Rays and Phillies in the Series: Who will triumph

By Dave Fultz

Now that the Rays have vanquished the Red Sox and the Phillies have bested the Dodgers, the World Series is set to begin Wednesday at Tropicana Field. Lefty starters Cole Hamels and Scott Kazmir will take the ball for their teams in Game 1, and it’s hard to figure which team has the edge as they get ready to kick off this series.

Given that I didn’t pick Tampa Bay to beat Boston in the American League Championship Series, and expected them to fall off a bit as the regular season wore on, I guess you could see that I’ve been underestimating them for a while. But I won’t be doing that anymore.

After the Cubs were eliminated in the divisional round, I picked the Phillies to reach the Fall Classic and trounce Los Angeles, which they did. Philadelphia is the team that would have scared me if I ran a National League squad in this year’s playoffs.

Las Vegas sports books currently have the Rays as the favorites. But that is mostly because they need to induce more bets on the Phillies to help offset the money they stand to lose if Tampa Bay goes all the way. So many people played the 200-1 odds that the Rays were given to win the World Series that Vegas sports books stand to lose millions of dollars if they actually do it.

That is all rather useless information if one were to try and predict a winner, but it’s still rather fun to see Vegas on the hook for a big payout, as casinos and sports books have basically had a license to print money for years. So, regardless of the Vegas odds or my own predictions, which team has the advantage as this series gets underway?

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    I’m inclined to tab the Rays by the slightest margin, if only because they have home-field advantage and have really picked up their power production as a team since the postseason started. The teams were so statistically similar during the regular season it is almost frightening, so it is very hard for me to make a definitive pick as much as I hate being vague or indecisive.

    Tampa Bay’s pitching staff had the third best ERA in all of baseball and their Philadelphia counterparts pitched themselves to the sixth best mark. Both teams had a strikeout to walk ratio of just better than 2 to 1 and held opponents to less than a .260 batting average, putting them in the top half of the majors in both categories.

    The Rays have an edge in most major pitching categories, but the margins are so slight that the difference can be made up by the leg up the Phillies have in their bullpen.

    On the offensive side, both lineups had eerily similar numbers as well. The Phillies outscored Tampa Bay, 799-774, but the two teams had very close results in on-base percentage, slugging and OPS.

    The Rays were a team that focused heavily on reaching base at a steady clip, while Philadelphia relied more on the long ball, but both teams have seen a bit of a switch in the postseason.

    Tampa Bay has seen a power surge from young sluggers B.J. Upton and Evan Longoria, while the Phillies’ power production has fallen off just a bit from their regular season pace. Ryan Howard, the NL leader in home runs and RBI during the regular season, has been held to zero homers and three RBI in these playoffs and will need to be more productive if the Phillies are going to win this series.

    The Phillies do have a better bullpen, but the Rays aren’t slouches at the end of a game either. Brad Lidge has been nearly unhittable and the Phillies are 79-0 in games when they took a lead into the ninth inning. But Tampa Bay may have found a secret weapon for the back end of its World Series bullpen in rookie southpaw David Price.

    This series is a very close one whether you want to judge it statistically or objectively, but I’m going to pick the Rays in six. Tampa Bay has home-field advantage because of the AL’s All-Star Game win and will take advantage of the Phillies’ left-handed heavy lineup right off the bat by starting Kazmir at home in Game 1.

    In my opinion, the Phillies have the two best players in this series in Hamels and Howard, but the Rays have more talented, young depth in the rotation that will give them the advantage, the first World Series win in franchise history and the best worst-to-first story the game has ever seen.

    Dave Fultz is a senior in Media. He can be reached at [email protected].