What a difference a Devil makes

Chris Ruddick, MLB Editor

Rounding Third Logo Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - I am not really a religious man, but after watching what has happened with the Tampa Bay Rays this season, I might just make it a habit of showing up in church on Sundays.

Tampa Bay, of course, dropped the Devil from its name prior to the start of this season, opting to just go with the Rays moniker. Then, amazingly, as if an act from God, the Rays won a franchise-record 97 games, captured their first division title, and became the first team since the 1991 Atlanta Braves to reach the World Series a year after finishing with the worst record in the majors.

Following 10 straight losing seasons, Tampa rid itself of the Devil and is in the World Series. You do the math.

In a sport where superstitions and curses are the norm, it might be a long time before we see a Devil in MLB again. But then again the NHL's New Jersey Devils seem to have done alright for themselves. I guess that just means that God probably is just like the rest of us. He too could care less about the NHL.

Speaking of omens, is it a bad sign that the series starts a day before the 15-year anniversary of Joe Carter breaking the hearts of Philadelphia fans in Game 6 of the 1993 World Series?

Probably not, but much to Mitch Williams' chagrin, I have a feeling we are going to see that clip of Carter running the bases about 100 times this series.

Williams, though, will be taken off the hook in this series.

Even though everything in front of me points the other way, I have a feeling that the City of Brotherly Love's championship drought is going to come to an end with this World Series.

It was their bullpen that let them down against the Blue Jays 15 years ago, but the Phillies will ride their bullpen to their second-ever Word Series title in this series.

Offensively the teams are about even, while from a starting pitching standpoint the Rays hold a slight edge, even though Philadelphia's Cole Hamels is by far the best starter in this series.

The biggest disparity, though, comes in the bullpen, where Philadelphia holds an overwhelming advantage.

With closer Troy Percival sidelined, Tampa manager Joe Maddon had a difficult time getting the final three outs against Boston.

The group, which was so solid during the regular season, has struggled in October. Dan Wheeler, who was to assume Percival's vacated closer's spot, has surrendered four runs in six innings of work, while Grant Balfour is pitching to a 7.94 ERA.

However, Maddon may have found another option in 23-year-old left-hander David Price, who was electric in recording the final four outs in the Rays' Game 7 clincher against the Red Sox.

I have been calling for the Tampa skipper to use this guy late in games since we found out that Percival was going to be unavailable. Had he been used correctly, the Rays probably wouldn't have had to sweat out a seven- game series with the Red Sox.

For whatever reason Maddon waited until the eighth inning of Game 7 to utilize the 23-year-old flame thrower in a big spot. If you have a nice shiny Ferrari in the garage, why do you still drive your beat-up Nissan Sentra to work?

Price should have been called upon that whole series to get David Ortiz, J.D. Drew and Boston's big lefties out. Instead he was used basically as a last resort in Game 2, before Maddon called on him to get four outs to secure the pennant.

Tampa's bullpen has been its only real disappointment this postseason. With Percival gone and Dan Wheeler and Grant Balfour struggling badly, Maddon is running out of options out there.

Price, though, could be a difference maker, especially against the likes of Ryan Howard and Chase Utley. Maddon has to use him more this series. If he doesn't he will regret it all offseason.

Unlike the Rays, when the game gets to the ninth, there is no doubt who is pitching for the Phils. Brad Lidge has been the best closer in baseball this season, and although he may make things interesting, he has done the job every time he has toed the rubber this season.

Lidge was a perfect 41-for-41 in save opportunities during the regular season, and erased his postseason demons by going a perfect 5-for-5 against the Brewers and Dodgers.

It's not just Lidge either. Ryan Madson and J.C. Romero have also been lights out.

Of course, it was Lidge who was the losing pitcher in this year's All-Star Game, which gave the Rays home-field advantage for this series.

This is a hard series to predict. I liked the way the Rays were able to bounce back and defeat the Red Sox after that gut-wrenching Game 5 loss, but Tampa's bullpen still scares me in a big spot. Unless, of course, Maddon decides to go to Price more often.

The Phils, on the other hand, are going to have to overcome the long layoff blues. Detroit struggled with it two years ago and Colorado was swept by the Red Sox last year after sitting for a week.

If you look at everything on paper, the Rays should probably win. But I am going to go with Philadelphia. I think the Phils will be able to steal a game in St. Petersburg, then come home to what will be an unbelievably raucous crowd at Citizens Bank Park.

The city of Philadelphia is so starved for a title that those fans could will this team to a victory. The Rays are not going to know what hit them when they arrive in the City of Brotherly Love. They think cowbells and mohawks are cool, wait until they see the crowd in Philadelphia in Games 3, 4 and 5.



Comments? Criticism? Applause? Contact Chris Ruddick at cruddick@sportsnetwork.com.
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