The Los Angeles Dodgers are in pursuit of the franchise’s first pennant since 1988.
That season, they went on to win the World Series behind the heroic effort of Kirk Gibson and the steady arm of Orel Hershiser.
In 2009, the Dodgers will turn to a young core, including 21-year-old Clayton Kershaw to start the series, in an attempt to break the World Series drought.
Revenge, Revenge, Revenge
The Dodgers have the sour taste of defeat from last season still fresh in their mouths.
It reads like a familiar book: Dodgers sweep first round, then take on Phillies in second round. Only this season, the Dodgers are far better equipped to take on the visitors from Philly.
Boasting the top team ERA and team batting average during the regular season, this Los Angeles club is stacked from top to bottom.
Veterans like Rafael Furcal and Casey Blake have been an important part of the Dodgers' success, guiding the young core to a second consecutive NL West title.
Return of the Southpaws
Last year, the Dodgers started five right-handers against the lefty-dominated Phillies order.
This season, Randy Wolf and Clayton Kershaw will start Games 1 and 2.
Wolf limited lefties to a .159 average, while Kershaw worked at a .173 clip. Additionally, Kershaw has given up just one home run to a left-handed hitter in 139 at-bats this season.
Kershaw is going to open the series in Game One on Thursday evening despite having an 0-2 record with a 5.23 ERA this season against Philadelphia. However, that was before Kershaw experienced a huge turnaround in his mechanics and his success on the mound.
In the second half of the season, Kershaw was able to find a more consistent release point, enabling him to locate his pitches more effectively. Most notably, he was able to start his breaking ball in the strike zone and drop it out of the zone as it reached the plate, causing hitters to chase the pitch more often.
And since he has such a hard 12-to-6 curveball, it is incredibly difficult for the hitter to make contact. That’s one of the main reason he led the majors with a .200 opponents average against.
The Phillies can handle lefties, don't get me wrong.
But I'll take the one-two punch of the lefties Kershaw and Wolf instead of allowing those powerful left-handed hitters to tee off against a right-hander like Chad Billingsley.
The Dodgers can shut the door, the Phillies can’t.
Jonathan Broxton and George Sherrill are two young and dynamic pitchers that stymie hitters from both sides of the plate.
Each pitcher challenges hitters and works ahead in the count, allowing their defense to help them out and end the game. Broxton utilizes a dominant fastball that touches 100 MPH regularly, while Sherrill uses more of a finesse and location approach to baffle his opponents.
As a unit, the Dodgers bullpen allowed only two runs in 9.2 innings pitched in the NLDS.
On the other hand, the Phillies bullpen saw back-to-back walk-off hits by Andre Ethier in late June, proving that they have an extreme weakness late in games.
Matt Kemp destroys the Phillies.
Kemp flat-out feeds off of Phillies’ pitchers. He is batting .323 (21-for-65) against current pitchers on their roster.
Aside from a home run in his first at-bat off of Chris Carpenter, Kemp had a mediocre NLDS because of his inability to hit breaking balls. The 25-year-old needs to stay patient at the plate and try to work into counts where he is more likely to see a fastball that he can drive into the gaps.
Once he is on base, Kemp needs to be the stolen base threat that he was in the regular season. He can challenge the Phillies to make plays and he gives Torre a speedy option in the middle of the order.
Joe Torre is running out of time.
Torre, who will be 70 next year, has made it public knowledge that he doesn’t intend to manage after the 2010 season.
That means this season could be his last chance to seize a World Series championship after coming up unsuccessful in his last six postseasons.
Unlike last season, he has the right combination of pitching, offense and defense to fulfill his dreams of grabbing another championship.
This team (dubbed “the comeback kids” for their propensity to mount late-inning rallies) carries a hard-nosed mentality instilled by their veteran skipper.
I always go back to Ethier’s walk-off hit against the Phillies in June (his second one in as many days, a home run to center field), when Torre showed the kind of fatherly relationship he has with his players.
As Ethier embraced Torre, the manager gave Ethier a tap to the face.
It was one of those, “I knew you could do it, kid” moments, like you see in the movies after a great moment.
But this was genuine; Torre displayed the elation of a father’s proud feeling for his son, something only he brings to the table.
Considering that interaction and his relationship with the players on the club, I would expect this team to fight for every out and every run with the intention of bringing their leader another championship ring.