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Teams' styles don't fit league norms


Traditionally, the formula to build a championship club has depended on whether a team is in the American League or the National. The AL, because its teams have the designated hitter, is seen as a league driven by power hitting. The NL is based more on strategy, playing matchups, having good defense and knowing how to manufacture runs. But the Phillies and Rays are very different from their league's roots, which should make for an interesting series. "I remember telling (Phillies manager) Charlie (Manuel) that this team was going to give Boston and the Yankees fits because they're going to do things differently," Phillies shortstop Jimmy Rollins said of the Rays. "Look at American League baseball, especially American League East, it was just (teams hitting) bombs, who would hit more home runs and who was going to get pitching today. Tampa Bay came out and showed all year long that they're a multifaceted team."

AL trend: Power surge
The Phillies hit an NL-high 214 homers in the regular season, second only to the White Sox's 235. And the heart of their order is the most powerful in baseball. The Nos. 3, 4 and 5 hitters — second baseman Chase Utley, NL home run king Ryan Howard and leftfielder Pat Burrell — combined for 93 homers in the regular season. "We play in the American League and every lineup is like that here with that DH," Rays pitcher Matt Garza said. "In the National League you get to face a pitcher, that one supposed easy out." The Rays were tied for ninth in the majors with 180, even though their 16 homers in the ALCS were an LCS record. Still, they weren't built to rely on power, with a rookie (Evan Longoria) in the cleanup spot.
AL trend: DH factor
Most AL teams use the DH for a middle-of-the-order power bat, but the Rays — who have primarily platooned Cliff Floyd and Willy Aybar — hit their DH lower in the order and rotate it based more on the pitching matchup than to get a home run hitter into the order.

Year Batter, team stats In order

2008 Floyd/Aybar, Rays 21 HR, 72 RBIs sixth or seventh

2007 David Ortiz, Boston35 HR, 117 RBIs third

2006 Marcus Thames, Tigers 26 HR, 60 RBIs eighth

2005 Carl Everett, White Sox 23 HR, 87 RBIs fifth

2004David Ortiz, Red Sox 41 HR, 139 RBIs third

NL trend: Making runs, stealing bases
The Rays led the majors with 142 stolen bases and were the only AL team among the top four base-stealing teams (Rockies, Mets, Phillies). With the pitcher hitting in the NL, more emphasis is placed on moving runners over with sacrifices or going from first to third with aggressive baserunning. Under Joe Maddon's aggressive running style, the Rays have done that well. "Traditionally a National League team is one that can put the game in motion a little bit and steal some bags," Maddon said.
NL trend: Power pitching
Joe Maddon said that among AL pitching staffs, he believes his team relies more on the fastball than most, a trait that's often connected to the NL. Rays pitchers were fourth in the AL in strikeouts, a stat dominated by NL teams. The top five teams in strikeouts were from the NL: Cubs, Giants, Diamondbacks, Reds, Dodgers.
NL trend: Roster redux
Mainly because pitchers hit in the NL, the purpose of every position player on the roster is magnified. For an NL team, its bench is so important for substitutions — pinch-hitters, pinch-runners and defensive subs — as the game moves along. On the Rays roster, every player has his purpose, from the glove of Gabe Gross, top, in right to Fernando Perez's speed on the bases.
NL trend: Defense solidified
NL teams are known more for having defensive cohesiveness. Four of the top five best-fielding teams come from the NL. The Rays' .985 fielding percentage is identical to the Phillies, but their defensive upgrade from last year, highlighted by the addition of an infield anchor in shortstop Jason Bartlett, is remarkable.

Teams' styles don't fit league norms 10/21/08 [Last modified: Wednesday, November 3, 2010 4:49pm]
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