The 2009 World Series matchup has been set, featuring the Philadelphia Phillies against the New York Yankees. Although it will be torturous for Cleveland Indians fans like myself to watch C.C. Sabathia pitch against Cliff Lee in game one, the stage is set for what should be a very exciting Fall classic! (If it is any consolation, Tribe fans, at least you can take comfort in knowing that Manny Acta is your new manager, and he is really good at… ummm, nevermind!)
Both sides are loaded with talent, but when questioning the most important player in the series, the answer is Phillies first-baseman Ryan Howard.
Simply put, Howard is an RBI machine! During the 2009 postseason, Howard has already batted in 14 runs (which is the highest total in baseball) with a .355 batting average including two home runs, four doubles, and – yes – even a triple for the 255-pounder! He is the most productive hitter of the postseason, and that will have to continue if the Phillies hope to repeat as World Series champions this season.
It is Howard’s position in the lineup that makes him so dangerous (and so important to the Phillies). Hitting in front of Howard are Shane Victorino and Chase Utley, both of whom are batting above .300 with an on-base percentage of .439 this postseason. They should have no problem setting the table for Howard because they give Howard ample opportunity for even more RBI in the World Series, even against the likes of C.C. Sabathia.
Simply having consistent hitters in front of the best hitter in a lineup is not enough, though. Howard also has the luxury of being followed in the batting order by Jayson Werth and Raul Ibanez, who have had nearly the same success as Howard in the RBI category, combining for an additional 19 postseason runs batted in between them. Collectively, Howard, Ibanez, and Werth alone have combined for 33 of the Phillies 54 total RBI. With a great supporting cast around him Yankees pitchers will have no choice but to pitch to Howard, often with runners on base.
It is a familiar cliché, “good pitching wins championship.” But, the Yankees and Phillies BOTH have good pitching this season. The 2009 World Series will be decided by the team that can still figure out how to score runs despite the dominant pitching on the bump. The Yankees, a team that is not a slouch at the plate withhitters like Alex Rodriguez, Mark Teixeira, and Derek Jeter, will manage to put runs on the board against Cliff Lee, Cole Hamels, and the rest of the Phillies pitching staff. It will be up to Howard, who is the leader of a Phillies offense that is the most prolific of this postseason, to make sure that his team can get ahead early, giving his pitchers the cushion they need to be successful.