Why the Rays will beat the Phillies

First Inning (A look back)…
The heart of the order for the Rays carried the offense in the ALCS…Can they keep it up?

After going 2-13 with no RBIs in the first game, batters two through five in the batting order (BJ Upton, Carlos Pena, Evan Longoria and Carl Crawford) hit .405/.474/.957 in the next four games while the team went 3-1. Upton and Crawford are the biggest surprises. Upton was unable to attack pitches with his shoulder injury most of the season, but now appears as though he has put that behind him. Crawford looks like a guy that is desperate to prove that he is still important. Longoria and Pena? Those guys are just awesome… Get used to it.

Second Inning (Headlines)…
The Rays played nine games this season in a NL park without the DH…What can we learn from those games?

The Rays were last in baseball with 23 sacrifices. In nine games in NL parks, the Rays employed the sacrifice bunt three times. In DH-games the Rays sac bunted once every 7.7 games. So Papa Joe does tend to get a bit more Nationalistic without the DH. The other question is what Joe Maddon will do with the lineup without a DH in Philly. Maddon uses a platoon system at right field and DH. Rocco Baldelli and Gabe Gross are the right fielders with Willy Aybar and Cliff Floyd at DH. Our guess is that will not change with Aybar and Floyd sitting in Philadelphia. Floyd is not a big loss, but Aybar has been a huge bat in September and the postseason. His bat will be missed… More sac bunts and less Aybar in Philly.

Third Inning (Headlines)…
The Phillies feature two lefties in their rotation and the Rays struggle against lefties… Are they in trouble?

During the regular season the Rays struggled against lefties going 40-41 against left-handed starters. Many thought the Rays needed to add a right-handed bat before the trading deadline. But in the postseason, the Rays are now 3-1 against lefties. In addition to the historic runs by Upton and Longoria, a big reason for the new found success against lefties is the emergence of Baldelli and Aybar as legitimate offensive threats. Against lefties, Joe Maddon has gone with Baldelli in right and Aybar at DH. In the ALCS, Baldelli and Aybar hit a combined 10-25 (.400) with 3 home runs and 10 RBIs (1.223 OPS)… Rays were 2-0 against Jon Lester.

Fourth Inning (Headlines)…
David Price shut down the Red Sox for a four-out save in game seven of the ALCS… Who is going to close for the Rays in the World Series?

Since Troy Percival went on the DL, Maddon has gone closer-by-committee, with Dan Wheeler receiving the majority of the save opportunities. But after Wheeler struggled during the comeback in game five, Maddon chose to go with Wheeler early in game seven and then brought David Price in for the final four outs. Maddon will still go closer-by-committee in the World Series, with an eye towards matchups, but don’t be surprised to see Price in the ninth inning during the World Series. But that means less to Papa Joe that the “key outs” of the seventh and 8th inning… Whoever is left over after the seventh and eighth innings.

Fifth Inning (Headlines)…
Scott Kazmir struggled down the stretch for the Rays but was solid in his last start in the ALCS…Which Kazmir can we expect in the World Series?

In September and his first start of the postseason, Kazmir seemed to be struggling mentally. In many of his recent starts he seemed more worried about his mechanics than the batter. When Joe Maddon moved Kid K up to game five at Fenway, the crowd and the pressure of the situation seemed to refocus Kazmir and he dominated the Sox for six innings, giving up just two hits and no runs. If Kazmir starts looking down at his landing foot in the first inning of game one, the Rays will be in trouble. If Kazmir can focus on the batters, he is capable of shutting the Phillies down for five-plus inning… Depends on if his feet are more important than batters.

Sixth Inning (A look outside the box)…
Normally this is where we would look at other series of importance… But sweet fancy Moses…There are no other series.

Seventh Inning (Over/Unders)…
30,000 fans per game next season…

The Rays averaged 22,600 fans per game this season. That was 26th in baseball. Ten teams averaged more than Tropicana Field’s maximum capacity of about 36,000. A legitimate expectation is over 30,000 in 2009, which would put the Rays in the top 15… Under, barely.

0.5 saves for David Price in the World Series…

The two relievers that Maddon has the most confidence in are JP Howell and Grant Balfour, although The Mad Australian struggled in the ALCS. So when big outs are needed in the seventh and eighth innings, those are the pitchers you will see. As for Price, game seven was a big breakthrough, but it is difficult to gauge what that will mean for the World Series. Maddon clearly has confidence in Price so it will not surprise me to see him in the ninth inning at some point, but he has yet to work back-to-back days so the opportunities will be limited… Over, barely.

3.5 wins in the World Series…

A Hardball Times Update
Goodbye for now.

All the Rays have done all season is win when nobody thought they would…Over

Eighth Inning (On deck)…
The Rays have home field advantage in the World Series thanks to an All-Star game win… Will this venue have an impact on the series?

Game one will mark the first time in 2008 that the Phillies will play on artificial turf. This is not something to take lightly. The Rays have one of the best infield defenses in baseball. An argument could be made for three or four gold gloves in the Rays infield. The Rays infield is used to the fast turf. The quick bounces and the fast track are something the Phillies infielders are not used to. At some point in games one or two, the Rays will benefit… Good for one or two runs in games one and two.

Ninth Inning (Putting out the fire)…
A lot of people seem to be concerned with whether people will watch this World Series… Is this a legitimate concern?

Since when do fans care if other people watch? Watch or don’t watch… Nobody should care.

If the Rays lose the World Series is this season a success?

On the one hand: yes. Nobody thought the Rays would get this far, but then again, the Rays are no lock to get back anytime soon. It would be a success if they hadn’t gotten this far. But the Rays are this far. Either win or go home…NO

Matt Garza was named the MVP of the ALCS… Do you agree?

Earlier this season Garza started seeing a sports psychologist and has been great ever since… Can we get the psychologist a playoff share?

Matt Garza was named the MVP of the ALCS… If the Rays win the World Series, who will be the MVP?

Co-MVPs seem like a long-shot, so we have to pick between BJ Upton and Evan Longoria. We think there is a Longoria bias… Evan Longoria

Will the Red Sox overcome a four games to three deficit?

If it keeps the Red Sox Nation from vandalizing Faneuil Hall… Let them keep hoping.

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