There is not a single journalist or baseballblogger in the known universe who, before the '08 season started, predicted the Rays and Phillies would meet in the World Series. No big deal, predictions are dumb anyway. Let's just sit back and enjoy this once-in-a-lifetime matchup and break down each team's strengths and weaknesses before we all make another dumb prognostication.
With both the ALCS and NLCS MVP awards going to starting pitchers, let's start by comparing the two teams' rotations. The Phillies are led by lefty Cole Hamels, who is definitely the best pitcher on his own team and maybe the best pitcher on both teams. After Hamels, the Phils rotation is a jumbled grab bag: a wild fireballer in Brett Myers, a cagey veteran in Jamie Moyer and a chubby Kentuckian in Country Joe Blanton.
The four Rays pitchers are each better than those three Phillies but it's tough to find a #1 guy. Yes, Scott Kazmir is starting Game One and yes, Matt Garza was the ALCS MVP and yes, James Shields had the lowest regular season WHIP and yes, Andy Sonnanstine....uh....has a long last name, but the Rays strength is not having a dominant front-line starter; the Rays strength is depth.
The Rays depth continues in the bullpen, where you can expect to see a different closer every night. The most important reliever on the team is youngster David Price, but manager Joe Maddon has said he won't use Price in consecutive days. So if the Rays have a late lead, expect Overmanagin' Joe Maddon to be creative with his pen and go with the lefty-righty matchups. There's nothing wrong with a little overmanaging when it produces results.
The Phillies bullpen has been coasting since April, but if you think for a second that Brad Lidge is unbeatable, then you haven't been watching the high and deep fly balls hit off of him in the playoffs. It's a wonder he's been perfect in save opportunities for this long, but hey, what other choice does Charlie Manuel have at this point? He'll be playing with fire but he'd be dumb to change things up now.
Offensively, Manuel can change things up and make a difference. He's been blindly batting lefties Ryan Howard and Chase Utley back-to-back for so long, it's as if he doesn't care about teams with strong left-handed pitchers who can neutralize them late. The Rays have three strong southpaws in the pen (Trever Miller, Price, and J.P. Howell). Howard and Utley are terrible against lefties. Utley's OPS drops 50 points against lefties while Howard's OPS plummets over 200 points. Do the smart thing, Uncle Cholly. Put right-handed hitter Pat the Bat between these two.
The Rays lineup is much more balanced. They don't have any MVP candidates but they don't have a huge gaping hole like the Phillies do at the 7th and 8th slots (Pedro Feliz and catcher-of-choice). Joe Maddon's main decision is whether to DH Cliff Floyd or Willy Aybar and whether to play Gabe Gross or Rocco Baldelli in right field. Still, the handedness of the opposing pitcher usually makes that decision for him.
So who is going to win? Probably the Rays. I'll take 'em in seven. Who you got?