Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Let The Games Begin ... World Series Preview: Rays / Phillies

Today, Wednesday, October 22nd, is the first day of the 2008 World Series. I am truly excited about watching two teams with historically losing records (the Phillies for most of their long franchise history (most losses of any team) and the Rays in every year of their shorter existence until this one) battle it out for baseball supremacy this season. While I may be in the national viewing minority (likely the case with smaller market Tampa / St. Pete and shrinking market Philadelphia), the case could be made for a potentially balanced matchup of these two teams. It may not be the Red Sox / Dodgers matchup that TV executives likely wanted, but this could be a very watchable series.

My predictions leading up to this series have mostly been wrong, so I won't even attempt to tell you who I think is going to win and in how many games. I will guess that this one probably goes six or seven games, though, based on pitching balance of the squads. Cole Hamels is probably the hottest starting pitcher on either team, and Matt Garza is probably the next best after him (and both won their respective LCS MVP titles).

Hamels could pitch up to three games in this series, while Garza is not up until Game 3 (with staff "ace" Scott Kazmir the Rays starter for Game 1). I have liked Kazmir historically, but the second half of his season has not been pretty at all (including most of this postseason). Arguably, James Shields or Garza should be facing Hamels in Game 1 (imho), but Garza pitched on Sunday and isn't an option on only two days rest. Shields could be (having pitched Saturday), but three days rest is probably not as good as full four-day rest. All of the Phillies' players should be well-rested ... but may also be rusty with the week-long layoff since last Wednesday.

Offensively, the season stats would favor Philadelphia, one of the best offensive clubs in all of baseball. Philly scored the second-most runs in the NL (behind only the Cubs and tied with the Mets) and ranked in a tie for eigth in the ML. Tampa Bay was a steady producer as well but well behind most of the offense-driven AL (in ninth) and in 13th overall. Philly also was the majors' leader in HR.

What Tampa Bay may lack in offense (which isn't all that much, really) it offsets with the third-best pitching in baseball (3.82 ERA, ranking second in the AL behind only Toronto), which is very impressive, again, in the more offense-driven league. Philadelphia is no slouch here, either, with a robust 3.88 ERA, ranking close behind at sixth overall.

As those financial shows on TV often do, I will provide full disclosure here as well. I don't have any vested interest in either team, although my Postseason Fantasy Baseball squad (which I am playing here at TSN) is driven mostly by Tampa offense (such as Upton and Longoria) and Philly pitching (Hamels and Lidge) as well as some crossover on both teams (such as Shane Victorino and Matt Garza). I loaded one of my teams with almost the entire Tampa offensive lineup (from Navarro to Iwamura to Upton to Longoria to Aybar, etc.). It should be interesting, once again, no matter what happens. I would love to see the small-market Tampa squad (29th of 30 teams) make it all the way to give hope to all of our other small-market teams around the country.

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