After a brief weather interruption and some downtime in the post-season schedule, Major League Baseball finally has its World Series match-up - and it is a good one. Pitted against one another in the series for the first time since 1950, the New York Yankees and the Philadelphia Phillies offer a pairing of the sport's most famous team against the defending champions.
The Yankees compiled baseball's best regular season record and both teams boast powerful line-ups with deep starting rotations. If the Phillies win, they can match the Boston Red Sox as the only team to win two World Series this decade. And a Philadelphia victory would make them the first team to successfully defend the title since the Yankees in 1999-2000.
Game One will feature a match-up of former Cleveland Indian teammates with CC Sabathia for New York and Cliff Lee for the Phillies. The Yankees will follow with AJ Burnett and Andy Pettitte. Burnett is new to the post-season, having made his play-off debut earlier this month, while Pettitte has started more post-season games than any other pitcher in baseball history. The Yankees could bring back Sabathia after three days rest for Game Four, but if not, will likely go with Chad Gaudin. After Lee pitches the opener, the Phillies will counter with Cole Hamels and Pedro Martinez.
Hamels was the star of Piladelphia's championship run a year ago, but was nowhere near as consistent this season. Martinez, 37, does not throw nearly as hard as he did in his prime, but he was good enough to shutout the Los Angeles Dodgers for seven innings in the National League Championship Series. Like the Yankees, the Phillies would consider pitching Lee on short rest for Game Four. The Philadelphia bullpen was largely unsettled for most of the year thanks to closer Brad Lidge.
Last year, Lidge was perfect in save opportunities; this year, he was shaky throughout the season and for a time lost his job. He has pitched better in the first two rounds of the post-season, but still not at the same level as a year ago. The Phillies will use an assortment of pitchers - led by Ryan Madson and lefty JA Happ - to get to Lidge. The ageless wonder Mariano Rivera, on the other hand, is as good as ever.
He contributed a two-inning save in the Yankees' pennant-clincher over the Angels in Game Six of the American League Championship Series and has earned the right to be called the most dominant post-season closer ever. Phil Hughes, Damaso Marte, and Joba Chamberlain will be used in set-up roles. Edge: Yankees
The Phillies had the best line-up in the National League during the season and took full advantage of the smallish Citizens Bank Ballpark to out slug opponents. Philadelphia offer a nice blend of power and speed. Four regulars - Ryan Howard, Chase Utley, Jayson Werth and Raul Ibanez - hit at least 30 homers and knocked in at least 90 runs while four had at least 20 stolen bases - Jimmy Rollins, Shane Victorino, Werth and Utley. As mighty as the Phillies' offence is, however, it pales in comparison to the Yankees, who led the majors in virtually every category, including runs scored.
Seven of the nine position players hit 20 or more homers, led by Mark Teixeira and Alex Rodriguez who combined to hit 69 homers. What is more, Rodriguez has had a spectacular post-season, quite a turnaround from past Octobers when he placed too much pressure on himself. The Yankees cannot match the Phillies in the speed and base-stealing departments, but then, thanks to their top-to-bottom power, they do not have to. When the series moves to Philadelphia and the teams can not use the designated hitter, the Yanks will have a big edge on the bench with Hideki Matsui available for pinch-hitting duties. Edge: Yankees
Both teams play smart baseball and do not make many mistakes. New York's Teixeira gets the edge over Howard at first base, but the Phillies do not lose many other positional comparisons. In the outfield, Johnny Damon is a liability for the Yankees in left and Nick Swisher can be an adventure in right. In the infield, the New York captain Derek Jeter is as steady as can be but lacks the range of opposite number Jimmy Rollins. The Phillies committed just 76 errors over the course of the season, only the Pittsburgh Pirates (73) made fewer. New York made 86. Edge: Phillies
Charlie Manuel is the typical old school manager who eschews some of the more modern statistically-based data, while frequently going with his instincts.
The Phillies love playing for him and he always seems to get the most out of his personnel. Joe Girardi, in his second year with the Yankees and third as a major league manager, can be a little intense for some tastes and occasionally visits pitchers on the mound at odd-times. His handling of the bullpen in the post-season has left him open to some criticism. Still, there is little arguing with his results. Edge: Phillies
The Yankees seem unstoppable thanks to their hitting line-up, plus the pitching prowess of Sabathia and Rivera. They will win the World Series in six games. @Email:firstname.lastname@example.org Game One, 3.30am Thursday, ESPN America