So, what exactly does it take to win the World Series these days? Well, to start with it helps to have excellent pitching from top to bottom in the rotation and front to back in the pen. Next, throw in power, speed and solid hitting throughout the lineup. Next, add good defense at most positions and adequate gloves at the rest. Finally, add a manager who is comfortable with who he is and in his relationships with his players. In sum, the Boston Red Sox.
And what of the other finalist this season, the Colorado Rockies? They appear to have a promising starting rotation filled mostly with live arms beyond their number one, but we must wait another season to see if the promises are fulfilled. Their bullpen is very solid. The lineup features power and average and their speed is adequate. Defensively, they led the majors this past season. Their skipper made a few missteps in the series, but overall appears to have management's and his players' confidence. If the starting pitching holds up, they should contend next season.
Are the Phillies close to achieving the same overall balance? Not really. Their starting rotation features a young number one whose health will likely be a concern throughout his career, a wily veteran who at age 45 cannot have that much left and a whole lot of question marks beyond them. The bullpen remains in serious flux with the closer an unpredictable commodity who really belongs in the starting rotation. The batters are impatient and streaky in the main. Team speed is excellent overall. Their outfield is in flux, especially with the current centerfielder likely to depart via free agency. Defense is very good in spots and very mediocre in too many others. Their manager is well-liked in the clubhouse but doesn't add much in the win column for those handful of games that are decided on strategy. Worst of all, there is precious little in the minor leagues in the way of help. Ownership and upper management assembled a core of accomplished young players but never surrounded them with the mix of veterans to get them over the top. Chronic inadequacies at third base and on the mound conspire annually to undermine them.
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Alex Rodriguez opted out of his contract, the richest in baseball history, and now stands prepared to sign for a new record-breaking contract elsewhere. The Angels or Dodgers would be a good bet but so would Boston if Mike Lowell departs. Oh, the irony of it all.
Meanwhile, back at Steinbrenner central, the Yankees should name Joe Girardi manager as early as today or tomorrow. The good news is he will be back at the helm of a major league team; the bad news is he will be at the helm of this major league team. He is going to inherit the worst Yankee club in more than a decade with the pitching staff that is in transition to put it mildly and an everyday lineup with several key players departing or aging less than gracefully. The Yankees could finish third in the AL East next year.
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Will Lowell, the series MVP, leave Boston? The Sox can certainly afford to bring him back and the guess here is they will do so. Can the Sox repeat next season? Well, Big Papi needs knee surgery, Jason Varitek isn't getting any younger and Manny Ramirez is, well, Manny. But they all seem to have enough left in the offensive tank and the pitching staff remains formidable, even if Curt Schilling departs as is expected. The Sox have a lot of young pitchers who appear ready to move up a level and their young position players certainly acquitted themselves well at the end of the season and during the playoffs.
The Phillies would be expected to make a run at Lowell should he opt for free agency, but it seems unlikely they will get the chance.
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The World Series ain't what it used to be. For one thing, the last four series have been lopsided with three of the four winners sweeping. Only Detroit broke the string of sweeps by taking one game against St. Louis last year. Hardly the stuff of drama. Advertisers and MLB executives fret over the absence of enough big market teams in recent World Series, but viewers will hardly remained glued to their televisions when the games themselves aren't very compelling.