I'll start out this by saying that if I were able to tell the future, I wouldn't be writing blogs, but sitting in Vegas playing cards.
Also, I want to be clear about something, I am not a baseball expert, but I am a guy who has watched the Phillies all season and I feel like I know this team very well. I won't try to sit there and tell you that I know everything about the Rays, because I don't. I haven't watched them at much this season, except for highlights and the last three games of the Red Sox ACLS series. So for my "prediction" I will just stick to what I know - the Phillies players.
The Phillies can win the World Series. I don't care who they play, they can win it. But *to* win it is a different story. Here's my quick hits about what I think in this series, looking at each player and what I think:
1. Jimmy Rollins - Jimmy has been mostly average this year (especially when compared to 2007). An early injury in the regular season and Jimmy hasn't impressed me at all this year offensively - he has a rash of good games and then disappears for a few more. His one key factor is that his defense has been Golden Glove solid this year. If J-Ro plays well, gets on base, this could be the #1 deciding factor of the series.
2. Jason Werth - Jason has been good this year, I don't think he's spectacular in the playoffs, but has been a mostly solid contributor at bat and in the field. I expect more of the same from him.
3. Chase Utley - Another "X-factor" like Rollins. Depends which Chase shows up for the series. The deer-in-headlights Chase that can't seem to get the clutch hit or the solid Chase Utley that dominates at the plate. You can't deny that at 2B Chase is excellent in the field (but, truth be told has made a few errors this season, too). I don't think that's going to change much in the World Series.
4. Ryan Howard - here's the deal. Everyone makes a big deal of Ryan. I think this year he had a terrible first two months, a decent summer, a white hot September and an average playoff run. He can't hit left handed pitchers. I think the first game Ryan goes 0 for 4 with 2 strikeouts and 2 ground outs to second. Good news is that the Rays next 3 pitchers are righties after that. What will happen, I don't know. I know that Ryan isn't always clutch hitter like a Manny Ramirez. He's a much better player when we have a lead and he's relaxed.
5. Pat Burrell - another guy that will define the series. Will the real Pat show up? Aside from the Brewers series, Pat did little in the Dodgers series to excite me. He's slow. Often he's replaced by the 6th inning if we are down in runs with another player. I don't expect that it's going to be any different in the World Series.
6. Shane Victorino - now here's a guy who has taken the pressure of the playoffs, laughed, and been our shining star. Whereas Chase Utley has a tendancy to fold under the pressure, Shane has stepped up in multiple games to make huge offensive hits and key defensive plays. I don't see that changing, and I think Shane will still hit very well, especially that he's a switch hitter who can hit in clutch plays.
7. Pedro Feliz - Great defense, one of the best defensive third basemen we have had in a long time, but his bat is just average. Sure, he can get hits, but i'm not super confident he will do much better than .200 this series. May have to get swapped with Greg Dobbs if we are down by the 6th inning and need a bat.
8. Carlos Ruiz - another excellent defensive player, and I can't wait to watch him call this game. He's had 5 days to watch tape of the Rays and figure out how he is going to pitch all their batters. Don't forget this. The Rays have had Monday & Tuesday to figure out the Phillies (oh, sure the back office probably has this done, but the players haven't had time to really sit and watch who they are facing). Believe it or not, Carlos Ruiz is going to be a difference maker in this series for that reason and for his bat. Everyone knows that Carlos can't hit. There's a big tail off in our lineup offensive production after Shane Victorino. If Carlos (and Pedro for that matter) can muster offense against a very good Rays pitching staff, this will be huge.
9. Designated Hitter - I'm not sure who Charlie puts in here. If I were in charge, i'd have Greg Dobbs. Why? As much as the Phillies love playing with the Pedro Feliz/Greg Dobbs sixth inning switch-a-roo, I think we need to put in our best bat at #9 spot. That's Dobbs.
I'm not going to analyze each player here. I think Cole Hamels is the "ace", Meyers has been solid since his return from the minors and the bullpen is very good, even better than the Rays. Moyer did have a bad game against the Dodgers, but don't forget he won 16 games this season. Blanton has been average, nothing special, and in my opinion, if the Phils are down 2 games to 1, i'd put Cole Hamels on short rest on the mound for game 4 (Hell, for the series it would be Hamels pitching 1-4-7 if I were the manager), and have Blanton pitch game 6. Hamels can hit the ball, whereas Blanton can't hit the side of a barn with his bat....making Blanton a better choice pitcher in a designated hitter AL game.
Phillies need their "A" game, no doubt. We need the stars to align and have Rollins, Utley, Howard to play better than they have been playing for the last couple of weeks. I know there's a lot of talk about Phils being rusty, but in my opinion, five days rest is going to help the Phillies more than hurt them, especially the pitchers and bullpen - and whatever ailments have been plaguing Utley and Rollins all season.
I think there's a lot of talk about the Rays being championship caliber for not backing down versus the Red Sox and winning in 7. To me, they should have wrapped it up in 5 games and their bullpen should not have blown game five and lost game six if they were champions. Yes, they won game seven, hats off to the Rays. But that was a game which was just one hit away from being a Red Sox win, trust me. A win is a win is a win, but I still shake my head and think we were closer than the pundits think to a Red Sox vs Phillies finale.
This playoff series the Phillies have had multiple people step up in key games to get a victory, but we really haven't had a consistent threat from the "Big 3" (Rollins, Utley, Howard). Shane has been gangbusters for the Phillies and I think everyone can agree is the #2 MVP of the playoffs right behind Cole Hamels. I think that, ultimately, is what will doom the Phillies this World Series - that the Phillies won't get consistent offensive production. If they can get to the 7th inning with a lead, I like our chances to win, even on the road.
My gut says Tampa in 6 games, only based on what I have read and how the Phillies have looked during the playoffs. As a Phillies fan, I hate to say it, but Tampa from what I read and watched, just have looked like a more well rounded team.
My heart says Phils can win in 6 if they take 1 in Tampa (preferably in the first two games), win 2 of 3 in Philly and then win in Tampa for game 6 (expect that Cole Hamels will be pitching game 1 & 5, and Brett Meyers game 2 & 6 if we are up).
I think one thing everyone needs to know is that "anything can happen" here. You can read all the pundits and critics tell us various reasons why Tampa or Philly can win. I think if Phillies had homefield advantage, i'd go with Phillies in 6 with my gut call. But they don't, and if they don't win 1 of the first two in Tampa, I just don't see the Phillies coming back from that to win.
Of course I hope that my gut is wrong and the Phillies bats come alive. If that happens, the Phillies win because we will have enough pitching to win these games.