Yep. Another One For The Rays (In Six)
Sometimes it's hard to differentiate the fine line between fate and proper forecasting. In the aftermath of Boston's victory in Game 6, Dave wrote this, expressing a sentiment much of the press seemed pretty confident in ascribing to.
Now, another dazzling Matt Garza start and a 3-1, series-clinching victory later, the Game 5 collapse and Tampa Bay's entire bounce-back experience seems to have made them stronger.
So why is everyone picking the Rays? Well, for my part, it's partially a matter of their depth and balance and partially the inescapable feeling that's been setting in while watching the playoffs, the belief that, regardless of other teams' talent, the Rays are just a team of destiny.
Consider this: B.J. Upton hit nine home runs during the course of the entire 162-game regular season. In the playoffs, he's hit seven. Seven. That's tied for the most in AL playoff history, and he's a homer away from setting the record for home runs in a single postseason. Presumptive AL rookie of the year Evan Longoria is playing with a wrist barely two months off of a hairline fracture, one that's still taped every night and tender, at best. That hasn't stopped the third baseman from adding six home runs of his own. And Carlos Pena is no power-hitting slouch.
Sure, the Rays have looked over-reliant on the long ball for offense in the postseason, but Upton's sudden power surge belies his ability to get on base and wreak havoc on the base paths. Japanese leadoff hitter Akinori Iwamura serves the same purpose, not to mention Carl Crawford, who makes this year the second World Series running where one team has a prime starter who was offered a college football scholarship to play quarterback (Todd Helton, more famously, took his at Tennessee).
Put those two facets together, as well as the speed off the bench of Fernando Perez -- he'll play a role in this series, and you read it here first -- and you've got a pretty dangerous and adaptable offensive presence.
Sure, the Phillies can rake with the best of them but, at least to me, Philadelphia seems much more reliant on the homers than Tampa Bay, particularly against the Rays' power pitchers. Ryan Howard has scuffled in the postseason and hitting in Tropicana Field probably won't help matters. I'm betting that Shane Victorino doesn't have another NLCS performance in him and that Jimmie Rollins, Chase Utley and Pat Burrell are held to the requisite damage they'll inflict on any pitching staff.
The Rays edge certainly doesn't stop at the plate, either. Their pitching depth is much better; just look at ALCS MVP Matt Garza pitching in the Game 3 slot. Cole Hamels is a strong matchup for Scott Kazmir, particularly given Kazmir's up and down recent form, but "Big Game" James Shields is lined up perfectly for Game 2, setting up against Brett Myers, who has been awful away from home. Myers has a dismal 3-8 record on the road, with a 3.01 ERA at Citizen's Bank Park compared with a 6.21 mark away. Advantage: Rays.
Don't get me wrong, there are areas the Phillies can exploit. Lefty reliever J.P. Howell looked rattled after the Game 5 meltdown -- he was hit again in Game 6 -- and Australian power righty Grant Balfour was absolutely torched by the Red Sox as the series went along.
But the Red Sox had seen both of those pitchers a good 20 times. The Phillies haven't seen them ... at all, and that should mitigate some of their susceptibility, at least in the first 2-3 games. By that time, the Rays may be well on their way, though I won't be shocked if Cole Hamels dials up his lefty magic and steals Game 1, just like Boston stole Game 1 of the ALCS.
Final pick: Rays in 6
Posted by: Philly Phan in Phairfax | October 21, 2008 7:47 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: John in LA | October 21, 2008 8:16 PM | Report abuse
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