A World Series Preview with Lisa Swan

We are just about twelve hours away from game time, and if you’re a fan of either team, you probably have the jitters. That is not to be confused with the shivers, which everyone in the northeast has after all of this recent bone-chilling cold, rainy weather. You can always use more World Series preparation, right? Grab a sweater, stretch out that mouse-side index finger, and enjoy the Q&A sessions with myself and fellow Baseball Bloggers Alliance member and Yankee aficionado Lisa Swan of The Faster Times and Subway Squawkers.

Click here for my half of the questioning at The Faster Times.

. . .

1. Chase Utley is pretty well-regarded as the best player on the Phillies. Does New York realize this or is Utley underappreciated outside of Philadelphia?

Met fans know he’s great, but they love to hate him (although not as much as they hate the Flying Hawaiian!) Yankee fans haven’t really paid as much attention to Utley (although some New Yorkers do remember what Utley cursed at last year’s All-Star Game after getting booed!)

2. With the way balls fly out in right field at Yankee Stadium, do you have any apprehension about seeing Utley, Ryan Howard, Raul Ibanez, and Matt Stairs?

When the Phillies came to town in May, the balls were indeed flying out of the park. But it’s calmed down a bunch since then, for whatever reason (weather, better pitching, etc.) However, it is still a bit of a concern. After all, the Phillies hit like an AL East, not an NL East, team.

3. What are your thoughts on the match-up of former Cleveland Indians staffmates C.C. Sabathia and Cliff Lee? Do you see it being a close one, or is there a weakness of either that will be exploited?

Aside from wondering what Cleveland fans are thinking over seeing their guys face each other, it’s hard to say. The Yanks have a bit more familiarity with Lee than the Phillies do with Sabathia, and even beat him once this year. Plus, CC’s pitching at home. (Slight) advantage to CC.

4. Going back to underappreciation, who has been the biggest Yankees contributor who has flown under the radar?

Dave Robertson. He’s been great in the bullpen this season, with the highest strikeout rate in the league – 13.4 Ks per 9 innings. He helped the Yankees stay in the game in their two playoff walkoff wins, and got the wins in both games. And if Joe Girardi had just left him in to do his thing in Game 3, the Yanks might have won that game in
extra innings as well.

5. The Sabermetric fielding statistics have painted Ryan Howard as a better fielder this year than Mark Teixeira. In fact, they paint Tex as a below-average fielder. As someone who has watched Tex, what is your reaction to that?

I don’t want to sound all Joe Morgan here, but I find that hard to fathom. Teixeira was like Stretch Armstrong at first this year – especially in the playoffs – with the ability to make close plays and get runners out. It’s part of the reason fans haven’t gone too crazy when he hasn’t hit much this October – because he’s saved a ton of runs.

6. Sticking with defense, what has Derek Jeter done to improve his? In the off-season and in spring training, Ryan Howard worked with Sam Perlozzo on his defense, and that has been a very worthwhile investment. Did Jeter do anything different?

Yes, he did. Jeter reportedly changed his workout routine – and changed personal trainers – before this season to improve his mobility and range. And it’s really paid off – Jeter is looking better than he has in years.

7. What’s it going to take to stop John Sterling from coming up with those awful, awful isms about your Yankees? A “Tex message”? Really?

He’ll never stop – he gets too much fun out of saying them – and creating them. I’m picturing Sterling up late at night in his hotel room, pen and paper in hand, letting the muse strike him while he comes up with gems like “Robbie Cano, don’tcha know” or  “Hinske with your best shot.” I get it, though – every time a new hitter joins the
Yankees, I do a post trying to come up with what the Sterling call will be. Invariably, what he comes up with is even cornier than what I could have predicted!

8. I have often thought of Brett Myers  and A.J. Burnett as being cut from the same cloth. On some days, when they have their stuff, they are completely and utterly dominant. On other days, they are as pedestrian of Adam Eaton. Has it been at all frustrating watching Burnett, who actually had a decent year?

To use a Michael Kayism, A.J. is like the little girl with the curl. When he’s good, he’s very good, but when he’s bad, he’s horrid. I do think he’s better when Jose Molina catches him, because Molina is a calming influence. But when Burnett is really bad, even having his own personal catcher doesn’t help.

9. The Yankees have over $166 million tied up in 12 players in 2010. Do you see 2009 being a “you gotta do it” year, or do you think that if the Yankees lose the World Series, they can try again next year?

Nah, they gotta win now (and, of course, try to repeat next year.) The Yankees haven’t won a World Series since Bill Clinton was president – it’s time. Win or lose, I don’t expect the team to change must next year, though.

10. The media has raved about the atmosphere of the Yankees’ clubhouse changing with the acquisitions of Burnett and Nick Swisher. Do you think that has had any tangible effect on the Yankees, or is it just a matter of the team being made up by a bunch of really good baseball players?

I do believe in the chemistry thing. For too long this decade, the Yankees were the dynasty guys, and everybody else, and they seemed held hostage by the so-called “Yankee way,” where everybody had to be bland and boring. But this year, Joe Girardi placed a high priority not only on getting the team on the same page – he had the Yanks miss a spring training day to go play pool together – but in letting these guys be themselves, and letting new players have a say in the club.

This is a special team, with the 17 walkoff wins and the fun atmosphere. Yes, they have a huge payroll, and a ton of talent, but they also have good chemistry. And I think that’s part of the reason they’ve been so successful – because they have each others’ backs. In previous years, one bad playoff game would kill them for the rest of the series. Now, they’re able to turn the page easily, thanks to having faith in each other. They really are a likeable bunch.

. . .

Thanks to Lisa for painting a clearer picture of the Bad Guys for us. Personally, I cracked a smile when she said, “The Yankees haven’t won a World Series since Bill Clinton was president”. That smile grows even wider when you consider that the Mets haven’t won since Ronald Reagan was President. Although, I am conflicted by the fact that the Phillies  technically haven’t won since George W. Bush was President.

World Series Scouting Reports

As promised yesterday, we’ll take a look at the World Series starters. Despite the Phillies naming Pedro Martinez the Game 2 starter, there is still a lot of uncertainty around both teams’ rotations:

  • Will the Phillies use a four-man rotation?
  • If so, will Charlie Manuel use Joe Blanton or J.A. Happ?
  • Will the Yankees use a three-man rotation?
  • If so, who is starting Game 2?
  • If not, will Joe Girardi select Chad Gaudin to start Game 4?

Regardless, we can still take a look at what these starters throw and how often they throw it. Introduced in the NLDS preview, I’ll be using scatter plots with the pitch frequency and the respective values (runs above average per 100 pitches of the type in question). These statistics can be found at FanGraphshere’s Cole Hamels’ page for instance.

You will, of course, need to know how to interpret the graph. Values to the north and east are good for the pitcher, as it means he throws the pitch often and succeeds. Values to the south and east indicate that the pitcher throws the pitch often and gets hit around. As you go west, the data becomes more insignificant because the pitches are thrown less and less, meaning A) there’s a small sample size and B) that the pitcher doesn’t throw the pitch often enough for it to have a noticeable effect on his performance.

Due to the uncertainty of the rotations, I will simply present the graphs by team. Note that the acronym”RAA/C” stands for “runs above average per 100 pitches”. As an example, C.C. Sabathia’s fastball has a RAA/C value of 0.64, which means that for every 100 fastballs he throws, they are worth (you can think in terms of prevention as well, since he is a pitcher) 0.64 runs above average.

The obvious caveat here is that the graphs don’t account for the Nash Equilibrium, or in other words, pitch sequencing. While Pedro Martinez has a change-up that has been below-average, it in all likelihood increases the value of his fastball enough to make the trade-off beneficial. Exactly how much is near impossible to quantify. But this is just to say that the following charts merely give a general idea as to what the pitchers throw and how effectively they throw it.

To enhance the quality of the graph, I suggest opening it in a new window, which you can do by clicking on it.

Philadelphia Phillies

New York Yankees

Observations

  • Cliff Lee and J.A. Happ have the most effective fastballs on the Phillies’ staff and they rely heavily on them
  • Although by itself Pedro Martinez’s change-up has not been an effective pitch, it is the only thing keeping his fastballs from being Adam Eatoned
  • Cole Hamels’ chart essentially shows what Matt Swartz argued at Baseball Prospectus, which is that Hamels isn’t nearly as bad as he has shown
  • Joe Blanton potentially starting is a thought that makes me increasingly nervous
  • All three of C.C. Sabathia’s pitches are above-average — wow!
  • A.J. Burnett’s curve is as good as advertised
  • One of the more intriguing Andy Pettitte match-ups has to be his cut fastball against right-hander Jayson Werth, who can pull his hands in and get around on the cutter better than most RH batters
  • The Phillies should be licking their chops at the prospect of facing Chad Gaudin, as the Yankees should for Joe Blanton

Meet the New York Yankees

The 2009 season is down to its last four-to-seven games. One squad of 25 men will attempt to wrest control of the final series from the other for the right to call themselves “World Champions,” or in the Phillies’ case, “back-to-back World Champions”.

Each team made a concerted effort to get to this point. The Yankees spent an exorbitant amount of money to lure 2007 AL Cy Young award winner C.C. Sabathia, the multi-talented first baseman Mark Teixeira, and the good-when-healthy A.J. Burnett. The Phillies signed Raul Ibanez in the off-season and added former Cy Young award winners Cliff Lee and Pedro Martinez mid-season to improve a mediocre starting rotation.

Likewise, each team had to battle adversity. Alex Rodriguez missed the first five weeks of the regular season and had to deal with fallout from his admission to use of performance-enhancing drugs during his tenure with the Texas Rangers. Chien-Ming Wang was ineffective when he took the mound and eventually called it a season after his start on July 4.

The Phillies, meanwhile, had to compete with Jimmy Rollins being a shell of his former 2007 NL MVP self, and Brad Lidge inverting his success from last year. To make matters worse, the Phils lost the voice of the team, Harry Kalas, in mid-April following the conclusion of a series in Colorado.

Back stories out of the way, let’s get down to the nitty-gritty and compare the World Series entrants. Fellow ESPN SweetSpot blogger and Yankees representative Jason Rosenberg of It’s About the Money, Stupid! is likewise comparing the teams, so stop by for an alternative perspective.

First, let’s look back on the May 22-24 inter-league series in New York. What happened?

  • May 22: The good guys won 7-3 behind a strong start from Brett Myers. As was typical for Brett this season, he allowed three home runs in the game, but fortunately they were all of the solo variety. The Phillies hit four home runs, including this mammoth shot from Jayson Werth off of A.J. Burnett.
  • May 23: The bad guys won 5-4 thanks to one of Brad Lidge’s many blown saves during the regular season. The Yankees scored three in the ninth courtesy a two-run, game-tying Alex Rodriguez home run, and a walk-off RBI single by Melky Cabrera. Lidge wasted a great start by future Sporting News Rookie of the Year J.A. Happ.
  • May 24: The rubber-match ended as a rubber-match between two elite teams should: with extra innings. The Phillies led 3-2 going into the bottom of the ninth, but Brad Lidge once again blew the save opportunity on another RBI single by Melky Cabrera. Carlos Ruiz gave the Phillies the victory in the 11th inning on an RBI double that scored Chase Utley.

Judging by the way the inter-league regular season series went, both teams’ offense will figure prominently into the results. As such, let’s take a look at where each team stands offensively.

Offense, Base Running, Defense

The Phillies led the National League, averaging 5.06 runs per game. Being an American League team, the Yankees led with a higher 5.65 RPG average.

At home, the Yankees averaged one home run every 23 plate appearances; on the road, every 30 PA. The Phillies are more balanced, averaging a HR per 25 PA at home and per 28 PA on the road.

The following chart will compare each team’s starters at each position using OPS+. For those unfamiliar with the metric, this Wikipedia blurb explains it rather succinctly.

(WordPress is back to reducing the quality of images. If you’d like to see a clearer version of the charts, just click on them and they will open in a new window.)

The Yankees have clear advantages at catcher, shortstop, and third base, while the Phillies don’t have any clear advantages themselves, though most would take Chase Utley over Robinson Cano and Jayson Werth over Nick Swisher without thinking twice.

Using batting and fielding runs from FanGraphs, and base running runs from Baseball Prospectus, what happens if we also include base running and defense into our analysis? Have a look:

For your convenience, the following chart will quickly show you the advantages, marked with the letter x.

The Yankees’ offense is more powerful than the Phillies’ — without counting Hideki Matsui as the DH — but the Phillies make up a lot of ground with their base running smarts (thanks to first base coach Davey Lopes) and defense.

Catchers

Offensively, the switch-hitting Jorge Posada is clearly ahead of Carlos Ruiz. However, Chooch is enjoying a fine 2009 post-season with a 1.000 OPS in 34 PA. Posada has put up an .845 OPS in 36 PA.

With his cannon arm, Chooch threw out 23 of 84 base-stealers (27.4%) during the regular season. Posada matched him, throwing out 31 of 111 (27.9%).

As Phillies fans are well aware of, though, is that Ruiz’s strength is blocking balls in the dirt, a very important feature particularly for closer Brad Lidge. Ruiz led all qualified Major League catchers, averaging just .184 wild pitches and passed balls per game. In other words, Ruiz will let one skip by once every five games. Posada was among the bottom ten in the American League with a .562 WP+PB/G according to The Hardball Times.

Posada, a potential Hall of Famer, is clearly the superior catcher here, but in a short series where small events are magnified, Ruiz’s fundamentally-sound game reduces that gap.

Bench

Both teams’ benches aren’t exactly filled with batting champions, but they are deep and versatile.

The Phillies have left-handers Matt Stairs and Greg Dobbs; Stairs will likely DH when A.J. Burnett starts. Infielders Miguel Cairo and Eric Bruntlett allow manager Charlie Manuel the flexibility to pinch-run late in the game to increase the probability of scoring an extra run. Right-hander Ben Francisco will likely play left field when a left-hander (C.C. Sabathia, Andy Pettitte) starts, allowing Raul Ibanez to simply DH. Finally, left-hander Paul Bako is the back-up catcher to Carlos Ruiz.

The Yankees have several pinch-running options as well in outfielders Brett Gardner and Freddy Guzman. Jerry Hairston, Jr. is the lone back-up infielder. Jose Molina will back up Jorge Posada and will likely catch when A.J. Burnett starts.

Pitching

It’s like staring into a mirror. A look at each team’s starting and relief pitching during the regular season:

  • Phillies starters: 4.29 ERA
  • Yankees starters: 4.48
  • Phillies relievers: 3.91 ERA
  • Yankees relievers: 3.91

I’ll compare the starters once the rotations are set. For now, we’ll just focus on the bullpen using WXRL from Baseball Prospectus.

Mariano Rivera, Phil Hughes, and Alfredo Aceves during the regular season were better than any of the Phillies’ relievers. Almost everyone said that the Phillies’ biggest weakness heading into the NLCS was their bullpen, but that wasn’t fleshed out by the results, as only Chan Ho Park and Ryan Madson gave up runs out of the ‘pen against the Los Angeles Dodgers. Meanwhile, Rivera, Hughes, Aceves, and Joba Chamberlain allowed runs in the ALCS against the L.A. Angels.

It would be foolish not to assign the Yankees a huge bullpen advantage, but the Phillies have made a habit of disproving conventional wisdom.

Offense Splits

Since the Phillies and Yankees play in different leagues, we can’t just compare raw OPS figures. Instead, what I will use is tOPS+. To paraphrase Baseball Reference, tOPS+ is defined as:

OPS for split relative to total OPS. A number greater than 100 indicates the batter did better than average in this split. A number less than 100 indicates that the batter did worse than average in this split.

  • Yankees LH batters vs. LH pitchers: 102
  • Yankees LH batters vs. RH pitchers: 103
  • Yankees RH batters vs. LH pitchers: 101
  • Yankees RH batters vs. RH pitchers: 90
  • Phillies LH batters vs. LH pitchers: 103
  • Phillies LH batters vs. RH pitchers: 108
  • Phillies RH batters vs. LH pitchers: 100
  • Phillies RH batters vs. RH pitchers: 85

Both teams’ right-handed hitters struggle against right-handed pitchers, which makes the likes of Mariano Rivera, Brad Lidge, Alfredo Aceves, Ryan Madson, Phil Hughes, and Ryan Madson, as well as starters A.J. Burnett and Pedro Martinez, pivotal figures in this series.

Pitching Splits

Both teams’ left-handed hitters hit left-handed pitchers surprisingly well, which will minimize the effectiveness of Phil Coke, Damaso Marte, Scott Eyre, and J.A. Happ.

Here are similar split numbers for the pitchers. This time, numbers above 100 signify below-average pitching.

  • Yankees LH pitchers vs. LH batters: 70
  • Yankees LH pitchers vs. RH batters: 95
  • Yankees RH pitchers vs. LH batters: 106
  • Yankees RH pitchers vs. RH batters: 106
  • Phillies LH pitchers vs. LH batters: 90
  • Phillies LH pitchers vs. RH batters: 101
  • Phillies RH pitchers vs. LH batters: 99
  • Phillies RH pitchers vs. RH pitchers: 106

The reason why Phillies’ right-handers perform better than the Yankees’ right-handers against left-handed batters is because of the preponderance of change-ups thrown by Ryan Madson, Pedro Martinez, and Joe Blanton.

The run-down, sans starting pitching:

  • Offense: Slight advantage Yankees
  • Base running: Advantage Phillies
  • Defense: Advantage Phillies
  • Bullpen: Advantage Yankees

Once the rotations are announced, we will look at the starting pitching match-ups. If you need something to hold you over, stop by It’s About the Money, Stupid! for some Yankees-themed coverage.

The World Series Rotation

Todd Zolecki of MLB.com posted a couple days ago that the Phillies hadn’t set their rotation aside from Cliff Lee in Game One, mostly because they still don’t know who they will be opposing in the World Series. That, of course, has led to speculation and debate, so I’d like to weigh in on it, with the assumption that the Yankees win the ALCS over the Angels. It’s a safe assumption according to the post-season odds on Baseball Prospectus, which gives the Yankees an 89% chance to win the ALCS.

There are several questions to answer:

  • Should the Phillies use a three- or four-man rotation?
  • Does J.A. Happ fit into the rotation?
  • Which starters should pitch in New York?

Games 1 and 2 will be played in New York, as will Games 6 and 7 if necessary. Games 3, 4, and 5 will be played in Philadelphia. This is important to denote because Yankee Stadium is much more conducive to fly ball hitters than Citizens Bank Park. According to ESPN’s park factors, Yankee Stadium ranked first (1.261) while CBP ranked 16th (1.005) in allowing home runs.

As a result, it would behoove the Phillies to keep the fly ball-prone starters away from Yankee Stadium, especially the right-handers. Looking at the breakdown on HitTracker, left-handed hitters have a much easier time than do their right-handed counterparts. So no right-handed starters in New York for the Phillies, and keep the fly ball-prone guys away, too.

The Phillies starters’ fly ball rates:

  • Pedro Martinez: 43.9%
  • J.A. Happ: 42.9%
  • Joe Blanton: 39.3%
  • Cole Hamels: 38.7%
  • Cliff Lee: 38.1%

As it so happens, Lee in Game One and Hamels in Game Two appears to be the most likely scenario, which is the most beneficial to the Phillies.

Happ is a candidate to start, though not a very likely one as he provides more value in the bullpen since Scott Eyre is the only other reliable left-hander. Unfortunately, Happ has had a rough go of it in the post-season, allowing 11 base runners (six hits, five walks) and three earned runs in three and two-thirds innings against the Rockies and Dodgers. Based on these two facts, Happ should stay in the bullpen.

Now let’s take a look at how the Yankees have fared against each pitcher:

  • Cliff Lee: 224 PA, .820 OPS, HR per 28 PA, 14% K, 8% BB
  • Cole Hamels: 66 PA, .833 OPS,  HR per 22 PA, 17% K, 5% BB
  • Pedro Martinez: 386 PA, .661 OPS, HR per 39 PA, 28% K, 9% BB
  • Joe Blanton: 126 PA, .838 OPS, HR per 16 PA, 10% K, 6% BB

Most of Martinez’s history against the Yankees came from his prime years with the Boston Red Sox when he had a 95 MPH fastball, so his stats above should be taken with a grain of salt — he will not replicate a 28% strikeout rate.

The Yankees have hit Blanton well, smacking home runs at a frequent rate and striking out infrequently. Most of Blanton’s rates above are worse than his career averages: HR per 40 PA, 15% K, 7% BB. As a result, I would utilize a three-man rotation (Lee, Hamels, Martinez) and move Blanton to the bullpen.

The added benefit of using a three-man rotation is that it allows Charlie Manuel an extra spot for another bench player, like John Mayberry, while still keeping room for the versatility that Miguel Cairo and Eric Bruntlett provide. Antonio Bastardo would be left off the World Series roster, Blanton would go to the ‘pen, and Mayberry would be added to the roster.

Finally, a three-man rotation would mean that the Phillies could use Cliff Lee three times in the World Series if it got to a Game 7. The only hiccup in my plan comes in a perhaps unnecessary Game 6 in New York that Pedro Martinez would be in line to start. If Happ hadn’t been used much to that point, he could take Pedro’s place.

In summary, this is how it would look:

  • Oct 28 @ NYY: Cliff Lee
  • Oct 29 @ NYY: Cole Hamels
  • Oct 31 @ PHI: Pedro Martinez
  • Nov 1 @ PHI: Cliff Lee
  • Nov 2 @ PHI: Cole Hamels
  • Nov 4 @ NYY: Pedro Martinez or J.A. Happ
  • Nov 5 @ NYY: Cliff Lee

Changes to the roster:

  • Added: John Mayberry
  • Dropped: Antonio Bastardo
  • Moved to bullpen: Joe Blanton

Feel free to chime in with your thoughts on what the Phillies should do with their World Series starting rotation.

NLCS in Review

  • Four Phillies regulars hit for an OPS of 1.000 or better: Ryan Howard (1.457), Shane Victorino (1.320), Carlos Ruiz (1.271), and Jayson Werth (1.022). James Loney (1.127) was the only Dodger to cross that threshold.
  • The Phillies had 19 extra-base hits in the series to the Dodgers’ 9. 50% of the Phillies’ XBH were home runs as opposed to 67% of the Dodgers’.
  • 53% of the Phillies’ total hits were XBH; the Dodgers 24%.
  • 5 of the Dodgers’ 6 home runs were of the solo variety. Only 3 of the Phillies’ 10 were hit with the bases empty.
  • During the regular season, the Dodgers struck out 87 times less than the Phillies. During the NLCS, each team struck out a total of 33 times.
  • Cliff Lee was the only Phillies pitcher to get a hit. In last year’s NLCS, Brett Myers hit safely thrice in three at-bats and Cole Hamels got a hit as well. Clayton Kershaw was the only Dodger who reached base (via a walk).
  • Ramon Troncoso (3 IP) and Scott Elbert (1/3 IP) were the only Dodger relievers to finish the series with a 0.00 ERA. Brad Lidge, J.A. Happ, Chad Durbin, and Scott Eyre finished with aughts for the Phillies.
  • Dodgers starters had an ERA of 8.75; their relievers 5.68. Phillies starters had an ERA of 2.93; their relievers 3.38.
  • Dodger starters pitched only 55% of the innings; Phillies starters pitched 70% of the innings.
  • The Dodgers pitching staff had K/9, BB/9, and K/BB rates of: 6.96, 4.85, and 1.43 respectively. The Phillies pitching staff: 6.75, 2.45, 2.75.
  • Not one Phillies hitter on the bench got a hit in the NLCS. Matt Stairs was the only one to reach base (via a walk against Jonathan Broxton). For the Dodgers, Jim Thome had a hit and a walk in two at-bats, and Orlando Hudson hit a home run.
  • The Phillies and Dodgers tied a post-season record by hitting seven home runs between the two of them. It is the fifth time seven home runs have been hit in one post-season game.
  • Chase Utley reached base for the 25th conseuctive game by drawing a walk in the first inning of Game 5, tying the record held by Boog Powell.
  • The Phillies set a record by scoring 35 runs in five LCS games.
  • The Dodgers knocked the Phillies out of the playoffs in both the 1977 and ’78 NLCS. Thirty years later, the Phillies have exacted equivalent revenge.
  • The Phillies have reached the World Series in consecutive years for the first time in franchise history. The franchise, of course, has been around since 1883.

Almost There!

The Phillies officially started their quest to repeat as World Series champions in mid-February when pitchers and catchers reported to spring training. On April 5, the regular season began anew, and the Phillies would once again have to deal with oh-fers, blown saves, injuries, and losing streaks. The rigors of a 162-game season are taxing, no doubt.

Yet here the Phillies stand, again, on the precipice of every baseball player’s dream: a World Series championship. The last franchise to reach the World Series two years in a row was the 1998-2001 New York Yankees, who went four times in a row, winning it thrice consecutively from ’98-00. The ’95-96 Atlanta Braves were the last National League franchise to reach the World Series two years running.

The Phillies are now in that rarefied air, proudly.

While the Philadelphia police greased up poles on South Broad Street to prepare for riotous celebrations, the Phillies are now greasing up for a run at, likely, the New York Yankees. It should come as no surprise that the Bronx Bombers will be the Phillies’ greatest challenge thus far, but the good guys have overcome anything and everything thrown their way:

  • Brad Lidge’s incomprehensibly poor regular season as the closer
  • Cole Hamels’ mediocre 2009 despite being the same pitcher
  • J.C. Romero missing the first 50 games of the season, and then missing two more months due to injuries
  • Biology finally catching up to Jamie Moyer
  • Eric Bruntlett’s 21 OPS+

With their epic comebacks in Game Four of the NLDS and NLCS, the Phillies have shown that they get knocked down, but they get up again. Captain Clutch, the suddenly clutch Alex Rodriguez, and the $423.5 million the Yankees obliged to C.C. Sabathia, Mark Teixeira and A.J. Burnett — it doesn’t matter. Last year, Evan Longoria, Carlos Pena, and Matt Garza were supposed to stop the Phillies in their tracks. That idea was quickly squelched.

As they have been for the last few years, the Phillies will go into yet another post-season series expected to lose, to crumble at the sight of a dominant closer, to be overmatched by a three-time MVP, various Gold Glovers, and future Hall of Famers.

For now, the Phillies will celebrate the completion of the second-to-last leg of their run at another World Series title. Upon marinating in and consuming much champagne, the Phillies will turn their attention to those aristocrats from the Bronx, their yeoman’s approach unfettered.

In Game 4 of the NLDS, the Phillies had a 4% chance to win after Shane Victorino made the second out in the top of the ninth inning.

In Game 4 of the NLCS,  they had a 12% chance to win after Raul Ibanez grounded out to lead off the bottom of the ninth inning.

Go ahead, count them out. They like it better that way. It makes it that much sweeter when they pile up after the 27th out.

Game graph above courtesy FanGraphs.

Jaffe’s Phun Phillie Phacts

The venerable Chris Jaffe has a Phun Phillie Phacts piece up at The Hardball Times. It’s a great read. A snippet:

The team’s starting eight position players accounted for 79.7% of the franchise’s plate appearances in 2009. That is the most by any team in the 21st century. It’s the most by any club since the 1989 Cardinals, who had 80.5% go to their main eight.