Analyzing key matchups in Yanks-Phils World Series and more notes
Both teams' aces (CC Sabathia and Cliff Lee) have been brilliant in the postseason
The Yankees are more fun, but the Phillies are as tough they come
One source close to the Indians said Valentine was actually their first choice
NEW YORK -- This Yankees team is a lot like many past pin-striped champions, with its emphasis on pitching, power and payroll. And although it'd been six years since the storied franchise's last trip to the World Series, in another reminder of past champions, Mr. Steinbrenner recalled the usual script. Only this time it was the young Mr. Steinbrenner, Prince Hal, who sounded in celebration like he was impersonating his father.
"They're a good team," Hal Steinbrenner said of the Phillies. "They've had more days off than us ... We'll see how it plays out. But we're confident."
Perfect. Young Hal certainly knows the drill.
First he damns them with faint praise ("good team"). Then he notes some alleged advantage for the other team ("more days off"), more imagined than real. Then he suggests he likes the Yankees' chances.
It's hard to blame young Steinbrenner for liking the Yankees' chances. But then, chances are he hasn't spent too much time scouting the Phillies, who are the team most like the Yankees for a variety of reasons. Each team has a worthy ace that started their career in Cleveland. Each team has one monster power hitter, one of the very best sluggers in the game, who could not be hotter right now. Each is known for its comeback victories. And each has a positive history, though the Yankees' positive history dates back to the beginning of the previous century, while the Phillies' positive history mainly goes back to last year's championship.
Here's an early look at some of the better matchups:
The Yankees' CC Sabathia and the Phillies' Cliff Lee are left-handers with a Cy Young Award each who teamed together with the Indians before that small-market ballclub started its two-summer dismantling program with the trade of their beloved CC to Milwaukee. The Yankees eventually paid a pitching record $161 million for Sabathia, while the Phillies got Lee for four minor league prospects, testaments to the Yankees' bank account and the Phillies' drafting acumen. Both have been absolutely brilliant this postseason. Sabathia, the ALCS MVP, is 3-0 with a 1.19 ERA, while Lee is 2-0 with a 0.74 ERA. Each has struck out exactly 20 batters and walked exactly three. Sabathia has rough postseasons in his past, including a grand slam surrendered to the Phillies' Shane Victorino in the Division Series last year. While Sabathia is rated better by scouts, the records are closer than one might think (Sabathia has a lifetime winning percentage of .627, and Lee is actually higher at .634). Sabathia clearly had the better 2009 season, though, going 19-8 to Lee's 14-13 (though Lee had a handicap in that he was 7-9 when he came over from the struggling Indians). Derek Jeter said of Sabathia, "It seems like every time out he's been more and more dominant." The ex-Indians will match up in at least Game 1, though that could be it for that pairing, as Sabathia is more likely to come back on three days rest for Game 4.
The Dodgers determined that the way to get out Ryan Howard was to pound him inside, and the Angels felt the same about Alex Rodriguez. In neither case did that strategy work. Howard blasted the Dodgers right out of the playoffs, contributing at least one RBI in every game, just as he did in the Division Series against Colorado. Rodriguez was even better against the Angels, with a ridiculous 1.519 OPS. In almost any other year, he would have been the ALCS MVP (but Sabathia got it with his two wins). Rodriguez played like superman with the pressure squarely on him, perhaps finally answering affirmatively to the continuing questions of whether he'd ever be a true Yankee or rise to postseason prominence. "He's been great," Jeter said. "I don't know what else you'd want him to do ... He seems comfortable. Hopefully it continues." Overall this postseason Rodriguez has seven extra-base hits, 12 RBIs and a 1.516 OPS. Howard has seven extra-base his, 14 RBIs and a 1.203 OPS. A-Rod's hole is supposedly in, while Howard's is up and in. The reality is, it's probably better to avoid either right now -- though both teams get power from other sources. The Yankees led the majors in homers with 244 while the Phillies were second with 224.
Charlie Manuel isn't the bumpkin he plays on TV. While he appeared to be picking pitchers out of a hat at times this October, the results have been excellent. The faith he placed in Pedro Martinez was a key in the NLCS. His use of Joe Blanton out of the bullpen worked wonders, too. Joe Girardi did a super job in the regular season, but seemed to suffer from temporary insanity or incompetence at times in the ALCS. The removal of the tough David Robertson after consulting his trusty book was silly, the removal of Rodriguez for a pinch runner was downright stupid. However, he redeemed himself with a nice job in the clinching Game 6. Normally a better strategist than Joe Torre, he may just be getting the hang of this postseason thing.
The Yankees' hitters who are not Rodriguez and Jeter all struggled in the Division Series, but Johnny Damon, Melky Cabrera and Robinson Cano improved against the Angels. Mark Teixeira still isn't quite himself (.259 slugging in the ALCS), and neither is Nick Swisher (.150 slugging). Phil Hughes hasn't been as good in the playoffs as he was in the regular season, as he's allowed nine hits in 4 2/3 innings. While they thought they corrected a flaw, Girardi skipped right over him from Joba Chamberlain to Mariano Rivera in the clinching Game 6. If the Yankees use a fourth starter, it'll be journeyman Chad Gaudin, but they could also opt to use Sabathia twice on three days' rest. The Phillies' bullpen was thought to be a mess entering the postseason, especially closer Brad Lidge. But Lidge hasn't allowed a run in October, and Manuel has used his starters liberally in relief, covering other 'pen shortcomings. Another query: Does Pedro have more magic in him, even against his old nemesis?
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