Thursday, October 23, 2008

The Match Game

Last night, the Phillies and Rays proved that, even if the Yankees or Red Sox don't make the World Series, good baseball trumps stupid media-generated storylines. In a tight and thrilling 3-2 win, the Phillies took a big step toward upsetting the young and talented Rays, behind the strong left arm of Cole Hamels and the powerful bat of Chase Utley.

So what's changed? Really not much. Hamels still needs to win his next start, because Myers/Moyer/Blanton are not going to win 3 of their 5 starts. This is where, as The Founding Father pointed out last night, Ryan Howard needs to start beating up on the Rays' right handed starters, and stop flailing at breaking balls in the dirt.

With that in mind, The Common Man wants to take a look at some of the other matchups that will prove important to watch in the next 3-6 games:

1) Dioneer Navarro vs. Phillies, Carlos Ruiz vs. Rays

As you saw last night, both the Rays and Phillies like to run and are generally successful. The Phillies stole 136 bases during the regular season and were only caught 25 times (47-3 for Jimmy Rollins alone, and 20-1 for Jayson Werth). That was good for 3rd in the NL, and only 5 off the leaders, and their stealing percentage was by far the best in the league. The Rays led the AL with 142 SB (including 44 by CF BJ Upton), but with a far lower success rate. It will be imperative for these catchers to limit the running game as much as possible, particularly in games like last night's, where one run's importance is magnified so greatly. Navarro threw out 38% of basestealers this year, and Ruiz threw out 25%.

2) Jaimie Moyer vs. Father Time

Jaimie Moyer is something of a marvel. At 45 years old, easily the oldest player in the majors, he's enjoying his best season since 2003. He has lasted 22 seasons in the bigs, almost all of them as a soft-tossing, control artist who has succeeded by upsetting hitters' timing and being left-handed. Despite not really establishing himself until he was 30 (including spending all of 1992, his age 29 season, in the minors), Moyer has won 246 games, been an all star, and pitched in four postseasons. That said, it was clear against the Dodgers that Moyer didn't have an answer for good right-handed hitters. Given BJ Upton's tremendous postseason, Jason Bartlett's proclivity for hitting lefties (.379/.411/.508), and Evan Longoria's all around awesomeness, there a good chance that Moyer's pitched his last effective game of 2008. And at 45, there's a good chance that Moyer's pitched his last extended stretch of effective baseball. And that's a shame, because he's had a pretty awesome career.

3) Phillies history vs. Rays history

Even though The Common Man doesn't really think that previous incarnations of the Phillies and Rays will have any bearing on this series, it's worht noting that these are two of the losingest sports franchises in the history of professional sports. The Phillies have been around since 1883 and have won exactly ONE league championship (there was no World Series before 1903). Their all-time record is 8945-10,099. They are the only franchise ever with 10,000 losses. The Rays, on the other hand, have a 751-1037 record in just 11 seasons. Their winning percentage is an abysmal .420. This is not only the first year they've made the postseason, but the first year they've finished above .500, and the first year they haven't lost at least 90 games. If there is some way for both teams to lose this World Series, The Common Man is confident it will happen.

4) Brett Myers vs. Willy Aybar

If Aybar starts at DH tonight for the Rays, and judging by how well he's been hitting that's a distinct possibility, you can call this the Domestic Disturbance Dustup. Aybar, after a disappointing 2007 that saw him check into rehab for a substance abuse problem, started 2008 off in a big way by assaulting his wife in the Dominican Republic. Afraid that being jailed for three months would be detrimental to the family, Aybar's wife had the charges dropped and Aybar was free to come back to the Rays and deliver post-season heroics and have everyone in the mainstream news forget that he's a wife-beater. Likewise, Phillies starter Brett Myers is a mouth-breathing, raging, wife-beating a-hole who deserves to be shoveling manure in whatever hole he crawled out of rather than pitching in a World Series. Myers was arrested in 2006, in Boston, for hitting his wife in the face out in public on the street. God knows what he does in private. Myers was allowed to pitch the next day by the Phillies (if The Common Man remembers correctly, on national TV). Following the game, according to ESPN, Myers said was not especially contrite, saying, "I'm sorry it had to get public, that's it. Of course, it's embarrassing." Myers, by the way, is 6'4", 215-230 lbs. His wife is not. The Common Man doesn't wish ill on many people, but if it were possible for both of these men to get tangled up along the first baseline and each tear an achilles, he'd be for it.

5) TV Ratings vs. Good baseball

Look, the TV ratings are going to be lower for this World Series than last year's. That's just the way it goes. Fewer people live in Tampa and Philly than in Boston and Denver. But, if the teams play well and the games are close, series like this have the ability to create more fans for major league baseball than another year with the Sox or Yankees in the series. Indeed, thinking back to the Twins' first championship in 1987, and how that affected The Common Man's rooting interests, it's clear that he would not be as obsessed with the game today than he would have been if the Twins stayed also-rans for so many of his formative years. So think of all the kids in Philly and Tampa today who are getting to enjoy and be motivated by baseball for the first time. And think about how these kids are going to grow up to be baseball nuts in 2020. And think about the kids in Chicago or St. Louis or rural Arkansas that get to see players like Carl Crawford, Jimmy Rollins, Evan Longoria, Chase Utley, and even Jaimie Moyer and see their futures. The Common Man thinks that this World Series can and will do more for baseball in the long-term than any since, say, 2001.

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