The Philadelphia Phillies return to Yankee Stadium tonight for the first time since losing the 2009 World Series to the Yankees in Game 6 last November 4.
The two teams have of course added and subtracted a wide variety of players from their rosters since that time, although most of the major players have remained the same. Philly's big score of the offseason was landing Roy Halladay (albeit at the expense of the equally excellent Cliff Lee), who has dominated the Yankees -- along with the rest of the league -- for most of his career.
A lot has been made about Philly's struggle to score runs of late, and the team seems to be falling backwards, having slid into third place after holding down first place in the early part of the season. Even with a scoring drought, Philly still boasts as scary a lineup as any in the National League and I'm sure they'll score their share of runs during the three-game set.
In tonight's contest, Roy Halladay (1.96 ERA; 2.26 FIP; 2.90 xFIP), also known as The Best Pitcher in Baseball and the Yankees' kryptonite, takes on CC Sabathia (4.01 ERA; 4.34 FIP; 3.92 xFIP). Halladay is somehow 4th in the Majors in ERA despite being under 2.00(!), has the 3rd-best FIP in the league and the best xFIP in all of baseball. Halladay has also held the Yankees to a .239/.289/.367 line over 247.1 innings during his career and has 18 wins against New York, more than every other team in baseball except the Orioles.
Sabathia had a rough May and hasn't quite turned the corner yet -- although I still have all the confidence in the world in the big man -- and so this is the one game the Phillies have the best chance of taking. As the stats indicate, the Yankees almost never get to Halladay, and I'd be shocked if they were able to plate even two runs off the good doctor. Sabathia will have to pitch the best game of his season to beat the Phils, and even that might not be good enough. Expect the Phils to take this one.
In the second game, Kyle Kendrick (4.80 ERA; 4.80 FIP; 4.84 xFIP) faces A.J. Burnett (3.86 ERA; 4.24 FIP; 4.43 xFIP). In a bizarre statistical twist, Kendrick is the rare pitcher who appears to be exactly as bad as his numbers indicate. Since I've been doing these series previews (which admittedly hasn't been for all that long), I hadn't come across a starter whose FIP was identical to his ERA. And his xFIP is only 0.04 higher! The numbers suggest a pitcher the Yankees should have no trouble teeing off on.
Burnett has surrendered 10 earned runs over his last 12 2/3 innings, so one would think he's due for a reasonable start. I actually saw Burnett face the Phils at Yankee Stadium twice last year -- the first time he tossed up an absolute stinker, and the second time was the best start of his Yankee career, in Game 2 of the World Series -- and will be attending this game as well.
And Jamie Moyer (5.03 ERA; 4.91 FIP; 4.80 xFIP) opposes Andy Pettitte (2.46 ERA; 3.73 FIP; 4.08 xFIP) in the finale. Moyer was pathetic in his last start against the Red Sox which drove his ERA up by more than one full run. If Boston had such an easy time of it against Moyer, the Yanks should crush him.
And even if the Yanks can't pound Moyer, they'll have arguably their best pitcher working to keep Philly's bats at bay in Pettitte. Per Yankees.com, Pettitte is 2-2 with a 3.67 ERA in seven regular season starts against the Phillies. Pettitte of course also earned two more victories against Philly in last year's World Series, including the clinching Game 6.
Here's how the Yanks have fared against the Phillies in the regular season historically:
I really don't remember any of the regular season games prior to last year, when they went 1-2 and were almost swept if not for some late-inning heroics in the middle game. They were poised to come from behind in the third game of last May's three-game set, forcing extra innings in the bottom of the 9th, but couldn't quite pull it off.
Here are the two teams' offense and pitching numbers:
The Yankees scored 22 runs over the weekend yet somehow their team wOBA stayed exactly the same. Boston is back nipping at their heels, with a .358 wOBA. The Phils' vaunted offense has been slowed of late, and right now they're middle-of-the-pack if not in the bottom third of the National League in team slash stats.
The Phillies' pitching also appears to be fairly underwhelming (with the obvious exception of Halladay), although they apparently walk the fewest batters of any team in the NL. The Yankees' pitching staff remains a strong suit, and should present a challenge for the slumping Philadelphia bats.
On paper it looks like the Yankees should take 2 of 3, but it could very easily go the other way. I doubt either team sweeps the other, especially since Halladay winning tomorrow is pretty much the closest thing to a sure bet there is in professional sports.