Rays .vs. PhilliesOffense
The Phillies' offense is centered around a core group of star hitters (Utley, Howard, and Burrell) with a strong 1-2 leadoff tandem in Jimmy Rollins and Shane Victorino. It's a group that was remarkably productive against two very tough pitching staffs in the NLDS and NLCS. Their weakness is lineup depth; the bottom of the lineup, with the exception of Jayson Werth, if he's not batting second, is very poor. Carlos Ruiz is a good catcher, and Pedro Feliz is a good-glove third baseman, but both are barely above replacement level offensively.
The Rays have a somewhat different problem. They don't have superstar power like the Phillies do (although that's arguable, considering what Longoria and Upton are doing), but they have a much greater depth. The Rays don't often give up on offense from a lineup spot, except for shortstop Jason Bartlett.
Before the postseason, I think I would have given the edge to the Phillies. But now I'm not as certain. The Rays have really done a good job of scoring runs. Even if they don't keep setting home run records, they've got a top-notch offense with star-quality production. And here's what really gives them the edge:
If the Rays start Rocco Baldelli in right, that leaves either Cliff Floyd, Gabe Gross, or Jonny Gomes as DH. The Phillies don't have anyone remotely comparable to counter with. Their best bet would be Matt Stairs, who would do well against righties but would need a platoon partner (one the Phils don't have) against lefties. And postseason heroics aside, Stairs isn't as good as Cliff Floyd. This gives the Rays a much better set of options, especially in the later innings, and I think it's what gives them the edge on offense.
I'll give you Cole Hamels as the best pitcher in the series, but the Phillies just can't match up in the longer series. Brett Myers is underrated and should hold his own in the duel with James Shields in Game 2, but that's a close one. And in Game 3 (Moyer .vs. Garza) and Game 4 (Blanton .vs. Sonnanstine), the Phillies are strongly overmatched.
Both teams are solid defensively, but I'll give the edge to the Rays, especially since they're playing on their home turf.
This is the only area where I'll give the Phillies the advantage. You could argue over the middle relievers on both teams, and there I would lean toward the Rays, noting in particular the outing by David Price in Game 7 of the ALCS. But the Rays just don't have a closer, and the Phillies have one of the best in the game. That's a big difference, especially in October. If the Phillies can hand over a close lead to the 'pen, it should be fairly safe from the Rays' home run attack.
I doubt this will be quickly decided in either direction. But I give the AL team an automatic advantage in any short series, especially with home-field advantage. And in this case, you've got a Rays team that played a tougher schedule in a tougher league and won 97 games to the Phillies' 92. The small difference in offensive skill between the two teams is offset by the Rays' strong advantage in pitching, Brad Lidge aside. So I've got to go with my brains and predict a Miracle.
Rays in 6