Wednesday, October 28, 2009

A Classic Fall Classic?

The baseball press is almost desperate for a long and hard-fought World Series. The past five have been sweep, sweep, 4-1, sweep and 4-1. And eight of the 11 World Series since 1998 have been either sweeps (5) or over in five (3). (Those 4-1 wins for the Cards in '06 and Phils in '08 are the NL equivalent of a sweep -- no NL team has swept a World Series since 1990 and no NL team not from Cincinnati has swept a World Series since 1963.)

From Jimmy Rollins' perspective, his Phils in 5 prediction is a bit optimistic, to say the least (Benny Agbayani of the Mess made a Mess in 5 prediction in 2000 and was half right). After all, no Jeter-Rivera Yankee team has won fewer than two games in a best-of-seven. And The Monk is hoping that the Yanks double up that two win minimum in the next week or so.

So how does the Series really break down?

The Monk disdains the position-by-position analysis that so many writers use. Johnny Damon is not playing head-to-head against Raul Ibanez nor will Jimmy Rollins go toe-to-toe with Derek Jeter. It's the wrong frame of reference because it's not like Derek Jeter needs to make a play against Jimmy Rollins for his team to score. A position by position comparison of the '98 Yanks with the '86 Mets looks good for the Mets (they'd "win" the corner outfield spots, catcher and get at least a push at 3b and 1b) and that team couldn't hold the '98 Yanks collection of protective cups.

The relevant questions are entirely different.

How will the Phils fare against four starts minimum from Yankee lefties in the Series and how will the Yanks fare against the Phils' precision starters who don't have blow-by fastballs but just PITCH well? The Phils' staff is a collection of Tom Glavines, the question is what era -- Lee is the HOF-quality Glavine from the 90s and early 00s, Hamels is capable of doing the same, Blanton is a righty equivalent who has gone from innings-eating midlevel starter in the AL to a #2-3 quality starter in the NL. And Pedro will junkball the Yanks for as many pitches as he can -- he's not the 1990s-early 2000s pitcher who dominated opponents with the 96 mph fastball and the 77 mph changeup. Can the Phils make the quality pitches necessary to get the Yanks out against a team that led the AL in walks? Will the Yanks actually have some decent hitting by players who do not play on the left side of their infield? Will the Phils patchwork starting staff (Lee excepted) resemble the parade of horribles that the '04 Yanks and '09 Dudgers put out, or will it resemble the '96 Yanks, which had 5 quality starts in 15 postseason games but won the World Series?

Can the Yanks' staff, which led the AL in strikeouts, confound the Phils and their free swingers (Howard cut his strikeouts down to 186 from 199(!), Werth had 156, Ibanez 119 in 134 games, Feliz doesn't walk)? The Phils led the NL in homers and have four players who hit at least 31. Can the Yanks keep the Phils in the park in two of the most homer-friendly stadiums?

Will the starting pitching even be the key to the Series? Look at how the Braves pitched in the 1996 WS -- five good to great starts in six games but they lost three of the five and unearned runs were the difference in two of the three losses that their starters suffered.

Whose bullpen will come to the fore? Last year, the Phils won two games against the Rays' 'pen. This year they won two games against the Rockies' 'pen in the NLDS and another against the Dudgers'. The Yanks won twice against the opposing bullpens in the playoffs and their supposedly superior bullpen took both losses in the ALCS. Lidge was awful in the regular season, solid in the playoffs while Madsen has been shaky in the postseason and top-notch in the regular season; Hughes, Chamberlain and the lefties are a question mark for the Yanks after Hughes' lights-out performance as a set-up man in the regular season, but Mo is still Mo.

And one more: which manager will foul up a key situation? Manuel survived his only bad call in the NLCS because the Dudgers sucked; he survived a bad decision in game 4 of the NLDS because Huston Street imploded. The joke after five games of the ALCS was that the series stood at Yankees 3, Girardi 2. Even Mike Scioscia, who would win best manager in baseball by acclaim just about every year from the press, made a colossal bonk by yanking Lackey in game 5. No need to discuss Torre -- his pitching decisions just failed, failed and failed again in the NLCS.

These are the relevant questions. I just want the answers to add up to Yankee title #27.

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