It is finally here: Phillies-Yankees. We will get to the matchups in a few moments, but first item on the list is George Steinbrenner pimping out the opening act. Jay-Z and Alicia Keys are performing “Empire State of Mind” and LeBron is throwing out the first pitch. Ok, the second one was a joke but the first one is serious, and in case you were wondering, Elton John will not be performing “Philadelphia Freedom” before Game 3. I personally find it pretty comical that Steinbrenner is basically holding a concert before the game. I can appreciate giving fans value for their money (which is a lot for Yankee Stadium), but doesn’t the idea of a performance before the World Series just seem comical. Maybe it’s just me. If so, let me know. Alright, let’s get to the matchups and we will keep score.
Catcher: Jorge Posada/José Molina vs. Carlos Ruiz
Posada is clearly the best of the three and under normal circumstances, but Ruiz has had himself a very nice postseason going 5-13 with 4 RBI in the NLCS while Posada was just 4-20. Whether or not this will carry over is anyone’s guess, but it definitely narrows the gap. Yankees 1, Phillies 0; but by the slimmest of margins.
First Base: Mark Teixeira vs. Ryan Howard
This is a marquee matchup even though the two really do not face each other head to head. Teixeira has the edge defensively over Howard despite Howard’s recent efforts to improve, but it is pretty even at the plate with both being outstanding players. Howard is easily the hotter player, but Tex found his groove toward the end of the Angels series, especially against Darren Oliver in Game 5. We will call this one a tie: Yankees 2, Phillies 1.
Second Base: Robinson Cano vs. Chase Utley
The advantage clearly goes to Utley here. Not only is he outstanding defensively and can do it all at the plate, he is one of the best baserunners in the game. Just watch him run the bases; it can change a game. For that matter, almost all the Phillies are good baserunners and they can certainly thank that, in part, for their success. Utley is the better player all around. Yankees 2, Phillies 2.
Shortstop: Derek Jeter vs. Jimmy Rollins
Defensively, no matter what anyone says, I have to give the edge to Rollins. Jeter makes great plays on the balls he gets to, but he gets to less balls overall. That means that the roller up the middle that Jeter just barely misses making a play on is a ball J-Roll gets to. However, at the plate Jeter has been red hot and his leadership skills have to be taken into account. Jeter wins. Yankees 3, Phillies 2.
Third Base: Alex Rodriguez vs. Pedro Feliz
This one is pretty close. Ok, not really, A-Rod is the hottest player on the planet and Pedro Feliz is Pedro Feliz. A-Rod is better in every aspect of the game. Yankees 4, Phillies 2.
Outfield+DH: Damon, Matsui, Cabrera, Swisher vs. Ibanez, Victorino, and Werth
I can honestly say that the Phillies have the edge at every position. The Phillies have a phenomenal core of outfielders frankly. Ibanez has picked back up after his September slump; Victorino and Werth are hotter than firecrackers. Damon has been hot too, but he is a liability at times with his arm. Swisher showed no signs of life against the Angels and although Melky has been hot, he is not as good as Victorino. This one is 3-0 Phillies. Yankees 4, Phillies 5.
Starting Pitching: Sabathia, Burnett, Pettite, 4th Starter vs. Lee, Hamels, Blanton, Martinez, Happ, Anyone Else
After Cliff Lee, this is a win for the Yankees. Sabathia might even be able to beat Lee on the right night which would really hinder the Phillies chances. In order for them to win this series, they need to win Game 1. If Lee goes down, the morale will too and with Hamels in his current state, the Phils will be in trouble. If Hamels steps up and looks like 2008 Cole Hamels, the Phillies might even be the favorite to win it all. However, Hamels has shown no reason to have much confidence in him and Pettite has a much bigger advantage over a Phillies lineup who has not seen him than Joe Blanton (a former Athletics player) has against a Yankees lineup, almost all of which have experience against him. Not to mention, Pettite is a beast in the postseason. We will call Lee-Sabathia a tie, and the anonymous 4th starters a tie, but Pettite and Burnett have clear advantages. Yankees 8, Phillies 7. By the way, how envious are Indians fans (such as myself) at the fact that two of their former starters are starting Game 1 and facing each other. Too bad neither plays for the Indians.
Bullpen minus Closer: Hughes, Coke, Chamberlain, Marte, Aceves, Robertson vs. Durbin, Madson, Park, Eyre
Going into the playoffs, this would have been a clear Yankees victory, but they were really shaky against the Angels and Girardi seemed to lack a little bit of trust in them, especially when he left Burnett in for the start of the 7th. On the other hand, the Phillies pen has been outstanding and really did a job on the Dodgers. I am going to give out only 1 point for this category since it does not even include the closer but right now the bullpen matchup favors the Phillies. Tied 8-8. I promise I didn’t plan that.
Closer: Mariano Rivera vs. Brad Lidge
Lidge has been perfect this postseason, but it just doesn’t matter. Mariano Rivera is the best closer in baseball history (sorry Trevor) because of what he does in the postseason. The Braves of the 1990s felt that if they had Rivera instead of the Yankees, they would be the ones with 4 rings in the 90s. Keep in mind, Rivera only deals with 1 innings, with 4 to 5 outs max and the Braves feel he could have put them so over the top that they would have won 3 more rings. Lidge has been outstanding, but Mariano Rivera is simply the best. Yankees 9, Phillies 8.
Intangibles: Ballpark, NL-AL and Overall Impact
The Yankees are lucky they have a lefty going in Game 1 because it will be harder for the Phillies switch hitters to pull the ball out of the ballpark from the left side, and Ryan Howard will have less chance of killing them. We all know that the 2 stadiums are bandboxes, but I think there is a minimal advantage for the Phillies getting their lefties in the new Yankee Stadium. The Phillies also have a slight advantage in being structured like an AL team. When they go to an AL park, they are more than fine fielding a DH, but when the Yankees go to a NL park, they lose a significant contributor. If Burnett pitches in Philly, it is even more pronounced since Molina replaces Posada as well. Both of these advantages are minimal though, so we will give them 1 total point for both. That ties it up 9-9.
It is the Yankees year. God, I hate seeing that in writing but even this Yankee hating Indians fan has to admit it. The Yankees are a team of destiny this year and even the defending Champions cannot deny their swag. Name almost any other sport and a defending champ returning to the championship and they would be huge favorites, but the Yankees are favored to win. The Phillies have an experience advantage since they are the reigning champs, but the veteran core of the Yankees can make up for that. It just comes down to feel. There is something about this Yankees team where you feel like they are going to win every game no matter how improbable. They have the swag, and the swing, and in a few weeks time, they will have the rings to match. Yankees 10-9.
Just because it is so close does not mean it will go seven however. If the Phillies drop Game 1, it could be over in 4 or 5, but if the Phillies are clutch it could very well go 7, and with a little luck they could come out on top, but it will not quite happen. The Yankees are your 2009 World Series Champions.