It’s hard to believe that it has been four seasons since the Phillies and Yankees met in the World Series, both arguably at the peak of their recent runs. The Phillies, fresh off of a World Championship ring in 2008, had acquired the Yankee-killer Cliff Lee from the Indians, and seemed poised to repeat. The Yankees, who had not won a ring since 2000 (an eternity in the Bronx), were equally determined to obtain another, which they ended up doing in 6 games. Now, with Opening Day 2013 just under a month away, these same teams are ironically in similar situations, trying to squeeze one last championship title through a rapidly closing window.
Consider the changes that both teams have gone through since that 2009 Fall Classic. The Phillies, with 93 wins, had acquired Cliff Lee during the season for the expressed purpose of slaying the mighty Yankees in the post season, as if they were destined to meet in October. This only further solidified a rotation consisting of Cole Hamels, Joe Blanton, the veteran Jamie Moyer, and the upstart J.A. Happ. Their outfield was offensively one of the best in baseball, with Shane Victorino anchoring the defense in center, and Raul Ibanez and Jayson Werth at the corners, contributing 70 homers between them. Add to that tandem a healthy Ryan Howard, who slugged 45 homers while driving in 141 runs, and Chase Utley with 31-93, and a legendary World Series performance, and the team seemed as good if not better than the 2008 squad that won it all.
The Yankees in 2009 were equally formidable. Their outfield of Johnny Damon, Melky Cabrera, and Nick Swisher provided speed and power, with DH Hideki Matsui complimenting them, and carrying the offense in the World Series itself. Their rotation of CC Sabathia, A.J. Burnett, Chien-Ming Wang and Andy Pettitte was the AL equivalent of the Phillies’ starting five, so the match up could not be more riveting. Their infield was anchored by the ever-reliable Derek Jeter, and the pairing of Mark Teixeira and Alex Rodriguez contributing 69 homers between them. Their legendary closer, Mariano Rivera, was a worthy challenger to the Phillies’ Brad Lidge, who had literally come off of “the perfect season” as the team’s closer. Despite these match ups and the epic offensive performance from Utley, the Yanks won the series four games to two, and wrapped up their most recent world championship.
Fast-forward to Spring Training, 2013, and these two teams could not be in a more similar situation. Both teams, whose ownership has made an annual tradition out of obtaining the big-name, dominant free agent in the off-season, were strangely quiet this past winter. Josh Hamilton, who was rumored to be on both team’s radar, wound up with neither and landed in Anaheim. Instead, both teams were content with signing aging role players like Michael Young and Travis Hafner. In addition, since 2009 both squads have seen impact players leave the team in droves. For the Yankees, Johnny Damon, Nick Swisher and Cabrera are gone, A-Rod is injured and plagued (again) by PED accusations, and Jorge Posada and Matsui have both retired. Curtis Granderson, their team’s most prolific slugger since 2009, is out for 10 weeks with a broken arm, leaving the team scrambling for a power hitter and even considering re-signing Johnny Damon. In addition, the teams in their division have vastly improved, most notably the Orioles (off of a 90-plus win season) and the Blue Jays, who have acquired several big names including Jose Reyes and 2012 Cy Young winner R.A. Dickey.
For the Phillies, despite their impressive Spring Training offensive showing thus far, they still have similar issues throughout the field. Gone are Shane Victorino, Jayson Werth, Raul Ibanez, and Hunter Pence. In addition, their team cornerstones of Utley and Howard are both attempting to play full-time for the first time since that 2009 season, when both arguably had their last truly effective years together. The outfield, like the Yankees, has yet to be solidified, and its power numbers are anything but guaranteed. Darin Ruf, John Mayberry Jr., and Domonic Brown continue to fight for position around center fielder Ben Revere, and extra-man Delmon Young is already injured. Michael Young, like Kevin Youkilis in New York, is an aging veteran coming off of a stellar career with his former team, and expected to fill an offensive and defensive void at the hot corner. Again, as with the outfield situation, there is no guarantee that his addition will be effective in doing so. Like the AL East, the NL East has also seen several teams improve, with last season’s 98-win division-winning Washington Nationals getting even better, and the Atlanta Braves acquiring the Upton brothers to compliment their already potent bullpen. The Phillies pitching rotation seems to have the upper hand, but only if Roy Halladay reverts to his pre-2012 dominance, and if they decide to actually give Cliff Lee run support.
Fans in Philly and the Bronx have to see the writing on the wall as the season gets underway: This is probably the last, best shot at a title for both squads, at least for a few years. Both teams are not heavily favored by the odds makers who envision an 86-win season for the Yankees, which would be their weakest total since their modern-day run began in 1996. The Phillies, for their part, are considered the 3rd-best team in the NL East. Based on their mirror-image situations, what would be more enticing than a Yankees-Phillies rematch in October, the baseball equivalent of 2 aging, established veteran boxers slugging it out for one more shot at glory? I for one am hoping for such a scenario, and given Philly’s traditional underdog identity, I’d love to see us mimic “Rocky II” this time around.Tags: 2013 Season, Ben Revere, Chase Utley, Cliff Lee, Cole Hamels, Darin Ruf, Delmon Young, Domonic Brown, injuries, John Mayberry, Michael Young, MLB, New York Yankees, old, Philadelphia Phillies, Ryan Howard, World Series