Red Sox managed to cobble together a team with enough drive to overcome injuries to take down a formidable Angels team and not let the series turn into a overblown grudge match. Although physically they aren’t in much better shape than when the regular season ended to not have overexpended themselves against LAA definitely puts them in a good position, the position of yet another ALCS in this new attempt at a dynasty. they started the last century off like this too, then, it fizzled.
As for the Rays, the scrappy bunch of cinderella kids are back and with more excitement that a pre-teen boy discovering Playboy. Granted, there are teams that waited longer in their history to see the postseason this far in, but for the bottom dwelling Rays it’s been out of the outhouse and into the penthouse and more than anything, they’d like to sock it to their division rivals and make a run at the WS.
Here’s how it breaks down. The Rays are healthier and when push comes to shove, the longer a series goes the more health matters. The Rays bullpen is deeper, the bench is longer and they have more bodies that can be shuffled out there day-after-day to get the job done. They’ve been playing this way the whole season and are poised to use the workman like mentality of the entire lineup to win. The Rays also carry a home field advantage. Say what you will about home field only being an advantage for a few teams lucky enough to cultivate ghosts in their stadiums, but the Rays are the real deal, dominating the Red Sox at home and clobbering the White Sox there in the first round. Their regular season record as a whole favors them there and even if those are the only four games they win in the series it’ll be the four that take them to the WS, however unlikely it is that it would happen that way.
Looking at the lineups: opening starters are pretty evenly matched, but the advantage in the rotation probably leans toward Boston with three solid arms to attack with that are battle tested. I wouldn’t count out the Rays rotation, but on paper they aren’t as evenly matched. Bullpen, the Rays pen gets it done. They lost Perceval as a closer during the season and still managed to hold leads and close out games, they bridge nicely when starters falter, they mix and match well, they have depth. Sox have had their problems out of the pen. Paplbam is the one dependable arm in a pen that doesn’t mix and match well, doesn’t have great depth and is notorious for coughing up leads and embattling the team as a whole. The more they need to be used the more the advantage is to the Rays, though, if Okajima can find anything even close to what he threw last year or someone else steps up at the 8th inning guy the story could change quick. Fielding. You just can’t get around the fact that the Rays are solid with the glove, they are a team built for spotless defense and they play fundemental baseball night in and night out. The BoSox once fielded a scrappy team like that, but not any more, with achey backs and sore knees they don’t have the same spunk in their step as they used to and it proved to be costly on occasion this season. They also don’t have the same depth off the bench to stretch the field or specifically tighten up the defense in key situations. Hitting and baserunning both teams approach a little different so a straight comparison might not be fair. The Rays as a staff hit .260, but their starters were much better, and they are hot on the basepads going with hit and runs and stolen bases and not getting caught up much, the sox on the otherhand hit .280 and are consistant sluggers throughout with discipline at the plate and power when necessary. The approaches are different, but effective. The question will be how the matchups play out more than anything else and any poor defense against a freewheeling Rays lineup could be the difference maker, just like big Papi’s bat. Managers. Even split. BoSox managed their way through injury and Manny and a topsyturvy ALE, while the Rays were managed from worst to first. Postseason experience leans the BoSox way but the nontraditional approach of the Rays is not exactly the easiest thing to counter manage against considering what the Sox are used to facing.
Prediction, if it is sink or swim, the rays are natural swimmers and everyone knows when sox get wet they sink. the sox will be stung by the rays and left to run bloody red in the water.
Dodgers are a weird bunch. The big money guys flop, the bargin basement guys hold the team together and manager Joe Torre basically has the west coast version of the Yankees to manage once again, complete with egos to tame and unexpeced gems to polish and that he has all the way through the season and when all was said and done, it wasn’t he, but an interesting set of circumstances that brought his team to the post season, just as it had so many times in the big apple. Bleeding dodgers blue means something different to these rag tag vets and young guns and it’s taken them this far, despite all the casualties along the way.
Phils locked up the NLE against the faltering Mets one day sooner than last year to take the division by suprise for the second year in a row and then exploited ever ailment of a Brewers team that stumbled into the playoffs. Now, they find themselves in a position the franchise has seen fewer than a half dozen times in 125 years, poised for the nlcs pennant. They’ve done it the same way the did last year, leaning on a core group of players that came up together with no preconceived notion of the past nor any indication the future was any more than what they decided it would be. Somehow, someway, they never gave into the skeptics or their own shortcomings.
Here’s how it breaks down. All in all the teams could be pretty evenly matched on paper both in the regular season and in the post season statistically. The difference makers really are in the intangibles… the Phils have a chip on their shoulder and something to prove to a town that’s focus is on them and not the Eagles for a change, but can the Phils hold themselves together now that they’re on a new level? the Dodgers have some eerie sort of Manny Momentum thing going on that helped stabalize a franchise that seemed to be loosing its identity (who ever thought you’d call Manny stabalizing)… but is it only a matter of time before Manny implodes and takes everyone down with him?
Looking at the lineups: Evenly matched game one starters, but after that there’s more depth and experience with the Dodgers versus an unpredictable set of arms being run out there by the Phillies. There’s little chance of a Dodgers implosion, even though they haven’t announced their complete rotation for the series… but there’s always that x-factor with the Phils pitching that they all might show up and get the job done at the same time. Bullpens are pretty even, right up till the closer where Lidge has been unbelievably brilliant while the Dodgers are without their regular 9th inning arm and opting for fillin Broxton yet again. If games are decided in the late innings, the advantage will be with Philly. Fielding has both teams with their ups and downs and neither is a defensive machine but the Phils have fewers errors and a better fielding percentage as a team and more experience off the bench to fill in holes when necessary. Phils leadership in Rollins on Defense gives the Phils the edge when he sets the tone. Hitting. the Phils need much more out of their big bats in the middle of the order than what they got during most of the season. They will need to slug their way out of holes and be both patient and productive against the experienced Dodgers starting pitching. The Dodgers can be a maelstrom when they are hot and there’s not much to do to stop them if Manny and Furcal work together, though, to this point historically the Phils have kept those bats in check, the length of the lineup hit will together when they are hot and that could wreak havoc on the Phils starters if they let things get out of hand. Managers. Many will argue that Torre’s post season experience gives him the edge, but he really just tacetly guides teams, he doesn’t manage and many of the bench and pitching decisions he’s made in the past were either such no brainers or came under such scrutiny it’s hard to say how effective he really is. Now, despite most Philly fans calling for Charlie Manuel’s blood, he has managed that team into the position they are in now and despite some really awkward decisions, for the most part he mix and matches the depth of the team really well. Will calm and subdued beat boistrious and bombastic in this chess like matchup?
Perdiction: The Phils will bleed Dodger blue when all is said and done and the big P will be spray-painted on some shirtless guys chest at an upcoming Eagles game with the letters -hailer blurred into next to it. (sorry bobby…)