Sunday, October 25, 2009

World Series Match-Up: Infield

The Phillies and Yankees feature two of the most prolific infields in baseball, if not the two best. Full of all-stars, gold glove winners and perennial MVP candidates and winners, they match-up well and any player in either infield has the opportunity to change the World Series and hand his team a win or a loss.

This was written prior to Sunday's Game 6 of the ALCS, so statistics from that game are not included in the Yankees' postseason numbers

First Base:
Ryan Howard is the standard for power hitters in Major League Baseball. He’s had an outstanding postseason, earning him NLCS MVP honors, after crushing 45 regular season home runs and posting a .279 batting average. The big man even chugged his way around the base paths to four triples. Losing about 20 pounds in the offseason helped Howard improve his overall game, raising his batting average and improving his defensive skills and his range in the field. Howard is certainly one of the game’s elite talents.

The Yankees went on a shopping spree in the offseason and found themselves an all-star first baseman in aisle six. They didn’t find Mark Teixeira in the bargain bin though, paying $180 million to lock him up for eight years. The switch-hitter produced for the Bronx Bombers in a big way, as he always does. His 39 homers and 122 RBI lead the team, accompanied by a .292 average and spectacular .997 fielding percentage, Teixeira is a remarkable talent. But while Howard has thrived in the bright lights of the postseason stage, Teixeira has faltered. He’s batting just .171 with one home run and four runs batted in. That’s not going to cut it for a number three hitter in a postseason batting order. If not for the postseason stats, these players would match-up evenly. Phillies’ pitchers beware: don’t wake the sleeping giant.


Second Base:
Chase Utley is the best second baseman in the game. He struggled in September and didn’t hit early in this postseason. He made costly throwing errors in back to back games, costing the team a game. Despite all that, which was very un-Utley like, he is the best overall player at his position. His regular season batting average took a hit, ending up at .282. Utley is a .300 hitter and there is no reason for Chase to hit under .300. He may need a few more off days next season, but that’s for another place and time. Utley, despite a few short dry spells, is having a decent postseason. He’s accumulated a .303 batting average, with one long ball but only two RBI. His home run is his only extra base hit of the playoffs. His power numbers and production need to increase, as does his consistency in the field. Chase does have two stolen bases and hasn’t been caught. His .303 average is important though, because Howard and Jayson Werth are absolutely punishing the ball, and Utley is on base when that happens, leading to his eight runs scored. If he starts driving the ball in the gaps like he should, this offense will soar.

Robinson Cano has been somewhat of an enigma for the Yankees. One month he couldn’t hit a beach ball and the next he’s tearing the cover off the ball. He’s a streaky player, but his streaks can last half a season. Sounds a little bit like Pat Burrell but without as much power. Cano had his best year in the big leagues this season, hitting .320 with a career high 25 home runs. He also hit 48 doubles. For a speedy runner, he’s not much of a threat to steal a base. He stole five in 2009 and was caught seven times. He stole just six bags in 2007 and 2008 combined, and was caught nine times during that span. He’s a consistent fielder, posting a .984 fielding percentage each of the last four seasons. Cano is a good player and can be a difference maker. Another season or two like he posted in 2009, and Cano could give Utley a run at his reputation as the best player at his position. Cano is struggling mightily in the playoffs though. He’s hit just .212 with no home runs and he’s made two errors. The bottom of the Yankees’ lineup is much less potent without Cano getting on base. He may be the key to their World Series run; and if he and Teixeira get hot at the same time, the Phillies could be in trouble.


Jimmy Rollins had his worst statistical season since 2002, hitting just .250. He still hit 21 home runs and drove in 77 runs. Rollins had a great second half after a terrible first half, and had another excellent season in the field; he’ll win the gold glove once again. He is a dynamic lead-off hitter, base stealer, power hitter and gap to gap hitter when he’s going well. He hasn’t had a great postseason thus far, hitting just .244 with no homers and no stolen bases. He needs to get on base more and make things happen on the base paths. He has been clutch for the Phillies though; his dramatic walk-off double against the Dodgers in Game 4 was huge. Rollins is a very good player, but he hasn’t been able to emulate his MVP form from 2007 in which he hit .296 with 30 home runs, 94 RBI, 38 doubles, 20 triples and stole 41 bags. Rollins getting on base more could be the Phillies’ key in the World Series.

Derek Jeter is an iconic figure in Yankees history. Deemed overrated by outsiders throughout much of his career, Jeter does produce at the right times. He’s never won an MVP, but he may earn one for his efforts this season. He hit .334 with 18 home runs. He also had a strong defensive season, and while his defensive skills are not what they used to be, he’s still a good shortstop. Rollins has him beat in the field, but this season, Jeter beat him at the plate. Jeter is having a very strong postseason, hitting .314 with three home runs. He, like Rollins, hasn’t stolen a base but he has been caught once. Jeter is a table-setter and producer at the same time, just as Rollins is during his strong years. When Rollins is going well, they are about even at the plate and Rollins is a bit better in the field, but Rollins is not at his best this season.


Third Base:
Pedro Feliz has been a valued addition to the Phillies. He hasn’t reached his advertised 20 home runs per season, but his defensive skills have more than made up for his decreased power numbers. Feliz raised his batting average to .266 this season while appearing in an impressive 158 games. Pretty solid for a number seven hitter in the lineup; he still managed 12 homers and 82 RBI. He also hit 30 regular season doubles while contributing to the team on many levels.

The Yankees have the game’s premier third baseman in Alex Rodriguez. Expect the “You Took Steroids” chants to resurface in Game 3 as the Yankees come into Philadelphia. Even so, A-Rod had an excellent shortened season. He hit .286 with 30 homers and 100 RBI, second in both categories behind only Teixeira. He is having a terrific, if not legendary postseason thus far. Hitting .400 with 5 home runs and 11 runs batted in; he is coming through for the Yankees every day. He is the biggest threat in their lineup, by far, and should be avoided at all costs. He is a remarkable talent, and has turned around his reputation of not being able to come through in the clutch.


This is a tough position to judge. Carlos Ruiz is a tremendous defensive catcher while handling the pitching staff better than most catchers in the league. As a result, his offense struggles. While the ability is there, he doesn’t have the time to commit to his offense. Until the postseason rolls around that is. Once again, Chooch is hitting very well during the playoffs. Batting .346 with a home run and seven driven in, Ruiz has been one of the best, if not the best, number eight hitter in the playoffs. He’s been rock solid behind the plate and done a phenomenal job with all the different pitchers, as he always does.

Jorge Posada had a better regular season at the plate, hitting .285 with 22 homers and 81 knocked in. He made seven errors behind the plate, compared to Ruiz’s three, and failed to block several pitches which resulted in more wild pitches. His catching skills are diminishing and he already has two passed balls in this postseason while not catching every game. His offensive abilities are still strong, but he’s better suited to be a DH. A catcher’s most important job is to be strong behind the plate and handle the pitching staff, and anything offensive is considered a bonus. Ruiz is a much better catcher than Posada is, and he’s a great hitter come playoff time.


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