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Wednesday October 22, 2008 5:36 pm

World Series Prediction: Tampa Bay Rays Over The Philadelphia Phillies

Carlos Pena and Evan Longoria

Now that the Boston Red Sox have gone back to Fenway Park, cleaned out their lockers, and settled in for a nice long 150 day vacation, let’s get down to hard cases. On paper, the Tampa Bay Rays - Philadelphia Phillies series might resemble a wash.  Starting pitching is about even; the Phils have a clear edge with Brad Lidge as their closer, but if the Rays activate Troy Percival, that edge gets considerably filed down. The Phils get the nod in power hitting and fielding; the Rays are better at small ball - hitting for average, base swipes, hit and run, and hitting in the clutch. All nice, neat and in a row, right?

Not so fast kemo sabe. Time for a reality check.

 

Say what you want Philadelphia fans, Cole Hamels can’t carry the team by himself and Lidge won’t be getting too many save opportunities against Tampa. Yeah, the one through four hitters - Jimmy Rollins, Shane Victorino, Chase Utley and Ryan Howard - have looked awfully good in the first two rounds of the pla offs, but then again who have they beaten? The Milwaukee Brewers with C.C. Sabathia? The Los Angeles Dodgers with an aging and ineffective Greg Maddux? The Phils are in a for a rude awakening.

The Rays are young, tough, and hungry courtesy of nine straight last place finishes in baseball’s toughest division, the A.L. East. They got hustle in Carl Crawford and B.J. Upton and they’ve got muscle in Evan Longoria and Carlos Pena. They have young tough pitchers in Scott Kazmir and Matt Garza. The Rays offensive explosions in games two, three and four against the Red Sox looked mighty impressive and made a believer out of this skeptical sports scribe. Yeah many of those runs came via the long ball, but the Rays weren’t just swinging for the fences, they were spraying lots of singles and doubles too!

Keep in mind that most of the explosives came off Jon Lester and Josh Beckett, the Red Sox’s version of Sandy Koufax and Don Drysdale. Yeah, it would have been nice to send Schilling out to the mound for some work, but maybe its just as well he stayed in the dugout. Okay, so there were a lot of minuses on the Boston side of the ledger - Manny’s gone Hollywood, no Schilling, Big Papi posted a scant .160 average in the Rays series, and Captain Jason Varitek was hitting like some green rookie just called up from Triple A. The rest of the team looked damned good, playing solid team ball right down to the last out of the series.

My final analysis though is that baseball games aren’t played on paper. Any team that looks good on paper still has to play those games on the field. The games might be close but this one’s already a lock. Rays in six, possibly five.

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