The Phillies faced their first elimination game in two years on Monday night and prevailed. Can they do it again tonight? Here are three reasons they will, and three reasons they won't:
1) Road Warriors. The Phillies were tied with the Angels for the best road team in baseball this year. The Phillies went 48-33, with a +70 run differential away from CBP this year. The Phillies have played five games at Yankee Stadium so far this year, and have outscored the Yankees 22-15. Their record at Yankee Stadium is 3-2 in those five games, but the two losses were incredibly close, one coming on a Brad Lidge blown save and another despite Pedro Martinez's gem last week.
2) Rested and ready. Despite some criticism, Charlie Manuel's decision to keep his pitchers on normal rest could pay off huge. Pedro Martinez, on 5 days rest, is going up against Andy Pettitte, on 3 days rest. Martinez has always been at his best when he's on regular 4 or 5 day rest. When he gets too much rest, 6 days or more, his game suffers. Batters hit him better (a .070 jump in OPS on his career, about a .200 jump this year) and he gives up more runs (his ERA jumps about 1.00 on his career, about 3.00 this year). Martinez is in his sweet spot going on 5 days rest. On the other hand, Pettitte will be challenged on 3 days rest. For his career, Pettitte is only slightly worse on 3 days rest compared to regular rest. But, here's the rub -- he hasn't pitched on 3 days rest since 2006, when he was 34. The body works differently at 37.
3) Righty power. The Phillies right-handed hitters can demolish Pettitte. Even though Pettitte had a small reverse platoon split this year (.730 OPS for lefties, .717 for righties) and just a very small platoon split for his career (.728 OPS for righties, .711 for lefties), the Phillies righties have demolished Pettitte in the past. It's all on the small to miniscule sample size end of the spectrum, but the results have been great. Including the post-season, Jayson Werth has a .188/.188/750 line with 3 home runs in 16 plate appearances, Pedro Feliz has a .300/.462/.400 line in 13 plate appearances, Ben Francisco has a .400/.500/.400 line in 6 plate appearances, and Carlos Ruiz has a .500/.667/1.250 line in 6 plate appearances. The Phillies' switch hitters have not done well but have held their own against Pettitte, with Shane Victorino posting a .375/.333/.375 line in 9 plate appearances and Jimmy Rollins a .250/.286/.400 line in 21 plate appearances.
1) Hometown heroes. The Yankees had the best home record in baseball, at 57-24. Since July 1, the Yankees are even better, with a 35-10 record at home. They'll be returning to their home crowd with a chance to win their first World Series at home since 1999. For most franchises, that's not that long of a time between opportunities. For Yankees fans, that's three lifetimes.
2) Lefty troubles. It's been well documented how poorly the Phillies' lefties not named Chase Utley have performed this Series. It gets worse when you look at how they've performed historically against Pettitte. Ryan Howard and Chase Utley have a combined 2 singles, 8 strikeouts, and 1 walk against him in 23 career plate appearances. Raul Ibanez has been better, but not much. Thanks to playing most of his career in the AL, he has 25 plate appearances against Pettitte, in which he's put up a .250/.280/.417 line with 1 home run, 7 strikeouts, and no walks.
3) DH. Shane Victorino will be a game time decision tonight. If he's not able to make it because of his sore finger, the Phils will be forced to play Francisco in center, keep Ibanez in left, and DH either Eric Bruntlett or Matt Stairs. Bruntlett has had a truly awful year this year, and Stairs has been a non-existent hitter since July 1 (.082/.274/.245 line for the last three months of the season). They are a combined 0 for 10 lifetime against Pettitte. With the DH adding Hideki Matsui to the Yankees' lineup, if the Phillies counter with Bruntlett or Stairs, they're in big trouble.
With six hours to go until game time, these are the important factors that could influence this game. All in all, I think Pettitte's short rest combined with the righty dominance the Phillies have shown over him will win the day, and we'll see a Game 7 battle tomorrow night. Here's hoping....