The last competitive World Series was in 2002, when the Marlins topped the Yankees in six games. The previous two World Series had gone all the way to seven, including that epic 2001 championship. Since then, none has gone more than five games and three of the last five have been sweeps. I think that trend is going to change this year. This year's matchup between the Phillies -- the defending champions -- and the Yankees -- the team with the best record during the season -- promises to be very, very close. How well do these team compare to each other? Let's take a look:
Catcher: Carlos Ruiz (PHI) vs. Jorge Posada/Jose Molina (NYY)
Ruiz is not a strong offensive player, but is a career .296 in the postseason, including .346 this year. He has a very little pop, but is good with his pitchers and fairly strong defensively. Posada is a much better hitter, but not as strong in the field as Ruiz, to the point that he is replaced by Molina for any of A.J. Burnett's starts (Game 2, for instance). Molina is a non-factor at the plate.
Edge: Yankees, but not by as wide a margin because Posada doesn't play every game.
First Base: Ryan Howard (PHI) vs. Mark Teixeira (NYY)
Each player led his respective league in RBIs this year. Their offensive numbers for the season were very similar, with Teixeira getting the edge in average and OBP. However, in the playoffs, Howard is the most feared player on the Phillies while Teixeira struggled until the last couple of games of the ALCS. Defensively, Teixeira appears to be the best at first since Jeff Bagwell. Howard actually had a better range factor during the season (9.04 to 8.77).
Edge: Phillies, by a very, very slight margin.
Second Base: Chase Utley (PHI) vs. Robinson Cano (NYY)
Cano has some pop, but let's be honest. One is a perennial MVP candidate.
Edge: Phillies, huge.
Third Base: Pedro Feliz (PHI) vs. Alex Rodriguez (NYY)
If A-Rod keeps hitting the way he did in the first two rounds, he's the best player in this series.
Edge: Yankees, huge.
Shortstop: Jimmy Rollins (PHI) vs. Derek Jeter (NYY)
Both are their teams' leadoff men and both are the heart and soul of their respective offenses. Jeter had fallen off in the postseason since his early days, until this year. Rollins is a bit stronger defensively.
Edge: Yankees, only because someone would cry foul if I said it was even. It couldn't be closer.
Left Field: Raul Ibanez (PHI) vs. Johnny Damon (NYY)
Both veterans, both relatively weak defensively, Ibanez a better hitter at this point, Damon a lot more postseason experience.
Center Field: Shane Victorino (PHI) vs. Melky Cabrera (NYY)
Cabrera's good in center and all, but Victorino comes up big time and time again. How does .360 with three homers and a .478 OBP in the NLCS sound?
Edge: Phillies, huge.
Right Field: Jayson Werth (PHI) vs. Nick Swisher (NYY)
Each team has played nine games this postseason. In that number of games, Werth has five homers and Swisher has four hits.
Edge: Phillies, huge.
There will be a DH in the AL park and the Yankees have a good one in Hideki Matsui. After that, they have little bench to speak of unless Molina starts the game and Posada can pinch-hit. The Phillies have strong pinch-hitters in Greg Dobbs and Matt Stairs, but I'd imagine the DH (for at least Game 1) will be Ben Francisco. It's really hard to look at the Yankees roster and see who besides Matsui might be a passable pinch-hitter in the NL park.
Edge: Even, because of the DH factor.
There's no better first five in baseball than the Phillies' Rollins-Victorino-Utley-Howard-Werth. The Yankees have a huge advantage at DH, but a lot less speed and not that much more power. It's really hard to say the Yankees are definitively better.
C.C. Sabathia is clearly the best pitcher in this series. He'll go in Games 1, 4, and 7 and A.J. Burnett and Andy Pettitte will go in 2/3 and 5/6. Cliff Lee has been outstanding so far in his first postseason (2-0, 0.74 ERA, 0.70 WHIP, 20-3 K/BB), however he is a career 4-4 with a 5.02 ERA against the Yankees (1-1 with a 3.00 ERA this year). After Lee, the rotation is deep but has a lot of questions. Pedro Martinez was great against the Dodgers but can he keep it up in cold weather? Cole Hamels starts out well but then implodes after a few innings; can he get back to where he was last year? Joe Blanton, shaky, and J.A. Happ, unproven, round out the starting possibilities.
Edge: Even, because of the Phillies question marks, otherwise I give them the nod on their depth.
The Phillies came in to the postseason with a lot of questions, particularly about closer Brad Lidge. Lidge has been fantastic though. The Phillies have also gotten great relief pitching from Chan-Ho Park (seriously!). For the Yankees, it's all about Mo Rivera. If they can get him the lead, they win. Period. Other than the fact that I don't know that there's much faith left in Joba Chamberlain right now, their setup men are also strong, but did not look nearly as good against the Angels as they looked during the season and, well, we'll get to Joe Girardi in a second.
Edge: Yankees, but not by nearly as much as it looked like it would be two weeks ago.
Both of these teams are so deep and talented that a manager doesn't have to do a whole lot to be successful. Phillies manager Charlie Manuel did a great job in putting Lidge on the mound to rebuild his confidence. Yankees manager Joe Girardi made a total mess of the ALCS, overmanaging on a number of occassions. He gave up the DH at one point! He handles his bullpen very poorly, using up pitchers quickly. Can you imagine how bad it might get in Philly when he has to pinch-hit for the pitcher and double switch?
Edge: Phillies. No matter how confident a Yankees fan may be in their team, just say, "Yeah, but what about Girardi?," and watch the look on their face.
Every ounce of pressure in this series is on the Yankees. They're the team with the $200 million payroll. They're the team that hasn't won it all since 2000. The Phillies are cool under pressure and have turned everything up a notch this October. The best analogy I've heard is to the Florida basketball team that won back-to-back national championships. Nobody picked them in their second tournament, even though they returned everyone, because they looked shaky at times during the season and because they just weren't new. But when the tournament started, nobody came close to them and as they cut down the nets, we all thought: "Wait, why didn't we pick them? How could we be so stupid?"
This is probably the best Yankees squad since 2001, if not 2000. This Phillies team is the best team the Yankees have played in the World Series in this run that started in 1996. It's going to be a classic.
Prediction: Phillies in 7.