By JOEY MERKEL
David vs. David? Well that’s no fun. Even though I predicted this World Series match-up, I can’t help but wish I was at least a little wrong.
Peruse the line-ups of both the Tampa Bay Rays and the Philadelphia Phillies and you’ll find that Jimmy Rollins is the most controversial player and the most he ever does is just talk a little trash.
Surely, neither of these teams has a direct relationship to “David” in the biblical way. I suppose you could say the Rays, but it’s not like they came out of nowhere down 13 games in the last two months of the season to win the division. They got ahead and stayed ahead pretty much the entire year.
The problem with this series is that if you don’t have any direct ties to either the city of Philadelphia or Tampa Bay, who are you supposed to root for? Both teams are both chock full of players that any team would be dying to have. All players play hard, except for B.J. Upton for about two weeks, they all perform and they’re all far too likeable.
Imagine a Dodgers-Red Sox World Series. Manny back in Boston, not wearing a Red Sox jersey; can you make better television? Could you even attempt to write that script? You wouldn’t need to. Baseball wrote that story when the Sox sent him packing. It already has conflict, intensity and trust issues.
Phillies vs. Rays? Unless Scott Kazmir and Cole Hamels start throwing at batters in the first game, this is going to be one of the more boring series in recent memory.
Ok, so there’s no conflict. It’s still going to be a hard fought series with two great teams. The bottom line is that Tampa Bay and Philadelphia both deserve to be in the series with stellar play throughout the regular and post seasons.
It’s tough to say who really has the advantage coming in because both have potent line-ups. While the Phillies have Ryan Howard, who led the majors in home runs and runs batted in, the Rays have likely rookie of the year Evan Longoria and future all-star center fielder Upton, who have both been on an absolute tear.
Upton, who has seven home runs so far this postseason, has an opportunity to pass Barry Bonds and Carlos Beltran for the record for most home runs in a postseason. Bonds and Beltran both had eight during their postseason stints.
Defensively, both teams are stellar but the advantage their goes to Tampa Bay who has a gold glove caliber player at every infield position. The Phillies have the advantage when it comes to the bullpen. Brad Lidge went 41-for-41 in the regular season and has gone five-for-five so far in the postseason in save opportunities.
The Rays can quickly counter the Phils’ pen if they start to use 2007 first-overall-draft-pick, David Price more often. Price, who pitched just once in the postseason before he broke out in game seven, finished off the Red Sox in the series finale impressed everyone. With two outs and the bases loaded, he struck out J.D. Drew on just four pitches.
Price wasn’t done yet. After Price walked Jason Bay to start the ninth, he reverted back to dominance and struck out Mark Kotsay and Jason Varitek before pinch-hitter Jed Lowrie grounded out to second baseman Akinori Iwamura to end the game and the series.
Starting pitching also goes to the Rays. I take Hamels over Kazmir based on the consistency Hamels has shown in the postseason. However, Bret Myers, Joe Blanton and Jamie Moyer are no match for the Rays young guns James Shields, Matt Garza and Andy Sonnanstine.
It ended up that home-field advantage in the Rays-Red Sox ended up not mattering as much as the home team went 3-4 during the seven games.
The Phillies may not have home-field advantage for this series, but do they really need it? The Rays had the best home record this year at 57-24, but the Phillies had the best road record in the majors at 44-37. The games in Tampa Bay will be crucial because of how good the Phillies are on the road.
I’m calling this match-up: “The World Series for Baseball Fans.” I’m doing so because without conflict or a direct tie to one of the cities, most people are not going to watch any of the games. But for fans that want to see power curve balls, 96 mph fastballs and booming home runs, this series was the best outcome for you.
In the end, I’m sticking with my original prediction: the Rays are going to take this series and finish off their worst-to-first run with a championship ring.