Tonight, the Dodgers will begin a three-game visit to Citizens Bank Park, their first trip to Philadelphia since last year's NLCS.
Obviously, it's not the playoffs, but for the Phillies, it might as well be. Los Angeles comes to Philadelphia sporting a 22-11 record, good enough for the best in baseball. Meanwhile, the Phillies are mired at a game over .500 with a 15-14 record.
It's no secret that the Phillies have been inconsistent in all facets of their game so far this season, but this is a chance for them to show that they can compete against a strong team. A playoff mentality sometimes brings out the best in players, and it's that kind of attitude that they will need to be successful against the Dodgers.
Not to be overlooked is the absence of the Dodgers' superstar slugger Manny Ramirez, which is no doubt an advantage the Phillies will look to exploit. That topic will be explored ad-nauseum by everyone else, so let's look at the other side of things.
As far as hitting is concerned, this is really anyone's series to take. Both teams are in the NL top 10 in batting average, RBI, and runs scored. The bigger story will probably be pitching, as it usually is.
In this area, the teams couldn't be more different. The Dodgers are tops in the NL with a 3.77 ERA. The Phillies, well, they're second-to-last with 5.39.
The Dodgers pitchers have earned a complete game and three shutouts. The Phillies have yet to accomplish either feat.
The Dodgers have given up a stingy 22 home runs, also best in the NL. The Phillies are the worst in this category, having allowed an incredible 53 long balls. That's 15 more than the next closest team, the Arizona Diamondbacks.
Obviously without Manny in the lineup, pitching becomes a little bit easier. However, the Phillies can't take anything for granted. LA has the ability to counter great pitching with great pitching.
As of right now, the matchups are as follows:
- Game One: Clayton Kershaw (LAD, 1-2, 4.91 ERA) vs. Chan Ho Park (PHI, 0-1, 6.67 ERA)
- Game Two: Randy Wolf (LAD, 1-1, 2.95) vs. Jamie Moyer (PHI, 3-2, 7.26)
- Game Three: Chad Billingsley (LAD, 5-1, 2.45) vs. Cole Hamels (PHI, 1-2, 6.17)
As the numbers suggest, Los Angeles is in the drivers seat on the pitching mound. Here's a closer look at the projected starters:
The youngster Clayton Kershaw will take the hill for Los Angeles in the series opener. After a rocky start to his season, it appears he has found his game, having allowed just one run combined in his last two starts. He finally earned his first win of the season in his last outing.
Kershaw will be opposed by Chan Ho Park, who is still looking for his first win this year. Park is coming off an unfortunate start in which he allowed no earned runs and struck out five in six innings against the rival New York Mets, only to see that performance squandered by the bullpen and the Phillies' lack of offensive production. They lost 1-0.
Game two will see Randy Wolf return to face the Phillies for just the second time in his career. Wolf spent parts of eight seasons in Philadelphia early in his career. He has also been pitching well lately, having allowed only two runs combined in his last three starts.
On the other end of the spectrum is the veteran Jamie Moyer, who has allowed 12 runs in just eight innings of combined work in his last two starts. Believe it or not, Moyer is tied for the Phillies lead in wins with three, a mark equalled by reliever Clay Condrey.
The series finale will be a betting man's affair, as a pair of aces will take to the hill in Chad Billingsley and Cole Hamels.
Billingsley has been lights out this year, and hasn't allowed more than three runs in any of his seven starts this season. His first loss came in his last outing, where he still gave up just three runs on eight hits. He has come into his own this year, and is absolutely Cy Young material.
Hamels has been making a comeback after an atrocious start to 2009. After allowing 12 runs total in his first two starts, he's let in just four in his last three. He picked up the Phillies' only victory in a three-game series against the Atlanta Braves last weekend.
On paper, the Dodgers obviously have the big advantage. But that's why they play the games. You can't win on paper. The Phillies have shown that they get up to play in big series, and there is no time like the present for that to happen.