With the World Series finally upon us, MLB FanHouse "sat down" for yet another roundtable discussion to discuss a few of the storylines and issues in the series, as well as predict the winner. Hint: Phillies fans won't be happy.
Matt Snyder: So we're finally to the Fall Classic. Almost no one predicted both of these teams to make it to the series, but it's not individually shocking that either one made it. The Phillies were always in the top three of NL teams throughout the season, and hit their stride in September. The only team arguably hotter than them entering the postseason was the Dodgers, of whom the Phillies dispatched quite easily. The Rays have been struggling to be taken seriously in the national media all season, and now have finally taken the spotlight after Game 7 of the ALCS ... which even prompted me to want to remind people there are two teams playing in the World Series. Who would have ever thought the Rays would be hogging baseball headlines when the word "futility" was not involved.
For this series, we enter an unknown for both teams. The World Series experience on either side is limited at best, the teams didn't face each other at all during the regular season, and there aren't many individual batting/pitching matchups with familiarity. This truly is an old-school series, in that sense.
As is the case with most postseason series -- especially with little familiarity -- starting pitching will play an integral role in the series, and I like the Rays everywhere but at the top. Cole Hamels gives the Phillies an advantage when it comes to having a true ace, but the Rays hold the advantage in the three other spots.
Will Brinson: Yeah, I agree. Cole Hamels is still as underrated as the Rays. He somehow hasn't made an All Star team, and while we're all busy fawning over David Price (and rightfully so), Hamels is turning into a full on superstar before our eyes.
But Snyds is right about the other rotation spots -- it's why I thought the Dodgers would win over the Phillies in the NLCS; they just lack the sickness in starting pitching that Tampa has.
Of course, Philly does sort of make up for it bullpen wise, by sporting Ryan Madson and the suddenly unshaky Brad Lidge. Not that those two can clamp down games when their team is behind, but the Rays have shown a propensity to cough up runs late in games, so it's certainly a bigger factor than a lot of people might want to believe.
Pat Lackey: I wouldn't call Lidge unshaky. He's been putting a decent amount of guys on base in the postseason and working out of jams, which is always a recipe for disaster in the playoffs. Just because he failed to give up the 900 foot homer to Manny that we all expected doesn't mean he's been particularly great.
The Rays are just a lot better than any team Philly has faced so far in the playoffs. Their rotation puts both the Dodgers' and Brewers' rotations to shame and their lineup hit their stride against Boston, whacking 15 home runs in a seven game series. The Phillies are a good team on a nice run, but I see matchup problems all over the place for them in this series, whether it's their suspect rotation after Hamels, Chase Utley and Ryan Howard against Scott Kazmir and the lefties in the Tampa 'pen, or the fact that their lineup just isn't that deep, especially when Howard isn't hitting.
Jacob Wheatley-Schaller: Lidge hasn't given up a bomb yet, but it's going to happen eventually. He's still giving up fly balls, they're just staying in the park; Matt Kemp crushed one to deep center in the ninth inning of Game 5, which barely stayed in the yard. He's good, but he's certainly not infallible.
The Rays have their own bullpen issues. Price was great, but Grant Balfour was awful all series, and Dan Wheeler hasn't looked the same since he went 3 1/3 innings in the Game 2 marathon. And Kazmir isn't exactly known for going deep into games. There also isn't that ridiculous extra off day after Game 4 in this series, so both teams are going to have to go that much deeper into their 'pens.
Mullet: I think that what Joe Maddon has learned about his bullpen in the Game 5 disaster is going to be invaluable against Philadelphia. Just as he learned to have lefties ready for David Ortiz and J.D. Drew in the late innings, he'll do the same with Utley and Howard ... especially now that Price has emerged as a guy who can pitch in a big spot. After the sixth inning, Utley and Howard are going to see a lot of J.P. Howell, a lot of Price, and even a lot of Trever Miller. Charlie Manuel has responded in the past by splitting Utley and Howard in the lineup with Pat Burrell, and I wouldn't be surprised if he goes that route in the Series. But I would expect that it'll be the lefties that carry the 'pen rather than Balfour and Wheeler.
Josh Alper: Manuel has to split Utley and Howard. Otherwise I think he'd be making things too easy for Maddon in terms of strategy. If you have Utley/Righty/Howard, at least you'd have to think about what reliever to use, especially if, as he's indicated, using Price on back to back nights isn't something he wants to do. It was very telling that Balfour only got up to throw as a last-ditch option in Game 7, he's shot and so is Maddon's confidence in him. He'll have to pitch in this series but I wouldn't imagine he's an option in a high leverage situation anymore.
The DH games will also put Matt Stairs/Greg Dobbs in the lineup against righties which gives the Rays even better late game matchups since it will force out better hitters in favor of righties and/or force Manuel to stick with the lefties. The righty DH, I have no clue who it will wind up being, won't help a poor bottom of the lineup for Philly much either.
Maddon didn't have much choice, but starting Kazmir in Game 1 should work out for him. He's a lefty and it's not like Shields would have been superior to Hamels anyway. It gives the Rays a pretty clear advantage in the rest of the starter matchups, and Kazmir's got at least a fighting chance of turning in a plus start.
Matt Snyder: At this point, it seems like everyone thinks the Rays are going to win.
Last round we all thought the Phillies would get steamrolled by the Dodgers. Are we overlooking the Phils again?
Josh Alper: Yeah, we are but it's hard to ignore the simple facts. The Rays were a better team in a tougher league over the course of 162 games, beat better teams to get to this point in the playoffs and have more depth and strength across their roster. Maddon did make some poor choices in the ALCS so I guess we could see a Dan Wheeler/Ryan Howard showdown with a game on the line. Straight up, though, it's hard to find much of an argument in favor of the Phillies.
Patrick Lackey: The AL winner is always going to be the favorite against the NL winner with the way the leagues are situated right now. The fact that the Rays were probably the best team in the American League during the regular season(casting the Angels' record aside due to the AL West suck factor) while the Phillies weren't the best in the NL doesn't help.
Mullet: Part of it is "out of sight out of mind", the Phillies haven't played in close to a week, and we're still coming down off the high of the Rays' seven game series. But part of it too is that people realizing that they've overlooked the Rays all season and failed to take them seriously and don't want to make the same mistake in the Series. The Rays are just a deeper team. The Phillies have that one guy who can change the complexion of the series all by himself in Cole Hamels, but the Rays' depth should be able to overcome that even if he winds up pitching three games this series.
Also, Brett Myers was so successful in the previous two series and he really acted as the Phillies' X-factor. But his success came in two playoff games at home. In this series, if Hamels doesn't get moved up and the current pitching schedule holds up, Myers is slated to pitch two games on the road, where his numbers this season are atrocious.
Andrew Johnson: Of course the Phillies are being overlooked. Of course they have a chance. But the Rays won 97 games in the big boy division in the big boy league. Here's my question: how many games do people think the Phillies would have won playing in the AL East all season?
I'm saying fewer than 85. And that's why the Rays are massive favorites.
Matt Snyder: Low 80s sounds about right ... and since we're talking number of games ... who ya got and in how many games?
I take Rays in five.
Patrick Lackey: I was going to say the same thing, Snyder. Rays in five. Everyone thinks this is going to be a close series, but I have a feeling that it won't be all that close.
Will Brinson: Rays in 6. Hamels wins two.
Josh Alper: I think the Phillies would win as many games as the Blue Jays. That's 86 so perhaps I like them more than some. Not enough to get you in the playoffs but hardly awful.
Mullet: I'll say Rays in 6, only because Hamels will be a factor, though I wouldn't be surprised if it's Rays in 5. Hamels should really be starting three times in this series and I think he will if the Rays are up 2-1 going into Game 4. But in the end, the extra rest is going to hurt Philly. You're asking a slow starter like Ryan Howard to come off six days rest and face Scott Kazmir right off the bat. Not ideal.
Matt Watson: I'll chime in for the first time to jump on the bandwagon: Rays in 6!
Tom Fornelli: I dont believe it, but since everyone is f*******g the Rays right now, I'll say Phils in 6.
Matt Snyder: So once again, nearly everyone is picking against the Phillies. To which they'll get the rally cry going ... "Why can't us?"