Odds were stacked against Phillies

Published 8:33 am Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Well here it is the World Series matchup everyone had anticipated: the Philadelphia Phillies vs. the Tampa Bay Rays, right?

The Rays were a 150 to 1 shot to make the World Series before the season started. The Phillies a cool 20 to 1. The Twins were a 40 to 1 shot to make the Series.

This is a matchup no one could have predicted. After years of the Rays being a team on the rise, they finally arrived with a magical regular season that saw them become the first team other than the Red Sox and Yankees to win the American League East since the Baltimore Orioles in the 1997.

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The Phillies have a top-of-the-line starter with Cole Hamels but after him there isn’t much besides a 46-year-old soft throwing lefty. That lefty, Jaime Moyer, did go 16-7 during the regular season. Moyer led the team in wins and also had a respectable 3.71 ERA. After Hamels, who went 14-10, there’s Brett Myers and Joe Blanton. There staff doesn’t really intimidate many in a long series, but the Phillies are in the World Series.

But it’s their offense that makes them go. Philadelphia averaged nearly five runs per game and have a lineup that will cause fits for any starting pitcher. Philadelphia’s 799 runs ranked third in the National League and its slugging percentage ranked second in the league at .438. That’s not too hard to believe when you have Ryan Howard, Chase Utley and to a lesser extent Pat Burrell.

The Rays were fueled by pitching in the postseason and the regular season. The acquisition of Matt Garza was unbelivably huge for Tampa Bay. The Rays already had an ace in Scott Kazmir, an emerging star in James Shields and then adding an arm like Garza made them even tougher.

But the story so far for Tampa Bay has been the rise of the bats of B.J. Upton and Evan Longoria. Upton has seven home runs in the postseason and Longoria has six. Upton is slugging a ridiculous .826 and has 15 RBI in 11 games. The other bat that hasn’t received nearly as much attention is Carlos Pena. After having a monster season last year where Pena hit 46 home runs and drove in 121 RBI while earning AL Comeback Player of the Year, he has done it again in the postseason.

The Rays are no doubt the best story of the year in baseball, but the individual stories are just as compelling with the Rays. Pena is with his sixth club in seven years and never showed his true capability until last season with the Rays. Then there’s Rocco Baldelli. The poor guy couldn’t stay healthy after a terrific rookie season. He hasn’t played in more than 92 games in the last three seasons. This year he played in just 28 regular season contests.

Say what you will about the imbalance of MLB, but this World Series has really disproved that. And for that sake the last few seasons have as well. The Rockies made the Series last season and in the previous years it has been St. Louis, Chicago White Sox, Florida Marlins and Houston Astros.

While people complained about the Yankees going to the World Series year after year, it really should stand as quite an accomplishment because the last few seasons have taught us that making a return trip to the World Series is really difficult no matter how much money is spent on the roster.