The preseason favorites. The favorites after 162 games. The favorites after Game 6 in 2009.
These titles refer to the New York Yankees and the Philadelphia Phillies.
Yet they stand on the wrong side of the win-loss hyphen.
Both are losing to unproven teams with little postseason experience who were considered World Series long-shots before the season—the Texas Rangers and the San Francisco Giants.
Here's some advice to both teams on how they can turn things around.
The Yankees need the most help, looking up at a 3-1 deficit. On top of that, they have to face Cliff Lee again and play two games in Arlington, Texas. Ouch. The Yankees' to-do list is long. Or it's a singular item, depending on your approach.
|The Yankees still have to face this guy—in Texas—if they want a chance to repeat as world champions.|
- Turn the pressure around. Even though the pressure is on the Yankees right now to win three straight, they can't allow themselves to be enveloped by that pressure. Take some, use it for fuel, and turn the rest onto the Rangers. Prove to them you aren't out of it. If nothing else, make them fear you just because you're the Yankees.
- Make the Rangers work for their last win. That means taking pitches and getting to the bullpen. It means driving the ball hard, even if it's for an out. It means not giving them easy outs. They still need 27 outs.
- Jump on the starters early. You've now seen CJ Wilson and Colby Lewis in the series. You know what they've got. Know what pitch you can hit, and jump on it.
- Play perfect defense. A good team makes you pay for giving them 4 (or more) outs in an inning. A team like the Rangers uses it to put you away.
Then there's the short list:
- Play Yankees baseball.
The Phillies are in a better position. Down 2-1, they still have the best pitching trio in baseball set to pitch in three of four games. Not coincidentally, three wins will get them to the World Series. The problem is, the Giants have a pretty good trio of their own.
- Stop helping the Giants. You can't give a team extra outs and expect to survive. The Phillies almost suffered that fate against the Cincinnati Reds in Game 2 of the NLDS, but luckily the Reds defense turned around and gave those outs right back...and then some.
- Get a strong outing from Joe Blanton in Game 4. Winning Game 4 would be huge, and the key is staying in the game early on. With the Philly offense sputtering (okay, more like breaking down a few miles from home), the pitching needs to be extra sharp.
- Take Cody Ross out of the game. This is not a call for head-hunting, but you have to do something to keep this guy from hurting you. Pitch around him. Don't let anyone on base in front of him. But most importantly, don't throw the ball down and in.
|Cody Ross has killed the Phillies through three games. Limiting his opportunities is a key to the Phillies' comeback attempts.|
- Shake up the lineup. Charlie Manuel has to find a way to jump-start this offense. After hitting .212 against the Reds, they are under .200 in the NLCS. Maybe you put Jimmy Rollins back in the lead-off spot. Maybe you sit Raul Ibanez against the lefty in Game 4, going instead with Ben Francisco. Maybe you completely change the lineup—the Phillies have five guys in their lineup who have led-off for this team in the past, and another with the OBP to do so.
- Hit home runs. Ryan Howard is hitting the ball hard, but not out. He needs to launch one to energize this team. A home run out of the lead-off spot would set the tone for the offense as well.
- Capitalize on opportunities. You know why Cody Ross is killing you? It's because he's doing what you're not—taking a mistake pitch, or his pitch, and jumping on it. Don't let opportunities—like lead-off base-runners and belt-high fastballs—go to waste.
- Know when to be patient and when to be aggressive. Guys like Tim Lincecum and Matt Cain don't give you much to hit, so when you get a fastball, swing. You handled Sanchez perfectly. Knowing his tendency to be wild, you were patient early and were rewarded with walks. But as the game wore on, Sanchez tried harder to throw strikes, and you jumped on fastballs thrown early in the count.
That might seem like a lot, and frankly, it is. But it's nothing that these teams haven't done for years with roughly the same group of guys. A Phillies-Yankees rematch is still a possibility, and until a team has been beaten four times, don't count either of them out. This should be one heck of a finish.
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