Just like every other Yankees fan, we here at The Pinstriper are gearing up for the Fall Classic. And what better way to prepare than to get a look inside the mind of a Phillies blogger. We did a Q&A session with Brian of the People's Phillies Blog (who you can follow on Twitter) where we each answered several questions about our respective teams.
Okay, pencils down! Here are the results:
Brandon to Brian - Scouting the Phillies
1. What would you say the Phillies vulnerabilities are?
The bullpen. Their bullpen struggles have been well-documented, particularly those of Brad Lidge. And Ryan Madson hasn't exactly lit it up this October. However, they've gotten the job done thus far and are more than capable of stepping up. That said, no Phillies fan will feel completely safe with a slender lead and the game in the bullpen's hands.
2. What player on the Phillies will be the X-Factor for whether they win or lose the series?
Cole Hamels. The 2008 World Series MVP hasn't looked like himself for much of the season, but everyone knows he's capable of dominating a game. He had a solid start against the Yankees this year allowing 2 runs in 6 innings at Yankee Stadium. He'll have an easier time in Game 3, since he won't have to face a DH. It's also worth noting that Hamels has had difficulty with left-handed hitting this October and the Yankees are a better right-handed hitting team.
3. Jimmy Rollins has begun the trash talking process. Do you feel that this will help or hurt the team in the longrun?
Rollins has a history of trash-talking a certain other New York team and it's worked out pretty well for them. Will it help or hurt? Ultimately I think it's irrelevant. Rollins and the Phillies have earned the right to talk trash, as the reigning World Champions. They are extremely confident, as they should be, and know how to win in hostile environments.
4. If you had a big game situation, who would you want on the mound?
Adam Eaton. Oh wait, I thought you meant who I want on the mound for the OTHER team. Yeah, I'm gonna have to go with Cliff Lee. He's the reigning AL Cy Young Award winner and has been nothing short of brilliant in the postseason. Upon further review, it's a question worth considering. Not because I have any doubts about Lee (though his history against the Yankees is mediocre) but because the Phillies also have the Hamels and a future Hall of Famer in Pedro Martinez at their disposal. I'd still have to go with Lee, but I wouldn't feel terrible about going into a Game 7 with Hamels or Pedro taking the hill.
5. At the Plate?
This is a much tougher choice. But again, it's because the Phillies have so many proven clutch performers. I'll have to go with Chase Utley, since he's our best all-around hitter, but you really can't go wrong. Ryan Howard has been a hitting machine this October, just as good (if not better) than A-Rod. Jayson Werth has had a great year and slays left-handed pitching. Victorino, Feliz, and Ruiz have all had their share of clutch hits this year and last. Ibanez hasn't gotten much press, but he has 9 RBI and 9 games. Two weeks ago I would have left Rollins off the list, but after witnessing his NLCS Game 4 heroics in person, I'll never doubt him again. As I said, I'll take Utley, as he's the best overall player, but lucky for me and Phillies fans everywhere, I don't really have to choose.
6. Do you think the Phillies bullpen will step up or step down? Why?
I wouldn't be much of a fan if I said "step down," would I? Seriously though, the Phillies bullpen has been impressive this October and there's reason to believe it could step up and be even better in the World Series. Brad Lidge appears to have his confidence back. Chan Ho Park is well-rested and got some good work in during the NLCS. Brett Myers, who had an impressive start against the Yankees in May, is back and (hopefully) healthy. Madson hasn't looked good lately, but there's no questioning his talent or his track record. The question with this bullpen all year has not been ability, it's been composure, and they look plenty composed right now.
7. Summarize the Phillies lineup? Strengths? Weaknesses?
American League-esque. This is a lineup that has no real weaknesses, up and down the order. The Phillies' 2 through 6 hitters made the All-Star team, and deservedly so. Rollins was left off but he's improved in the second half and is a former MVP. Feliz and Ruiz don't scare anyone, but Feliz has been good in the clutch (.879 OPS with 2 outs and runners in scoring position). Meanwhile, check out Ruiz's postseason numbers. His career playoff OPS is .838. His OPS in last year's Fall Classic was 1.188 and in this year's NLCS he posted a 1.271 OPS. And it doesn't hurt that he's a career 6-for-8 with a home run and 3 RBI against the Yankees. And then there's Ben Francisco, who will almost certainly get some at-bats, either as a pinch hitter, or as left fielder while Ibanez starts at DH. Francisco is great against left-handed pitching and he has a .928 OPS in 10 games against the Yankees.
As far as weaknesses, the one thing the Phillies have going against them is their tendency to leave runners on base. The Phillies have a lot of big hitters who take big cuts, and that can lead to strikeouts and pop-ups, so it's not altogether uncommon to see the Phillies come up empty, despite having 1st and 3rd and no outs. That said, they can just as easily crank a 3-run home run. Critics lambasted the Phillies last year as well for leaving runners on, but the important thing to remember is that if you're leaving runners on, that means you're getting runners on to begin with. It means you're working counts, tiring the starting pitching, and giving yourself the opportunity to blast those 3-run shots.
8. How about the Phillies bench?
The bench is one of the Phillies' great strengths. As mentioned, Ben Francisco is a very good right-handed bat and he's also a good baserunner and strong fielder. When the Phillies employ him in their outfield, they've essentially got 3 center fielders. Matt Stairs finished the regular season below the Mendoza line, but he posted a .357 OBP and cranked 5 home runs. As any Phillies (or Dodgers) fan can tell you, he's a home run threat every time he's at the plate. Greg Dobbs was arguably the best pinch hitter in the league in 2008. Eric Bruntlett isn't great, but he's a solid utility player and a good baserunner, with good playoff experience. Paul Bako is nothing special, but he's a veteran catcher with good defensive ability. If he had to step in for Ruiz at some point, the Phillies could do worse.
World Series winner
Phillies in 6
Jayson Werth - Let's face it, this is going to be a hitter's series. And with the Yankees' left-handed starting pitching, the Phils may not get the kind of production from Howard as they did in the first two rounds. Werth can hit with the best of them, and even when he's not mashing home runs, he works counts better than anyone in baseball.
Most Valuable Pitcher
Cliff Lee - If the Phillies are going to win it, it will have a lot to do with Lee. If his 0.74 ERA against the NL's 2nd and 4th best offenses was any indication, he can win a game or two for the Phillies against the Yankees.
Werth - Like I said, Werth will need to have a good series to neutralize the Yankees' left-handed starters, but frankly there's so many good players on this Phillies offense, there's no wrong answer here. Rollins, Utley, Howard, and Ibanez have shown they are capable of carrying the offense for stretches. Victorino is no slouch either and I already talked about Ruiz's playoff resume. I'm fairly confident Feliz, Bruntlett, and Bako won't be tearing it up, but otherwise, all bets are off.
Chan Ho Park - the obvious answer is Lidge, but the truth is, the Phillies already know who they're going to in the 9th inning. The 7th and 8th innings, however, are a tougher call. Park was the Phillies' best reliever this season and will be looked upon to get big outs, especially if Madson continues to look shaky.
Brian to Brandon - Scouting the Yankees
1. What would you say the Yankees vulnerabilities are?
I say the bullpen. The Yankees bullpen has the capability to be amazing or terrible, depending on the day. We've seen Alfredo Aceves pitch like an ace, but we've also seen him pitch like a AAA pitcher. David Robertson has been great getting out of jams, but he also got himself into those jams. Then theres Joba Chamberlain and Phil Hughes. Can you trust them in the 7th or 8th innings? It's becoming questionable with their rocky ALDS and ALCS performances.
2. What player on the Yankees will be the X-Factor for whether they win or lose the series?
I wanted to say Phil Hughes and even originally typed that as my answer, but I'm going with A.J. Burnett. The all-important Game 2 is a must-win game if the Yankees lose game one. Which Burnett will show up? Game 2 of the ALDS (which I was at) or Game 2 of the ALCS? He is a rocky pitcher that when he is on, hes ON, but when he is off, he is OFF.
3. Does C.C. Sabathia's 2008 struggles against the Phillies in the playoffs concern you?
No. I am biased in saying that, but I truly do believe it. When CC Sabathia pitched against the Phillies last year he was coming off a streak of many, many 3 days rest starts. This season he has only started on three days rest once. He can be the workhorse that they need, but they haven't needed that yet.
4. If you had a big game situation, who would you want on the mound?
Easy, Mariano Rivera. Rivera is the only pitcher in the MLB that I would trust in this situation. If you give me a bases loaded nobody out tie game in World Series Game 7 situation I would not even hesitate to pick Rivera. Not only is he the all-time postseason saves leader, but he has also had a very good postseason this year.
5. At the Plate?
Hmmm I'm going to go with Nick Swisher and his .125 Batting Average. Actually, never mind I think I'm going to pick Alex Rodriguez and his .438 Batting Average, 5 HR and 12 RBI this postseason. The fact that he has tied two games in the 9th inning or later this postseason just shows on its own how dependable in the clutch situations he has been.
6. Do you think the Yankees bullpen will step up or step down? Why?
This was a very hard question for me. I think that Phil Hughes will step down and Joba Chamberlain will step up. I think in at least one of the games Hughes will blow the lead in the 7th or 8th innings and then Joba Chamberlain will come in, shut the Phillies down and then the Yankees will go on to win that game. They will win that game because the rest of the bullpen will step up as well. Watch out for David Robertson. He could even take over the set-up role if he pitches well enough.
7. Summarize the Yankees lineup? Strengths? Weaknesses?
Top to bottom I would not take any lineup in baseball over it. There have been struggles with Mark Teixeira and Nick Swisher, but I am confident that Teixeira at least can break ouy of it. Otherwise you have Mr. November (Derek Jeter), Mr. October of this year (Alex Rodrgiuez) and other proven postseason players (Johnny Damon, Jorge Posada) within the lineup.
8. How about the Yankees bench?
If the rumors are true, Eric Hinske and Brian Bruney (pitcher) will be added to the roster over Freddy Guzman and Francisco Cervelli. Cervelli was used as the third catcher this postseason and came in handy when needed. If Posada gets hurt now in game 2 (if Molina catches that game) then Jerry Hairston Jr. will be the 3rd catcher. Hairston hasn't ever played catcher in his career. Hairston himself can be used to pinch-run or even pinch-hit if neccessary. Hairston had never played a postseason game in his career going into this year. Of course there is Hinske who Phillies fans know for making the last out of last years World Series. He has been on the AL Champions three years in a row now and can provide some pop off the bench. Brett Gardner rounds off the bench as the big speedy guy. Fans enjoy calling him Gritty Gutty Brett Gardner (or GGBG for short) because of his instincts and base-running abilities.
World Series winner
Yankees in 6. I tell you though, if this series was in Philadelphia I would probably pick the Phillies in 7. I think home-field advantage will be the deciding factor in this series.
Most Valuable Pitcher
David Robertson. Watch out for him.
Thanks again to Brian for doing this interview. I hope both teams play great baseball, but the Yankees play better baseball! Check out his site and make sure to vote on the polls on the sidebar of my site. More interviews and commentary to come!