World Series preview

The World Series begins tonight. It pits Tampa Bay against Philadelphia. As a casual baseball fan these days, I don’t have much business doing a preview. After all, it’s 2008, not 1958. But if I don’t do it, who will? So here goes.

The two teams seem evenly matched. Tampa Bay won more games than Philadelphia (97 to 92), but Philadelphia had a slightly better run differential (plus 119 to plus 103). Based on interleague play results this season and trends in recent years, the case can be made that Tampa Bay achieved its results against better competition than Philadelphia faced. So perhaps we can give Tampa Bay a small edge based on performance over the course of the season.

If the Series goes seven games, Tampa Bay will likely give a combined six starts to the following three pitchers:

Scott Kazmir 3.49 ERA
James Shields 3.56 ERA
Matt Garza 3.70 ERA

The other start might go to Andy Sonnanstine 4.38 ERA

Philadelpha would likely give six starts to:

Cole Hamels 3.09 ERA
Jamie Moyers 3.71 ERA
Bret Myers 4.55 ERA

The other start might go to Joe Blanton 4.20 ERA.

Considering that National League pitchers don’t face a designated hitter, the edge in starting pitching goes to Tampa Bay, I think. However, the Phillies have ace relief pitcher Brad Lidge (1.95 ERA, 41 saves). Tampa Bay uses a committee, though a good one.

Tampa Bay is the younger team. Its four starting pitchers, for example, are 24, 26, 25, and 25. Key hitters Evan Longaria and B.J. Upton are 23 and 24.

Now that the Rays have faced down the mighty Boston Red Sox in seven games to make the Series, it’s probably a stretch to argue that the club’s youth and inexperience will be a disadvantage against Philadelphia. But I’m mindful of how tight Detroit’s young pitchers seemed during the 2006 World Series against St. Louis.

When you add it all, this could be that rare World Series (in recent years, anyway) that might take seven games to decide. If it does go seven, Tampa Bay will have the advantage based on its fantastic record at home, where the game would be played. But I’m just a casual fan, so I’ll cop out and say that this one is too close to call.

UPDATE: Reader Joe Gautier writes to say that Philadelphia has a slight advantage in the games they will play at home because pitchers will bat in those games. The Philadelphia pitchers have been batting all year; Tampa Bay’s pitchers have not been. He also says that the Phillies will have more rest (but not too much, he thinks) due to having wrapped up their prior series earlier than the Rays. This will help them set their rotation exactly as they like it.

Reader, friend, and Phillies fan Rich Black sees the bullpen and experience factors as significant advantages for his team:

Notwithstanding the emergence of the Rays’ David Price in Game 7 of the ALCS (only his sixth major league game), the Tampa Bay bullpen has been unsteady in the playoffs. On the other hand, the Phillies’ bullpen, which was the best in the NL over the course of the regular season, has been even better in the playoffs. In fact, Brad Lidge might not even be the best reliever in that bullpen these days — the most overpowering pitcher in the pen might be his set-up man, Ryan Madson who Is nearly unhittable.

As for experience:

The Rays are a fun and good young team, but they have nearly no veteran leadership. I think everyone has become so wrapped up in their “worst to first” story, and the emergence of their recent high draft picks (Longoria, Upton, Price, etc.), that they have forgotten that most of these guys don’t have more than a couple seasons of major league experience. The Phils, on the other hand, count saavy, established stars among their ranks — two recent former MVPs in Howard and Rollins, a third MVP-worthy player in Utley, a perennial 30-100 guy in Burrell and a bona fide Cy Young candidate in Hamels. This is not to say the Phils will win, but it is to say that the Rays’ perceived advantage is a bit of a mirage.

Rich adds:

Consider, on top of this, the fact that the atmosphere in Philly during the NLDS and NLCS was enough to unnerve both C.C. Sabathia and Chad Bllingsley, respectively. I expect it to be louder and more ferocious in the World Series, and I’ll be surprised if Matt Garza, Andy Sonnanstine and Scott Kazmir (the Rays’ starters in Games 3, 4 and 5) — none of whom can be confused with a pitcher of Sabathia’s stature — fare any better.

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