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NLCS Preview: Phillies vs. Dodgers

Oct 15, 2009, 9:42 AM EDT

Rematch.  And from a historical perspective, a rubber match of sorts as well.  The Dodgers beat the Phillies in the 1977 and 1978 NLCS.  The Phillies took 1983.  For our purposes, however, really only last year is relevant, and the Phillies won 4-1.  Going in to that series the question was whether the Phillies’ big bats would actually show up for a postseason series, whether the Dodgers could do anything about the Phillies’ shutdown-bullpen, and whether the Phillies had an answer for what seemed like an unstoppable Manny Ramirez.

Those questions are no longer really operative.

Indeed, we basically have the reverse in 2009.  Can the Dodgers’ contain a bombastic Phillies’ lineup?  Will the Phillies’ bullpen be able to keep things together?  Will Manny Ramirez crank it up and be the straw that the Dodger drink so desperately needs to stir it?  The short version: yes, no, and maybe.  The quick prediction:  Dodgers in seven.  The reasons.  Well, read on:

2009 NLCS Probables

Game 1 – Cole Hamels vs. Clayton Kershaw

Game 2 – Pedro Martinez vs. Vicente Padilla

Game 3 – Cliff Lee vs. Hiroki Kuroda

Game 4 – Joe Blanton vs. Randy Wolf

Game 5 – Hamels vs. Kershaw

Game 6 – Lee vs. Kuroda

This is all obviously subject to change, depending mostly on how deeply in trouble a given team finds itself as the series progresses.  The most notable thing — as Matthew noted yesterday — was the young Mr. Kershaw getting the start in Game 1. I’m less worried about his age and the potential for an Ankielesque meltdown than I’m worried about the fact that the Phillies roughed him up this year.  Still, the last time he saw them was June 4th, and since then he has really stepped up his game.  I like him against a less-than-stellar-of-late Cole Hamels.

The next most interesting thing is Pedro in Game 2.  The Dodgers were more vulnerable to righties this season so it probably makes sense to go with Martinez over Happ, but the fact is that Pedro hasn’t pitched for over two weeks.  Does this give his old arm much needed extra rest or problematic extra rust?  The answer to that question will be pretty important given that I think the Dodgers will win tonight, thereby making Game 2 fairly damn important.  OK, fine, they’re all important, but the Phillies don’t want to be down 0-2.

As for the rest of the series, Cliff Lee may be a lefty, but he’s stone cold dealing lately.  Vicente Padilla may be stone cold dealing lately, but he’s Vicente Padilla and I wouldn’t bet the milk money that a guy like him is going to pull a 2006 Jeff Weaver and rip off a third stellar start in a row.  Kurdoa is an X-factor in that he’s coming off a long layoff, though the Dodgers can throw Jeff Weaver v. 2009 or Chad Billingsley out in long relief if necessary.

Overall, I think that season-long numbers aside, the rotations are more or less even at the moment.  Maybe a slight advantage to the Phillies, really.  It’s all going to come down to Kershaw and Pedro, methinks.

Offenses

The Dodgers get on base and get timely hits. The Phillies mash.  Historically speaking, mashers seem more likely to go cold in a short series than the patient and pesky of the world.  Certainly L.A. has nothing to compare to the 1-2-3-4 punch of Utley, Howard Werth and Ibanez.  Right now Matt Kemp and Jimmy Rollins are cold.  If one or the other warms up, his team gets the advantage.  If neither or both do, it’s going to come down to bullpens.  Hell, I think this series comes down to bullpens regardless.

Bullpens

You know the storyline by now: The Dodgers’ bullpen is lights out, and unlike Jim Tracy, Joe Torre isn’t a slave to conventional bullpen use when the postseason comes around.  He’ll stretch Broxton if he has to.  Unlike Tracy, he’ll throw a lefty out there if Ryan Howard comes up in a key situation, whether it’s to replace Broxton or whoever.  The Phillies, in contrast, have Brad Lidge, Ryan Madson and a prayer.  Given that Charlie Manuel managed the NLDS as if he was scared to death to actually use a reliever — and given that Lidge’s two saves were both shaky affairs — the Dodgers have a big, big advantage in this department.  If a game is close as we approach late innings, you have to like L.A.’s chances.  If the Phillies knock the cover off the ball early, however, no bullpen is going to save the boys in blue.

Overrated Angle

The lookahead.  These teams are really, really evenly matched in my view and I think this has all the makings of a close, fantastic series.  I just have this feeling, however, that we’re going to hear countless references to a potential Yankees-Dodgers series or a Freeway series (and yes I know I became part of the problem yesterday. I’m way easier to ignore than TV, however, so my contributions are minimal at best).  Which should drive Phillies fans absolutely nuts and rightly so.  Indeed, I’m having trouble remembering the last time a still-contending defending World Series champ got as little respect as the Phillies are getting right now. 

Underrated Angle 

The actual games. If there was ever a series that begged for near total coverage of the on-the-field stuff and the eschewing of “storylines” and all of that garbage, it’s this one.  These are two very different yet very strong, very interesting teams facing off.  The differences between the very essences of these two teams — power and patience, the bullpens, the temperaments of the managers, etc. — and the intriguing matchups they create call out for some hard-nosed analysis, the sort of which, if a young kid or a casual fan heard it, could teach them oodles and oodles about the intricacies of baseball and turn them into a hardcore baseball fan for life.  I have zero faith that we’ll get that from Chip Caray.

Prediction

After my spectacular failure to predict the Dodgers-Cardinals series within ten miles of reality I should probably get out of the prediction business.  But what the hell, it’s not like I’m going to get sued or fired or killed or anything for being wrong about this stuff.  So here it is: this thing could go either way, but I like the Dodgers in a close, hard-fought seven game series that, ultimately, is decided by the Dodgers’ bullpen and the Phillies’ lack thereof. 

  1. justin - Oct 15, 2009 at 4:44 PM

    Wolf had a FIP of 3.96, which is lower than all Phils SPs other than Hammels and Lee. Padilla’s is 4.45, which is the same as Blanton’s. While FIP isn’t perfect gauge of a SP’s worth(what is?), it’s certainly better than Wins or ERA and is good enough for this. So, here are the FIPs for the respective SPs from lowest to highest:
    1. Kershaw – 3.05
    2. Lee – 3.11
    3. Kuroda – 3.58
    4. Hamels – 3.72
    5. Wolf – 3.96
    6. Martinez – 4.28
    7. Happ – 4.33
    8. Padilla – 4.45
    8. Blanton – 4.45
    Wow, this looks amazingly even to me… Dodger, Phillie, Dodger, Phillie, Dodger, Phillie, Phillie, Dodger. I don’t know why most of the baseball pundits are giving the rotation edge to the Phillies (well, I suppose it could be that Joe Torre is making a horrific call in starting Padilla in game three and Wolf in game four…)

  2. justin - Oct 15, 2009 at 4:58 PM

    Small sample size… way to cherry-pick your stats. While their bullpen certainly isn’t as horrific as the media would have you believe, it probably also shouldn’t qualify as “good”. Their FIP for the season was 4.16, which puts them ninth in the NL. They would be significantly improved if they left Lidge off the roster.
    Likewise, the Dodgers’ bullpen probably isn’t quite as good as advertised with a FIP of 3.74 (well above their ERA of 3.14). I’m not smart enough to tell you why their ERA is so low when compared to their FIP, especially considering the fact that they’re a pretty neutral fielding team.

  3. justin - Oct 15, 2009 at 5:09 PM

    And, if you’re going to make the argument (as I’ve seen) that “Lee’s been lights out since coming to Philly…” (the 2.83 FIP as a Phil is impressive), doesn’t rational thought dictate that you have to acknowledge the same for Padilla (a 3.40 FIP as a Dodger)?

  4. rtbird - Oct 15, 2009 at 5:55 PM

    Phillies have won eleven of the last 16 meetings (good), the Dodgers have taken four of the last six (better).

  5. Brad - Oct 15, 2009 at 6:04 PM

    i love all the Philly fans claiming no respect. Were the Phillies the team with the best record in the NL this year? Were the Phillies picked as the underdog in the Division series (only to go on and sweep)? NOOO…the dodgers are the ones getting no respect…I cant wait to beat the Phillies and come back to see what all the bandwagoners are saying then!! Kershaw and Wolf are both very good pitchers…and I figure Ethier is due for another walk off in this series….i bet these are the same people claiming we got lucky against the Cards….we beat the Cards…the one dropped ball didnt change the fact that we had runners on in almost every inning of that series….THINK BLUE

  6. waloch - Oct 15, 2009 at 7:11 PM

    Are people forgetting the Dodgers had the best record in baseball for the better part of the season and never lost first place? And that was WITHOUT an ace!

  7. Jimsjam33 - Oct 15, 2009 at 7:31 PM

    Let the war begin ! GREAT BASEBALL COMING UP

  8. dammien - Oct 16, 2009 at 1:28 PM

    Holy crap is it FANTASTIC to read all these comments the following day…

  9. jonny5 - Oct 19, 2009 at 8:36 AM

    Umm, what were you saying Craig??? ;>)~ I told you, the most disrespected World Champions ever just have more heart than the boys in Blue. It is what it is. You see? Phillies will take this next game and only need one win in LA (If LA can win one in Philly). Would you like to write a nice feel good story for the dodgers after they are booted from the NLCS? Again? By the same team that did it last season? Even the one win the dodgers put up, was because of Philly bullpen issues. It looks to me like the Dodgers Bull pen has some as well though…. One thing I like is the fact that Billingsly is going to be a non factor for tonight. Torre should have saved him for a game they could possibly win I think….. Awww man they have 2 more games in Philly??? Ouch. Sorry Hollywood… Ok, I lie. :>)

  10. Craig Calcaterra - Oct 19, 2009 at 8:44 AM

    I said that Cliff Lee was stone cold dealing lately and that the Dodgers were going to have a tough damn time with him despite the fact he’s a lefty. I also said that it would be a close series, and right now it’s 2-1.
    I’ve never seen more insecure fans than Philly fans in my life.

  11. jonny5 - Oct 19, 2009 at 11:08 AM

    Insecure???? I thought me calling the series as a Phillies win in 6 was a pretty secure thing to say…. As a matter of fact no one in Philly thought the Dodgers would take it, pretty secure if you ask me. Also look at the fact that LA had 5 hits in the last 2 games. Philly fans throwing it in the the faces of the so called “experts” of the game is as to be expected.I thought you guys would learn from last season too. LOL!!! The dodgers don’t have the edge, never did. And it’s only 2-1 because of Philly mistakes. That’s baseball and yes, it’s still anyones series in a mathematical kind of way, but you have to admit, after last night the Dodgers have a heck of a row to hoe if they want to make it to the BIG GAME!!!! I’m only being critical here because it’s so much fun Craig!!! Now watch it swing back tonight and make me look silly, Wolf will get a standing ovation in his old stomping grounds (or boos,you know Philly ,we’re bipolar at times.), we do miss him here. But I have a feeling the heat the Phillies lineup have going for them right now with the bats won’t be replicated by LA. Remember who has more heart next time, that’s all. Joe Torre said it best. “There is a reason these guys are the world champs”.

  12. jonny5 - Oct 20, 2009 at 9:18 AM

    Good morning…. It’s a beautiful day here. Sun is shining, birds are chirping, and the Phightin’ Phills prove once again exactly who has more heart. I love it!!! Did I mention it’s a Beautiful day?

  13. jonny5 - Oct 22, 2009 at 9:43 AM

    “After my spectacular failure to predict the Dodgers-Cardinals series within ten miles of reality >>>>I should probably get out of the prediction business.)~ Slugfest here we come!!! BTW I was wrong with the prediction as well. I called it Philly in 6!!!

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