Hello again, everybody, and welcome to City of Palms Park where your Philadelphia Phillies today play the Boston Red Sox. It's the first Grapefruit League meeting of the year between the teams that will face each other once more this spring, in interleague play at the end of June and finally, with everything on the line, in the World Series.
CLEARWATER, Fla. - Almost all of the above is absolutely true.
When the 2010 postseason got under way, complete with all the attendant hype and drama and incessant playing of "I Gotta Feeling" by the Black Eyed Peas, the Boston Red Sox were marked absent for just the second time in 8 years.
Since then, the Olde Towne team signed free agent Carl Crawford and traded for Adrian Gonzalez. Pundits have given them permission to collect ring sizes.
The Phillies roared into the playoffs with the best record in baseball and the wind at their backs before slipping on a banana peel against the Giants in the National League Championship Series.
Since then, they added Cliff Lee to a starting rotation that was already one of the best in baseball. Experts advise starting to plan the parade route now.
It seems that a clash between the two teams, who last committed October baseball together in 1915, is inevitable.
The fact of the matter is that, even though the Red Sox and Phillies are prohibitive favorites to win their respective leagues, that and the price of admission is all that guarantees appearing in the final round.
Injuries are the biggest bogeyman that keeps executives of contending teams awake at night. Managers are ever vigilant to sniff out the first signs of complacency. Sometimes even the best players have down seasons for no apparent reason. Trading deadline deals can change the balance of power. Occasionally, a lesser team gets hot at just the right time. That's what makes long-term predictions largely pointless.
So, yes, the Phillies and Red Sox will play twice in Florida. And they'll play three more times during the regular season. After that, though, all that can be said for certain is that both teams did a nice job of putting themselves into a good position to win.
According to the oddsmakers at BetUS.com, the preseason favorites in each league last year were the Yankees (3-1) and Phillies (6-1). Both were eliminated in the LCS. By the time the World Series rolled around, the Giants (20-1) beat the Rangers (24-1).
In 2009, the Yankees (5-2) were considered the team to beat in the AL and, sure enough, ended up winning the 27th world championship in the franchise's storied history.
But the co-favorites in the NL were the Mets and Cubs at 7-1. Neither made the playoffs. Chicago at least won 83 games and finished second. The Mets were 70-92 and ended up fourth.
It was the second straight year the Metropolitans came up short after being tabbed as the favorite. In 2008, both the Mets and Red Sox were established as 9-2 choices. Boston was knocked out in the ALCS. New York fired manager Willie Randolph at midseason and failed to advance to the tournament.
That was the year, of course, that the Phillies captured the second world championship in franchise history. The preseason odds didn't predict that outcome though. There were eight teams that were considered better bets: Red Sox, Mets, Tigers (11-2), Yankees (13-2), Angels (11-1), Cubs (12-1) and Indians and Dodgers (14-1).
The Phillies (20-1) ended up beating out the Tampa Bay Rays (75-1) for the right to run onto the field, spray each other with champagne and hold up the big trophy for the television cameras.
The Red Sox (7-2) played to form in 2007, but the Cubs (10-1) were swept in the division series. Boston beat the Rockies (25-1) for their second title in 4 years. And the Cardinals (15-2) went on to win the World Series in 2006. But they beat the Tigers (110-1) to do it. The favored Yankees (3-1) were eliminated in the division series.
So let's recap: In the last 5 years, not once have the most favored teams gone on to meet in the World Series. And while three teams that had the shortest odds in their league went on to win the World Series, five were knocked out before getting there. And three didn't even qualify for the playoffs.
A glance at the travel list for the 2 1/2-hour bus trip to Fort Myers today indicates that Charlie Manuel isn't too worried about setting the early tone in this rivalry. The only regulars going are starting pitcher Cole Hamels and centerfielder Shane Victorino.
Either that or the Phillies manager, like a football coach in a preseason game, is going with a limited playbook, unwilling to tip his hand until the games matter most.
"You don't want to peak early. You don't want to use all your guns," Manuel laughed. "That's what happened to Custer. He sent his major patrol out first."
Manuel laughed again. World Series preview? Check back in about 7 months.
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