 45 HR, 141 RBI, 8 SB @ 89%)
These are the mashers. Both men have had their share of postseason struggles in the past, but both have put those concerns to bed this postseason. Howard has hit .355/.462/.742 with a hit and an RBI in every game until the clincher against the Dodgers. Rodriguez has hit .438/.548/.969 with five home runs and has had a hit in every game and an RBI in all but one. In nine games, Rodriguez has 12 RBIs to Howard’s 14 (the record for a single postseason in 19 held by David Ortiz ’05, Scott Spiezio ’02, and Sandy Alomar Jr. ’97, while the homer record is 8 by Carlos Beltran in ’04).
Howard, who has hit 45 or more home runs in each of the last four seasons, has more pure power, if that’s possible, but Rodriguez is the better overall hitter and player (though Howard is underrated in the field and on the bases because of his bulk). Most significantly, Howard is the one starter on either team who is really defanged by lefty pitching. He hit just .207/.298/.356 against southpaws this year with a strikeout roughly every three plate appearances. That tips the balance in this matchup decidedly in the Yankees’ favor.
Jorge Posada (.285/.363/.522, 22 HR, 81 RBI)
Jayson Werth (.268/.373/.506, 36 HR, 99 RBI, 20 SB @ 87%)
The Yankee lefties had better get Howard out, because Jayson Werth, who was a platoon player as recently as last year, eats left-handed pitching for breakfast. He hit .302/.436/.644 against lefties this year, and his line in the postseason against all opponents dating back to the beginning of last year’s World Series is .340/.468/.800 with six home runs. Over those 14 postseason games, Werth has hit a home run roughly once every ten plate appearances. He’s a monster and an all-around talent and trumps Posada in the fifth spot. [Note: I've skipped Hideki Matsui for the moment due to the lack of a DH in the NL parks.]
Robinson Cano (.320/.352/.520, 25 HR, 85 RBI)
Raul Ibañez (.272/.347/.552, 34 HR, 93 RBI)
Ibañez was hitting .312/.371/.656 with 22 homers and 59 RBIs when he hit the DL in mid-June with a groin injury and small muscular tear near his abdomen. After returning, he hit .232/.323/.448 over his final 72 games. His aggregate line this postseason (.226/.333/.387) looks more like the latter. Cano’s overall postseason line is no better, but whereas Ibañez did most of his hitting in the Division Series, Cano enters the World Series on a five-game hitting streak. Both lefty batters hit left-handed pitching well. Given that Ibañez’s adbominal tear has yet to heal and could require off-season surgery, I’ll favor Cano here.
Nick Swisher (.249/.371/.498, 29 HR, 82 RBI)
Carlos Ruiz (.255/.355/.425, 322 AB)
This is the matchup that keeps the Phillies lineup in the picture. Going over the top six spots in the order, which is really as deep as the Phillies’ National League lineup gets, the Yankees get the edge with Jeter, Rodriguez, and Cano. The Phillies have the edge with Werth, and the two and three holes are essentially even. That the Yankees have an American League lineup that is strong down to the eighth spot would seem to give them a decided edge given that advantage up top, but they give away some of that edge in the NL park, where designated hitter Hideki Matsui (.274/.367/.509, 28 HR, 90 RBI) has to ride pine, and the inverted postseason fortunes of Swisher and Ruiz erode it even further.
Swisher’s struggles this postseason have been the subject of much debate and consternation in New York, but they’re nothing new. Swisher is now a .161/.319/.214 hitter in 70 career postseason plate appearances over five series with three teams. Ruiz, meanwhile, is a career .296/.406/.432 hitter in 96 postseason plate appearances over six series and has hit .367/.500/.571 over his last three series dating back to last year’s World Series. During the regular season, this spot would go to Swisher without a thought, but given their postseason track records, I have to favor Chooch here.
Melky Cabrera (.274/.336/.416, 10 SB @ 83%)
Pedro Feliz (.266/.308/.386, 12 HR, 82 RBI)
Melky’s the runt of the Yankee lineup, but he had a strong series against the Angels, and it doesn’t take much to beat out a hitter with a career on-base percentage below .300. Feliz might be the best defensive third baseman in the NL, but he’s easily the worst hitter in either lineup, the Phillies’ designated hitters included.
Speaking of which . . .
Hideki Matsui (.274/.367/.509, 28 HR, 90 RBI)
Matt Stairs (vs. RHP .200/.360/.390)/Ben Francisco (vs. LHP .247/.351/.392)
This is is a mismatch. Stairs and Francisco can both run into one, and Stairs will take his walks, but they’re both bench players for a reason. The 41-year-old Stairs hit .194 on the season and slugged below .400 for the first time since 1995. Francisco was closer to league average, but most of his power actually comes against his fellow righties. Neither has a hit this postseason, and Francisco has made five outs in four trips due to grounding into a double play in one of them. Matsui, meanwhile, slugged .618 against lefties this year with a home run every 11.4 plate appearances.
Stairs, Francisco, and lefty Greg Dobbs should give the Phillies a strong pinch-hitting trio, but Dobbs also had a poor regular season and the Philly bench has gone 0-for-15 (with two walks to Stairs) thus far this postseason. The Yankees lack a good right-handed bench bat, but with Eric Hinske back in place of Freddy Guzman, they have lefty power (adding Matsui as well in the middle three games), and Brett Gardner‘s game-changing speed.
LHP CC Sabathia (3.37 ERA, 1.15 WHIP, 2.94 K/BB, 34 GS, 21 QS)
LHP Cliff Lee (3.22 ERA, 1.24 WHIP, 4.21 K/BB, 34 GS, 24 QS)
Both pitchers are left-handers who won the Cy Young award for the Cleveland Indians (in consecutive years). Both were traded mid-season the year after their Cy Young and helped pitch their new team into the playoffs. Both have been dominant thus far this postseason, with their team winning all three of their starts. Both have struck out 20 and walked 3 this postseason. Both have a first name that starts with a C and ends with “ton.” Cliff Lee is a scrawny white guy from Arkansas . . . I guess the similarities end there. Still, the prospect of Sabathia and Lee facing off three times in this series is thrilling. The last man to make three starts in a World Series was Curt Schilling in 2001 (he only won one thanks to Byung-Hyun Kim and Alfonso Soriano), and the last time two pitchers faced off three times in the World Series was in 1973 when lefies Ken Holtzman of the A’s and John Matlack of the Mets did so with Matlack winning Game Four and Holtzman winning Games One and Seven.
Sabathia is clearly the better pitcher, but Lee has been just a smidge better in his three starts this postseason. Dig:
Lee: 3 GS, 0.79 ERA, 0.70 WHIP, 0 HR, 8 IP/GS, 1 CG
CC: 3 GS, 1.19 ERA, 0.88 WHIP, 1 HR, 7 2/3 IP/GS, 0 CG
Of course, CC could have finished that Game Four start in Anaheim had it not been such a blowout, and CC has three wins to Lee’s two wins and one no-decision, that ND coming as a result of two unearned runs in Colorado in an eventual Phillies win.
Sabathia, a first-round pick by the Indians in 1998, has been on a steady course toward his current superstardom since he broke into the league at age 20 in 2001. Lee’s path has been a bit more convoluted. Drafted by the Expos and traded to the Indians organization in the now infamous Bartolo Colon deal that also sent Grady Sizemore and Brandon Phillips to Cleveland, Lee’s first full season in the majors came at age-25 in 2004. Lee sandwiched an 18-win sophomore campaign between two disappointing ones, and while Sabathia was winning the Cy Young in 2007, Lee was struggling with injury, poor performance, and a demotion to the minor leagues. In 2008, Lee emerged with improved control and a reduced fly-ball rate, halving his walk rate and nearly cutting his home run rate by a third. His first seven starts were mesmerizing (6-0, 0.68 ERA, 11 K/BB), since then he’s been merely one of the game’s best starters, posting a 3.18 ERA, 1.25 WHIP, and 4.21 K/BB with a 30-16 record, nine complete games, and three shutouts in 58 starts. Over the same span, Sabathia has posted a 2.71 ERA, 1.08 WHIP, 3.76 K/BB, 33-13 record, 11 complete games, and five shutouts in 60 starts. This has Gibson-Lolich potential.
RHP A.J. Burnett (4.04 ERA, 1.40 WHIP, 2.01 K/BB, 33 GS, 21 QS)
RHP Pedro Martinez (3.63 ERA, 1.25 WHIP, 4.63 K/BB, 9 GS, 3 QS)
Burnett turned in six strong innings in his first two postseason starts, got a no decision in both, and ended both nights by pieing a teammate after a walkoff win. In his last start, he gave up four runs in the first before getting an out, then threw five scoreless frames. The two runs he was charged with in the seventh inning of that game were allowed to score by the bullpen (and some would argue by Joe Girardi giving Burnett too long a leash). Pedro Martinez didn’t pitch in the first round, but shut down the Dodgers in Game Two of the NLCS, holding them scoreless on two hits and no walks for seven innings. Pedro’s start was a real roll of the dice by Charlie Manuel. Pedro had just three quality starts in nine tries during the regular season and finished up by allowing six runs on 13 hits in seven innings over his last two starts. Pedro seems to be in that El Duque stage of his career, in which he can still find that black magic with a little extra motivation, but isn’t a pitcher that can be relied upon over a longer span. Burnett should be happy to be back at Yankee Stadium, where his ERA was a run lower than on the road this year. Pedro hasn’t pitched in the Bronx since June 2005 during his first and only healthy season as a Met. Anything can happen here.
LHP Andy Pettitte (4.16 ERA, 1.38 WHIP, 1.95 K/BB, 32 GS, 17 QS)
LHP Cole Hamels (4.32 ERA, 1.29 WHIP, 3.91 K/BB, 32 GS, 15 QS)
The first two pitching matchups could go either way, but this is one that clearly favors the Yankees. Hamels has struggled significantly over his last six starts, posting a 6.89 ERA with a 1.5 WHIP and allowing eight home runs. In his three starts this postesason, he has allowed six home runs, posted a 6.75 ERA, and didn’t get further than the first out of the sixth inning in any of them. Amazingly, the Phillies won two of those games, doing so by scoring a combined 18 runs in the two contests. Andy Pettitte, meanwhile, finished the regular season strong and has been excellent in the postseason, turning in three quality starts and posting a 2.37 ERA, 1.05 WHIP, and 5.0 K/BB.
LHP J.A. Happ (2.99 ERA, 1.26 WHIP, 2.17 K/BB, 23 GS, 14 QS)/RHP Joe Blanton (4.05 ERA, 1.32 WHIP, 2.76 K/BB, 31 GS, 21 QS)
RHP Chad Gaudin (4.76 ERA, 1.50 WHIP, 1.79 K/BB, 25 GS, 11 QS)
We don’t know yet if any of these three will start a game. It seems likely that, even if Lee starts Games One, Four, and Seven, the Phillies will need a fourth starter for Game Five, and if Pedro struggles in Game Two, they could look elsewhere for a Game Six starter as well. The Yankees seem likely to stick with a straight three-man rotation given the past success each of their three starters has had on short rest and the drop-off to Gaudin. The big challenge for Happ or Blanton is to come in sharp and to maintain his endurance after bouncing between the rotation and the pen thus far this postseason. Happ lasted just three innings in his Game Three start in the NLDS and has faced just five batters since then. Blanton fared far better starting Game Four of the NLCS, missing a quality start by one unearned run. Blanton would thus seem like the first choice to start Game Five. If Pedro does get smacked around, Happ could be an appealing option for Game Six back in the Bronx given his 1.99 road ERA this season and his quality start in the new Yankee Stadium back on May 23. Still, the uncertainty here reveals Pedro Martinez’s importance in this series.
Mariano Rivera (1.76 ERA, 0.91 WHIP, 6.00 K/BB, 44 SV, 2 BS, 3-3, 6.032 WXRL)
Brad Lidge (7.21 ERA, 1.81 WHIP, 1.79 K/BB, 31 SV, 11 BS, 0-8, -3.257 WXRL)
Lidge lost his job to Ryan Madson down the stretch, but Charlie Manuel reinstated him for the postseason and has been rewarded. Lidge has given up just one hit and no runs this posteason, though it’s worth noting that Manuel has used him sparingly, limiting him to five appearances in the Phillies’ nine games, only three of them lasting a full inning and none more than that. Rivera, meanwhile, has appeared in all but one of the Yankees’ nine games ( the exception was their 10-1 blowout in Game Four of the ALDS), going more than an inning four times and a full two innings or more twice. Rivera has allowed a run of his own as well as one of his eight inherited baserunners to score, but didn’t cause a lead change in either instance and has a 0.84 ERA in this postseason. To put it simply, Lidge is a contributor, but Rivera is a weapon. Advantage Yankees, of course.
The set-up relievers of both teams have struggled. Ryan Madson blew two saves in the Division Series against the Rockies and allowed 9 of the 19 men he faced in the NLCS to reach base. Chan Ho Park missed the first round with a hamstring injury, then posted an 8.10 ERA in the NLCS, blowing a save in Game Two. Opponents have hit .391/.440/.478 against Phil Hughes this postseason as Hughes has allowed 11 of 25 batters to reach base and had what could have been a pivotal blown save in Game Five of the ALCS. Opponents are hitting .438/.412/.750 against Joba Chamberlain, though Joba hasn’t walked a man or allowed a home run, four of the seven hits he’s allowed have gone for extra bases, and he has yet to pitched a full inning this postseason. Look for increased opportunities for Chad Durbin, who has been perfect in four postseason innings, and David Robertson, who notably pitched out of a bases-loaded, no-out jam against the Twins in the ALDS and led the majors in K/9 among pitchers with 40 or more innings this season. There are some concerns about the health of Robertson’s shoulder, however, which may be one reason the Yankees have added Brian Bruney to the roster. Each team is carrying two lefties, but outside of Howard, no starter on either team has much trouble with lefties. That just leaves the long men and question marks (Bruney, Brett Myers, who wasn’t on the NLCS roster, and a scuffling Alfredo Aceves), who will be used in case of emergency only.
Both teams have speed throughout the lineup and steal at a high percentage. The Yankees swiped 111 bases at an 80 percent success rate. The Phillies took 119 at an 81 percent rate. Call it even.
All four of the Phillies infielders are above average and Feliz, Utley, and Rollins when he’s going well are all worthy of Gold Gloves. In the outfield they have two center fielders in Victorino and Werth and Raul Ibañez, whose primary talent in left field is not being Pat Burrell. Save for Mark Teixeira, the Yankee fielders are less impressive on a position-by-position basis, yet they’ve been more successful at turning balls in play into outs this year, ranking second in the AL with a .695 defensive efficiency to the Phillies .691, which ranks sixth in the NL. That could have something to do with the superior strikeout rate of the Yankee pitchers (7.8 K/9 to 7.1), but let’s just call this one even as well.
2009 Record: 93-69 (.574)
2009 Pythagorean Record: 92-70 (.568)
Manager: Charlie Manuel
General Manager: Ruben Amaro Jr.
Home Ballpark: Citizens Bank Park (103/102)
1B – Ryan Howard (L)
2B – Chase Utley (L)
SS – Jimmy Rollins (S)
3B – Pedro Feliz (R)
C – Carlos Ruiz (R)
RF – Jayson Werth (R)
CF – Shane Victorino (S)
LF – Raul Ibañez (L)
L – Matt Stairs (OF/1B)
R – Ben Francisco (OF)
L – Greg Dobbs (3B)
R – Eric Bruntlett (UT)
L – Paul Bako (C)
L – Cliff Lee
R – Pedro Martinez
L – Cole Hamels
R – Joe Blanton
L – J.A. Happ
R – Brad Lidge
R – Ryan Madson
L – Scott Eyre
R – Chan Ho Park
R – Chad Durbin
R – Brett Myers
L – Antonio Bastardo
LHP – Jamie Moyer (groin surgery)
LHP – J.C. Romero (elbow tendonitis)
S – Jimmy Rollins (SS)
S – Shane Victorino (CF)
L – Chase Utley (2B)
L – Ryan Howard (1B)
R – Jayson Werth (RF)
L – Raul Ibañez (LF)
R – Pedro Feliz (3B)
R – Carlos Ruiz (C)
* * *
New York Yankees
2009 Record: 103-59 (.636)
2009 Pythagorean Record: 95-67 (.586)
Manager: Joe Girardi
General Manager: Brian Cashman
Home Ballpark (multi-year Park Factors): Yankee Stadium 2.0 (103/103)
1B – Mark Teixeira (S)
2B – Robinson Cano (L)
SS – Derek Jeter (R)
3B – Alex Rodriguez (R)
C – Jorge Posada (S)
RF – Nick Swisher (S)
CF – Melky Cabrera (S)
LF – Johnny Damon (L)
DH – Hideki Matsui (L)
L – Brett Gardner (CF)
L – Eric Hinske (4C)
S – Jerry Hairston Jr. (UT)
R – Jose Molina (C)
L – CC Sabathia
R – A.J. Burnett
L – Andy Pettitte
R – Mariano Rivera
R – Phil Hughes
L – Phil Coke
R – Joba Chamberlain
R – Alfredo Aceves
L – Damaso Marte
R – David Robertson
R – Brian Bruney
R – Chad Gaudin
RHP – Chien-Ming Wang (shoulder surgery)
OF – Xavier Nady (Tommy John surgery)
R – Derek Jeter (SS)
L – Johnny Damon (LF)
S – Mark Teixeira (1B)
R – Alex Rodriguez (3B)
L – Hideki Matsui (DH)
S – Jorge Posada (C)
L – Robinson Cano (2B)
S – Nick Swisher (RF)
L – Melky Cabrera (CF)