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Phillies-Yankees matchup: Second base

Phillies-Yankees matchup: Second base

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Heading into the World Series between the Yankees and Phillies, beginning Wednesday on FOX, MLB.com looks at the position-by-position matchups and dissects which team has the advantage.

Chase Utley, Phillies
.282 BA, 31 HR, 93 RBIs

Utley's production may have dipped just slightly this season, but those season totals are hardly reason for disappointment. When talking about some of the most consistent hitters in the game in recent years, Utley has to be in the discussion. Not to mention, it can't hurt that Utley hits in front of slugger Ryan Howard, which means opposing hurlers really can't pitch around him. He's also a patient hitter who doesn't strike out much more than he walks.

Utley's batting average and power numbers against both right-handed and left-handed pitchers are almost the same, which makes him an opposing manager's nightmare in terms of trying to create matchups late in games. And despite playing in a hitter-friendly park in Philadelphia, Utley actually fared better on the road this year. Remember, road games in this series will be at a stadium that produced generous offensive numbers all year.

Interestingly enough, it appears that as Utley goes, so go the Phillies. Utley hit .321 with 73 RBIs in the 93 games that Philadelphia won during the regular season. In the team's 69 losses, the second baseman hit just .231 and drove in only 20.

Keep in mind, too, that Utley can be a threat on the bases. He may not have the burst of speed that middle-infield partner Jimmy Rollins has, but when Utley takes off to steal a base, he almost always is successful. In 2009, in fact, he was, going a perfect 23-for-23 in steal attempts.

Utley's postseason results have been mixed. He's been sensational (see: 2008 National League Championship Series and 2009 NL Division Series), and he has been cold (see: '08 NLDS and WS). He hit .211 in the team's recent NLCS win over the Dodgers. Utley also picked up his first RBI of the postseason in that series.

Robinson Cano, Yankees
.320 BA, 25 HR, 80 RBIs

Of the nine regulars in the Yankees' lineup, Cano's $6 million salary ranks seventh. So it might be a surprise to those who didn't follow the Yankees all that closely this season that Cano finished the year with the team's second-highest batting average. Yes, he trailed Derek Jeter in that category, but Cano finished ahead of the likes of Mark Teixeira and Alex Rodriguez.

Cano is as dependable as they come when it comes to staying in the lineup, as he played in 161 games this season. The left-handed hitter certainly has some pop, but he's more likely to find the gap with his hits. He led his club with 48 doubles this year. As would be expected, Cano had more success against right-handed pitchers, though he doesn't have much of a drop off against lefties. In fact, 10 of his home runs came against southpaws, a total that ranked third among left-handed-hitting players in the American League.

If there's reason for concern with Cano, it's these two items. First, he has a cumulative .196 career average against the Phillies' current pitching staff. Against the group, Cano has just three extra-base hits in 56 at-bats.

Second, Cano struggled most this season when run-producing situations presented themselves. In 184 at-bats with runners in scoring position, he hit just .207. Contrastingly, Cano batted .376 when he came to the plate with the bases empty.

Cano's postseason production has lagged a bit, too, at least compared to the numbers he posted during the regular season. He hit just .167 against the Twins in the AL Division Series before batting .235 in the AL Championship Series. In the five postseason series Cano has participated in, only once has he hit better than .265. But when you're a part of a lineup that has numerous potential Hall of Famers in it, Cano just needs to be a complementary piece in the bunch. And he can certainly be just that.


Experts' picks

Note: Hitter evaluations based on a 100-point scale, factoring in power, contact hitting, speed, fielding, experience, recent performances and moxie. Click on each expert to see all of their selections for the 2009 World Series.

World Series Second Base Matchup
PanelistChase UtleyRobinson CanoExpert analysis
Mike Siano
MLB.com
8783Utley could have a bigger edge if he didn't have such a terrible LCS. Cano has been solid with the glove and can be a difference maker in bottom third of lineup, but his at-bats have been mostly forgettable. His defense has been strong.
Cory Schwartz
MLB.com
9384Factoring in offense, defense and baserunning, Utley may be the game's top all-around player, though his ongoing slump is cause for concern. Cano rebounded this season and he made huge strides defensively, yet he is still not at Utley's level in any facet of the game.
Lyle Spencer
MLB.com
9085Cano has the ability to be a star, but Utley is already there.
Jim Duquette
MLB.com
10080Despite Utley's recent power outage and lack of RBIs in the postseason, he still has a knack for getting on base and producing runs while his defensive struggles should be behind him. Cano's Gold Glove defense has been steadying in the infield, but his bat can't compare to Utley's.
Ken Gurnick
MLB.com
9080Utley's defense became an issue against the Dodgers, as he had trouble throwing to first base, which triggered rumors that he's injured.
Mitch Williams
MLB Network
9389Similar defensive players; Robbie has more range, but Utley is a better all-around offensive player.
Joe Sheehan
Baseball Prospectus
9888The closest thing to a perfect player, Utley combines every offensive skill with the best defense in baseball at an up-the-middle position. Cano brings some of those skills, but is mistake-prone in the field and doesn't get on base quite as well.
Hal Bodley
MLB.com
8880Utley knows the game better than any Phillies player. Best at working the count and getting on base. Has been slumping lately, but is probably the best all-around player on the field for this Series.


Final tally: Utley 92.4, Cano 83.6

Jenifer Langosch is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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