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Dodgers-Phillies: L.A. Looks to Avenge 2008 NLCS Loss to Philadelphia

Bleacher ReportSenior Analyst IOctober 14, 2009

The Los Angeles Dodgers have been quietly waiting in the Southland for their next opponent since clinching their series sweep in St. Louis against the Cardinals on Saturday evening.

Huston Street opened the door for the Philadelphia Phillies to enter the NLCS on Monday night when he squandered a two-run ninth inning lead that could have extended the NLDS to a fifth game.

Additionally, the teams would have had to travel to Philly for Game Five on Tuesday night, making it three games in three days and a near cross-country flight. They also would have had to travel back to Los Angeles on Thursday for the NLCS opener.

But Street did blow the lead, and the series, and the Phillies got the gift of an extra day to rest up for a rematch of last year’s Senior Circuit championship with the Dodgers.

In 2008, the Phillies won the NL pennant by defeating the Dodgers 4-1 in the league championship series.

Last season, the pennant shifted in the eighth inning of Game Four with the Phillies holding a 2-1 series lead.

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The Dodgers entered the frame leading 5-3 but exited trailing 7-5 after two-run home runs from both Shane Victorino and Matt Stairs. The Phils went on to win that night, and won the next contest to claim the series victory.

Yet this season pits two very different ball clubs against each other in the rematch.

Derek is Lowe has departed Los Angeles, and Chad Billingsley, the supposed replacement as the staff ace, didn’t appear in the NLDS sweep of the Cardinals. Instead, veteran Randy Wolf and youngster Clayton Kershaw are holding down the front-end of the rotation.

Offensively, Manny Ramirez is no longer the linchpin.

The burden has shifted to young Andre Ethier, who connected on six walk-off hits (four of which were home runs) in the regular season and batted .500 in the NLDS with two home runs.

As for the Phillies, Cliff Lee (and not Cole Hamels) is the ace this time around in October, and Raul Ibanez has solidified the lone weakness that Pat Burrell left in the middle of the order for the World Champs last season.

The series gets under way tomorrow in Los Angeles, but it is important to note that the teams get an extra day off next Tuesday in Philadelphia between Game Four and Game Five. This will severely alter the rotations and matchups, allowing Cliff Lee to throw in Game Three and Game Six.

The home field advantage will loom large in this series, as in last year’s NLCS the Phillies jumped out to a 2-0 lead by starting off the series in Philadelphia.

Here’s a breakdown of how each team stacks up and where the advantages lie.

Coaching

Advantage Dodgers

This isn’t even close.

Charlie Manuel may have won a World Series championship last season, but he couldn’t manage his way out of a paper bag. He constantly changes the role of pitchers in his bullpen and was given a lucky break that saved him in the NLDS.

When Game Three in Colorado was delayed due to inclement weather, Manuel greatly benefited because he had burned through possible Game Three starters J.A. Happ and Joe Blanton in relief for Game Two.

The extra day gained from the postponement gave him the ability to bump Pedro from a start and bring back J.A. Happ on Sunday for Game Three.

I’m sick of hearing praise for Manuel managing the difficult situation that is the rotation and bullpen; had Game Three not been delayed, Lee would not have been able to come back until a possible Game Five, and the Phillies would have had a patchwork staff of Pedro and Joe Blanton trying to win games in a hostile Coors Field.

Joe Torre, on the other hand, managed his pitchers perfectly in the first round and kept all of his options intact at all times.

Even when Randy Wolf couldn’t make it out of the fourth inning of Game One, Torre went to Jeff Weaver to bridge the gap to the late innings and the dominant arms in the Dodgers bullpen.

Additionally, Torre made the difficult decision to start Ronnie Belliard at second base over Orlando Hudson, and Belliard rewarded Torre by collecting the game-tying single in the ninth inning of a Game Two comeback win.

It also doesn’t hurt that he’s been to the league championship series nine times in his last 14 seasons of managing.

 

Starting Pitching

Advantage EVEN

Game 1: Wolf vs. Hamels

Game 2: Kershaw vs. Happ/Blanton/Martinez

Game 3: Kuroda vs. Lee

Game 4: Billingsley vs. Hamels

Game 5: Wolf vs. Happ/Blanton/Martinez

Game 6: Kershaw vs. Lee

Game 7: Kuroda vs. Hamels

The Phillies might have the big names with Cole Hamels and Cliff Lee, but the Dodgers proved in the NLDS that big names don’t mean big results in the postseason.

Los Angeles knocked off Cy Young hopefuls Chris Carpenter and Adam Wainwright in the opening games of their series with the Cardinals, and they have just as tall a task this time around—but not to start things off.

The Phillies will be able to send either Hamels or Lee out there for every other game, essentially going with a three-man rotation, but the big gun Lee will fall on the short end of the appearances.

Since Lee tossed seven innings on Monday night in the NLDS clincher, he won’t be available until Game Three on Sunday.

That puts the onus on the 2008 World Series MVP Hamels to step up his game and find a rhythm against a Dodgers lineup that lacks any glaring holes, because he will possibly be throwing three games in this series if it goes to a seventh game.

Randy Wolf will have to come out a little less jacked up for Game One, because in the NLDS opener he was far too emotional and energetic. That energy resulted in a short outing and Wolf having uncharacteristic struggles with locating his breaking pitches.

Perhaps the initial experience of heading to the mound in Chavez Ravine (where he used to pay as a kid to watch games, and also pitched at in the city championship in high school) will ease the emotional roller coaster that Wolf got caught on in the NLDS.

The Dodgers’ key starting pitcher is Hiroki Kuroda

Kuroda, who started on opening day, will make his return in Game Three at Citizens’ Bank Park after missing the NLDS with a herniated disc in his neck.

He will have an advantage in a yard conducive to home runs, as his sinker ball usually induces ground balls and will benefit him in the small park.

Against players currently on the Phillies roster, Kuroda is limiting opposing batters to a ridiculous .127 average.

Additionally, he will be lined up to pitch a possible Game Seven at Dodgers Stadium.

Relief Pitching

Advantage Dodgers

The Dodgers bullpen is coming off an outstanding NLDS that saw them surrender only two runs in nine-and-two-third innings, not to mention a regular season effort in which they led the Majors with a 3.11 ERA.

All in all, the Phillies better hope they aren’t playing from behind against these late-inning Dodger arms. Unlike Huston Street, the Dodgers’ bullpen isn’t afraid to rear back and challenge hitters with a good fastball.

On the other hand, Brad Lidge may have had some positive feelings building in Games Three and Four against the Rockies, but once he steps onto the mound and stares down the Dodgers hitters—mainly Andre Ethier—we won’t know what he will bring to the table.

The Dodgers walked off with a win on back-to-back nights in May against the Phillies’ closer, both coming from the bat of Mr. Miracle, Ethier.

Look, Lidge got ONE out in the series clincher on Monday night.

Charlie Manuel wasn’t confident enough to send him out to start the ninth inning, so why should he be confident in him to get three outs in the NLCS?

When he went to Lidge at the beginning of the ninth in Game Three, Lidge walked two and threw more balls than strikes (11 balls, nine strikes) to batters before finally retiring the side.

The Dodgers’ key reliever is George Sherrill.

The addition of Sherill has been enormous, as he can not only set up for closer Jonathan Broxton, but he allows Torre to use Broxton in the eighth inning against the meat of the opposition’s order.

However, that role may be flipped in this series considering the Phillies left-handed dominant lineup. Sherrill can stick to his natural eighth inning role, or if the situation dictates a lefty-heavy ninth inning, he can close out the game for Torre.

Offense

Advantage Phillies

The Dodgers have the more consistent lineup from top to bottom, but the power threats littering the middle of the Phillies order are going to be daunting for any pitcher in Dodger Blue.

But don’t forget what the Dodgers pitching staff did to slugger, and soon-to-be NL MVP, Albert Pujols. He collected just three hits and one RBI in three games, and was neutralized into being a non-factor in the outcome of the series.

Andre Ethier and Manny Ramirez will counter the Phillies left-handed power threats.

Ethier had an outstanding NLDS, belting two home runs and collecting six hits in three games.

Ramirez looked excellent in the series clincher against the Cards. He finally got the barrel of the bat squared up on some fastballs and smacked two doubles in Game Three.

The Dodgers’ key offensive player is Matt Kemp.

Kemp will have to learn how to adjust to a breaking ball. Ever since his first inning home run off Chris Carpenter in Game One, the youngster has looked somewhat foolish chasing off-speed pitches in the dirt.

He needs to be more aggressive ahead in the count in order to capitalize on the few fastballs he sees.

In his career, he is hitting .323 (21-for-65) against pitchers that are currently on the Phillies staff. Also, with Cole Hamels possibly pitching three times if this one goes the distance, Kemp is 4-for-12 against the Phillies’ lefty.

Just like his t-shirt states in the picture for this article, Kemp is very capable of going into "Beast Mode" at anytime and taking over the series at the plate. 

 

Defense

Advantage Dodgers

Although the fielding percentages tell you that the Phillies rank ahead of the Dodgers, it was a late-season outburst of errors (five in three losses to the Pirates) that chipped away at what had been a near impeccable record for Dodgers’ fielders.

There will be dynamic players all over the field for each team, but the Dodgers have the slight edge on the defensive side of things.

Yes, Shane Victorino beat out Kemp in the voting for the final spot on the All-Star roster. However, Kemp roams the outfield like no other and covers a ridiculous amount of ground.

While Victorino’s arm is nothing to test, Kemp possesses an above-average cannon and has 30 outfield assists over the past two seasons.

Aptly nicknamed “The Bison,” he gives the Los Angeles outfield a clear edge and tips the balance to the Boys in Blue.

The Dodgers’ key defensive player is Casey Blake.

In the playoffs, games constantly come down to simple execution of bunt plays. We saw the Cardinals experience confusion in the NLDS within their bunt coverage, but Blake is a seasoned veteran who can cover an exceptional amount of ground with sure hands to go along.

He is one of the best in the game at charging bunts and making a bare-handed stab to fire the runner out at first. I expect him to be the standout player on defense in this series.

Bench

Advantage Dodgers

Matt Stairs was the deal-breaker off the bench for the Phillies in last year’s championship series, belting a go-ahead home run in Game Four. But the power has shifted to the Boys in Blue as far as players off the pine goes this season.

All-Star Orlando Hudson is patiently waiting to do something important when he is brought in for a late-inning appearance, and Jim Thome, with his near-600 career home runs, are locked and loaded to make an impact off the fallen child, Brad Lidge.

The Dodgers’ key bench player is Juan Pierre.

Juan Pierre has been the epitome of a professional all season long and continues to be a threat running the bases, swinging the bat, or laying down a bunt in a reserve role.

He provides Torre with a versatile option in the middle innings and therefore the ability to save Jim Thome for clutch late-game situations that call for a power hitter.

 

Key to the Series

Keeping Chase Utley off the bases and Ryan Howard in the yard

I bet you’ve seen a bunch of “experts” saying that the key to this series will be the Dodgers ability to chase the Phillies’ starting pitchers from the game early in order to expose the bullpen.

Well, yeah, that is a key—but that’s what every team is aiming to do in every game. 

The Dodgers need to make sure Utley is kept off-balance and off base, because if he gets on, that means there is a man on base for the always-dangerous Howard.

Utley scored 112 runs this season, but if the Dodgers can find a way to get him out they will be in good shape when Howard comes to the dish.

Bold Prediction

Manny Ramirez will hit at least two home runs and drive in five or more runs

No one has been more critical of Ramirez than I have in the past month.

He has been sloppy at the plate, both physically and mentally, and struggled to find any sort of confidence in the batters box during his at-bats.

However, he smacked three hits, two of which were doubles, in Game Three of the NLDS and looked to have finally clicked at the plate.

The most important thing I saw was his ability to hit the fastball in that game.

From my observations, he improved his timing by altering the trigger mechanism in his swing to be a fraction of a second quicker to compensate for lost bat speed. As the pitcher delivers his offering, Ramirez shortened the initial dip of his bat in order have a smaller path to the pitch.

Look for him to have a memorable NLCS.

 

Series Prediction

Dodgers win, 4-2

The Dodgers will get their revenge from last season and seize the National League pennant for the first time in 21 years.

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