In 1980, when all of Philadelphia celebrated the Phillies' first World Series championship, the series ended on October 21st. Back then, there were no Wild Cards, so there was no Division Series, and the League Championship Series was a best-of-5 set. With the additional playoff round and 7-game LCS, it's now October 22nd and tonight they finally commence with this year's Fall Classic.
Before 2008, Tampa Bay finished out of last place in the American League East only once, when they won a franchise-record 70 games and finished 4th in 2004. This year the Rays went from worst to first, and promptly tossed out an old pair of mismatched Sox (White and Red) to become American League champions.
The Phillies, meanwhile, weren't supposed to win the National League East because of the Mets' signing of Johan Santana. Then they weren't supposed to beat Milwaukee because the Brewers had CC Sabathia. (Okay, that's a stretch, but the "experts" did figure that a Phils loss in game one of the NLDS would then make the Brewers the clear favorite.) Then they weren't supposed to beat the LA Dodgers because of Manny Ramirez. But here they are, NL champs for the first time since 1993.
The Phillies are thought of as a team that hits, but they've been maddeningly inconsistent offensively this year. Key players stepped up at different times -- Chase Utley in April, Ryan Howard in September, Shane Victorino in the postseason -- but for the most part, their success has been due to consistent pitching. The bullpen has been mostly strong all year, and the starters (except for Jamie Moyer) have been particularly good in the postseason.
The Rays, however, have been the slugging team in the playoffs, scoring almost 6 runs per game and clubbing 22 home runs in 11 games, led by B.J. Upton (7) and Evan Longoria (6). (The Phils, by contrast, have just 10 homers in 9 games.) The Rays' pitching has been strong all season as well, though regular closer Troy Percival is sidelined by injury and the Rays had a pair of blown saves in the ALCS against Boston.
Thanks to the debacle that the All-Star game has become, the Rays have the home-field advantage. While the Rays had the best home record in baseball, the Phillies had the 2nd-best road record, behind only the Angels. One might question whether the Rays' young pitchers might be freaked out by Citizens Bank Park's reputation as a hitter's paradise -- although this season it was only the 11th-easiest park to homer in, according to ESPN.com's Jayson Stark. It certainly affected Dodger starter Derek Lowe in NLCS game 1, however.
Another possible factor is the Phillies' long layoff after beating the Dodgers. Both the 2006 Detroit Tigers and the 2007 Colorado Rockies had to wait around for their opponent to be determined. The Rockies were swept by Boston and the Tigers lost in 5 to St. Louis.
The '04 and '05 Series ended in sweeps as well. Regardless of which team wins (and I've already gone on record with my admittedly biased pick of the Phils in 6), let's hope that this year's Series doesn't end as quickly as the last four.