October 18, 2003

2003 World Series Preview:

Marlins - Yankees


W L Win% RS RA Pyth% EqA DEF
New York 101 61 .623 877 716 .600 .280 .6977
Florida 91 71 .562 751 692 .541 .266 .7039

New York 5.41 .271 .356 .453 230 304 684 1042
Florida 4.64 .266 .333 .421 157 292 515 978

New York 4.41 .266 .313 .408 145 323 375 1119
Florida 4.27 .258 .325 .396 128 300 530 1132

While watching the ALCS this year, I had the same feelings I have had while watching the NBA Western Conference Finals during the past few years.

Spurs vs. Mavericks. Lakers vs. Kings. Lakers vs. Spurs. Each time, I got the feeling that I was watching the real NBA Finals. And sure enough, each year, the team that survived the West would go on and destroy the team from the East in the Finals.

So, did we all just finish watching the real World Series? In a way, yes. I do think the Red Sox and the Yankees are the two best teams in baseball, and their series was one of the best in recent memory, capped off by an incredible Game Seven victory by New York.

On the other hand, I see nothing from this Marlins team that would indicate they are going to roll over for the Yankees like the Nets and Sixers rolled over for the Western Conference teams in the Finals the past three years.

This is a strong Florida ballclub. They pitch, they hit, they play defense. Since getting rid of the definition of incompetence that was Jeff Torborg, they have one of the best records in baseball. Their "new" manager, Jack McKeon, has turned this team around in a huge way and they are now playing very good baseball and, perhaps most importantly, very confident baseball.

This series may not be the one most baseball fans wanted to see. Personally, I was hoping for a Giants-Twins matchup and I would have settled for Cubs-Red Sox. But this is still potentially a very exciting series and, last I checked, these two teams are still playing in the World Series, which is exciting enough for me.

An interesting thing about this series is that both teams have their pitching rotations completely screwed up.

The Marlins had five pitchers who started at least one game for them this post-season - Josh Beckett, Dontrelle Willis, Carl Pavano, Brad Penny and Mark Redman.

All five of those guys pitched on either Tuesday night or Wednesday night, putting Jack McKeon in a tough spot in regard to picking a Game One starter. According to ESPN.com, McKeon will go with Brad Penny, who pitched on Wednesday, but threw just nine pitches.

The good news is that Penny should be fresh, having not thrown over 60 pitches in a game since his final regular-season start. The bad news is that Penny has a 10.24 ERA in 9.2 innings pitched during the post-season and was yanked from the rotation in favor of Pavano in the NLCS.

After Penny, Redman will go in Game Two, followed by Beckett in Game Three. I haven't heard Florida's plans for Game Four, but I would guess Willis will get the nod there, and then they'll go back to Penny for Game Five. Or, if Penny struggles in Game One, possibly Pavano or Redman on short-rest.

So, Florida's rotation will, I think, resemble the following:

Brad Penny

Mark Redman

Josh Beckett

Dontrelle Willis

Penny/Carl Pavano



That sets Josh Beckett up for a potential Game Seven, which is exactly what Florida wants, assuming they can make it that far.

The Yankees are in a similar situation, having used both Roger Clemens (65 pitches) and Mike Mussinaa (33 pitches) on in Game Seven on Thursday. They also used David Wells in Game Seven, but he threw just six pitches. Andy Pettitte threw 92 pitches in his start on Wednesday, which leaves him out of the mix for a Game One start.

Like McKeon, Joe Torre has decided to go with the guy who has been used the least during the last couple games, which is Wells. Of course, "the least" is all relative, because Wells threw 104 pitches last Tuesday, which means he will be making the start on three-days rest, and he pitched in relief during that time off.

When one of the other very serious options was to tab Jeff Weaver to start Game One, you can see why David Wells on no rest would look pretty damn good. Here's what New York's rotation should look like:

David Wells

Mike Mussina/Andy Pettitte






Okay, so that isn't very clear at all, but I really don't think even Joe Torre knows exactly what he's going to end up doing at this point.

He has said he isn't sure if he'll go with Pettitte or Mussina in Game Two. I would guess it will be Mussina, because it is his "turn" in the rotation, although obviously that could be changed because of his relief outing.

After everyone makes their first start, Torre could either go back Wells in Game Five, or turn to someone on short-rest. If he sticks with Wells, that leaves either Mussina or Pettitte for Game Six and then pretty much anyone who has ever thrown a baseball while wearing pinstripes for Game Seven.

The obvious choice would be to go with whichever one of Mussina or Pettitte didn't start Game Six, but Torre could also go with Clemens on short-rest. Personally, I'd love to see Torre shock us all and go with Jeff Weaver on 32 days of rest. You never know, maybe Jeff just needs a good, solid month off to get ready for the most important game of the entire season.

It seems to me like more teams have been willing to use their starting pitchers out of the bullpen during this post-season than in past years. Whether it was Boston with Derek Lowe, New York with Mussina and Wells, or Jack McKeon and the Marlins with pretty much everyone, managers are trying to find ways to use their best pitchers in important spots, and I like that. Of course, as with many great things, it has some negative side-effects, namely that it messes up rotations eventually.

With the Yankees, who starts when isn't all that important. I would feel pretty good about starting any of those four veterans at any point in a series, particularly with how well Wells has pitched of late. For the Marlins, I think Beckett is head and shoulders above everyone else, and the rest of the guys all have some major question-marks.

An interesting development happening as a result of the rotation-shuffling is that it's very possible the Yankees will have lefties starting four of the seven games. That is, I think, fairly good news for Florida. As I discussed in my preview of their opening-round series, the Marlins hit significantly better against left-handed pitching this season, almost top-to-bottom.

As a team, Florida hit .292 against lefties and just .258 against righties this year. Their on-base percentage was 32 points higher against lefties and their slugging percentage was a massive 63 points higher against southpaws.

The amazing thing about Florida being in the World Series is that their hitters got very little opportunity to beat up on left-handed pitching in the first two rounds.

In the NLDS, they faced Kirk Rueter for one start and Scott Eyre and Jason Christiansen for a few at bats out of the bullpen. Against the Cubs in the NLCS, they didn't see a single left-handed starter. Overall, for the whole post-season, the Marlins have just 38 at bats against left-handed pitching in 11 games. They hit just .211 off them, although they did smack three homers and three doubles, good for a very solid .526 slugging percentage.

Assuming the Marlins didn't completely forget how to smack around lefties since the end of the season, I think they could really take advantage when Wells and Pettitte (and Felix Heredia and Gabe White too) are on the mound for the Yankees. New York's first two opponents, the Twins and the Red Sox, were both significantly worse against lefties this year.

Going from facing righties in all seven games against the Cubs to potentially facing four lefties in seven games against the Yankees could really give a boost to Florida's offense, which is a scary thought, considering they have 60 runs in 11 games in the post-season thus far.

Besides the rotation changes and the matchups caused by them, another interesting issue that suddenly comes into play is the designated hitter. Thanks to Hank Blalock, the Yankees have homefield advantage, which means four of the scheduled seven games will be played in New York, under American League rules.

For some National League teams, this could be a disadvantage. If you spend the entire season needing just eight hitters in your lineup, you are often ill-prepared to find a suitable ninth hitter to start in the most important games of the season.

For example, in last year's World Series, the Giants used Tsuyoshi Shinjo, Shawon Dunston (twice) and Pedro Feliz as their DHs.

When Mike Lowell became completely healthy recently, the Marlins benched Juan Encarnacion in favor of Lowell, Jeff Conine and Miguel Cabrera. I would assume that when the Marlins are allowed to add another bat to the lineup, Encarnacion will start in right field, with Cabrera going back to left field, and Conine sliding to DH. Adding Juan Encarnacion to a lineup is nothing particularly great, but it beats the hell out of Shawon Dunston, right?

In games started by lefties in Yankee Stadium (which is looking like Game One and also possibly Game Two and Game Six or Seven), the Marlins could put the following lineup on the field:

(Numbers are against left-handed pitching)

                AVG      OBP      SLG

Pierre .311 .346 .364
Castillo .320 .391 .494
Rodriguez .376 .460 .573
Cabrera .364 .397 .655
Lee .333 .462 .600
Lowell .295 .363 .688
Conine .288 .368 .416
Encarnacion .267 .331 .405
Gonzalez .274 .333 .496

That's pretty scary. You've got two guys who get on base at a good clip at the top of the lineup and the a 3-4-5-6 spots with slugging percentages of .573, .655, .600 and .688. The bottom three don't hit lefties that well, but they more than hold their own. Heck, even Alex Gonzalez becomes a bit of an offensive threat against southpaws.

I really like Florida's chances of putting quite a few runs on the board against David Wells and Andy Pettitte. Unfortunately for them, it's very possible that the two games Wells starts will also be started by Brad Penny, which means the Yankees have a pretty good shot of scoring in bunches in those games too.

In fact, I think this entire series has the potential to be one big slugfest. I like the Marlins' chances of scoring against Wells and Pettitte and I don't particularly like the chances of Penny, Willis, Redman or Pavano holding down New York's offense at all.

In the end, I think this series will come down to a few major things...

1) The Marlins must beat Wells and Pettitte.

Those are the two pitching-matchups that I think their offense can dominate and they absolutely must do so, particularly if Penny (or even Pavano) end up facing off against Wells twice.

2) Josh Beckett has to be great.

I have always been big on Josh Beckett and I jumped on the bandwagon well before his impressive post-season, so I'm a believer. He is, to me, Florida's best and possibly only shot at shutting down New York's offense in this series. I'd be comfortable taking my chances with him against whomever the Yankees have to offer in Game Seven, but the problem for the Marlins is going to be getting that far.

3) Florida has to make Mariano Rivera either human or obsolete.

If Rivera pitches like he did in the ALDS and the ALCS, the Marlins have almost no shot. The Angels were able to beat New York last year because they scored so many damn runs that Rivera was never even able to come into a game after getting the save in Game One.

The Marlins have two choices: a) they score runs in bunches like the Angels, keeping Rivera in the bullpen or b) they find a way to score runs off him.

The funny thing is, I can't quite decide if scoring a massive amount of runs against New York's starters is an easier task than scoring just a couple off Rivera.

This is, to me, a very hard series to try to predict. The Yankees are quite clearly a superior team, to me at least. But the Marlins have stepped up their game during the post-season and they are playing at their peak-level right now, which is perhaps even more important than who the "superior" team is at this point.

I believe Florida's offense will score plenty of runs in this series. I think they will do very well against Wells, Pettitte and the weak underbelly of New York's bullpen, and I think they will do reasonably well against even Mussina and Clemens (Rivera is a whole different story).

With that said, I just don't think the Marlins have enough pitching to win this thing. I don't think you can expect to engage in a slugfest with the New York Yankees and come out on top. Not with that offense and not with Mariano Rivera available at any time to come in and suddenly put an end to the scoring.

If I had more confidence in Willis or Penny or Redman or Pavano, I could definitely see going with the Marlins, but all of those guys look very vulnerable to me, and I think the Yankees will score runs in bunches whenever Josh Beckett isn't on the mound.

Yankees in six.

*****Comments? Questions? Email me!*****

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