Matchup: Rays (97-65) at Phillies (92-70), 8:29 p.m. ET, FOX
Probable Starters: Matt Garza (184
Pythagorean Record: Tampa Bay, 92-70 (774 RS, 671 RA); Philadelphia, 93-69 (799 RS, 680 RA)
Hit List Rankings: Tampa Bay, #3; Philadelphia, #6
Series Favorite: Phillies, 55.6% (Tied 1-1)
Prospectus: The Rays and Phillies head to the City of Brotherly Love on track to bring the nation a World Series lasting longer than five games for the first time since 2003. Tonight (or tomorrow night, if the forecasted rain delays proceedings) is the proverbial swing game: after a 1-1 tie, the team that won Game Three went on to take the World Series in 34 out of 51 years, exactly two-thirds of the time. One of those teams that won the critical Game Three and then the series was the 1969 Mets, who claimed four in a row from the heavily-favored Orioles after losing the opener. This year’s Rays have often been compared with the Miracle Mets due to their stunning rise from the depths, but Tampa Bay is actually trying to do something that no other team in history has accomplished, including their historical forebear: win the World Series a year after having the worst record in the majors. The 1991 Braves came close, but lost to the Twins in seven games; the Twins themselves had finished last in the AL West the season before. The only other team that made it to the title tilt a year after posting the worst record was the 1890 Louisville Colonels of the American Association, who came back to win 88 games after a horrendous 27-111 finish in ’89, and then played the National League champion Brooklyn Bridegrooms to a 3-3-1 tie (though back then the championship series was nothing more than an exhibition).
Returning to the 21st century, Game Three will feature the oldest active major league pitcher making his World Series debut for his hometown team against the youngest player to ever win the ALCS MVP award, in what baseball fans hope is a tune-up for a potential Game Seven rematch. It would be tough for tonight’s starters to be more different. Garza is the fiery 24-year-old right-hander from California who reined in his emotional fervor on the mound through the help of a sports psychologist; Moyer is the crafty 46-year-old left-hander from the Keystone State who is the second-oldest pitcher to appear in a post-season game. Garza has a fastball which flirts with the high 90s, while Moyer’s heater is several ticks slower than what his opponent’s change of pace pitches get clocked at. Blessed with phenomenal two- and four-seam fastballs, Garza sensibly relies upon his heaters more than most-he threw either 72.2 percent of the time during the regular season, according to the Pitch-f/x data at Fangraphs.com. Among the 88 ERA title qualifiers this season, that was the sixth-highest percentage for straight fastballs; only Daniel Cabrera, Aaron Cook, Mike Pelfrey, Vicente Padilla, and Livan Hernandez threw them more often. Moyer, meanwhile, is part of a fraternity of hurlers who rely heavily upon the cut fastball: only Jesse Litsch, Roy Halladay, and Andy Sonnanstine (Tampa Bay’s Game Four starter) threw a greater percentage of cutters than Moyer, who tossed three in every 10 pitches this year, while relying upon the customary fastball just 40 percent of the time.
Moyer loved pitching against the Devil Rays back when he was in the American League with Seattle, as he is 8-4 with a 3.02 RA in 14 career starts versus Tampa Bay. That data is not very relevant, however, for the last time Moyer faced the franchise was on August 7 of 2006. Furthermore, what limited history there is between Moyer and the current group of Rays does not bode well for the soft-tossing old left-hander: the two that have seen him the most are Carlos Peña, who is 10-for-20 with a pair of home runs against Moyer, and Carl Crawford, who is 9-for-19. Both Peña and Crawford hit from the left side, and despite the fact that Moyer is a southpaw, left-handed batters have had an easier go of it against him over the course of his 22-year career, generating an OPS of 767, compared with 737 for the righties. In this respect, Moyer is similar to his ace rotation-mate Cole Hamels, as the two share a trait that stems from each pitcher’s heavy usage of the changeup and a straight over-the-top delivery. Tampa Bay fared a good deal worse against left-handed starters during the regular season, which is mainly why the BP series odds slightly favored Philadelphia at the outset. The reverse splits of Hamels and Moyer help to mitigate that disadvantage, and are part of the case that Joe Sheehan has made to support his choice of the Rays in six.
Caleb Peiffer is a contributor to Baseball Prospectus. He can be reached here.
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