And so the New York Yankees return to the World Series for the first time since losing to the Marlins in 2003, in search of the franchise's 27th championship and first trophy since beating the New York Metropolitans back in 2000. That the Yankees were finally able to vanquish Mike Scioscia's Angels after losing both previous playoff series played against Anaheim makes the team's 40th pennant that much sweeter.
The final opponent standing in the Yankees' way are the Philadelphia Phillies, who were arguably the best team in the National League in 2009, making this the first World Series in some time in which the presumptive best teams in their respective leagues are squaring off. Much has been made of the Phillies' American League-style offense, and it's not an exaggeration -- I got to see what the Phillies are capable of firsthand back at the Stadium on Friday, May 22 -- and in taking the three-game set that weekend, Philadelphia wound up becoming one of only two teams with a winning record against the Yankees at home in 2009. The other team? Why, the mighty Washington Nationals, natch.
Of course, that was five months ago, and both teams have changed considerably since then, with the Yankees going 78-40 the rest of the way, dominating the American League while making relatively few major roster tweaks; and the Phillies posting a slightly less impressive 69-51 record against inferior competition and adding 2008 AL Cy Young winner Cliff Lee.
The Yankees had the best home record in baseball in 2009, going 57-24, while the Phillies went 45-36 at Citizens Bank Ballpark. Both teams have gone 7-2 so far in the postseason. Given the teams' proximity to each other, there will also be a fair number of opposing teams' fans in the seats at each game, although whatever presence the opposition's fanbase may have won't be a match for the home team's fans. It's also worth noting that the Yankees have yet to lose at home in the playoffs, winning all 5 games that have been played at Yankee Stadium in October, and also haven't suffered a loss at their new digs since the last home game of the season against the Royals nearly a month ago.
Here are some selected Yankees and Phillies team stats from the 2009 regular season, with league ranking:
New York Yankees
Runs: 915 (1st, 5.6/game)
HR: 244 (1st)
BA: .283 (2nd)
OBP: .362 (1st)
SLG: .478 (1st)
wOBA: .366 (1st)
Overall ERA: 4.26 (T-3rd); Starters: 4.48 (5th); Bullpen: 3.91 (5th)
ERA+: 104 (6th)
K/9: 7.82 (1st)
WHIP: 1.35 (T-2nd)
Runs: 820 (1st, 5.1/game)
HR: 224 (1st)
BA: .258 (9th)
OBP: .334 (8th)
SLG: .447 (1st)
wOBA: .340 (T-1st)
Overall ERA: 4.16 (6th); Starters: 4.29 (7th); Bullpen: 3.91 (9th)
ERA+: 103 (8th)
K/9: 7.13 (10th)
WHIP: 1.35 (6th)
And even though nine games apiece is a small sample size, we may as well take a look at what these two teams have done to get where they are today, so here are their 2009 postseason numbers:
New York Yankees
Runs: 48 (5.3/game)
Overall ERA: 2.46; Starters: 2.55; Bullpen: 2.28
Runs: 55 (6.1/game)
Overall ERA: 3.04; Starters: 3.11; Bullpen: 3.24
These are clearly two very evenly matched offensive teams, which is a feather in Philly's cap considering that they have an automatic out in the nine hole every three innings or so. It's a bit scary to think of what they could accomplish with a DH. The Yankees and the Phillies were the top two home run-hitting teams in their respective leagues, and given the friendly confines of both home ballparks, we could see a hefty number of longballs in the World Series. However, the Yankees' pitching staff has been astounding at keeping the ball in the park in the playoffs, yielding only three home runs to the opposition and a shocking zero at home.
Here is my position-by-position rundown, and I'm including 2009 postseason lines below the regular season slash lines this time to provide some additional context.
Phillies: Carlos Ruiz
.255/.355/.425; wOBA .337
Yankees: Jorge Posada
.285/.363/.522; wOBA .378
Jeff Mathis alert -- Carlos Ruiz is the type of scrubby player who for whatever reason seems to kill the Yankees . He had a great series against the Yanks in May, so they should be more than prepared for Ruiz this time around. Jorge Posada is still miles better than Ruiz, even if he has made a number of bizarre boneheaded moves this postseason. Additionally, one hopes that Girardi is finally ready to dispose of the Jose Molina experiment after the four-run first inning debacle in Game 5, especially since the Yankees will be DH-less on the road. Cabrera/Molina/pitcher in the 7/8/9 slots is nauseatingly awful.
Phillies: Ryan Howard
.279/.360/.571; wOBA .393
Yankees: Mark Teixeira
.292/.383/.565; wOBA .402
This match-up is even closer than Tex v. Kendry Morales. Everyone knows Ryan Howard is a beast, and is probably the most David Ortizian-type of hitter the Yankees will face this postseason. Tex seemed to be breaking out of his slow playoff start during the last few games of the ALCS, and has seemingly saved a ton of runs on the defensive side of the ball. The overall numbers give Big Tex a slight edge, but Howard is right there with him, and has been far more dangerous thus far in the playoffs.
Phillies: Chase Utley
.282/.397/.508; wOBA .402
Yankees: Robinson Cano
.320/.352/.520; wOBA .370
Chase Utley destroys Robbie Cano, and it's not even particularly close. Cano had a fine year, but he's just not in Utley's league. Still, second basemen like Chase Utley don't come around too often, and Cano's not exactly a slouch, either. Would love to see Robbie pick up the BA and SLG if possible, although he seems to be getting on base at a semi-reasonable clip.
Phillies: Jimmy Rollins
.250/.296/.423; wOBA .316
Yankees: Derek Jeter
.334/.406/.465; wOBA .390
Jimmy Rollins has to be one of the more overrated players in baseball. Allowing a .296 OBP to leadoff for an entire season should be a firable offense. Derek Jeter posted one of the best seasons of his hall-of-fame career and is one of two Yankees OPSing over 1.000 for the postseason.
Phillies: Pedro Feliz
.266/.308/.386; wOBA .302
Yankees: Alex Rodriguez
.286/.402/.532; wOBA .405
Yikes, this has to be the biggest mismatch on the field. Of course, now that I say that watch Feliz pull a Jeff Mathis. Kidding aside, A-Rod obviously crushes Feliz in every conceivable way possible. Additionally, Rodriguez -- who looks as locked in as I've ever seen him -- has effectively slain his postseason demons, probably should have been co-MVP of the ALCS, and may be the most feared hitter on either team right now.
Phillies: Raul Ibanez
.272/.347/.552; wOBA .379
Yankees: Johnny Damon
.282/.365/.489; wOBA .376
Ibanez started 2009 on an absolute tear and looked poised to post absurd full-season numbers. After an injury and steroid accusation, he cooled down from his torrid pace although still had a fantastic season, proving to be a great free-agent signing for the defending champion Phillies. Johnny Damon had a great year until cooling off in September and subsequently looking really bad in the ALDS before picking his game up slightly in the ALCS. He did pick up the biggest hit of Game 6, but that sub-.300 OBP is rough, and he'll need to improve on that if the Yankees are going to continue to win games.
Phillies: Shane Victorino
.292/.358/.445; wOBA .354
Yankees: Melky Cabrera
.274/.336/.416; wOBA .331
Melky, for all my dumping on him, has actually put together one of the better postseason lines in the Yankee lineup. Unfortunately for Melk, Shane Victorino not only smoked him in the regular season, but is hitting out of his mind in the playoffs.
Phillies: Jayson Werth
.268/.373/.506; wOBA .382
Yankees: Nick Swisher
.249/.371/.498; wOBA .375
After two series previews in which there was much hemming and hawing over my decision to give the right field nod to Nick Swisher, along comes a player who is not only better than Swish, but has also been as good in the playoffs as Swisher has been bad. Jayson Werth is one of four Phillies OPSing over 1.000 for the playoffs, and he'll continue to be one of the tougher outs in that lineup.
Phillies: Ben Francisco, Greg Dobbs, Matt Stairs
.278/.317/.526; wOBA .341, .247/.296/.383; wOBA .296, .194/.357/.379; wOBA .327
.000/.000/.000, .000/.000/.000, .000/.500/.000
Yankees: Hideki Matsui
.274/.367/.509; wOBA .378
This is probably a silly match-up to look at given that the Phillies have no comparable players, and I have no idea who Charlie Manuel will slot in as DH, but it seems like it would be one of these three. Regardless of who the Phils go with as their extra hitter, it's safe to say that Matsui is a more productive batter. My only concern with Godzilla is that he looked really uncomfortable in a number of his plate appearances in Anaheim, and didn't appear to be much better in Game 6 back in the Bronx, but hopefully these few days off will cure whatever ails him.
So our tally on the offense is Yankees: 4, Phillies: 4, Tie: 1
So again, we are obviously looking at two very evenly matched offensive ballclubs. While the Angels had arguably the 2nd- or 3rd-best offense in the American League, it doesn't quite match the thunder of Philadelphia's lineup, and extending the no-home-runs-surrendered-at-home streak is going to take yeoman's work on the part of the Yankee pitching staff. Of course, the 2009 Yankees aren't exactly offensive slouches themselves.
As you can see from the team stats I compiled much earlier in this post, the similarities between the Yankees and the Phillies extend to the pitching side of the equation as well. That being said, Philadelphia's rotation strikes me as a tad thin -- while Cliff Lee has been remarkable since being acquired from the Indians, Cole Hamels has apparently lost much of his dominant 2008 form which has incredibly led to the news that Pedro Martinez is starting Game 2 at Yankee Stadium, and 4th starter Joe Blanton is a perennial Yankee punching bag.
Of course, the Yankees only have three real starters themselves, but outside of A.J. Burnett's terrible 1st inning in Game 5 of the ALCS, they have received a quality start in every other postseason outing. ALCS MVP CC Sabathia in particular has been everything the Yankees could have hoped for after making him the richest pitcher in Major League Baseball last winter.
I'm admittedly not terribly familiar with Philly's pen, although I've heard it referred to as one of the Phillies' few weaknesses, and given closer Brad Lidge's on and off struggles (how did he manage to put up a 7.21 ERA while collecting 31 saves over 58.2 innings? That seems impossibly bad), I'd imagine the Yankees should be able to tag Philly relievers for runs the way they've been beating bullpens up all year.
Obviously the Yankee pen hasn't been quite as lockdown as was hoped prior to the postseason, with Phil Hughes' and Joba Chamberlain's struggles -- although perhaps Joba turned a corner after getting two big outs in the 7th inning of Game 6 -- but it's still been pretty excellent, authoring a 2.28 ERA and continuing to get legendary performances out of the ageless Mariano Rivera (0.84 ERA in 10.2 IP), whose six-out save in Game 6 was his all-time postseason-leading 37th.
Game 1: CC Sabathia (19-8, 3.37 ERA, 133 ERA+) v. Cliff Lee (7-4, 3.39, 126 ERA+)
Game 1's matchup of former Cy Young winners and Cleveland Indians teammates should be a treat for fans of a good old fashioned pitcher's duel. Sabathia has been absurdly good in the postseason as has Lee. The Yankees also haven't had much success against Lee since the switch went off two years ago and he seemingly magically became one of the best pitchers in baseball. Still, the Yankees should be able to get to Lee for at least a couple runs, and with the way Sabathia has been chucking the ball, that could be enough. As I said in Game 1 of the ALCS, this may very well be decided by the respective bullpens, and if so, I like the Yankees' chances of taking it down.
Game 2: A.J. Burnett (13-9, 4.04 ERA, 110 ERA+) v. Pedro Martinez (5-1, 3.63 ERA, 118 ERA+)
Unless Charlie Manuel knows something the rest of us don't, starting Pedro Martinez in Game 2 seems like a horrendous idea on his part, similar to Mike Scioscia going to Joe Saunders in both Games 2 and 6 in the ALCS. Scioscia coaxed a gem from Saunders in Game 2, but the magic pixie dust finally ran out by the end of the series, essentially dooming the Angels. As great as Pedro has been during his career, he is obviously nowhere near the Pedro of old, and it's not like the Yankees really had that much trouble handling him even when he was great. Pedro may have pitched respectably down the stretch, but he also got to face some light-hitting National League lineups, and the potent Yankee offense will not be as forgiving. I could see this one getting out of hand quickly, unless Burnett decides to crap the bed again.
Game 3: Andy Pettitte (14-8, 4.16 ERA, 107 ERA+) v. Cole Hamels (10-11, 4.32 ERA, 99 ERA+)
Hard to believe that last year's golden boy Cole Hamels was a below-average pitcher in 2009, but the numbers don't lie. Hamels pitched reasonably well in his one start against the Yankees in May 24, tossing 6 innings of two-run ball on eight hits while striking out five. Pettitte was OK against the Phils the day prior, hurling 7 innings of 4-run ball on 5 hits with five Ks of his own. Andy's been excellent in all three starts in the 2009 postseason, highlighted by the decisive Game 6 victory on Sunday that made him the winningest postseason pitcher of all time. Not to diminish what Hamels is capable of, but I think this matchup also favors the Yankees.
The Yankees haven't yet revealed their plans for Game 4, although it seems all but certain that Sabathia would pitch on short rest again. Additionally, you have to figure CC is champing at the bit to get some hacks in at Citizens Bank. If the Yankees decide to skip Chad Gaudin, which, given that he hasn't started in a month and the fact that this is the World Series and you want to give yourself the best possible chance to win with your best guys on the mound, they should almost certainly opt to do, the team will be running out A.J. Burnett on short rest for Game 5 if necessary, Pettitte on short rest for Game 6 and Sabathia on short rest once again for Game 7.
It appears the Phillies would counter with either Blanton (12-8, 4.05, 106 ERA+) or J.A. Happ (12-4, 2.93, 146 ERA+) in Game 4, while trotting out Lee on regular rest for Game 5. Starting Happ over Blanton would appear to be a no-brainer for the Phillies, especially since Happ fared well in his only career outing against the Yankees, throwing 6 innings of 2-run ball, although Happ didn't fare so well in his only start of the postseason while Blanton did, so it may not be as cut and dry as it appears.
So, for the last time in the 2009 season, what does all of this analysis tell us? On paper, the Yankees and Phillies are extremely evenly matched on offense, with the Phils hitting even better than the Yankees have through nine postseason games. The Yankees may lose some of their firepower having to play two and potentially three games in a National League ballpark, but hopefully the big bats will make having to bat a pitcher in the nine hole irrelevant. While I believe the numbers give the home team something like a small 52-48 edge, the Yankees having home field should work to their advantage, given the way the team has played at home all year and through October.
The Yankees also look to have the edge in both starting and relief pitching. As we've seen thus far in the postseason, the old "good pitching beats good hitting" maxim has held true throughout the Yankees' run to the crown, and if the Yankees continue to get great pitching performances, they should be able to beat the Phillies and beat them relatively quickly.
I'm a perfect 2-2 in predicting specific Yankee playoff outcomes in the 2009 postseason (not to mention I texted my brother right before the start of the bottom of the 4th in Game 6 to tell him that the Yankees would be tagging Saunders for exactly three runs that inning), so needless to say I feel pretty good about my prognosticating skills. I won't be so bold as to predict a sweep, as I expect the Phils' offense to power them to at least one win, but the Yankees are clearly the best team in baseball, with the best lineup and pitching staff the franchise has fielded in quite some time, and should be favored as such to win their 27th World Championship.
World Series prediction: Yankees, 4-2.
Other playoff previews
RAB: Phillies Starters | RAB: Phillies Infield | RLYW | FanGraphs | Bronx Banter | Pinstriped Bible Part 1 | Pinstriped Bible Part 2 | RAB: The Bullpen | RAB: The Outfield