|. Cole Hamels is the best pitcher on either team, a true ace in all contexts, with a changeup that can rival the Rays' James Shields. And the left-hander is 3-0, 1.23 ERA in three postseason starts, averaging a strikeout an inning. That's the good news. Nos. 2-3-4 Brett Myers, ageless LHP Jamie Moyer and Joe Blanton all can be inconsistent. Moyer, making his World Series debut at age 45, has been of particular concern in the postseason, lasting just 5 1/3 innings in two starts, with a 13.50 ERA to show for it.
. The Rays rotation isn't set up exactly as they want it, but it could work out fine if LHP Scott Kazmir — who looked much more in control and dominating in his last start — has a good outing tonight, with RHP James Shields set up for Games 2 and 6 at home. All No. 3 starter Matt Garza did was win the ALCS MVP Award. No. 4 starter Andy Sonnanstine will be puzzling to the Phillies with his vast repertoire of deliveries, though he will have gone 11 days between starts.
|. The Rays have found a way to make it work without a dominant closer all season, though the aura of invincibility was dented by the ALCS Game 5 collapse. The Rays need Dan Wheeler and Grant Balfour to be on their games, allowing manager Joe Maddon the flexibility of slotting them and LHP J.P. Howell at specific points of the Phillies lineup. The not-so-secret weapon is LHP David Price, who showed in ALCS Game 7 he is more than capable of getting the last three outs.
. The Phillies have no such contingencies or concerns: Closer Brad Lidge is an amazing 46-for-46 in save opportunities this season, and they are 86-0 when leading entering the ninth. RHP Ryan Madson has emerged as the primary setup man, allowing only one earned run over his past 14 appearances. They have veteran situational lefties in Scott Eyre and J.C. Romero. Phillies relievers had the lowest ERA in the NL this season and gave up the fewest homers.
|. The Phillies, who many think have more of an AL-style lineup, can bang with the best of them, leading the NL with 214 home runs — a major-league-high 48 from 1B Ryan Howard, 33 each from LF Pat Burrell and 2B Chase Utley, 24 from Jayson Werth. They ranked near the bottom of the majors with a .255 average but will take their walks, and they are the best running team in the NL (84.5 percent success rate), led by Jimmy Rollins, who swiped 47, and Shane Victorino, 36. They've won seven postseason games without a home run, and with only one RBI from Howard, who is among the majors' streakiest hitters and struggles against lefties.
. The Rays, who many think have more of an NL-style lineup, turned into bombers in October, hitting an LCS-record 16 homers against the Red Sox and 22 in their 11 postseason games — seven from a resurgent B.J. Upton, six from Evan Longoria. Typically, the Rays find a way offensively, with every player in the lineup coming up with a key hit at any time. The Rays stole the most bases in the AL (and third most in the majors) and will be aggressive on the bases.
|. The Phillies are very strong up the middle, especially with Jimmy Rollins (a Gold Glover) at short, Chase Utley at second and Shane Victorino in center. Phillies outfielders led the NL, and tied for the major-league lead, in assists. 3B Pedro Feliz is better than you think, though Greg Dobbs, who is the better hitter, may get a start or two. 1B Ryan Howard is not smooth defensively. C Carlos Ruiz threw out only 23.5 percent of attempted basestealers, which the Rays are well aware of.
. Defense has been a Rays' strength all season, from their slick-fielding infield to speedy outfield. SS Jason Bartlett made a couple of concerning errors during the ALCS, and the outfield might be weaker if Gabe Gross has slumped his way out of the lineup. C Dioner Navarro, who lead the AL
by throwing out 38.4 percent of attempted basestealers, could be a key to the series.
|. There wouldn't seem to be an odder couple, or more of a need for a thesaurus, with Phillies manager Charlie Manuel's country cornpone act and Joe Maddon's renaissance man routine. But they have one thing in common: Both are very sharp baseball men and good managers. Manuel plays the hick well but is an astute baseball man who handles the pressures of managing in Philadelphia and showed his tough side when he twice benched Jimmy Rollins for being late and not hustling. Manuel tends to go somewhat by the book, especially in his lefty-righty matchups. Maddon plays the intellect well but is also an astute baseball man who managed the Rays through the tough times and showed his tough side when he benched B.J. Upton then pulled him out of a game for not hustling. Maddon tends to go somewhat against the book and will try just about anything (such as intentionally walking Josh Hamilton with the bases loaded) but bunt.|
|. The big issue is rest vs. rust, and how the Phillies will respond to having six days off. Both teams have a tremendous homefield advantage, and the Rays have one more game at home. Plus it's going to be harder for the Phillies to get used to the idiosyncrasies of the Trop (white roof, catwalks, dirt basepaths with turf infield), where they haven't played since 1991, than it should be for the Rays to get adjusted to the ball flying out of Citizens Bank Park. There's not much World Series experience on either side: five Phillies (Brad Lidge, Eric Bruntlett, Pedro Feliz, Scott Eyre, So Taguchi) and two Rays (Cliff Floyd, Dan Wheeler). Both teams are on something of an unexpected ride, and both survived tough challenges at the end of the season to win their divisions.|