Who’s up for watching the Philadelphia Phillies take on former ace Cliff Lee in the World Series?
That’s one of many intriguing possibilities with the baseball playoffs now down to four teams, and the one this observer feels is most likely to happen.
Thanks to Lee, who dominated Tuesday’s decisive Game 5 against the Tampa Bay Rays, the Texas Rangers won their first ever playoff series and advanced to the American League Championship Series versus the New York Yankees, rekindling a one-sided rivalry from a decade ago.
Having lost division series to New York in 1996, ’98 and ’99, the difference this time may very well be Lee, who won both games for the Phillies last year when they fell in six games to the Yankees in the World Series.
The Phillies traded Lee last December in order to get Roy Halladay, the longtime Toronto Blue Jays ace who threw a no-hitter in his playoff debut. Feeling they were thin on pitching, the Phillies also picked up Roy Oswalt from the Houston Astros during the summer to dramatically boost their rotation that also includes 2008 World Series MVP Cole Hamels.
H2O, as the trio has been dubbed, will be front and centre in the National League Championship Series against the young guns of the San Francisco Giants. Tim Lincecum, Matt Cain, Jonathan Sanchez and Madison Bumgarner starred against the Atlanta Braves, but the Phillies lineup will pose a much sterner test.
Here’s a closer look at the two series:
Entering the playoffs having lost 17 of their final 26 games didn’t bode well for the Yankees, who looked to be in crisis as they headed into the playoffs. Their rotation was a mess behind ace CC Sabathia, but a division series date with the Minnesota Twins turned out to be a blessing in disguise.
The Yankees swept the Twins in the division series, knocking out the AL Central champs for the fourth time since 2003, and only had to pitch Sabathia once. He’s fully rested — and then some — for tonight’s Game 1 in Texas.
The Rangers, on the other hand, won’t be able to pitch Lee before Game 3 after going the distance with Tampa Bay, but they are still well positioned to give the Yankees fits. Their offence will put far more pressure on New York pitchers than Minnesota’s did, and they displayed an ability to create runs against the Rays that make them especially dangerous.
The Yankees rotation is still far from stable behind Sabathia, as they can’t be sure what they’ll get from Andy Pettitte (coming off groin injury), Phil Hughes (workload concerns) and A.J. Burnett (inconsistent) on any given night.
The Rangers feel a bit safer on that front with C.J. Wilson, Colby Lewis and Tommy Hunter, which means their lineup may not need to do the same heavy lifting New York’s does.
The teams were 4-4 against each other during the regular season.
Pick: Rangers in seven
Lincecum, Cain, Sanchez and Bumgarner combined to allow just four runs, three earned, over 29 innings in their four-game victory over the Braves. Halladay, Oswalt and Hamels also surrendered just four runs, three earned, over 23 innings during the Phillies’ three-game sweep of the Cincinnati Reds.
How is anyone going to score?
Yes, runs should be very hard to come by in this series, but more so for the Giants than the Phillies.
The Philadelphia lineup boasts the likes of Ryan Howard, Chase Utley, Jayson Werth, Jimmy Rollins and Shane Victorino, and should grind down the San Francisco four far more than the depleted Braves.
At the same time, San Francisco’s offence is less productive than that of the Reds, which was totally tied up by Halladay, Oswalt and Hamels. Buster Posey, Cody Ross, Pat Burrell and Aubrey Huff had a tough time scratching out runs versus Atlanta. It’s only going to get harder for them.
The teams split six regular-season games, with the Giants beating each of the H2O members, including Oswalt three times. But the Phillies are at their best now, and have more methods to victory at their disposal.
Pick: Phillies in six