Will Series end tonight?

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Well, the major league baseball season could end tonight, with a familiar scene: the New York Yankees celebrating in the middle of the diamond after winning their 27th World Series title. Of course, it’s been nine years since the pinstripers won their last title, way back in 2000 when they trounced the Mets in the Subway Series.

Having won three straight over the Philadelphia Phillies to take a commanding 3-1 lead in this series, there’s pretty much a vibe around Citizens Bank Park tonight that the Yanks will ultimately prevail. The chance of them losing three straight, including Games 6 and 7 at home, are remote.

That said, there’s also a sense around here that the Phillies are better positioned to win Game 5 tonight and at least force the series back to the Bronx Wednesday night. Here are several reasons why all signs point to a Philly win in this one…

— Ace Cliff Lee is on the mound, and he’s been the best pitcher in the postseason from any team. The lefty is 3-0 with an 0.54 ERA in four starts between the NLDS, NLCS and World Series, and he’s got a ridiculous 30-to-3 strikeout-to-walk ratio. Lee doesn’t even seem fazed by his heavy workload this season. He’s thrown 265 innings this season, surpassing his previous high by 42 innings. And if he goes only five innings tonight, he’ll become only the third pitcher this decade to surpass 270 innings in a single season. The other two: Curt Schilling and Randy Johnson, who each did it during the Diamondbacks’ championship run in 2001.

— A.J. Burnett is on the mound for the Yankees. While Burnett was fabulous in a Game 2 victory at Yankee Stadium, he’s anything but a sure thing. The righty particularly struggled less than two weeks ago when he had a chance to close out the ALCS in Game 5 in Anaheim … and promptly gave up four runs in the first inning to the Angels. Even if Burnett pitches well, he still needs to outpitch Lee, and that will be difficult because …

— The Yankees aren’t fielding their best lineup. Jose Molina, Burnett’s personal catcher, is starting in place of Jorge Posada. Hideki Matsui can’t DH in an NL park. And Melky Cabrera has been pulled off the roster after suffering a hamstring injury last night. He’ll be replaced on the roster by Ramiro Pena and in the lineup by Brett Gardner. So all of a sudden, the mighty Yankees lineup doesn’t look so scary: Jeter-Damon-Teixeira-Rodriguez-Swisher-Cano-Gardner-Molina-Burnett. That’s an average NL 5-through-9.

All that said, the Yankees obviously have momentum on their side after rallying to win last night in the ninth inning. And if they’re somehow able to jump on Lee early and take a lead, the crowd will be out of it and the Phillies could just fold.

Either way, it figures to be another entertaining game in what has already been a good series. Enjoy!

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Mark Zuckerman

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