A Fall Classic?

October 28

                      The NBA season started before the World Series did.  That is wrong on so many levels.  It’s October 28th and the “Fall Classic” could end up being the “Winter Classic” if it goes much longer.  Game 7 will be on November 5th, unless there are weather delays.  I can’t wait to see baseball players in wool caps.

                       OK, prediction time.  And thanks for asking  …  Yankees in Seven.  There, I saved many of you valuable reading time.  The rest of you, read and learn.

                       This shapes up as a truly great World Series between two very strong and very similar teams.  It should certainly get off to a great start.  Game One features two of the premiere left-handed pitchers in the game and former teammates, C.C. Sabathia and Cliff Lee.  It’s a matchup of the American League’s last two Cy Young winners.

                      Sabathia has been every bit the horse the Yankees hoped he would be.  For all of their prodigious hitters, they don’t make it to the ‘Series without their bell cow.  Wait, horse or bell cow? 

                      Sabathia’s former Indians teammate has been simply brilliant since being picked up by the Phillies in a trade deadline deal, one of the best ever.  Maybe it’s the relief of switching leagues, or the comfort of pitching for a team of bangers, but Lee has been as sharp as the spikes on Nick Swisher’s mohawk.

                      Game One is big, bigger than most openers.  If the Yankees lose at home with their ace on the mound, Mr. Mojo jumps on the Phillies’ shoulders.  Mr. Mojo is a capricious sort, who can change alliances faster than you can say “Anne Heche,” but a Game One win would be huge for the defending champions.  

                      I doubt Sabathia has faced a tougher lineup this season than the one the Phillies offer, especially 1 through 6.   Their goal will be to make him work and get him out of the game early enough to get at the Yankees’ shaky middle relief.  Their goal will be to neutralize Mariano Rivera as a factor.

                      Lee is just the kind of pitcher who can give the Yankees trouble.  In the old Yankee Stadium a left-hander could always prosper, but it’s especially true in the new one, although the ball won’t carry as well in colder weather.  If Lee has his pinpoint control he’ll be tough to deal with.

                       I could see Lee slightly outpitching Sabathia to take Game 1.

                      Game 2 will be especially spicy as Pedro Martinez returns to the Bronx, going up against A.J. Burnett.  Martinez is rejuvenated while Burnett has struggled.  It will be an emotional game for Pedro but I don’t see him going deep.  I think the Yankees can take Game 2.

                       Back in Philadelphia you’d think the Phillies would have an edge but I don’t see the Yankees shrinking from that stage.  Their core players — Derek Jeter, Posada, Johnny Damon, and Rivera — have been there before, and Alex Rodriguez appears to be locked in.  I think they’ll enjoy hitting in cozy Citizens Bank Park against Cole Hamels, Joe Blanton and Lee. 

                       Mr. Mojo then jumps back on the Yankees.  They should be able to get the Series back to New York, and that’s where the Yankees should close it out.  But it won’t be easy.

                     There will be a great deal of focus on the many stars in this series, from Ryan Howard to ARod to Jeter to Utley, but it is often the so-called “fringe” players who make the difference.  Teams do everything in their power to avoid getting beaten by the big guns, and then forget about the “lesser” weapons.  Players like Jimmy Rollins, Shane Victorino and Jayson Werth — or Robinson Cano, Hideki Matsui, and Melky Cabrera.  One or two of those guys will have a huge Series.

                    The Phillies have the edge in starting pitching and they can go toe-to-toe with the Yankees with their bats.  Plus, they have positive experience from just a year ago.  The Yankees have the edge with the designated hitter for the four possible games in New York, with Matsui vs. a Greg Dobbs or Matt Stairs.  Managers Charlie Manuel and Joe Girardi have different styles but no one has a great edge.  Manuel’s “country dumb” demeanor belies his ability to make the right moves, while Girardi has changed for the better after a tough first season.

                     There is one glaring difference:  closer.  Brad Lidge has been good for the Phillies in the post-season after a regular season that only Red Adair could handle.  However, Lidge has still not been dominant in the post-season, and the Yankees are full of clutch hitters who will give him fits. 

                    For the Yankees, Mariano Rivera has been Mariano Rivera, and that’s a very good thing.  Perhaps the most amazing pitcher of our time, the greatest playoff reliever of all time.  All with basically one pitch, the cut fastball at 90 to 91 miles an hour, breaking enough bats to build a ski lodge.  Rivera gives the Yankees a major edge in one of the most important categories of post-season baseball.  Luis Gonzalez got him with a 126-foot bloop in 2001 but apart from that, has any closer been more automatic in big games?

                      The bottom line ?  The defending champion Phillies will are not giving up the trophy easily, the Yankees will really need to earn it.  I could actually see the Yankees winning it with Rivera getting the final out in Game 7.  That would be a great ending for what everyone anticipates will be a great Series.

                      Now after all the buildup, watch somebody sweep.


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