October 28, 2009
World Series Prospectus
Yankees versus Phillies Preview
A year ago, the Phillies broke a 28-year-old title drought by winning the World Series, defeating the upstart Rays in five games. After winning 93 games in the regular season and tidily dispatching both the Rockies and the Dodgers in the first two rounds, they're back to defend their crown with a cast that's largely the same, save for summer acquisition Cliff Lee. They're the first NL team to repeat as pennant winners since the 1995-1996 Braves, and if they win the World Series, they'll be they first senior circuit club to do so since the 1975-1976 Reds.
Prior to this year's Phillies, the last club from either league to repeat as pennant winners was the 2000-2001 Yankees, and the last to repeat as World Champions was the 1999-2000 Yanks. With current pinstripers Derek Jeter, Andy Pettitte, Jorge Posada, Mariano Rivera, and manager Joe Girardi all hailing from that era, it's that legacy against which the current Yankees squad is inevitably measured. It's been six long years since the last of Joe Torre's pennant-winning teams reached the World Series, but after patching their major holes with over $400 million to free agents CC Sabathia, A.J. Burnett, and Mark Teixeira, this year's Yankees did what their recent predecessors could not. After winning an MLB-best 103 games, they swept the Twins and outlasted the Angels, getting the Rally Monkey off their backs in the two teams' third playoff meeting of the decade while also chasing away a few ghosts remaining from their 2004 ALCS collapse.
The two teams' shared history is rather ancient, but at least somewhat revealing. They squared off in 1950, when the "Whiz Kid" Phillies-led by Richie Ashburn, Del Ennis, Robin Roberts, and Jim Konstanty-emerged from decades in the doldrums to reach the Fall Classic for the first time since 1915. Alas, they ran smack dab into the heart of a Yankee dynasty that, under Casey Stengel, was en route to the second of five straight World Championships. The Yankees prevailed in a four-game sweep that was actually quite close, with the first three contests all one-run squeakers that generated a total of nine runs.
More recently, the two teams met for a late-May series in the Bronx. The Phillies took two out of three, with the Yankees rallying for three runs in the ninth against Brad Lidge, two on an Alex Rodriguez homer, for their sole win. The Phils overcame a strong eight-inning performance by CC Sabathia to win the rubber match in 11 innings.
Yankees AVG/ OBP/ SLG EqA VORP SS-R Derek Jeter .334/.406/.465 .309 68.1 LF-L Johnny Damon .282/.365/.489 .297 35.5 1B-S Mark Teixeira .292/.383/.565 .317 50.2 3B-R Alex Rodriguez .286/.402/.532 .319 48.8 DH-L Hideki Matsui .274/.367/.509 .298 29.8 C-S Jorge Posada .285/.363/.522 .301 33.0 2B-L Robinson Cano .320/.352/.520 .292 45.9 RF-S Nick Swisher .249/.371/.498 .299 27.5 CF-S Melky Cabrera .274/.336/.416 .266 14.0 Phillies AVG/ OBP/ SLG EqA VORP SS-S Jimmy Rollins .250/.296/.423 .251 19.7 CF-S Shane Victorino .292/.358/.445 .281 38.3 2B-L Chase Utley .282/.397/.508 .315 62.2 1B-L Ryan Howard .279/.360/.571 .308 48.3 RF-R Jayson Werth .268/.373/.506 .301 43.3 DH-L Raul Ibaņez .272/.347/.552 .298 38.9 3B-R Pedro Feliz .266/.308/.366 .240 4.0 C-R Carlos Ruiz .255/.355/.425 .270 15.8 LF-R Ben Francisco* .257/.332/.447 .274 13.0 * Full-season statistics
Given that both of these offenses led their respective leagues in scoring, and did so with a good deal of brute force, one can expect offensive fireworks in this World Series. The Yankees led the majors in both scoring (5.65 runs per game) and home runs (244), tying for second in the AL by plating 41 percent of their runs via the long ball. The Phillies paced the NL at 5.06 runs per game and 224 homers, producing a major league-high 45 percent of their runs via homers. Hitter-friendly ballparks certainly played a part in elevating some of those numbers; the brand new Yankee Stadium increased home runs by 25 percent relative to a neutral park, though it severely curtailed doubles and triples so much that it was more or less neutral for scoring. Citizens Bank Park increased home runs by about four percent and doubles by seven percent.
Even after adjusting for park, we're left with the teams that ranked first and fourth in the majors in EqA, though the gap between the Yankees' .286 mark and the Phillies' .272 mark is larger than that between the Phils and the majors' 17th-ranked team, the Padres. The major difference in that category ultimately comes down to patience and the results on balls in play. Removing pitchers and intentional walks from the equation, the Yankees drew unintentional passes in 9.8 percent of their plate appearances, third in the majors, while the Phillies did so in 8.8 percent, which ranked 11th. Meanwhile, the Yankees' .306 BABIP ranked seventh in the majors, the Phillies' .286 ranked 27th.
These Bronx Bombers wield potent bats up and down the lineup. As a team they fell two points of batting average shy of leading the majors in all three triple-slash categories, hitting .283/.362/.478. Every Yankee starter except for Cabrera hit at least 18 homers, slugged at least .465 and posted an OBP of at least .352. With a lineup that regularly employs four switch-hitters, they preyed on both lefties (.286/.365/.480, for the top team OPS in the majors) and righties (.282/.360/.476, ditto) with virtually equal effectiveness. Notable among the platoon splits are the fact that lefties Cano (.309/.335/.541) and Matsui (.282/.358/.618) both hit quite well against southpaws, with the latter posting a reverse split for the first time since 2005; he has just a 35-point OPS advantage against righties over the course of his stateside career. Of the switch-hitters, Cabrera is the only one with more than about a 25-point OPS difference against lefties and righties over the course of his career, and even he was nearly dead even this year. Thus far in the postseason, the Yankee lineup had a fair bit more success against lefties (.276/.368/.441) than righties (.258/.333/.448), which bodes well against the lefty-stacked Phillies rotation.
The real question is to what extent the lineup's various streaks and slumps will continue to play out over the course of the series. As you may have heard, Rodriguez (.438/.548/.969 with five homers) is absolutely locked in at the moment, riding an 11-game postseason hitting streak and with an RBI in every game this fall except one. He and Jeter (.297/.435/.595) have been doing the bulk of the heavy lifting while Teixeira (.205/.273/.308) and Swisher (.125/.222/.156, including 1-for-19 against righties) in particular have struggled. The Yankees as a unit have had difficulty delivering with men in scoring position this fall, batting just .222/.381/.370, though as their OBP shows, they've at least prolonged innings and worn out pitchers.
As for the Phillies, they're bombers too. They ran away with the league lead in long balls (34 more than the second-ranked Rockies) and topped the league in slugging percentage (.447), but they ranked just seventh in OBP (.334) and ninth in batting average (.258). Howard, Werth, Ibaņez, and Utley became the 12th quartet in major league history where all four men reached 30 homers in the same season. Despite becoming pull-happy to the detriment of his batting average and OBP, Rollins added 21 dingers as well.
The meat of their lineup tilts heavily to the left, though the difference between the unit's overall performance against righties (.262/.334/.445) and lefties (.248/.335/.452) was rather minimal in the regular season, driven by BABIP. In the postseason, it's been another matter; the lineup has punished righties (.296/.394/.517 clip), but struggled to get hits against southpaws (.194/.322/.444), although those hits have loomed large. Howard exemplifies this trend. A monster against righties (.319/.395/.691 this year), but a mouse against lefties (.207/.298/.356) during the regular season, he's riding a 9-for-20 stretch with a 1350 OPS against northpaws this October, and just 2-for-11, albeit with a 950 OPS, against southpaws thanks to two maximum-impact hits in the LCS, a two-run double and a two-run homer. At the other end of the spectrum, while Werth's lefty-mashing skill (.302/.436/.644) exceeds his prowess against righties (.256/.347/.457), he's 8-for-26 with four homers and a triple against the latter this postseason, and just 1-for-6 against southpaws. As for the rest of the lineup, their splits aren't so extreme. Victorino, who has been a terror (.361/.439/.722) this fall, hit better against lefties than righties during the regular season, in line with his career trend. Utley and Ibaņez broke from recent trends to show reverse platoon splits, as did Rollins, who hit a bit better against righties than lefties. That trio has all underperformed thus far during this postseason, though for Utley (.303/.439/.394), it's merely a lack of power that's a concern.
When the series is at Yankee Stadium, the Phillies will have the benefit of adding an extra bat to the lineup. Manager Charlie Manuel has already tipped his hand, announcing that Ibaņez, nursing a minor abdominal tear, will be the designated hitter in Game One, with Francisco taking his place in the field. In Game Two against the right-handed Burnett, Ibaņez will return to left, with Matt Stairs or Greg Dobbs DHing.
For all the power they bring to the plate, both teams can run. The Phillies, whose first-base coach is high-percentage basestealer extraordinaire Davey Lopes, ranked second in the league in steals (119) and were successful 81 percent of the time, by far the league's top mark, though the net gain of that was just 2.7 runs according to EqSBR, in part because they were just 21-for-29 stealing third base. Four players swiped at least 20 bags, and all were successful at least 75 percent of the time: Rollins was 31-for-39, Victorino 25-for-33, Utley a perfect 23-for-23 (a modern record for steals in a season without being caught), and Werth 20-for-23. Even Howard was 8-for-9 Thus far this fall, they're 6-for-8, with Utley and Victorino each swiping a pair, and the unlikely duo of Ruiz and Cliff Lee each adding one. As for the Yankees, they stole 111 bases (which ranked just seventh) and were successful 80 percent of the time, netting 3.9 runs according to EqSBR-edging out the Phillies because they went 12-for-13 stealing third and were caught fewer times on swing-and-miss stolen base attempts, mostly broken hit-and-run plays. Jeter (30-for-35) and Brett Gardner (26-for-31) led the club in steals, but Rodriguez (14-for-16), Damon (12-for-12) and Cabrera (10-for-12) were quite efficient when they chose to run. Thus far in the postseason, they're 3-for-6, with Rodriguez, Posada and Gardner swiping successfully. The latter has also been caught twice, with all of his attempts coming as a pinch-runner.
Yankees AVG/ OBP/ SLG EqA VORP CF-L Brett Gardner .270/.345/.379 .271 10.1 UT-R Jerry Hairston Jr. .251/.315/.394 .251 4.8 @ 3B* 4C-L Eric Hinske .242/.348/.432 .277 3.1 @ PH* C-R Jose Molina .217/.292/.268 .203 -6.2 *: Combined full-season stats Phillies AVG/ OBP/ SLG EqA VORP OF-L Matt Stairs .194/.357/.379 .261 1.4 C-L Paul Bako .224/.308/.336 .232 -1.6 4C-L Greg Dobbs .247/.296/.383 .238 -0.7 @ PH UT-R Eric Bruntlett .171/.224/.238 .170 -9.3 @ PH
After drawing just one plate appearance during the Division Series, the Yankees' bench saw more action in the LCS, mainly as a function of extra-inning games; they went a combined 4-for-10 in their limited duty, with Hairston singling and scoring the winning run in Game Two. This isn't to laud Girardi, who's demonstrated a severe case of managerial shpilkes in the postseason-that's Yiddish for "ants in the pants" for those without a Jewish grandmother within arm's reach. The Yankee manager has deployed Gardner and Freddy Guzman as pinch-runners a combined eight times thus far to no great effect; they've scored two runs while going 1-for-3 in steals (all Gardner). Gardner certainly has his uses as a hitter and a defensive replacement as well, but Guzman is the kind of toy who gets a manager into trouble; he certainly did in his two LCS appearances. Thus it comes as some relief that he's been replaced on the roster by Hinske, who's capable of providing some pop in the pinch.
Girardi has also invited controversy while hamstringing his lineup in order to pair Molina with A.J. Burnett; baserunners are 3-for-3 against the supposedly defensively superior backup backstop, with Burnett uncorking two wild pitches to make him earn his paycheck. In the manager's defense, he's been quick to swap in Posada once Burnett departs, so Molina has just four plate appearances across three starts. Girardi will likely do the same for Burnett's starts in the World Series as well, though the removal of third-string backstop Francisco Cervelli from the roster in favor of Brian Bruney would eliminate the option of pinch-running for Posada late in those games.
As noted in the NLCS preview, this Phillies bench isn't quite as useful as last year's, mainly because Manuel has gone with a more set lineup. They've gone a combined 0-for-15 with two walks thus far in the postseason, though they've produced a pair of notable moments. Francisco had an impressive eighth-inning catch in the deciding game of the Division Series, and Stairs drew a walk against Jonathan Broxton in the ninth-inning rally that turned the NLCS in the Phillies' favor in Game Four. Both will get their chances to be factors in this series, with Francisco starting in left field in Game One and serving as Ibaņez's defensive caddy and a potential pinch-hitter or pinch-runner elsewhere. Stairs still has patience as well as some remnant of his former game-breaking power, and will likely DH against his former Jays teammate Burnett in Game Two, and pinch-hit elsewhere; he went 13-for-62 with five homers and 15 RBI in 79 pinch-hitting appearances off the bench this year, and is a career .268/.377/.508 hitter with 19 dingers in that role.
As for the rest, Dobbs no longer owns a share of a third-base platoon with Feliz, but could find himself DHing at some point in this series. He went just 9-for-54 in the pinch this year, though he still owns a career .276/.332/.452 line in that capacity. Bruntlett played seven positions this year, and though he didn't hit a lick, he's fast enough to be a useful pinch-runner, unlike the de-rostered Miguel Cairo. Bako is living proof that the best kind of backup catcher to have in the postseason is one who never plays.
Yankees IP ERA SNLVAR SNWP LHP CC Sabathia 230.0 3.37 6.4 .582 RHP A.J. Burnett 207.0 4.04 4.7 .529 LHP Andy Pettitte 194.2 4.16 4.2 .520 RHP Chad Gaudin* 147.1 4.64 2.2 .472 Phillies IP ERA SNLVAR SNWP LHP Cliff Lee* 231.2 3.22 7.4 .605 RHP Pedro Martinez 44.2 3.63 1.3 .536 LHP Cole Hamels 193.2 4.32 3.8 .502 RHP Joe Blanton 195.1 4.05 4.3 .520 LHP J.A. Happ 166.0 2.93 5.1 .601 *: Combined full-season statistics
Thanks to the ridiculous number of days off built into the schedule, the Yankees reached the World Series by relying on just a three-man rotation. The word on the street is that they'll likely continue to do so, but that introduces a new wrinkle: while up to this point only Sabathia has needed to start on three days' rest, the three-man plan requires each starter to do so for his second turn of the series, and Sabathia for his third turn as well if the series gets to a Game Seven. The Phillies are leaning towards matching Sabathia with Lee in all three starts-dark days for Indians general manager Mark Shapiro, to be sure-but given their depth and their various pitchers' limitations, they're unlikely to maintain the power trio act. The options for the two clubs thus look something like this (days rest in parentheses):
Game 1: Sabathia (7) v. Lee (9)
Despite the plans, the overall postseason numbers for pitchers on three days' in the postseason during the Wild Card Era aren't terribly encouraging: 86 starts, an average of just 5.4 innings per start, a 4.59 ERA, a 21-34 record for the starters, and more importantly a 31-55 record (a .360 winning percentage) for their teams. Perhaps because of that lack of success, the tactic has largely gone out of style, with just 10 of those starts coming over the past five postseasons, including Sabathia's start in Game Four of the LCS, when he held the Angels to one run in eight innings on just 101 pitches.
The Yankees' trio has a good deal of experience on short rest, though drawing conclusions from their small sample sizes is as hazardous as in any other endeavor. Sabathia famously went 2-1 with an 0.83 ERA in three consecutive short-rest starts for the Brewers at the end of the 2008 regular season, though he went a bridge too far and was bombed by the Phillies in Game Two of the Division Series, his fourth straight such start. While he wasn't ridden as hard during the regular season this year, his innings total to date is one out shy of what it was going into last year's postseason thrashing. That aside, between the regular season and postseason, he's 4-2 in six starts with a 2.11 ERA and an average of 6.4 innings per start on three days rest. Though Pettitte hasn't pitched on short rest at all since 2006, he has such 20 career starts, including six in the postseason; he's 7-8 with a 3.93 ERA and an average of 6.4 innings. Burnett is a tidy 4-0 with a 2.33 ERA and 6.8 innings per start in such situations, all in the regular season, with three of them with the Blue Jays last year.
As for Lee, he's in uncharted territory, having never started in the majors on three days' rest. Neither, for that matter, has Hamels, Blanton, or Happ. Martinez did so only in the 1999 postseason opener, but departed after four scoreless frames due to a back strain. Since Manuel was notably resistant to the idea of Hamels going on three days' rest last fall, it's extremely unlikely he'll do so here, which means that the Phils will likely deploy either Happ or Blanton in Game Five, leaving Martinez to make two starts in the Bronx. The new stadium notwithstanding, he's no stranger there, but he's a different pitcher from in his Red Sox heyday, and facing the Yankee lineup in that bandbox on a chilly night carries a higher degree of difficulty than facing the Dodgers on a bluebird day in Chavez Ravine.
Beyond worrying about days of rest, the Yankees are here in large part because they've gotten outstanding work from the trio in question: a 2.55 ERA, a 3.0 K/BB ratio, and eight quality starts out of nine. They've smothered lefties in the postseason (.162/.240/.221), but righties have had more success against them (.245/.288/.358), primarily on Burnett's watch (.290/.405/.452). That's consistent with Burnett's recent history; he showed a 160-point reverse platoon split this year, and a 36-point one from 2006-2008. If he can't rediscover the groove he found in his first two postseason starts, Werth and the lesser Philly righties could rake him over the coals. Also worth noting: the Yanks had Gaudin throw an extended bullpen session on Tuesday in order to stretch him out for a potential 80-90 pitch start if the Yanks pull an about-face and hand him the ball for Games Four or Five.
The Phillies have gotten a 3.11 ERA and a 4.6 K/BB from their starters thus far in the postseason, but it's been a case of the good, the bad, and the ugly. They've gotten just four quality starts out of nine, one from Martinez and three from Lee, who's rebounded from a late-season funk to put up a 0.74 ERA, making Ruben Amaro Jr. look very smart for shifting gears on a potential trade for Roy Halladay. As for Hamels, while the differences between his 2008 and 2009 regular-season performances were, as Matt Swartz found, largely a matter of fluctuation in his BABIP allowed, he simply hasn't pitched up to his capabilities lately, with a 6.75 ERA through three starts, and a string of six straight non-quality starts since September 23. Lefty hitters are 9-for-15 with three homers against him in the postseason, a small but extremely ouchy sample size. Blanton and Happ have made just one start each while pitching mainly out of the bullpen; the veteran right kept the Phillies in NLCS Game Four with a six-inning, four-run effort, while the rookie southpaw lasted just three innings in a Division Series start after scuffling down the stretch, with a 4.83 ERA and zero quality starts after August 27.
Yankees IP ERA WXRL rFRA* RHP Mariano Rivera 66.1 1.76 6.03 1.80 RHP Philip Hughes 86.0 3.03 3.84 1.27 LHP Phil Coke 60.0 4.50 1.82 4.32 RHP Alfredo Aceves 84.0 3.54 2.52 3.44 RHP Joba Chamberlain 157.1 4.75 2.00** 5.38*** RHP Brian Bruney 39.0 3.92 1.57 4.94 RHP David Robertson 43.2 3.30 0.18 4.67 LHP Damaso Marte 13.1 9.45 -0.05 7.19 Phillies IP ERA WXRL rFRA* RHP Brad Lidge 58.2 7.21 -3.26 8.44 RHP Ryan Madson 77.1 3.26 2.32 3.08 LHP Scott Eyre 30.0 1.50 1.55 2.17 RHP Chan Ho Park 83.1 4.43 2.13 3.00 RHP Brett Myers 70.2 4.84 0.40 4.52 RHP Chad Durbin 69.2 4.39 0.95 4.96 LHP Antonio Bastardo 23.2 6.46 -0.10** 7.06*** *: Relief-only FRA **: SNLVAR *** Starter-only FRA
The Yankee bullpen led the league in WXRL by a whopping 4.4 wins, a testament not only to Rivera's league-leading performance but to the fine work of Hughes (10th), Aceves (18th), and Coke (26th) and the deft touch of Girardi, who for the second year in a row crafted a solid setup corps out of largely unheralded parts. The move of Hughes to the bullpen in early June was arguably the turning point of the season; he put up a 1.40 ERA while striking out 11.4 per nine with a 5.0 K/BB ratio, getting four or more outs in more than a third of his appearances.
Alas, with the exception of Rivera, those principals' performances in the postseason have been considerably shakier, Girardi included, and the addition of Chamberlain to their ranks hasn't helped. Hughes, Chamberlain, and Aceves have combined to yield 20 hits, five walks and 10 strikeouts in 10
Nonetheless, this is still a very solid bullpen, at least from the right side. All of them are capable of missing plenty of bats, including Bruney, who was left off of the roster in the first two rounds, and Robertson, though Girardi's reluctance to call the latter's number is somewhat dismaying given the kid's stuff (13.0 K/9). The two lefties are a shakier proposition; Coke held lefties to a .195/.218/.366 line in the regular season, but putting him in the line of fire to face Howard and Utley won't be anyone's calmest moment of the series. Marte missed most of the year due to shoulder woes, but in what little time he did pitch he held lefties to a 3-for-25 performance amid torchings by righties. At the end of the line is Rivera, arguably the greatest reliever of all time and the greatest postseason performer as well; he's got a 0.77 ERA and a 104/19 K/BB ratio through 128 postseason innings, having allowed just two homers, none since 2000. For all of Girardi's shpilkes, he hasn't hesitated to go to Mo for more than three outs when given the chance, using him for longer than that in four out of eight appearances this fall. Rivera's been up to the task, saving three games (including both clinchers), yielding just one run, and stranding seven out of eight inherited baserunners. Given the reverse platoon split produced by his cut fastball-81 points of OPS over the course of his career-you can guarantee he'll get the call in the eighth inning of any game in which the Phillies' big lefty boppers come calling.
By contrast, the Phillies' bullpen still rates as something of a concern despite Manuel's successful navigation through the first two rounds. After converting every save opportunity en route to a World Championship last year, Lidge blew 11 saves and set a record for the lowest single-season WXRL. He's had five scoreless outings this fall, allowing just one hit, largely because Manuel has worked him with an eye towards situational matchups, calling upon Eyre to start the ninth inning against lefties twice. A healthier knee and the reintroduction of a cut fastball into his repertoire appear to be helping as well.
Madson, the team's top set-up man, has been knocked around a bit this fall and has yet to pitch multiple innings, though he's whiffed 12 in six frames. Park, the team's second most effective reliever after moving from the rotation-he whiffed 9.4 per nine in that capacity during the regular season-was shaky in the last round after returning from a hamstring strain, yielding runs in two of his four appearances. Myers, whom he replaced on the roster, returns to the roster for this round after dealing with a lat strain; he's been largely uneffective in his eight relief appearances (one in the Division Series) since his midsummer hip surgery, allowing 14 of the 35 hitters he's face to reach base while striking out just four, and pitching in back-to-back games just once. Durbin's a lower-leverage righty who walks far too many hitters for his own good (5.8 UIBB/9), though he's held hitters to an 0-for-12 showing in five postseason appearances. Eyre, the top lefty due to J.C. Romero's absence, doesn't stifle lefties to quite the extent of most specialists (.240/.321/.396 career), nor does he miss many bats. He's been tagged for six hits in 2
The Yankees ranked third in the AL in Defensive Efficiency (.697) and fifth in PADE (-0.39), with both of those figures marked improvements over 2008. The FRAA, UZR, and Plus/Minus figures are all over the map for this unit-moreso than most clubs, it appears-but Jeter and Cano both come in above average in two metrics out of three. At least as far as the captain goes, that's a bit of a surprise, but the conditioning work he's done to improve his mobility does show up in the numbers. Teixeira, oddly, doesn't score above average in any of those metrics, but the upgrade he provided over Jason Giambi was nonetheless worth about a win in the field, and likewise with the upgrade from Bobby Abreu to Swisher. Rodriguez is the weakest link in the infield, understandable because of his hip surgery, and Damon, with his chicken wing, is the soft spot in the outfield, though it's worth noting that baserunners don't appear to be testing Cabrera's arm much anymore. Posada and Molina both threw out 28 percent of would-be base thieves, just a few whiskers above average, with the regular rating as one of the majors' worst in blocking pitches in the dirt. Look for the Phillies to be aggressive on the basepaths, particularly given Lopes' keen eye.
The Phillies ranked sixth in the league in both Defensive Efficiency (.694) and PADE (0.32). Feliz and Utley both rated above average via all three metrics, though the latter airmailed a couple of throws in the NLCS which suggested he may be nursing an injury. Meanwhile Rollins and Howard wound up a couple of runs above average in UZR but below average in the other two. In the outfield, Werth, who's a strong enough fielder to spot in center, rates above average across the board but
Over the course of a 162-game season, Girardi showed improvement over his first year as the Yankees manager, promoting a looser atmosphere around the club, repairing a damaged relationship with the media, and of course getting back to the playoffs, which is job one with this franchise. Over the course of a short series, however, he's had trouble staying out of his own way, getting far too attached to small-ball tactics, overmanaging both his bench and his bullpen, and creating controversy with his choice of catchers. In the grand scheme, it hasn't mattered all that much given that the Yankees are 7-2, but both losses to the Angels particularly bore his stamp. That said, during the postseason, he's taken advantage of the schedule to distribute as many innings as possible among his top pitchers, stripping his rotation down to a three-man core and maximizing his use of Rivera. That's a trait that can win you a championship.
As noted before, Manuel won't draw comparisons to Tony La Russa for tactical acumen or Lou Piniella for dramatic flair, but with consecutive pennants and a World Championship now under his belt, he's quieted his critics. In contrast to Girardi, Joe Torre, Mike Scioscia, Terry Francona, and the other dearly departed skippers who monopolized TBS just a couple of weeks ago, Manuel has neatly stayed out of his own way. He hasn't turned to self-defeating small-ball tactics even in close ballgames, hasn't shied from an early hook even when it comes to Hamels, and has worked his way around his shaky bullpen by playing matchups instead of set roles, all the while working to re-instill confidence in his fallen closer. A few weeks ago, his decision to stick with Lidge looked like madness, but Manuel's low-pressure style may yet produce a better result than all of the Piniella tantrums put together.
PredictionThis series could certainly go either way given the collections of frontline talent on these two teams, but in the end, it appears a number of factors favor the Yankees: the depth of their lineup, the experience of their rotation in working on three days' rest, the way their lefty starters match up with the Phillies' lefty hitters and vice versa, and ultimately Rivera. Yankees in six.