With the clock ticking toward Wednesday night's Game 1 of the World Series between our New York Yankees and the Philadelphia
soon to be ex-champs, er, Phillies I reached out to the folks over at SB Nation's Phillies blog 'The Good Phight.' Here is the result of our Q&A.
Pinstripe Alley: Not to insult Tampa Bay, but I guess I am insulting Tampa Bay. Does this series, being against the Yankees hold a little more excitement, mystique, aura -- whatever you want to call it -- than facing the Rays in 2008?
The Good Phight: I would say it’s more the idea of going for two in a row than it is playing the Yankees. It’s the difference between being a "nice story" and being elevated to all-time great status. Particularly for a franchise with a pretty moribund history like the Phillies, it’s a pretty big deal. I do think that having more eyeballs on the Series, by virtue of playing the Yankees, changes things a bit. The tree fell in the woods, so to speak, in 2008, but in 2009, it will really make a sound.
Pinstripe Alley: Does being the defending World Champion give the Phillies any sort of advantage heading into the series? Oh, and how do traditionally ornery Philadelphia fans deal with all this prosperity?
The Good Phight: I don’t really believe there’s a palpable advantage outside of perhaps the preparation for the media onslaught, and playing on the big stage. Most of the roster has been there before, so they know what to expect, so they can focus on baseball. Whether that gives them any kind of "advantage" in the Series over the Yankees, who deal with the media microscope year-round, is difficult to determine. As to "success," I could get used to it. It’s different than with Boston, where losing seemed to define the fanbase for so long that finally winning radically altered the tone of the "Nation" (ugh). Most fans can either remember 1980, or were at least aware that it was recent enough that it wasn’t some abstract concept. The 2009 season seems to be the year where the Phillies really started acting like one of the "big boys" in the league, throwing their weight around with player acquisition (getting the best pitcher at the deadline in Cliff Lee, coaxing Pedro Martinez back into the league, etc.). The Phillies had been spending pretty big for awhile, but the legitimacy conferred by a World Championship really changed everything.
Pinstripe Alley: Brad Lidge and Ryan Madson have not exactly been sure things at the end of games. Do you feel confident the Phillies can close out games, or do the Yankees have an advantage in the late innings of tight games?
The Good Phight: Well, the best closer on the planet, ever, lives in the Bronx, so it’d be hard to say the Yankees don’t have an advantage in that regard. Let’s just say that I’m hopeful that Brad Lidge and the bullpen can keep it together for a few more games and not screw anything up too badly. The Yankees certainly have the advantage with Mariano Rivera, but if Lidge has "found it" and can be close to his 2008 self, that advantage will certainly be much smaller.
Pinstripe Alley: How big of an acquisition has Cliff Lee been for the Phillies?
The Good Phight: Simply huge. The anointed ace, Cole Hamels, has had a well-publicized off-year, due in great part to some bad luck, and probably thanks to his huge 2008 workload. Lee has taken the pressure off Hamels to be the stopper and given the Phillies the bonafide ace they haven’t had since Curt Schilling. And, with this World Series, he projects to nearly neutralize the Yankees’ deployment of CC Sabathia, which levels the playing field quite a bit.
Pinstripe Alley: In which area do you think the Yankees are superior to the Phillies? Is there one Yankee weakness you see that you think Philadelphia can exploit?
The Good Phight: As discussed previously, the back of the bullpen is a clear Yankees advantage. The Yankees lineup is better, but not by the huge margin one might expect. And that advantage will be mitigated somewhat in Philadelphia, where the Yankees have to pull one of their hitters and let their pitchers bat. As far as Yankee weaknesses, middle relief has been something of a problem recently, with the struggles of Boy Wonders Phil Hughes and Joba Chamberlain. Having a closer who can give you two innings on any given night cuts into that problem just a bit, though. The Phillies are a patient hitting ballclub; if they can make the starters throw lots of pitches, and knock them out in the middle innings, the Phillies might be able to exploit the Yankees middle relief problems.
Pinstripe Alley: Which player is the most important Phillie in this series?
The Good Phight: Cliff Lee. There are hints that he might be matching Sabathia in games 1, 4, and 7. If he can neutralize Sabathia in those games, it greatly improves the Phillies’ chances of winning.
Pinstripe Alley: Series prediction? Likely MVP?
The Good Phight: Naturally I’m going with the Phillies, and it’ll be six games. The Phillies’ deeper rotation will afford them the flexibility to make adjustments, including slotting certain starters into the bullpen, and the Phillies’ better overall team defense and baserunning will give them the narrowest edge in a pretty closely matched World Series. Cliff Lee is my Series MVP.
In all seriousness, this shapes up as a fabulous World Series. The defending champs vs. the team considered to be baseball's best throughout the regular season. Plenty of stars on both teams. Plenty of reasons for fans of both teams to think their team will win. Head over to The Good Phight to chat up Phillies fans, and see my answers to their questions. Just remember to do it with some class. Represent PA the right way. Please.