OK, so I did not exactly pick the Los Angeles Dodgers to beat, let alone sweep, the Chicago Cubs. Honestly, I do not think many people could have predicted a sweep of the Cubbies by the Dodgers—not with Ryan Dempster, Carlos Zambrano, and Rich Harden pitching in those first three games.
Well, it happened.
Now, after seeing the Philadelphia Phillies end their set with the Milwaukee Brewers today, I am slightly more upbeat and optimistic about the Phils' chances in the NLCS.
The key word there is "slightly."
While the Phillies have had great success against the Dodgers in Citizens Bank Park, going 4-0, they could not have bought a win against those same Dodgers out in Chavez Ravine, going 0-4, for a season series split of 4-4.
Sure, the Phillies had the better record of the season, finishing eight games ahead of the Dodgers. Yes, the Phils have names such as Jimmy Rollins, Shane Victorino, Chase Utley, Ryan Howard, Pat Burrell, and Jayson Werth in their lineup. Oh yeah, and the starting pitching has been *gasp* stellar.
The problem is, most people do not realize that these Dodgers are for real.
The fact that the Dodgers have averaged seven runs per game this postseason is an eye-popping statistic. That is, seven per game against one of the more polished pitching staffs in the Majors.
The Phillies, who in the regular season scored 99 more runs than the Dodgers, have averaged just 3.75 runs per game against a Brewers' rotation that lacked Ben Sheets, and a mediocre Milwaukee bullpen.
The Phillies' inability to hit Dave Bush was not a good sign, especially since Derek Lowe should be towing the rubber for LA in Game One.
While Lowe has faced the Phillies before, back on August 11 when he allowed just 3 runs, 5 hits, 0 BBs, in 6.1 IP, this is a revamped Derek Lowe. Since that August 11 start, Lowe has allowed more than one run twice; the first time on August 26 against the Washington Nationals (2 runs), and the second being Game One against the Cubs (2 runs).
In that span, he also lowered his ERA from 4.11 to 3.24.
OK, so the Phillies' potent lineup must be able to hit this Dodger staff, right? I mean, just think about all those big names.
Well, those big names haven't been too hot this postseason.
MVP candidate Ryan Howard has had no hits this postseason. Absolutely none. Chase Utley is hitting .091 thus far in October. Pat Burrell is hitting .333, but thanks in large part to his 3/4 outburst today. Jayson Werth is hitting a measly .250.
Jimmy Rollins (.417), and Shane Victorino (.400) have helped to pick up the slack, but they will need help if the Phils want to get to the World Series for the first time since the Joe Carter incident.
I must say that the Phillies' starters have surprised me this postseason, which I have no problem with.
Cole Hamels, Brett Myers, Jamie Moyer, and Joe Blanton all did their part in getting this team to the NLCS. They did this by exploiting the impatience and inexperience of the young Milwaukee Brewers' lineup.
They will have a slightly similar task with the Dodgers' youngsters, but with the postseason monster known as Manny Ramirez in the middle of the lineup.
This postseason alone, Manny is hitting .500, with 2 HR, 3 RBI, and 4 BBs in just three games.
Ramirez will present some issues to the entire Phillies' pitching staff, which will try to limit the times that Ramirez will come to bat with men on base.
Cole Hamels and Jamie Moyer potentially could have some success against this Dodgers' lineup, once again utilizing their off-speed pitches to throw off and frustrate the young Dodgers. They will run into potential problems with Manny Ramirez, especially with men on base.
We will also have a chance to see whether the start from Joe Blanton was just a fluke, or whether he has found a groove.
The Dodgers also will have the benefit of Rafael Furcal hitting atop their lineup, which as a whole, catalyzes the rest of the offense. Furcal is hitting .333 for the series, with four hits in the final two games against the Cubs.
Part of the reason Furcal is so valuable to the Dodgers is his running game on the base paths.
In that same sense, Jimmy Rollins and Shane Victorino are both extremely valuable to the Phillies for their speed on base. While they were not utilized in the Milwaukee series, which is mainly a testament to Jason Kendall, the Brewers' catcher, I would look for them to be more active on the bases against Russell Martin.
Martin has caught just 25 percent of the would-be thieves on the bases. So, expect to see manager Charlie Manuel send speedsters Rollins and Victorino more often, especially since Chase Utley and Ryan Howard are hitting below .100.
The keys to the series for the Dodgers will be:
- Rafael Furcal must get on base in front of the youngsters and Manny
- The rest of the offense must continue to score to put pressure on the Phillies
- The Dodgers' bullpen must continue to be solid
The Phillies' keys are:
- Jimmy Rollins and Shane Victorino must get on base
- Ryan Howard and Chase Utley need to hit
- The starting pitchers must continue to pitch well to support the slumping offense
The Dodgers have the edge in postseason experience, with Manny Ramirez, Derek Lowe, and Greg Maddux all with an abundance of playoff games under their belt. The Dodgers also have the edge in momentum. Their offense has been red-hot lately and they just beat the best team in the NL—the Cubs.
The Phillies have better speed at the top of their lineup, and it seems like Chase Utley and Ryan Howard are both due to burst out of their postseason funk. The Phils also have the benefit of a better overall bullpen, including Mr. Perfection Brad Lidge, at the back end.
Ultimately it will come down to which teams' offense has more success off of the others' pitching staff.
In that case, I think that the Phillies have more threats in their lineup than the Dodgers do, even though the Dodgers are coming in sizzling.
Prediction: Phillies in six.