World Series Preview

28Oct09

The following is written by guest contributor, Chris Mirabella. He is completely unbiased and has no rooting interest in this Series. Really.

I recently asked one of my friends, a Mets fan, who he was rooting for in the World Series: The Yankees or the Phillies. When the mere notion of having to root for either of those teams clearly began to give him indigestion, I relented, and asked who he thought would win. A relieved but indecisive shrug was the answer I got. And why not? The Yankees and the Phillies are without a doubt the best teams from their respective leagues and the most evenly matched World Series opponents since 1999. Both lineups are stacked with powerful and fast offensive weapons. Both pitching staffs have a dynamic mix of power pitching and veteran experience. Both teams have by far the easiest fans to hate – Yankees fans are arrogant knuckleheads, and Phillies fans are from Philadelphia. Picking a winner in this series is almost as difficult as finding a woman Steve Philips won’t cheat on his wife with. I won’t purport to try. So instead, here are a few narrative threads I will be watching that could very well make or break one of these teams’ chances to win the ugliest trophy in professional sports. Or at the very least make this a more interesting series than Angels – Dodgers.

1) Will Alex Rodriguez continue his post-season abuse of the baseball? or Will the Yankees’ bats wake up in time?

There is no player in these playoffs hitting with more authority or confidence than Alex Rodriguez. Gone is the youthful stupidity of a 27 year old and the frosted tips. What has emerged is a player who absolutely refuses to chase a breaking ball out of the zone or let a fastball in the zone get by. Rodriguez is hitting like its May of 2008 and he is the singular offensive reason the Yankees are still in the 2009 playoffs. While Mark Teixeira was busy forgetting he could hit from the left side of the plate, Rodriguez was cranking game tying home runs off all-star closers and registering an unfathomable 1.510 ops in the ALCS. Will a Phillies pitching staff that allowed the second fewest walks in the NL during the regular season be aggressive enough to get ahead of Rodriguez in the count and finally wake a sleeping headcase? It seems unlikely – Rodriguez has the look of a man perfectly content in having a team on his back. There’s no more room for a monkey.

Luckily for the Yankees they might only need Rodriguez to be “human, not sub-human,” as Bobby Valentine put it (clearly disregarding the fact that the only sub-human professional hitter on the planet is Gary Matthews Jr.). To keep up with the Phillies, leaving double digit runners on base isn’t going to cut it – something the lefties in the lineup know too well. Towards the end of the ALCS, Teixeira was turned around to his far less powerful but more consistent right side and began collecting hits and rbis. Robinson Cano had a huge hit in a futile Game 5, and after a dismal ALDS, Johnny Damon found his stroke in the contentious championship series. The Phillies are a confident powerhouse with the tools to back it up, and its going to take bigger hits with more frequency to hold down an offense that has no problem putting up crooked numbers in half innings. How every other hitter (Captains excluded) besides Rodriguez reacts to the pressure of a World Series is going to be where this series is won and lost.

2) What about the pitching in Game 2?

The Fox network and baseball fans are indebted to Charlie Manuel. The marquee matchup of the series may be former Cleveland Cy Yound winners CC Sabathia and Cliff Lee on a collision course in Game 1, but Game 2 might be even more intriguing. For New York, mercurial AJ Burnett will try to wrangle his wicked two seam fastball and 56-foot curveballs into the strike zone in an effort to overcome a deal he made with the devil that I imagine went something like this:

Devil: Here’s the deal, I’m going to give you once in a generation type stuff, the abilitity to pitch few can even dream about.

AJ: What’s the catch?

Devil: Every game you pitch, you’ll be completely blind for one inning. Could be the first, could be the ninth – but you’ll be blind as a goddamn bat.

AJ: Deal.

On the hill for the Phillies will be the right-handed personification of Yankees playoff history from the past 10 years. Underneath Pedro’s soul-glo are memories of tossing Don Zimmer to the ground, drilling Alfonso Soriano and sending Derek Jeter to the hospital, a 2003 comeback, and a 2004 collapse. And out of a retiscence to start lefties in back to back games, the Phillies manager chose that soul-glo to start Game 2 of the World Series instead of last year’s MVP, Cole Hamels. It’s not an unfounded decision. Pedro was dazzling in his one postseason start this year, allowing 2 hits to a potent Dodgers offense and in his 37th year seems to have transformed into a rare breed of pitcher – one who was once dominant but now relies on guile and experience to retire hitters in the abscence of superior stuff.
Its the best storyline in the series not only for its dramatic appeal but its consequences. Regardless of Game 1, a Game 2 loss could send the Yankees headfirst into a buzzsaw at Citizens Bank Ballpark with momentum in the wrong direction. A Game 2 win would give Girardi much needed leeway in deciding his starters the rest of the way. Will AJ Burnett kill an investment banker in the front row with an errant pitch? Will Pedro remember his daddy? Its a monumental spot for a legendary pitcher. I doubt he comes up short.
3) Will the announcing continue to be mindnumbing?
Admitedly this has nothing to do with the outcome of the games. It also been beaten to death. But for fun’s sake, here goes a little more. There is one legitimate reason I can fathom that Fox allowed TBS to handle division series games: Chip Caray makes Joe Buck seem like Vin Scully. When Tim McCarver can explain to me why he finds it so appropriate that Mariano Rivera “bows” in his windup before every pitch rather than just telling us it is, I’ll slowly loosen the noose around my neck and pay closer attention. At the very least, allow a third person in the booth to help call these games. They don’t even need to be competent (Joe Morgan anyone?). Two pompous assholes in the booth is frustrating. Three is entertainment! The notion that I’ll probably have to listen to Jack Buck’s emaciated kid and his senile best friend thank DirecTV from the bottom of their hearts for allowing the World Series to be broadcast with their help puts the slightest damper on what I expect to be a great series. So what’s going to be more frustrating – the announcers or the Phillies powerful lefty lineup in Yankee stadium? For now lets call it a push.
These only scratch the surface of a fantastic matchup and with three and half hours till game time/ Jay-Z’s Yankee Stadium debut, there isn’t enough time to cover it all. In the interest of brevity here it is: New York in seven in the new stadium. Let’s go Yankees.

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2 Responses to “World Series Preview”

  1. 1 components of enthusiasm

    primo

  2. Nice contribution. Well-written and surprisingly even-handed. Great insight re: Pedro and Joe Buck.


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