As the pennant races barrel toward finality, the collective noggin of baseball fans is thinking postseason. That, of course, means the World Series.
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While the playoff fray isn’t yet settled, it’s not too early to start daydreaming about possible World Series match-ups. An old-time Gotham feud, a rematch of last year’s championship joust, a true David-vs.-Goliath pairing, and a replay of one of the greatest Fall Classics of all-time — those are just some of the possibilities. And here are the most intriguing of those World Series possibilities …
The hook: The Cliff Lee Experience
Texas ace Cliff Lee, of course, pitched the Phillies deep into the postseason last year, but over the winter the Phils shipped him off to Seattle. In essence, they swapped him for Roy Halladay, who’ll probably win the NL Cy Young this season. Could that decision come back to haunt the Phillies in a World Series match-up with Lee’s new club? Possibly. Given Halladay’s excellence and the deadline addition of Roy Oswalt, Philly hasn’t missed Lee. Even so, Lee has extra motivation to stick it to his former team.
The hook: ’90s Retro
The two greatest franchises of the 1990s go at it again. The Braves and Yanks met in the 1996 and 1999 Fall Classics, and the Yankees prevailed each time. In ‘96, the Braves were in control of the Series until Jim Leyritz dashed their hopes with a three-run bomb in Game 4. In a very real sense, the last Yankee dynasty began at that moment. So can the Braves get revenge and send Bobby Cox out on top? We’ll find out if this one comes to pass.
The hook: David vs. David
If you added the Rays and Padres payrolls together, that figure would barely crack the top 10. That’s defying odds and circumstance. As for the Padres, none but the most devoted of San Diego homers expected much out of them this season, but here they are — on the cusp of a playoff berth. As for the Rays, it’s hard to call the team that won the pennant two years ago an underdog, but in some ways they are. Despite playing in baseball’s toughest division and despite being comfortably outspent by the Yankees, Red Sox and even Orioles, the Rays have earned a spot in the postseason. So why not match them up with the Pads? Better bring two sizes of Cinderella slippers to this one …
The hook: Age and Beauty
The Yankees are baseball’s most successful franchise, and the Reds are baseball’s oldest franchise. The Yanks have horded 27 championships and 40 pennants across their history, and they are, without question, the flagship franchise of any sport. As for those Reds, they can trace their origins back to the first professional baseball team, the 1869 Cincinnati Red Stockings. In other words, no one’s been at this longer than the Reds. As well, the Reds and Yankees have crossed swords in the World Series on three previous occasions. The Yankees won handily in 1939 and 1961, but the Reds struck back by sweeping Billy Martin’s Yanks in 1976. Now imagine the powerful Yankee offense squaring off against the weapons-grade fastball of Aroldis Chapman …
The hook: Rematch of the Greatest Ever
Some would argue that the 1991 World Series was the best ever played. That year, the Twins topped the Braves in seven tense games, three of which went to extra innings and five of which were one-run affairs. Kirby’s walk-off home run in Game 6 (“And we’ll see you tomorrow night!” growled Jack Buck), Kent Hrbek’s takedown of Ron Gant, Lonnie Smith’s costly mistake on the basepaths, Jack Morris’s clutch performance in Game 7 … the great moments are too numerous to chronicle in this space. Certainly, that great encounter would be on our minds if the Braves and Twins met once again in the World Series.
The hook: David vs. Goliath
The Padres’ payroll in 2010? $37.8 million. In fact, only the Pirates have a lower figure. The Yankees’ payroll in 2010? $206.3 million, or, if you prefer the Padres times 5.5 or so. Stated another way, the entire Padres team in 2010 will make barely more than Alex Rodriguez all by his lonesome. So if you’re partial to the little guy or, alternatively, if you’re fond of seeing the little guy squashed like bug on windshield, then this series is for you. The mighty ‘98 Yankees of course steamrolled the Padres, so this provides opportunity for sweet revenge or, in the event of a San Diego defeat, confirmation of the Republic’s darkest fears.
The hook: 2008 Reboot
These two did the World Series thing in 2008, and the Phillies prevailed in five games. You can argue, though, that both teams are better this time around. The 2010 Rays model boasts a better offense than the 2008 team, and unlike two years ago the Rays also have a certifiable ace and shutdown closer. As for the Phillies, Roy Halladay, Roy Oswalt and Cole Hamels give them the makings of an unstoppable playoff rotation. This one would have “seven games” written all over it.
The hook: Old School
Here’s a rivalry that dates back to early part of the last century. The Giants and Yankees of course once shared the same city, and for a number of years they even shared the same ballpark, the Polo Grounds. The Giants and Yankees previously met in the World Series in 1962, 1951, 1937, 1936, 1923, 1922, and 1921. In fact, only the Yankees and Dodgers have played each other more often in the World Series. The Yanks hold a 5-2 edge over the Giants in those series. If you’re looking for a match-up with the forces of history behind it, this is it.
The hook: Goliath vs. Goliath
Lots of spicy notes to this one … A rematch of last year’s World Series, East-Coast intensity/obnoxiousness, top payroll against fourth-highest payroll, and the two teams generally regarded as the best in their leagues. If you believe the World Series should truly be a clash of titans, then this should be your preferred match-up. And how does a possible Halladay-Sabathia faceoff in Game 7 sound?