Tuesday, October 13, 2009

NLCS Playoff Perspective: Phillies vs. Dodgers

NLCS Preview: Philadelphia Phillies vs. LA Dodgers The Phillies head West to take on the Dodgers in the best-of-seven National League Championship Series beginning Thursday, Oct. 15. First pitch is slated for 8:07 pm EDT (5:07 Pacific). These are the same two teams which met in last year's NLCS, won by Philadelphia, 4 games to 1. The Dodgers captured home-field advantage with the best record in the NL at 95-67. The Phillies were close, and could have done better than their record of 93-65, if not for the many blown saves from their bullpen, especially the nine by closer Brad Lidge. PITCHING: OK, the Phillies have Cliff Lee and Jason Hamels as legitimate 1-2 starters, or, judging by Hamels body of work this season, maybe just a 1. And that shouldn't be a huge edge for Philadelphia. After all, the Cardinals boasted two starters who are each legitimate Cy young candidates, Adam Wainwright and Chris Carpenter. The Dodgers beat them both, though, in deference to Wainwright, his loss was the cause of Holliday's butchering a nnth-inning, two-out fly ball and the inexcusable mound self-destruction of Cardinal closer, Ryan Franklin. Following their top two, however, the Phillies have good choices: Pedro Martinez, proven veteran Joe Blanton, and firebrand rookie J.A. Happ. That a legitimate starting five when only four are needed. How manager Charlie Manuel manages his arms roster will be key. There's also Brett Myers, Scott Eyre, Ryan Madsen and closer Brad Lidge, whose blow save gaffes this season are legendary, as, "in the past." Lidge looked just fine closing the finale in Colorado, and if he's on his game, it's lights out in the 9th inning, though that's no sure bet. The Dodgers stating rotation is Randy Wolf, Clayton Kershaw, and Vicente Padilla, followed tentatively by Chad Billingsly, who used to be LA's #1, but lost his control somewhere this summer, not having won since August 18. He went 0-5 in his final 8 starts and hasn't been able to find the strike zone consistently. If he was right, this may be a much different scenario, but he's not. None of the LA starters are particularly overpowering, though Kershaw has been very game. Padilla found playoff magic in his win over the Cardinals in Game 3, and there's a legitimate question as to whether he'll be able to repeat that performance. The Dodger bullpen is a strength. Jeff Weaver, Ronald Belisario and Hong-Shih Kuo handle the middle to late innings, and Jonathan Broxton and George Sherrill have been interchangeable as closers. That gives manager Joe Torre tremendous flexibility. Edge: Phillies have the starters, but the Dodgers have a better bullpen. BATTING: Hands down, no team in the league is better at the plate than the Phillies. Ryan Howard, Raul Ibanez, Chase Utley and Jatson Werth all banged more than 30 homers apeice during the season, led by Howard's 45. All of these guys, except ibanez, have playoff and World Series experience. Jimmy Rollins and Shane Victorino at the top of the lineup are dangerous hitters in their own right and each can steal bases when needed. The Phillies want to beat your pitcher's brains in by the fifth inning, and they did just that many times in 2009. LA led the legue in batting average, at .270, compared to the Phillies' pedestrian number, .258, but the Phillies hit 79 more homers (224-145) and drove in 47 more runs (788, tops in the NL). The Dodgers have plenty of offense, especially if Manny Ramirez gets into a groove. Matt Kemp, James Loney and Andre Ethier can all deliver big, clutch hits, and did so in the NLDS. Russell Martin, Casey Blake, Ronnie Belliard and leadoff hitter Rafael Furcal complete their usual lineup. Everybody is good with a bat, which will make life tough for Philly pitchers. BOTTOM LINE: It's raw power vs. questionable pitching, and in games 1 and 2, give the Phillies excellent starting pitching to boot. Very tough to see how the Dodgers can turn last season's 4-1 beat-down into a 4-3 win. The Phillies are a veteran squad with a killer lineup. Jayson Werth has emerged this season as a legitimate All-Star and LA pitching will be overmatched, both on the mound and by the hitters. The Phillies won't give LA any gift wins, as did the Cardinals, so this one goes no further than 6 games, 4 of which will be Philly wins. Expect a couple of good pitching turns and a couple of old fashioned 10-4 or 9-3 beatings.

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