Before the playoffs started, it was well-known that Fox secretly was rooting for a Boston Red Sox-Chicago Cubs World Series, as the match-up would bring in possibly the highest ratings the World Series has ever seen.
Now, the Tampa Bay Rays-Philadelphia Phillies World Series could be a ratings nightmare, and it's an absolute shame. If you're a true fan of the sport of baseball, there's a boatload of reasons you should be tuning in for each of hopefully seven games.
To me, the Rays might be the most exciting team in all of baseball to watch actually. Their youth brings great speed, tremendous power, and rocket arms all over the pitching staff. They're also incredibly smart baseball players that get it, and that's why they're here. They know how to move the runner over to third base with less than two outs. They know where they're supposed to take the ball on a hit and run. Their execution looks like a group that's been playing together for 20 years, yet most of them were toddlers then.
Aside from the fact that they are from a small market in Tampa Bay, they don't have the "big names" that viewers want to see play. They don't have the Albert Pujols or Manny Ramirez that everybody knows. To this talk, I shake my head. This team has plenty of young players that are just showing glimpses of how special they can be, and they're already pretty darn good.
Evan Longoria was yesterday named The Sporting News' American League Rookie of the Year, even though he missed about a month with a broken wrist. He still managed to hit 27 homers and drive in 85 runs. He's followed his terrific regular season up with a 6 homers, 11 RBI, and a 1.102 OPS in the playoffs. If you're a casual baseball fan, it's quite possible you've never even heard of him until now, and trust me, you'll be hearing quite a bit more about arguably the best young third baseman in baseball in the future.
Or how about B.J. Upton? After hitting .300, with 24 homers, 82 RBI, with an OPS of .894 in 2007, Upton struggled in the 2008 regular season. His power production was particularly down, hitting 9 homers in 531 at bats, with an OPS of .784. Well the 24-year-old has stepped up and then some when it matters in the playoffs, with 7 homers, 15 RBI, and a .826 slugging percentage in the playoffs. Absolutely unbelievable, and it's thrilling for me to watch a young player like that come through in the clutch. The potential is unlimited for this kid, just like his brother Justin who is an outfielder for the Arizona Diamondbacks. But again, few people even know who he is yet and it's a shame.
But the main reason the Cinderella Rays are still playing baseball, is their remarkable pitching staff. These guys are a blast to watch. James Shields, Matt Garza, Scott Kazmir, Andy Sonnanstine, Grant Balfour, Dan Wheeler, and the most exciting to watch for me, is David Price.
Price(pictured left) might be the best pitcher on the Rays already, and he didn't make his MLB debut until September 14th. The #1 overall pick of the 2007 draft out of Vanderbilt, is a left-handed pitcher that is coming out of the bullpen for the Rays now, since they didn't have a spot for him with their outstanding rotation. Well, now he might be their closer for the World Series. He showed he could close out game 7 of the ALCS, displaying great composure, a fastball consistently hitting 97 mph+, and a hard slider that disappears out of the zone. This kid is phenomenal and could be the best left-handed pitcher in baseball soon, but again, there's a good chance you've never heard of him so you won't care to tune in to watch him.
So you want some big names? Fine, I bring you the Phillies: Ryan Howard, Chase Utley, Jimmy Rollins, all three perennial MVP candidates. In fact, Rollins won the NL MVP in 2007, and Howard(pictured right) appears to be the favorite to win the award this year after hitting 48 home runs with 146 RBI. Utley was the best player in the National League for much of the first half of the season, and you could argue he even had a better year than Howard. They also have the streaky Pat Burrell, who thankfully for the Fightin' Phils is in the midst of a good streak: .300, 3 HR, 9 RBI, and a .964 OPS in these playoffs.
The Phillies also have arguably the best left-handed pitcher in baseball right now, in their ace Cole Hamels. The 24-year-old pitcher is 3-0 with a 1.23 ERA in the playoffs. There's also the ultra-reliable closer Brad Lidge, who went 41 of 41 in save opportunities in the regular season, and continued to dominate in the playoffs, 5 of 5 in save chances so far. The Phillies have a powerful offense, and when Hamels is starting with Lidge to follow in relief, you have to play a superb game to take them down.
If you're a fan of high-scoring games with plenty of home runs, I don't know if you could draw up a better series when you consider the offenses of these two clubs, and the parks they will be playing in. Tropicana Field looked like a Little League park in the ALCS, and I'm pretty sure Citzens Bank Park really is a Little League park.
This series has the potential to go seven games for sure, and I'll be quite a thrilled baseball fan if that's the case. With the great young hitters on the Rays, their flame-throwing pitchers, the veteran stars of the Phillies, potential slugfests, and just great played all-around baseball, this series could be heaven for a baseball fan. If you're a baseball fan, do yourself a favor and tune in. The rest of them don't know what they're missing.