Monday, October 27, 2008

Is This Series Over Already? Signs Point to YES

I have never been one to write off a team before a series is over, but the Philadelphia Phillies look to have taken control of their series with the Tampa Bay Rays. After "ageless wonder" Jamie Moyer pulled out the victory (or at least pitched well enough to get his team a win) in Game 3, the series took a turn for Philly. Head-to-head matchups would have favored any game for Philly with Cole Hamels (who won Game 1 convincingly), most for Tampa with James Shields (who held the Phillies scoreless in Game 2), and, at least going in, most for Tampa with Matt Garza. Garza did NOT fare well in Game 3, though. I would have called it a "toss-up" with Joe Blanton in Game 4, but Andy Sonnanstine is a roller-coaster variety starter who hit a low with his Sunday night start.

With Hamels again starting in tonight's critical Game 5, the Rays had better hope to get to him early. Scott Kazmir, the Game 1 opponent and tonight's rematch starter, shows little hope of being the tide-turner in this one. His Game 1 effort was respectable (three runs in six innings), but Hamels was better (two runs in seven innings). If Hamels turns over a lead to the Philly bullpen, I think this series is over tonight in five games. Kazmir needs an effort like the one he turned in in Game 5 of the ALCS, when he held the Sox scoreless over six innings ... but then better hope his bullpen returns to the form it had in the games OTHER than that one (when the Sox came back to win) or the one last night (where the Phillies torched Rays' pitching for 10 runs, eight earned, with five allowed in three innings by the 'pen).

If any team could pull off a miracle, it just might be these Rays. They weren't expected to win the AL East ... but they did. They weren't expected to beat the Red Sox in the ALCS (especially after the Sox forced a Game 7) ... but they did. Now, they aren't expected to win three straight, including tonight's game at Philadelphia followed by two at home, to pull out the series ... but can they?

Rays, your only chance to claim victory in this series starts tonight - simply put, you must beat Cole Hamels. IF you defeat Hamels in Game 5, you won't have to face him again in the series. Then, you will see Brett Myers again in a Game 6 (facing your new postseason "ace" in Shields) followed, likely, by Moyer (who, seriously, are you going to not figure out his soft-tossing style by a Game 7?) in a finale. The Phillies could throw you a curve by bringing Blanton back on short rest instead of Moyer in Game 7 (assuming you make it that far), but I like your chances with (presuming a return to form from) Garza. Those last two games are simply moot if Kazmir doesn't come out blazing tonight. For good measure, there is one *minor* element that you, the Rays, need to have a chance as well - OFFENSE.

What has happened to B.J. Upton, Evan Longoria, and Carlos Pena, to name but a few key elements of the Rays' offense? If the middle of the lineup cannot produce, I cannot see Akinori Iwamura, Carl Crawford, Dioner Navarro, et. al. making up the difference. It's not to say that they can't, but those top three guys have got to produce and produce NOW.

Philadelphia - your only key to winning is to keep doing exactly what you're doing. Keep dominating with the starting pitching, stifling bullpen, and, oh yes, the high-powered offense that I expected to see this postseason. Ryan Howard picked a good time to "return" to the lineup in a productive manner.

Is this series over already? Yes, the signs do point to "yes", but stranger things have happened.

Postscript section for Fantasy followers out there... I was burned by my mostly Tampa offensive lineup for Game 4 (as well as Game 3, really), but I don't have the trades to hope to change things much for Game 5 or the rest of this series. For those in similar situtations, hope the Rays can survive this game to get back home, where the home field (and warmth of an indoor environment) will probably "heat up" those cold bats as well. If you're lucky enough to have (or have picked up) Ryan Howard by Game 3, you are finally paying dividends. Many probably jumped on Howard for Game 4 (after seeing the previous performance) and reaped the rewards. I think that Cole Hamels is a no-brainer starter pick in Game 5 (even though I have to hope for a no-decision if I hope to get more series points beyond tonight). Even though my own roster has Rays' bullpen members, they look best to avoid at least until proven once again reliable.

No comments:

Post a Comment