Thursday, October 9, 2008

NL Championship: Phillies vs. Dodgers

National League Championship Series: Philadelphia Phillies vs. Los Angeles Dodgers Los Angeles Dodgers Recent history: Finished with a 17-8 record in September, winning the NL West and ousting the Cubs with 3 straight wins in the NLDS. Strengths: Pitching. The Dodgers led the NL with a 3.68 ERA. Speed. LA baserunners swiped 126 bases in 2008, 4th best in the league. Manager. Joe Torre went from the East coast to the West after the Yankees decided he was not in their future plans. Now, Torre has his team in the playoffs while Yankee regulars are watching on TV. Bench vets. Jeff Kent, Nomar Garciaparra and Juan Pierre can pinch hit or fill n wherever and whenever needed. Weaknesses: Lack of power. Outside of Manny Ramirez, there isn't a lot of raw power in LA. They finished the regular season with 137 homers, 13th of 16 in the NL. Closer. Takashi Saito, the regular closer, missed much of the season due to injury, but returned in time for the playoffs, but was ineffective. Jonathan Broxton filled in down the stretch, but was shaky. He will close for Torre as Saito has been kept off the 25-man roster submitted by Torre for the playoffs. Players to watch Manny Ramirez (right): No player had such a tremendous late-season impact on any team than Ramirez. Since joining the Dodgers on August 1, Ramirez batted .396 with 17 home runs and 53 RBI, amassing 74 hits in 53 games. If any one player could be credited with turning the Dodgers into a playoff-capable team it was Manny. James Loney Mr. RBI for LA, Loney drove in a team high 90 runs and batted .289. A solid contact hitter with a does of power (13 HR), he struck out only 85 times in 595 at-bats. A tough out in the middle of the lineup. Rafael Furcal The veteran infielder started the season on fire, batting .366, but was sidelined on May 5 with a lower back injury that required surgery. He returned in time for the end of the season and playoffs and bats leadoff. He's speedy, but has only attempted one steal since returning Sept. 24 (7 games) and was thrown out. Hiroki Kuroda The rookie starter went 9-10 in the regular season with a 3.73 ERA, and was brilliant at times. If he has his control and breaking ball working, he can provide 7-9 innings of outstanding work.Has been named the starter for Game 3. Chad Billingsley Winningest pitcher on the staff with a 16-10 record, a 3.13 ERA and 201 Ks in 200.2 innings. Will start Game 2. Philadelphia Phillies Recent history: The Phillies captured their second straight NL East title, going 17-8 in September and whipped the Brewers, 3 games to 1, in the NLDS. Strengths: Power. The Phillies led the NL with 214 home runs, the bulk of those off the bats of Ryan Howard, who led the majors with 48, Chase Utley and Pat Burrell, who knocked 33 apiece out of the park. Speed. with 138 steals, the Phillies were third in the NL. Most of those were by leadoff man, Jimmy Rollins (47) and #2 hitter Shane Victorino (36). Bench. The versatile roster includes Pedro Feliz, Jayson Werth, Matt Stairs and Geoff Jenkins, each of whom can be plugged in as needed. Bullpen. The Phillies are blessed with an abundance of middle relievers. Chad Durbin, J.C. Romero and Ryan Madson are all capable of getting the ball to closer Brad Lidge, who had 41 saves, 92 Ks in 69.1 innings and an ERA of 1.95. Weaknesses: Whiffers. The three power players - Utley, Burrell and Howard - all have a tendency to swing and miss. Between them, they struck out 439 times, the worst offender being Howard, with 199. Starting Pitching. After ace Cole Hamels (14-10, 3.09 ERA), there isn't much there. Brett Myers and ancient Jamie Moyer will have to step it up. Players to watch Ryan Howard (right) is the big gun in the lineup, with 48 homers and 146 RBI, he led the league in both categories. If he's on, ball will be flying over outfielders' heads and out of the park. Jimmy Rollins Outspoken and with the stats to back up his talk, Rollins is the team leader and leadoff hitter. Rollins is great at the plate in pressure situations and can hurt you with the long ball and can steal. Very steady at shortstop as well. Shane Victorino This youngster doesn't get much press, but the Phillies probably wouldn't be where they are without him. His .293 BA led all regulars. He was second on the team in hits (167) and third in runs scored (102). Chase Utley Dubbed "The Machine" by teammates, Utley's rare blend of power and consistently produced a .292 BA, 104 RBI and 33 HRs in 2008. He can - and has - hurt opponents in many ways. Capable of carrying the team alone, as he did in April and May. Cole Hamels Led the team in innings with 227.1, strikeouts (196) and all starters in ERA (3.09). The game one starter may get two more shots if the series is extended to 7 games. He is the Phillies' best defensive weapon. If he's on, a very tough guy to beat. Brad Lidge Arguably the best closer in the league, Lidge earned comeback player of the year for his outstanding season. He's simply lights out in the 9th inning. Series Schedule (all games ET) Game 1: Thu, Oct 9 8:22 pm at Philadelphia Game 2: Fri, Oct 10 4:35 pm at Philadelphia Game 3: Sun, Oct 12 8:22 pm at Los Angeles Game 4: Mon, Oct 13 8:22 pm at Los Angeles If necessary Game 5: Wed, Oct 15 8:22 pm at Los Angeles Game 6: Fri, Oct 17 8:22 pm at Philadelphia Game 7: Sat, Oct 18 8:22 pm at Philadelphia Prediction: Hamels should be better than Derek Lowe in game 1 and possibly game 4, though Joe Blanton has been solid lately and may get the start, depending on the situation. Phillies pitchers believe they can handle Ramirez, and Lidge is the best closer out there.While Joe Torre is a great manager, Charlie Manuel knows what he's got and won't hesistate to send in the relief corps. If Howard, Utley, Rollins, Burrell hit, it could be a romp. Philadelphia in 6 games.

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