This week the Phillies took on the Red Sox in a three-game set at Citizens Bank Park in Philadelphia. Mainstream US sports media, never known for their ability to keep things in perspective, trumpeted it as a “World Series preview”, with no hint at irony. The Red Sox, after all, are not even top of their own division.
The vicissitudes of a baseball season and the crapshoot that is the postseason should in themselves show us that the very notion of being able to predict who will get to the World Series is ridiculous. Last year’s Rangers/Giants matchup is testimony to that.
However, having established how dumb it is to label any series at any time as a World Series matchup, what reasons do we have to believe that it may well be just that?
1. The Phillies have the best starting rotation in baseball
Overall the Phillies have a league-leading ERA of 3.05, and their ‘Big 3’ of Halladay, Lee and Hamels occupy three of the top 11 best ERA’s in baseball. Of course it wasn’t supposed to be a ‘Big 3’, it was supposed to be a ‘Big 4’. But Oswalt is under six feet tall and on the Disabled List so he doesn’t figure. Oswalt is actually a major concern for the Phillies as his back issues had caused his fastball to look pretty ordinary for much of the season.
2. The Phillies are on their third closer of the year
Their closer was Lidge, except he hasn’t been off the DL all season. Then it was Contreras, who then went on the DL in April and has scarcely been seen since. Then it was Madson, who went 15 for 16 in save chances before taking a whack on the hand which has put him, too, on the DL. So now the Phillies’ closer (Bastardo) and setup man (Stutes) are both under 25 years old and with zero experience in their new roles. So why is this a reason the Phils will get to the World Series? Because the back end of a team’s bullpen is crucial and the Phils have thrived while theirs has been a mess, thanks to some outstanding young talent.
3. The Yankees don’t have a pitching rotation
Or at least I don’t think they do. CC Sabbathia seemed pretty much all they had, and yet they’ve given up 25 fewer runs than Boston (though the Red Sox’ rotation was way overrated coming into this season). The resurgence…nay resurrection of Bartolo Colon, together with fellow graveyard pickup Freddy Garcia have more than made up for AJ Burnett being AJ Burnett, and Phil Hughes being on the DL. I’m still banking on Garcia and Colon either being too banged up or just too tired to be a factor come October.
4. The Red Sox have the league’s best offense
Adding Carl Crawford this last offseason was a good move. He came at a steep price but he’s one of the game’s premier center fielders…or at least he was. He stunk the place up to the tune of a .275OBP for mercifully hitting the DL nearly two weeks ago with a hamstring strain – the nemesis of speedsters. However, the other marquee pickup, 1B Adrian Gonzalez, has been doing what almost no hitter ever does – hit for a higher average in the American League than the National League. At .357 with 16 homers, Gonzalez is tearing it up, and in combination with a resurgent Big Papi (17HR, 48 RBI), is dominating opposing pitching.
And yet they don’t have the league’s best offense, the Yankees do. It’s just that because the Red Sox have beaten the Yankees 8 times out of 9 this season and looked good doing it, it just feels like they do.
The Phillies are more or less a lock for the NL East while the Red Sox are in a three-way dogfight with the Yankees and Rays for what will likely be two postseason slots (the Wild Card will probably come out of the AL East).
So if I think it’s dumb to call it a World Series preview, which teams will contest World Series? Well it’s obvious – the Phillies and Red Sox, of course. They’re clearly the best two teams in baseball.