World Series preview

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CATCHER

Rays: Dioner Navarro

The young catcher looks like a find, even though he struggled in the ALCS. He also threw out an impressive 38 percent of runners who tried to steal on him this year.

Phillies: Carlos Ruiz

Ruiz likely will hit ninth in the games in St. Petersburg, Fla., as the Phillies can use one of their reliable hitters off the bench as a designated hitter and partially make up for Ruiz’s lack of output.

Edge: Rays

FIRST BASE

Rays: Carlos Pena

He will have to hit left-handers better than he traditionally does (.226 lifetime average) to contribute much in this series. The Rays will need him to overcome the trouble Cole Hamels and Jamie Moyer will give him.

Phillies: Ryan Howard

He’s unquestionably the biggest offensive force in this series, but it all depends which version of Howard shows up. Expect the Rays to play him the same way the Dodgers did by shifting their infield to the right side and forcing Howard to go the other way. But he’s still capable of singlehandedly changing a game.

Edge: Phillies

SECOND BASE

Rays: Akinori Iwamura

Tampa Bay’s leadoff hitter struck out 131 times this season, but he provides a solid bat with some speed at the top of the lineup and a solid glove after moving from third base before this season.

Phillies: Chase Utley

The other left-handed slugger in the Phillies’ lineup, Utley is probably the most consistent hitter Philadelphia has. He hit .353 in the NLCS, and it’s difficult to imagine the Rays keeping him quiet for the entire series.

Edge: Phillies

SHORTSTOP

Rays: Jason Bartlett

He’s the less-heralded half of the package Tampa Bay got from the Minnesota Twins last winter, taking a back seat to Matt Garza. But Bartlett is a steady hitter with decent range who will be a fixture at the position for several years.

Phillies: Jimmy Rollins

Injuries have limited Rollins for much of the season, and he hasn’t been the same player he was during his 2007 MVP season. He hit .375 in the Phillies’ NLDS win over the Brewers but only batted .143 in the NLCS. Still, he’s a disruptive force at the top of Philadelphia’s lineup.

Edge: Phillies

THIRD BASE

Rays: Evan Longoria

The presumptive AL Rookie of the Year also struggles against left-handers (he hit .242 against them compared to .284 against righties), so expect Cole Hamels and Jamie Moyer to bait him with offspeed pitches. How he handles lefties will be key.

Phillies: Pedro Feliz

Feliz’s first season in Philadelphia has been disappointing — his production was off from what he usually did in San Francisco, and he has never been able to contribute much when he’s not hitting, as was the case in the NLCS.

Edge: Rays

LEFT FIELD

Rays: Carl Crawford

The longtime (and long-suffering) Rays outfielder also might be the most reliable hitter the team has. He hit .345 in the ALCS and also stole three bases.

Phillies: Jayson Werth

One of Philadelphia’s underappreciated outfielders, Werth emerged as both a productive offensive player and a threat to steal bases this season. He’s one of the few Phillies hitters who is adept at working the count.

Edge: Rays

CENTER FIELD

Rays: B.J. Upton

Whether it’s providing Tampa Bay some pop (24 homers in 2007) or speed (44 steals this season), the No. 2 pick in the 2002 draft is one of the Rays’ brightest young stars. He backed that up in the ALCS, posting an on-base-plus-slugging-percentage of 1.180.

Phillies: Shane Victorino

For those baseball fans who didn’t know about Victorino’s talents, his performance in the NLCS provided a crash course. He is a skilled defensive player, an aggressive hitter and quite possibly the most disruptive runner the Phillies have.

Edge: Even

RIGHT FIELD

Rays: Rocco Baldelli

Baldelli’s return after three injury-plagued seasons has given a lift to Tampa Bay’s lineup. He might not start every game but remains a reliable hitter against righties and lefties.

Phillies: Pat Burrell

The 31-year-old outfielder is difficult to keep from contributing one way or the other — his on-base percentage was .367 this season despite a .250 average. If you’re looking for a Phillies player that could swing the series, look no further.

Edge: Phillies

BENCH

Rays

Tampa Bay has a number of solid hitters here (Gabe Gross, Cliff Floyd, Eric Hinske and Willy Aybar) who can all DH in the home games. They also have Ben Zobrist, a key utility player who hit 12 homers this year.

Phillies

Between Greg Dobbs, Geoff Jenkins and Chris Coste, the Phillies should have no problem finding a DH for the games in Tampa Bay. Matt Stairs also can be a key off the bench, as evidenced by his Game 4 home run in the NLCS.

Edge: Phillies

NO. 1 STARTER

Rays: Scott Kazmir

The left-hander wasn’t at his best this year but might hold the key to Game 1 with how he fares against the Phillies’ lefty sluggers, particularly Ryan Howard. If he can locate his slider on the outside edge of the plate effectively, Kazmir should keep Tampa Bay close in the opener.

Phillies: Cole Hamels

He has been brilliant all postseason, more proof that he is one of baseball’s best young pitchers. Another strong outing from him in Game 1 would give Philadelphia its best chance to tip the series in its favor.

Edge: Phillies

NO. 2 STARTER

Rays: James Shields

The fact that the right-hander won’t pitch in Citizens Bank Park is probably a good thing — as the 52 homers he has given up in the last two seasons will attest. But the impressive right-hander is almost always a lock to give his team six or seven innings.

Phillies: Brett Myers

Which Myers will show up? He has been wildly inconsistent all year but showed up in a stellar outing in Game 2 of the NLDS against the Brewers. How he performs in Game 2 of the World Series could be a key.

Edge: Rays

NO. 3 STARTER

Rays: Matt Garza

The star of the ALCS is drawing comparisons to John Smoltz for the way he unflinchingly challenges hitters, and he might be the pitcher best equipped to silence a rabid Philadelphia crowd during the city’s first World Series home game in 15 years.

Phillies: Jamie Moyer

Much was made of Moyer’s ability to take advantage of the Dodgers’ young lineup with his still-precise command, but the 45-year-old was hit around in Game 3 of the NLCS, the only one the Phillies lost. However, Tampa Bay hasn’t seen him before.

Edge: Rays

NO. 4 STARTER

Rays: Andy Sonnanstine

The only member of the Rays’ staff that can’t be called a power pitcher, Sonnanstine is nonetheless good enough to give Tampa Bay a chance in Game 4, especially if he can change speeds effectively.

Phillies: Joe Blanton

The right-hander hasn’t given Philadelphia what it thought it would get when it acquired him this summer, but he’s still a dependable starter with a deceptive curveball who should give the Phillies a chance in Game 4.

Edge: Rays

BULLPEN

Rays

This group isn’t nearly as effective as Philadelphia’s, but the emergence of 2007 top pick David Price could be a big key to this series. The 22-year-old saved Game 7 of the ALCS and has nasty enough stuff from the left side to shut down the Phillies late in games.

Phillies

With Ryan Madson and Brad Lidge providing as good a late-inning combo as there is in baseball, the Phillies simply don’t lose games late. Literally. Philadelphia has not blown a ninth-inning lead all season.

Edge: Phillies

MANAGER

Rays: Joe Maddon

The bespectacled manager has made all the right moves with his young team this season, drawing comparisons to Phil Jackson for both his demeanor and his ability to motivate. He also has shown a flair for gutsy moves, too, such as handing the ball to Price.

Phillies: Charlie Manuel

He has earned the nickname “Uncle Charlie” for his folksy wit, but the nickname doesn’t give enough credit to the work Manuel has done with Philadelphia. He has handled his bullpen brilliantly, and his players have bought in to his style.

Edge: Even

FIVE QUESTIONS

1. What will Ryan Howard do?

The Phillies’ hopes of winning this series lie with some kind of production from Howard. It’s a virtual certainty the Rays will try to pitch him outside and let him try in vain to pull the ball. He either has to figure out a way to do something with those pitches or be patient enough that Tampa Bay will be forced to come over the plate at some point. Philadelphia probably can’t win this series without him hitting.

2. Do the Phillies have enough pitching?

The question is whether Philadelphia’s starters (other than Hamels) can keep the Phillies close if this ends up being a low-scoring series. They will need a strong outing from Brett Myers or Jamie Moyer, especially if the Rays beat Cole Hamels in Game 1, to keep this series close.

3. What role will the ballparks play?

The two stadiums where this series will be contested — Tropicana Field and Citizens Bank Park — couldn’t be more different. One is a virtual baseball funhouse with clanging cowbells, catwalks and other artificial oddities no one has seen at a World Series since the Metrodome in 1991, while the other is a launchpad for one of baseball’s most potent lineups. Rarely is home-field advantage such a big factor in the World Series, and if either team can steal a game on the road, this matchup could get interesting.

4. Can Tampa Bay afford to get into a slugfest?

The Rays’ best chance of winning this series probably lies with keeping the Phillies’ offense at bay, though they showed in the ALCS they were capable of putting up plenty of runs on Boston. Tampa Bay can hit home runs (the Rays slugged 180 of them this season), but it sometimes struggles to manufacture consistent offense. Especially in the games in Philadelphia, Tampa Bay can’t afford to test whether its offense can carry the series.

5. Are the Rays for real?

Is this still a question? The worst-to-first Rays have been doubted the entire season (as well as most of the postseason), yet when everybody expected them to cave following Boston’s Game 5 comeback, they found the resolve to hold off the Red Sox in a Game 7 ALCS win. That the Rays are so young and so recently removed from futility is a moot point now. They have made it this far, and they have a great chance to complete the turnaround with a World Series title.

- Ben Goessling

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