Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Lester vs. Halladay Could Have Been World Series Preview

While yesterday's match-up between the Red Sox and Phillies in Clearwater, Florida was only a spring training game, it's not hard to imagine that it also could have been a preview of this year's World Series.  It was a great pitching match-up for a spring training game: the best pitcher in baseball (Halladay) vs. one of the best lefties in the game and the ace of what is being heralded as the best team in baseball (Lester).  The Phillies have the best rotation in baseball this season, with four pitchers who would be he ace of almost any other team in baseball.  The Red Sox have the best combination of rotation and lineup, and the only question they really have at this point during spring training is where the hell they position all of their stars in the Opening Day lineup (manager Terry Francona is a lucky man).  In FOX Sports' preseason power rankings, the Phillies are ranked first and the Red Sox are ranked second.  In CBS Sports' preseason power rankings, the teams are flip flopped, as the Red Sox are ranked first and the Phillies are ranked second.  You get the point.  Both teams have massive expectations.

Obviously, we can't get too ahead of ourselves.  Yesterday's game was merely a spring training match-up which has no bearing on the regular season.  Both teams have their weaknesses.  The Phillies have major holes in their lineup, with Chase Utley injured and Jayson Werth now playing in Washington.  Even during the National League Championship Series last season against the Giants, the Phils offense looked terrible against good pitching.  The Red Sox, on the other hand, have some minor pitching problems that could derail a potentially spectacular season.  If Josh Beckett and John Lackey can't bounce back from off-years, then even the Red Sox great offense might not be able to save the team from missing the playoffs (especially in the AL East).

Even with the problems that both teams have, it's hard not to be optimistic when you see a great pitching performance from the aces of potential World Series contenders.  Roy Halladay was lights out, pitching 7.2 innings of five hit baseball, striking out six.  Lester was spectacular through the first five innings, before struggling in the sixth.  He did give up a hit until the fifth inning and his off-speed pitches looked to be ready for Opening Day.  It was both Halladay and Lester's last real tune-up before the season starts.

FOX will be hoping for a match-up of more popular teams in this year's World Series, as the hype for last year's World Series between the Giants and the Rangers was lower than in recent years.  The ratings for a Red Sox-Phillies World Series would be through the roof, but of course, it's still only March.

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