If the National Pastime staff’s League Championship Series predictions showed one thing, it’s that fans make lousy fortune tellers. All five of us picked the Red Sox to defeat the Rays and advance to the World Series, but don’t misinterpret that as a collective lack of faith in Joe Maddon’s ballclub. The truth is that all of us either used to live in Massachusetts or still do, and none of us could bring ourselves to root against our beloved Sox. Now that Tampa has shocked the world and taken the A.L. title, we’re unencumbered by fan loyalties and the crystal ball is much clearer.
We would never condone illegal sports gambling but if you can’t resist the urge to place a wager on the 2008 World Series and you’ve come here for advice (bad idea), the statistics say to go with Amanda. The lone casual baseball fan of the group (figures, huh?) will look to bounce back from her lone incorrect prediction of the postseason and finish up with a more than respectable 6-for-7 showing. Sean and Jay are both hovering at .500 with their predictions entering the World Series; we’ll give Sean the edge because he got his Phillies pick right while Jay whiffed in the LCS. Tom and Nick both fanned in the LCS as well and are now 2-4 and 1-5 respectively. Here are our World Series predictions; listen to us at your own risk.
Jay: Both the Rays and Phillies have impressive starting rotations, potent lineups, useful bench players and a bevy of effective arms in the bullpen, and both are playing arugably their best ball of the season right now. This promises to be a hard-fought series between two very evenly matched teams, and it’s basically impossible to designate either squad as the favorite. That said, I see this series coming down to the intangibles. The Rays have home-field advantage, which is especially significant when you consider that they went 57-24 at Tropicana Field this season. By the time the World Series kicks off tonight, the Phillies will have had six days off and the Rays just two; I think the extended break will serve to kill Philadelphia’s momentum more so than the rest will benefit them. And lastly, the Rays are playing with house money and feeling good. They believe in themselves and they’re talented enough to edge the Phillies for the World Championship. Rays in seven.
Nick: Coming off their epic seven-game series versus the defending champion Boston Red Sox, the Tampa Bay Rays have momentum and confidence heading into the World Series. The Phillies easily dispatched the Dodgers in five games and have been sittting for nearly a week now. Will they be able to pick up right where they left off after such a long layoff? All-World Cole Hamels will be pitching on more than full rest and is by far the best pitcher in this series. The Phillies will need more production from Ryan Howard, Chase Utley, Pat Burrell and Jimmy Rollins if they expect to keep up with the hard-hitting Rays, who slugged 10 home runs in a three-game stretch against the Red Sox. The Rays’ biggest question mark is their bullpen, but the silver lining may be the emergence of rookie phenom David Price, who notched the save in the ALCS clincher. If they can get him going, a la K-Rod circa 2002, then the Rays will be tough to beat. They also have home-field advantage courtesy of the A.L.’s All-Star dominance. Despite the potential low ratings for this series, the teams are evenly matched and this should be a very entertaining series. Rays in seven.
Sean: I expect this to be a dogfight as both teams seem to be peaking at just the right moment. It’s hard to bet against Tampa following their emotional triumph over the comeback kids from Boston. While the Phillies have been sitting at home twiddling their thumbs for a week the Rays were playing breakneck ball and will carry all the momentum into the big series. The Upton/Pena/Longoria/Crawford string is as deadly as any right now and with the emergence of Josh Beckett-clone Matt Garza, you have to give the Rays the advantage in starting pitching. However, the Rays are battling history in addition to their opponents. They are trying to become the first team in the three major sports to go from having the worst record in the league one year to winning a title the next. This team is certainly talented enough to add that tremendous distinction to their storied ride, but since I may be the only writer to peg the Phillies World Series winners as early as August (see: My Five - Contenders) I’ll ride Philly to the end. Phils in seven.
Tom: I think it’s pretty safe to say that no one saw this coming. The Phillies and the Rays? It’s as easy as 1-2-3 for Tampa - as in the No. 1 overall pick in last June’s Amateur Draft, David Price, 2002 second overall selection B.J. Upton and the biggest offensive star on this October’s stage, the third overall pick in ‘06, Evan Longoria. Ironically, the star of the ALCS on the mound, Tampa Bay’s Matt Garza, came to the Rays in exchange for the top selection in the 2003 draft, Delmon Young, meaning that four top picks have been the key to this magnificent run. For Tampa to reach the ultimate prize, Garza will need help from Scott Kazmir and James Shields. But if Philadelphia can get to the Tampa bullpen early, trouble is brewing. The Phillies boast a lineup reminiscent of the 2004 Red Sox. Shane Victorino provides a spark at the top, with All-Stars Chase Utley, Jimmy Rollins and Ryan Howard backing him up. Throw in slugger Pat Burrell and a surging Jayson Werth and you have one of the more potent lineups in baseball. The key for Philadelphia will be to jump on the Tampa starters early or force them deep into counts to get them out of the game sooner. If they can accomplish either of those objectives, this could be a short series. The Phillies are healthy - unlike the Red Sox, who Tampa squeaked by - and are hitting the ball better and play with the type of toughness and resolve champions are remembered for. Phillies in five.
Amanda: Rays in four.
Photos by The Associated Press