10/22/08 8:49 AM EST
World Series breakdown: Phils vs. Rays
Tampa Bay's superior starting pitching could be the difference
By Matthew Leach / MLB.com
Rays at bat: Even more than the Phillies, the Rays practically define the Bill James concept of "secondary average." They hit .260 as a team, but they do everything else offensively. They hit for power. They draw walks. They steal bases. They even hit into the fewest double plays in the American League. So while the Phils' excellent defense will help cut down on the base hits, the Rays can beat you without a lot of hits. Philadelphia will need to throw strikes and keep the ball in the park. One subplot: The Phils haven't controlled the running game very well this year, something the Rays will likely look to exploit.
Key late-game matchups:
1. J.P. Howell vs. Chase Utley and Ryan Howard: Howell is no specialist. He averaged more than an inning per appearance and was equally tough on right- and left-handed hitters. However, he's a left-hander, and so are Howard and Utley. And when the Nos. 3-4 hitters in the Phils lineup come to the plate in the seventh or eighth inning, they're likely to see Howell. Utley has minimal platoon split anymore, but Howard is a completely different hitter against southpaws.
2. Ryan Madson vs. Evan Longoria: Not a lot of tactical complexity here. Madson is the Phils' primary weapon in between their starters and Brad Lidge. Longoria is the Rays' best player and best hitter. They'll see plenty of each other in this series. Most notably, the bottom half of the Rays' lineup is much less daunting than the top four spots. So if Philadelphia can get past the cleanup hitter, it's relatively smooth sailing until the No. 1 spot comes back around.
Secret weapon: With Pedro Feliz struggling, the Phils might look to Greg Dobbs for an offensive lift. Dobbs is 6-for-11 through the first two rounds, and put up a line of .301/.333/.491 (average/on-base/slugging) in the regular season. Dobbs might even be a candidate to serve as the designated hitter at Tropicana Field.
Achilles' heel: The back of the Phillies' rotation is a question. Jamie Moyer has struggled in the postseason and Joe Blanton didn't look sharp in the NL Championship Series; both have some very bad matchup numbers against a couple of Rays hitters. Where Tampa Bay goes fully four deep in the starting staff, Philadelphia will be hoping, rather than expecting, to get first-rate performances from its Nos. 3-4 starters.
The Phillies will win if ... their entire lineup produces. At various points in the postseason, nearly every member of the Phils' offense has had a little run. But at no point in the playoffs has Philadelphia gotten the whole group clicking at once. The Phillies need to get the table-setters on base, get the sluggers pounding, and get contributions from the bottom third of the order.
The Rays will win if ... they take advantage of their edge in starting pitching. In every game not started by Cole Hamels, Tampa Bay should have the better starter on the mound. If their starters pitch the way they're capable, the Rays have the advantage in this series.
Matthew Leach is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.