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Thursday, October 22, 2009

On the road, again.

The Phillies are playing like defending champions. While the Dodgers never quite loosened up in the NLCS, Philadelphia was relaxed and confident from the outset. Once again, the deciding blow came in Game 4, when they got to the Dodgers closer, Jonathan Broxton. After that, victory was a foregone conclusion.

Although my rooting interest was resoundingly with the Dodgers, a team which I've watched mature and thrive during the four years I've been living in SoCal (see the evidence of my deep-seeded affection for Russell Martin's boys in blue here, here, and here ), after Game 4 I realized that it was in my own best interests, in the long run, to get this series over quickly. There appeared to be no way that L.A. was going to beat Pedro Martinez and Cliff Lee, even at home, if it came to that. And, for the sake of my mental health this winter, I need the Phillies to beat the Yankees (assuming that, as seems inevitable now, New York is indeed the American League representative in the World Series). Three months of offseason coverage dominated by fawning over Jeter, hypocritical A-Rod forgiveness, and general Bronxcentric self-congratulation and greed-mongering could bring on a case of Seasonal Affective Disorder unlike any I've experienced since the "Bartman incident."

So, the good news is (and there isn't a lot of it, at least not unless the Halos put a hurtin' on A. J. Burnett this evening), the well-rested Phillies stack up against the Evil Empire as well as about any team in baseball. They went to Yankee Stadium in late May and won two out of three. They might've swept if it hadn't been for one of Brad Lidge's patented meltdowns. Now, of course, the regular season doesn't mean a whole lot at this point and in late May the Yankees had only just begun playing well (they had won nine straight going into the Phillies series). All I hope to suggest is that the Phillies (unlike many potential opponents) have had some recent success against the Yanks in New York and thus might be able to muster a little extra confidence.

There are other reasons to be optimistic as well. Thanks to the brevity of the NLCS, Philadelphia will be able to throw a very well-rested Cliff Lee in Game 1, and, presumably, Game 5 as well. In his last three starts against New York, including one at Yankee Stadium earlier this year, Lee has allowed only three earned runs in nineteen innings (1.89 ERA). In his last six starts with six or more days of rest, Lee is 5-1 with a 2.25 ERA. Philadelphia can also bring Cole Hamels back for two starts. Hamels, despite his up-and-down 2009 campaign, pitched well in that series in New York in May, giving up only two earned in six innings. In his only other career start against the Yankees he allowed just two earned in seven innings.

Unfortunately, I can't suggest that the Yankees struggle against left-handed pitching generally. As a team, they were almost exactly equal in their winning percentages and hitting splits against righties and lefties in '09. As individuals, only Johnny Damon and Jorge Posada suffer significant dropoffs (50+ pts.) in OPS against lefties, which were easily compensated for by significant gains for Derek Jeter and Hideki Matsui (surprising, right). What one can postulate, however, is that good left-handed pitching (for both teams, to be fair) might make the short right-field porches in both Yankee Stadium and Citizens Bank Park slightly less of an issue, as it will turn the switch-hitters (Texeira, Swisher, Posada, and Cabrera) around and sap Damon, at least, of some of his power.

Some other good news for...everybody with a soul. The Phillies have a limited history of success against C. C. Sabathia. Rollins, Victorino, Howard, and Ruiz have all hit well over .350 against him, though none has had more than seven at-bats. Raul Ibanez, who did face Sabathia more than forty times during his tenure in the AL, has compiled a very respectable .525 SLG and 851 OPS against him. If the Yankees clinch before Game 7, you can bet Girardi will again schedule The Big Sleep for three starts in the World Series. It will be crucial that the Phillies find a way to get to him on at least one occasion.

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