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October 27, 2009

World Series Prospectus

Four Keys

by Baseball Prospectus

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Philadelphia Phillies

1. Do Not Overestimate Brad Lidge

Charlie Manuel was criticized for much of the regular season for his reliance upon Brad Lidge in spite of the closer's horrid season. When the playoffs rolled around, Manuel broke from this mold and began to manage heavily based on matchups-if a lefty hitter was scheduled to lead off an inning, Scott Eyre would toe the rubber late. Perhaps Lidge would then enter the game when a righty stepped to the plate, but the Phils' skipper exhibited an understanding-even if it was directly related to Lidge's struggles-that matchups matter just as much in the final frame as they do in the seventh inning. Over the last several games, Lidge has escaped the ninth inning without allowing a run, racking up three saves without one blown, but this does not mean he has pitched particularly well. Sure, he has looked better than he did in the regular season, but it would be difficult to look any worse, and Charlie Manuel cannot suddenly cease utilizing his bullpen in a matchup-based capacity because Lidge struck out Mark Loretta and induced a Ronnie Belliard fly out. Lidge might be his guy to record the final out of the game, but any platoon advantages the Phillies can gain with Happ or Eyre on the mound must be exploited.

2. Run on Jorge

One of the huge advantages for the Angels entering the ALCS was their ability to run. Despite a poor success rate of stealing bases, it made sense that playing several games with the weak-armed Jorge Posada behind the plate could help their chances. They failed to take advantage-you can't steal first base-but it's a spot the Phillies must use to their fullest capacity in this series. The 2007-09 Phillies are the most efficient base-stealing team in major league history-thanks in particular to first-base coach Davey Lopes-and now is no time to stop. Rollins, Werth, Utley, and Victorino all stole more than 20 bases this season, Ben Francisco swiped 14 bags as an Indian and Phillie, and Ryan Howard even added eight of his own. Andy Pettitte and his dynamite pick-off move could throw a wrench in these plans, but the Phillies need to remain aggressive and continue to play the type of baseball they played to get here.

3. DH Availability ≠ Leaving Starters in Longer

At least the first two games of the Fall Classic will be held in NuYankee Stadium, which means employing the designated hitter. Pitchers will not have to bat, meaning they will not have to be pinch-hit for. However, this does not give Manuel a free pass to leave his starting pitchers in longer. The Phillies will be carrying a seven-man bullpen before even factoring in starters Joe Blanton and J.A. Happ. The big bullpen is constructed as such for a purpose-if Pedro or Cole Hamels struggle, Manuel cannot sit back and let them "figure it out" simply because they do not have to bat during the game.

4. Cliff Lee's Durability

Lee and Sabathia are each slated to pitch in Games One, Four, and Seven. Lee has been a workhorse all season long, and his aggregate innings pitched total of 231⅔ ranked fifth in MLB, just 1⅔ frames ahead of Sabathia. Factor in his post-season workload, and Lee has never been called on to log this many innings in a single season. He's being asked to serve as the Phillies' rotation anchor, and he's the one guy the team can truly rely upon because of the question marks surrounding Pedro Martinez and Cole Hamels. Talent-wise, he is certainly up for the task, but can he hold up over the remaining 18-24 innings the Phillies will need him to throw? If they end up staking him a big lead in one of the starts, it might behoove Manuel to implement a "six and out" strategy early in the Series.

-Eric Seidman

New York Yankees

1. Will the Yankees hit with runners in scoring position?

During the ALCS, the Yankees did their usual fine job of getting on base, drawing 38 walks in just six games, but they faltered when they had to drive those runners home. Whereas in the regular season the Yankees hit .272/.370/.433 with runners in scoring position-rates within hailing distance of their overall .283/.362/.478-they batted only .222/.381/.370 in such situations against the Angels. Twenty of their walks came with runners aboard, which should have led to big innings. Instead, the batters kept passing the torch until someone dropped it.

2. Can Alex Rodriguez keep being Superman, and can the Yankees provide him with some Super Friends?

Rodriguez ended the regular season with a two-homer, seven-RBI day, and seems to have carried the afterglow of that with him into the postseason. Philadelphia's lefty-leaning starting pitching and power-friendly ballpark will give him some more chances to be heroic-and he is 5-for-15 with two homers against Cliff Lee in the regular season-but to win the Yankees will need slumping switch-hitters Mark Teixeira, Jorge Posada (10 runners stranded in Game Six), and Nick Swisher to take some pressure off of the big man.

3. Can Joe Girardi restrain himself?

A relatively conservative manager during the regular season, Girardi went hog wild in the ALCS, making pitching changes as if he had a 40-man staff, going bunt-happy, and compulsively pinch-running. Many of these moves were counterproductive, leading to outs on the bases, and leaving the Yankees undermanned in the late innings of close games; if Freddy Guzman gets an at-bat in a playoff game, his manager has failed. Should Girardi play the hyperactive, overly fastidious neat-freak to Charlie Manuel's laid-back slob, this battle of the Odd Couple will go to Philadelphia's benefit.

4. Does CC Sabathia have three starts left in the tank?

After his last start, Sabathia is up to 252⅔ total innings pitched for the regular campaign and the postseason. While it is dangerous to read too much into any one game, it was at the same innings total last year that Sabathia, appearing fatigued, met the Phillies in the NLDS and was soundly thrashed. The big southpaw will have to fight cold weather, a difficult lineup growing more familiar with him with each start, and the nearly 4,000 pitches he's already thrown this season.

-Steven Goldman

A version of this story originally appeared on ESPN Insider Insider.

13 comments have been left for this article.

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