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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. jonny5 - Oct 15, 2009 at 11:38 AM

    Wrong again Craig!!!! ;>)~ Just like last season, as the Dodgers swept the Favorites (the cubbies) to move onto the Phillies in the NLCS series, all the baseball “experts” and “talking heads” called for the Dodgers to be victorious against the Phightin’ Phills. They actually seemed sad every time the Phills clicked off another win against the boys in blue. The constant underrating of the the Phillies does no more than cement their resolve to win. Which is quite alright for the Phillies fans if they can get through the NLCS without vomiting over the obvious bias the announcers have for a team that truly doesn’t have half the heart that the Phillies have. I pick the Phillies in 6 games, and honestly, I feel the dodgers will be lucky to go 6 in this series.

  2. Funnystuff - Oct 15, 2009 at 12:35 PM

    Didn’t you make the same prediciton last year…lmao, and they let you back this year??? Talk about questionable performance. The fact is the Phillies have gotten no respect from anyone even though they are world champs. Perhaps WFC x 2 will earn them the respect they deserved this year. I’m wondering Craig if your willing to put your paultry salary where your mouth is.

  3. Craig Calcaterra - Oct 15, 2009 at 12:40 PM

    How you can read this preview — in which I say it will be tough fought and can really go either way and, in any event will go 7 games — as some sort of disrespect for Philly is beyond me, Funnystuff. Hell, I even make the point that Philly is being unfairly disrespected.

  4. Jimsjam33 - Oct 15, 2009 at 12:45 PM

    Sure the Phils are the world champs , but they didn’t look like it against the Rockies . Good pitching always has the edge over good hitting and in this series the Dodgers have the arms to go a long way .
    I’d say the two question marks are Werth ( the Dodger throw away – what a mistake that was ) and Manny . These teams are pretty even , but I’d give the series to the Dodgers if Manny lights it up . The Dodgers and Joe Torre are going balls to the wall right now and I don’t see the Phils stopping them . Dodgers in 5 !

  5. RickyB - Oct 15, 2009 at 12:48 PM

    Philadelphia has good history of taking an aging pitcher, giving him tons of rest, then getting an excellent postseason start. Can you say Howard Emhke? So what if that’s 80 years ago? You referenced playoffs from more than 30 years ago!

  6. David - Oct 15, 2009 at 12:49 PM

    I wonder what the editor thinks of comments like, “it’s not like I’m going to get sued or fired or killed or anything for being wrong about this stuff”. Seems you take your job pretty seriously…

  7. Craig Calcaterra - Oct 15, 2009 at 12:58 PM

    Well David, let’s just put it this way: If I found out that my editor thought that my picking the winner of a playoff series wrong was a fireable offense, I’d quit before he had the chance to can me.

  8. Mike - Oct 15, 2009 at 1:03 PM

    I thought I would save everyone some time by creating a template to use for whenever Craig or someone else predicts that your favorite team will lose a sporting event:
    “How dare you, Mr. Calcaterra! How dare you predict that the [insert name of opposing team here] shall defeat my favorite team, the [insert name of favorite team here] in the upcoming sporting event?!? What gives you the right?!? The [insert name of favorite team here] are clearly the best team in [insert name of sport here]! Despite your well-crafted article in which you do an excellent job of arguing why you think that the [insert name of opposing team here] may win – but concede that it’s just a fun prediction and you could be wrong – you obviously hate the [insert name of favorite team here]! That could be the only logical reason why you would not pick the [insert name of favorite team here] to win! Even I know the [insert name of favorite team here] will win and I’m sure not biased or anything! For whatever reason, I take this very, very personally and feel the need to create a user account and comment! I hope you burn in hell, you so-called “expert”! May [insert name of your God here] have mercy on your so soul!”
    You’re welcome.

  9. Robert - Oct 15, 2009 at 1:11 PM

    I’m a life long Dodger fan, so I’m biased. That said, The Dodger hitters are streaky this year and seem to go cold all at once, but still seem to find a way to manufacture runs, especially in the late innings when the Phillys will be most vulnerable. I find it ironic that two of three Dodger All Stars (Billingsley and Hudson) aren’t even starters in this series and could make a big impact off the bench that is being over looked. The Dodger bench has really come through for Torre and gives him that option of pulling starting pitchers early and relying on what has been a very good relief corp. On paper, the Dodgers come nowhere close to matching up power wise to the Phillys. Put the Dodgers did have one of the best team batting averages in baseball and that was without big contributions from Manny. Kershaw is a monster in the making and if he doesn’t get hurt by the long ball and can sit down the heart of the Phillys order that could set the tone for the rest of the series. Then if Wolf can keep his hot streak alive, Padilla stays good, it’ll be all Dodgers especially since even if Wolf and Padilla get hurt the Dodgers have better options out of the bull pen.

  10. PhillyPhan - Oct 15, 2009 at 1:40 PM

    Didn’t the Rockies have the hottest team overall in the NL West down the end stretch while the Dodgers had struggled to win their div. in the end? Why consider the Rockies to have been a pushover? The Rockies would have probably won over LA had they played them 1st in the playoff series. But who will know?
    The Rockies are not a joke and will most likely be back next year, but as a division winner rather than the WC.
    I have only respect for that team.

  11. gary - Oct 15, 2009 at 1:49 PM

    its amazing that anyone out there thinks wolf & padillia represent quality starting pitching. can you say scrapheap??

  12. JP - Oct 15, 2009 at 1:50 PM

    Though I think your reasoning is sound, I think you’re going to be 0-2 for Phillies/Dodgers predictions. I’ll make it clear I’m a biased, long-time Phillies fan. I think the bullpen is going to come through. I think games 3 and 4 (ESPECIALLY 4) are excellent displays of the tenacity that this team possesses. I, for one, had pretty much resigned myself to a game 5 in Philly going into the top of the 9th on Monday.
    And with all of the talk about NY/LA and the “Freeway Series”, why does everyone overlook what kind of series you could have between the Yankess and the Phillies. I95 i a freeway too, you know?
    Don’t discount the other intangible that the Phils play for every game. You know? That “HK” that’s on their uniforms?

  13. Phils_in_6 - Oct 15, 2009 at 1:51 PM

    By name, you can tell where I am heading with this. Craig, you never even addressed the elephant in the room for Game 1. Hamels is 3-0 with a 1.17 ERA in La-la-land, he has said he loves the mound at Dodger Stadium, he is a So. Cal boy…..and he kinda likes the spotlight. On the flip side, Kershaw is a rightie. If I have to explain the significance, you wouldn’t get it.
    Does this mean Game 1 is a lock? No, but the Phillies have quite an edge. If they take this one, Dodgers can start making tee times

  14. TSP - Oct 15, 2009 at 2:10 PM

    The Phillies definitely get no respect. Look at the time schedule for the last series. When is the last time anyone watched a baseball game that started at 10:10 Eastern in below freezing temperatures?
    Phillies take it in 6 unless Manny starts taking the juice again.
    Also, Craig, you may want to correct the typo in the “Bullpens” para by changing sacred to scared…

  15. MrGoodtimes - Oct 15, 2009 at 2:30 PM

    I think picking either team in 7 games is a crap shoot. I really think this could turn out to be a fantastic series. I’m a Phillies Phan and I do think they’ll pull it off but at the same time I wouldn’t be surprised if the Dodgers did. Two great managers, two great line ups, pitching. This is gonna be fun!

  16. Chris - Oct 15, 2009 at 3:08 PM

    I love this pick. I love that all the talking heads are picking the Dodgers again. And again…they’ll be wrong. Okay, I’m a homer, but my God, I am constantly astonished by the disrespect the Fightins get. They had the most productive offense in the NL. They scored more runs than every other NL team plus hit 224 HRs, which is 79 more than the Dodgers. Okay the Dodgers bullpen is better than the Phils, no argument, but does anyone really think that Randy Wolf and Vicente Padilla are quality upgrades to the rotation? Really? Padilla will be out of the game by the 3rd inning of his start. But, the real reason the Phils will win this series in 6 is the intangible: this team has a fervent, religious belief that they will win every game, no matter what. I think the Rockies understand that now. Don’t bet against the Phillies. This team has one goal and one goal only – Repeat! GO PHILS!

  17. justin - Oct 15, 2009 at 3:39 PM

    PhillyPhan, No, the Rockies aren’t some kind of joke, and they should put a pretty quality team on the field next season. Whether it will be better than this season’s is debatable, and we’ll have to see what the do in the offseason. They’re probably losing an unexpectedly productive Jason Marquis, and I’m guessing that De La Rosa probably just had a career year (but I could be very wrong about that, obviously). That’s a lot of pitching that they’re going to need to replace, and I don’t exactly see free agent pitchers lining up to sign with the Rockies.
    Also, those games they played in April and May still count, and who’s to say they won’t struggle to start the season next season? After all, they are starting to build a reputation as a 2nd half team. Tulowitzki is also getting a reputation as a 2nd half player, and he’s a huge reason they played so well down the stretch. Yeah, this is a bit overly simplistic as the contributing factors are vast, but if he struggles next spring, I’m willing to bet that the Rockies do so as well.

  18. justin - Oct 15, 2009 at 3:43 PM

    Uhhh, Kershaw is a lefty. If I have to explain the significance, you wouldn’t get it. Now, go back and do your analysis over.

  19. justin - Oct 15, 2009 at 3:46 PM

    Stay far away from Vegas, Atlantic City, or any bookies. How can you just say “I think the bullpen is going to come through”? They’re terrible! I would understand “I think they’re going to pull the series out despite their horrid bullpen that’s led by the corpse of Brad Lidge”, but wow. Just, wow.

  20. Chris - Oct 15, 2009 at 3:55 PM

    I sincerely question if you even watch baseball. The Rockies almost took the NL West from the Dodgers. Must have had a senior moment, eh Craigers? Lee is actually hot right now. Try to remember the two games he pitched against the Rockies, one a shut out until the 9th (they had one run) and the other night, Monday, Lee kept it scoreless until the 6th and when he was taken out in the 8th, there was only one run. The runs occurred after Lee left with one man on base. Get the facts straight. The Rockies did put up a fight and the Phils returned the favor. Watch the game.
    The experts have the two teams evenly matched. That is why they are calling it in 7 games. That makes it unpredictable at best.

  21. Ralph - Oct 15, 2009 at 4:04 PM

    Folks, reality is that this series is even money. To bet either way a great deal is foolish. The Phillies and Yankees are both the favorites because of their recent pasts. The Phillies bullpen could be an achillies heel however. One reader accurately noted that Dodger run production often goes south enmasse. This could be the Dodger’s Waterloo. It would seem home field could help LA but the Phillies are the best road team in baseball period. Kershaw is the next great lefthander and could be the wildcard. Am I vascilating? You bet I am!

  22. JP - Oct 15, 2009 at 4:10 PM

    “I think they’re going to pull the series out despite their horrid bullpen that’s led by the corpse of Brad Lidge”.
    That’s waaaayyy too many words to type.

  23. RC - Oct 15, 2009 at 4:16 PM

    COMMENTS LIKE THIS ONE ARE JUST STUPID..

  24. PhillyPhan - Oct 15, 2009 at 4:19 PM

    It was mentioned in a previous “Circling the Bases”:
    “Phillies’ pitiful bullpen.” Are they referring to the pitiful bullpen that gave up 4 earned runs over 11 1/3 innings to the team(Rockies) with the second most runs scored in the NL this season?”
    I think I am ok with my Phillies Bullpen! We will know soon enough with the countdown to gametime upon us.
    GL to everyone that enjoys the game of baseball itself and soak it all in while the season lasts.

  25. dice - Oct 15, 2009 at 4:36 PM

    The phillies didn’t look good vs. the rockies? They only lost one game which was very close. Lidge pitched well. Lee had two amazing starts. And then end of game 4 where the phil’s bats emerged with two outs to destroy the rockies playoff hopes? seriously, its amazing that even after winning the world series the phillies have no bandwagon – everyon cheers for the stupid dodgers because they are from LA…

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