2003 MLB Playoffs
World Series Preview
October 17, 2003
Well it's certainly not the matchup everyone outside of New York and Florida wanted, but with 5 outs to go and a 3 run lead, neither Chicago nor Boston were able to put the final nail in the coffin. The fact that the Yankees and Marlins had to fight back to win makes them that much more deserving of a World Series appearance. Similar to the both Championship Series, the World Series should be a closely matched contest. Let's break it down to see which team will prevail:
No Pressure. The Marlins aren't supposed to be here, and Jack McKeon has them playing about as loose as a World Series team can play. He has convinced his players that if they play hard and have fun, everything else will take care of itself.
Balance. Just as they did against the Cubs, the Marlins must utilize their balanced lineup. When Pudge is hot, you can't walk him because Cabrera, Lee, Lowell, Conine, and others are solid hitters who can all take advantage of hitting with runners on. In the games played in New York, Florida should have a greater advantage because Lowell and Cabrera can both be in the lineup, as well as a guy like Encarnacion.
Depth on the Bench. When you can afford to bench a guy like Mike Lowell and bring in Juan Encarnacion for defensive purposes late in the game, you know you have a deep bench. In the playoffs, the entire roster is always used, and this asset will greatly help Florida.
Pitching Depth. What the Marlins have on the bench, they lack in the rotation. After Josh Beckett, A.J. Burnett's season ending injury has left the rest of the rotation quite beatable. Penny, Redman, and Pavano don't scare anyone, and Willis has shown signs of inconsistency. The staff must overachieve to beat the Yankees.
Lack of Experience. While the Marlins may not feel much pressure, it does help to have "been there before." Less so for the nerves and more so for the preparation, it helps to have gone through World Series situations in the past, knowing that as a starter, you may have to throw a few innings of relief, or as a closer, you may have to throw an extra inning or two. Nothing prepares better for the future than past experience.
New York Yankees
Experience. Nobody has been in this situation more than the Yankees and that can only help. While there aren't many players around from the original group, the newcomers seem to feed off of the experience of the others. This team won't be caught by surprise.
Mariano Rivera. Quite simply, the team that has him wins, assuming you can get to him. This year, that will be a big assumption. Rivera's postseason numbers are well known by now, and his 3 innings in Game 7 simply furthered his legacy.
Coaching. Plenty of coaches have had talent and not won, but nobody wins more with talent than Joe Torre (except for maybe Phil Jackson). Sure, it's easier when your boss is always willing to empty the coffers, but that sometimes make for tougher motivation of the players. Torre has never had that problem.
Age. Father time is catching up with the Yankees, especially the starting staff. None of the big four are a guarantee anymore, and with a shaky bullpen, they will have to extend themselves more than ever.
Defense. If New York doesn't shape up its fielding, no one is more apt to take advantage than the Marlins. A bobble, a slip, or a wild throw will be just enough to get the Marlins lineup revving. Just look at what Gonzalez's error did for Florida in Game 6 of the NLCS.
Bullpen. To pitch Rivera, you need to get to Rivera. Having a castle high in the mountains does you no good if you don't have the proper transportation to get you there. Weaver, White, Heredia, and Nelson are certainly not the answer, and the starters will only be available late in the series. Contreras is a wild card, but I wouldn't bank my hopes of a series victory on him.
Everything in history points to the Yankees winning this series because, well, it's what they do best. The one thing I can't get past, though, is New York's weak bullpen. Combining that with the starters' ages, I just can't see the Yankees bridging the gap between starter and closer. I believe that will cost them a game or two and, in a series that will be hotly contested, that should be enough of an advantage for the Marlins.
Of course, the Marlins starters will have to prove that they are better than most people think, but their bullpen is steady and they have the luxury of Urbina and Looper, two pitchers who are used to pitching in close games late. Rivera will be effective as always, but he just won't get enough chances.
Marlins in Six