BASEBALL PROSPECTUS'S World Series Odds Report calls this matchup closer than the election: Phillies 51.7%, Rays 48.3%. Philadelphia is a slight favorite because of its lefthanded starting pitching. Tampa Bay's winning percentage was 127 points lower against lefty starters than it was against righthanders this year, and its OPS was 52 worse. So even though the Rays had the better record in the tougher American League, those splits put them slightly behind the NL champs.
The Phillies will start southpaws in four of the seven games, and two of those starts will come from Cole Hamels. That's their only edge. The lanky lefty, comparable in style to Johan Santana with his devastating changeup, was arguably the third-best pitcher in the NL this season (behind Santana and the Giants' Tim Lincecum). Philadelphia has won all three of his postseason starts, in which Hamels has allowed three runs in 22 innings. Jamie Moyer, the team's other lefty starter, would pitch Games 3 and 7. Neither hurler is particularly tough on lefthanded batters, which negates some of the advantage. Keep in mind, too, that to get this far, the Rays had to beat Red Sox southpaw Jon Lester twice in the ALCS, including the decisive game on Sunday.
In Tampa Bay's favor is the fact that it won what might have been the toughest division in baseball history, then beat the statistical favorite to reach the World Series. The gap between the leagues is real, whether you look at interleague play or more sophisticated measures, such as the performances of all players who switch leagues. Even the makeup of the two rosters bears this out: The Rays have more talent, especially in the middle and back of the roster. All of Tampa Bay's regulars—and even some of their reserves—are more productive than Philly regulars Pedro Feliz, the third baseman, and Carlos Ruiz, the catcher. All of the Rays' starting pitchers are better than Joe Blanton, the Phils' fourth man in the rotation. Tampa Bay's bullpen is much deeper.
That depth will be apparent throughout each game, but especially in the middle and late innings. The Rays' bullpen is wired for matchups against the Phillies' considerable lefthanded power, especially now that David Price has emerged as a weapon.
Hamels gives Philly a puncher's chance, but in the end the better team from the stronger league will win out. Rays in six.
PLENTY LEFT Hamels had a 1.23 ERA in the first two rounds.