Wednesday, October 22, 2008


It's time to play no-one's favorite game, "Irrelevant/Counter-Irrelevant," with Jayson Stark and Jim Caple. The goal is to make as many irrelevant points as you can in the space alloted. First, Irrelevant: The Phillies Will Win!

These Phillies won't be playing in this World Series because they're the best team in the National League.

Well, they did win the second-most games, and had the second-best run differential, trailing only the Cubbies. They scored the second-most runs, had the most HR, and had the fourth-best ERA, only 0.03 behind second-place Milwaukee. So, maybe they aren't the best team, but they're certainly very close.

They're here because they're the toughest team in the National League.

Fuck all that statistical noise. It's about toughness. The Phillies are tough. The Phillies are like a hockey team. The Phillies work in an Alaskan cannery 19 hours a day. The Phillies could knock out Kimbo Slice in thirteen seconds.

And that toughness is the biggest reason I think they'll win.

I'm going with "they hit the most HR in the league and have a really good pitching staff." But whatever.

"They're the most mentally tough team" in the field, an NL general manager told me three weeks ago.

That NL GM? Robert Duvall. Legendarily tough. Tough old sonofabitch. He knows tough. When he said this he was driving in a pick-up truck with 300,000 miles on it, that he built himself, and he was on his way to a black bear-wrestling contest, in which black bears take turns seeing if they can defeat him. And he's mentally tough, too. He once survived fifty days of waterboarding without giving up any information. The waterboarder? Marlon Brando, on the set of The Godfather. So I think he knows what "tough" is.

By the way, I'm currently watching Game One of the Series on like an hour TiVo delay, and Tim McCarver, after Shane Victorino almost got picked off second, said something like, "You've probably heard that you should never make the first or third out at third base, but in this case, you should never make the first out at second base."

What he could have said: "You shouldn't get picked off in a [fucking] World Series game."

And he was just the lead singer in a chorus of GMs, scouts, coaching staffs and players who have run into this team along the way.

They're called the "Stolen Bass-es" and they're performing this Saturday at the St. Bartholomew Episcopal Church in Germantown, PA.

Tim McCarver just referred to Jason Werth's double as a "check swing plop job," which: ewww, and then he talked about Ben Zobrist racing to the line to grab said plop job by saying, "Gives you an idea about the closure [sic] speed of the Rays' outfielders." Why is Tim McCarver allowed to broadcast?

These people are always talking about "the way they play," and "how hard they play" and how much fun it is to watch these Phillies play.

What [people who talk about the Phillies] Talk About When They Talk About [the Phillies]:

1. The way they play
2. How hard they play
3. How much fun it is to watch them play

These people sound very interesting and knowledgeable.

These Phillies don't seem imprisoned by their team's tortured past. In an odd way, they almost seem inspired by it. They constantly talk, right out loud, about how driven they are to write their own history, make their own mark, put their own stamp on their franchise and their ballpark.

Look, as a Red Sox fan, I understand the importance of a traditionally-losing franchise being undaunted by the past. But let's also acknowledge that we are deep into this "Why the Phillies Will Win" argument, and we have nary a mention of Cole Hamels, Chase Utley, Ryan Howard, Pat the Bat, Brad Lidge, or, you know, anything related to what actually happens on the field of play.

This is a group that sets the bar as high as it can be set, and a group of players who seem remarkably comfortable on this stage.

What? Who? When? How? Which? For? Make? Jump?

What is the evidence for this platitude?

They've won 12 games this year in which they trailed after seven innings. They've won 29 games decided from the seventh inning on. They've won a half-dozen games they trailed by two runs or more in the eighth inning or later, including a defining NLCS game in Los Angeles last week.

The Phillies will win because they are often behind late in games. I get it. I think the Phils should be fine late in the game -- it's not like the Rays' bullpen had the best OPS-against in the entire league or anything.

They may not have the best starting rotation in this World Series, but they do have the best starting pitcher -- Cole Hamels.

Hey look! Something about an actual player!

I expect him to win Game 1, set the tone and buy the offense a night to apply the Rust-Oleum after a week off. History does tell us that 10 of the last 11 Game 1 winners have gone on to win the Series.

Actual analysis! This is so much fun! (Though that is a pretty small sample size, at least it's something.)

So Game 1 starters are often Series-changers. And Hamels fits that mold. The Phillies also have the best bullpen, and the best closer (Brad Lidge), in this World Series.

Best closer, maybe. But best bullpen? The Rays' bullpen had a .220 BAA. The Phillies, in the NL, had a .251. Their OPS-against was a little worse, too.

Much like the Rockies last year, this team heads into this World Series playing as well as it has ever played.

So very soon, the Phillies will be able to hoist the Championship Trophy, just like the World Champion 2007 World Series Champion Colorado Champion Rockies, the 2007 World Series Champions of Championships! Champs!

Maybe 20-5 isn't 21-1, but it's in the same stratosphere. The difference, though, that the Rockies didn't win the World Series, like you are predicting the Phillies will?

is these Phillies aren't just a good team that got hot. They're a team that was built to win, a team with all the ingredients to win, and THEN they got hot.


As the Rockies found out last October, it isn't always the hottest team that wins the World Series.

The Rockies were hot! The Phillies are also hot! The Rockies didn't win! The Phillies will win, because they are better than the Rockies! I should go back and rewrite this without invoking the Rockies, which are irrelevant to my argument! Too late! Deadline is here! Oh well!

But when the hottest team is also the toughest team, that's a whole different story.

You're telling me. I just read that story. And it's a doozy.

How about this, instead of what you wrote:

The Phillies have a very good pitching staff, a very good bullpen, and hit the most HR in the league. The Rays are a bunch of 24 year-old kids who had never, before this season, played a meaningful game after like April fucking 13th.

Now it's time for Counter-Irrelevant: The Tampa Bay Rays Will Win!

As always, my esteemed colleague arrived at his World Series prediction after consulting with scouts, general managers and other people throughout baseball.

Didn't seem to help him.

He observed the Phillies up close and personal from opening day to the final game of the NLCS.

He observed their toughness. Missed all the HR and good pitching performances.

He studied the statistics, sorting through OPS, VORP and WHIP in search of tell-tale trends.

No he very obviously did not. He did no such thing. Take that back.

He carefully analyzed player matchups, spoke with the participants and called upon more than 30 years of experience covering the game.

Then he talked about toughness for twenty paragraphs.

Likewise, I made a careful study before making my prediction. Namely, I noticed that Tampa Bay rays play in the American League. Which is why I'm picking them to sweep.

Not the strongest argument, but I'll accept it.

The AL...dominated interleague play yet again this season, winning 149 of the 252 games played.

I'm not sure what Braves-Royals games have to do with the World Series, really. I'm still with you, ish, though.

To put that in perspective, that winning percentage would translate into a 96 victory season. The last time a league struggled as much as the NL has, Geena Davis was the catcher and Tom Hanks was the manager.

Didn't the AAGPBL become a success, after Geena Davis did that split when she caught the foul pop-up and got on the cover of Life magazine? Not that I've seen that movie 25 times, or anything.

If you're scoring at home, the Rays were 12-6 in interleague play while the Phillies went 4-11, the worst record in baseball.

The Phillies had to play Toronto, Boston, Oakland, LAA, and Texas. Tampa got Florida, St. Louis, the Cubbies, Houston, Florida again, and Pitt. Eh...maybe it's a wash. The Phils had a rough patch against some pretty good teams. Big deal.

Look, it's nice the Phillies won the National League pennant and that Warren Giles trophy will look good in their office. But now they're playing with the big boys.

Matt Garza, B.J. Upton, James Shields, Evan Longoria, Carlos Pena, Grant Balfour...these are all names of people who play for Tampa Bay. You should talk about them.

The Rays are a well-balanced team with power, speed, great defense and deep pitching.

Getting warmer...

They are so loaded with young talent that they were able to put a pitcher with just five major league games of experience on the mound and see him silence the defending world champions in two games of the ALCS.


They have an experienced manager

Joe Maddon: 251-286 (537 total games). Never managed in the post-season before this year.
Charlie Manuel: 573-485 (1058 total games). Managed in the post-season twice before this year.

It took me 21 seconds to look that up.

who is willing to use his bullpen in unconventional ways if they make sense, rather than sticking to ways that boost his closer's arbitration figures.

Probably because his "closer," Troy Percival, is injured and out for the season.

And, more importantly, did I mention they play in the American League?

Yes. Very well done.

P.S. Tampa: 2nd-best team ERA, 2nd most Ks. Only 9th-most runs scored. My money's on the Phillies.

P.P.S. Originally, after the line about Maddon using his bullpen non-traditionally, I went on a long and snarky diatribe about how Brad Lidge pitched in like 70 games this year and never once went more than one inning. I was very pleased with myself. Then Timothy wrote in and politely pointed out that Brad Lidge plays for the Phillies, and Joe Maddon manages the Rays. So I swiftly deleted that shit and replaced it with the Percival line.

I am, as always, a dummy.

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