Los Angeles Dodgers vs Philadelphia Phillies
Los Angeles Dodgers (84-78); First Place, National League West; Defeated Chicago Cubs 3 games to 0 in NLDS vs Philadelphia Phillies (92-70); First Place, National League East; Defeated Milwaukee Brewers 3 games to 1 in NLDS
- Keys for the Dodgers:
The Dodgers have their house in order and are rolling. Taking advantage of a tight, mistake-prone Cubs team whose manager Lou Piniella made a terrible error in judgment starting Ryan Dempster in the first game, the Dodgers jumped on the Cubs early, took away their confidence and their will to win and dominated them from start to finish. The Phillies are not going to be as much of a pushover.
With a fiery, tough Phillies team in front of them, the Dodgers have to get almost identical perfromances from their starting pitching. Derek Lowe is a playoff-tested, soon-to-be free agent who can be counted on to battle his way through no matter what kind of stuff he has; it also helps that he relies on a heavy, sinking fastball that’s hard to lift and knock out of the park; this is an advantage against the Phillies and in Citizens Bank Park. Chad Billingsley and Hiroki Kuroda did an above-and-beyond the call of duty job in keeping the Cubs off the scoreboard; the bullpen was led by manager Joe Torre’s new designated guy to pitch every day—-Cory Wade; and Jonathan Broxton has taken over as closer.
The lefties in the Dodgers bullpen were unimportant against the Cubs because the only two lefty bats they had were the veteran Jim Edmonds and Kosuke Fukodome (who Piniella sent off on a lifeboat with his rant after game two and proceeded to cut the line sending Fukudome drifting out to sea). The Phillies are not the Cubs and they have two lefties in Chase Utley and Ryan Howard who will have to be dealt with; that’s going to fall on Joe Beimel, Hong-Chih Kuo (who wasn’t on the NLDS roster due to numbness in his pitching hand, but is expected to be on the NLCS roster—-and he’d better be because they’ll need him), and possibly Clayton Kershaw.
The Dodgers have their first three starters set up and rested; there’s a question as to whom is going to start game four and the speculation has centered around Kershaw and Greg Maddux. Having watched Joe Torre for pretty much the entirety of his managerial career and how he trusts his veterans in big spots (see how he used David Cone, in the midst of an awful year in 2000, out of the bullpen to retire Mike Piazza in the World Series), he’s not going to start Kershaw over Maddux. Maddux may have a short leash depending on who’s leading in the series in game four, but he’ll start the game.
The Dodgers have to jump out early on the Phillies starters (and it doesn’t even have to be a large rally; two or three runs will do) and make Charlie Manuel go into overmanaging mode and yank a starter far too early due to panic. Manny Ramirez is going to be salivating at the prospect of hitting in Citizens Bank Park. Jeff Kent hit very well (.364) against the Phillies this year, so I would think he’d get a chance to start a couple of games (he’s five for six career against Joe Blanton). The other Dodgers power bats—-Matt Kemp, James Loney, Russell Martin, Andre Ethier and Casey Blake—-have to come through if the Phillies consciously decide not to let Manny beat them.
The Dodgers are playing like a different team since the arrivals of Manny and Blake; as long as they get the pitching they’ve been getting from their starters, they’re in great shape to get past the Phillies and go to the World Series. The lefties out of the bullpen may be the key to the whole series.
- Keys for the Phillies:
The Phillies overcame a bit of overmanaging from manager Charlie Manuel as he yanked game three starter Jamie Moyer way too early in a situation that didn’t call for it and overpowered an overmatched an exhausted Brewers team that, at times, looked just happy to have made the playoffs.
That Phillies lineup is going to have to do better than the Cubs did of putting runs up against the Dodgers starters and their balance, power and fearlessness will allow them to do that. Chase Utley and Ryan Howard were awful in the NLDS and are both due to start hitting at some point in the NLCS. As I said before the NLDS, Jayson Werth is the unsung key to the Phillies; if he does something good—-hitting a big homer; stealing bases; making great plays defensively—-the Phillies win. Shane Victorino hit that massive grand slam off of C.C. Sabathia and then made an overtly stupid play in trying to break up a double play by bowling over J.J. Hardy in game three and costing his team a run and a potential series-ending rally; lucky for the Phillies it didn’t come back to haunt them.
Cole Hamels is becoming a clutch ace; he throws strikes, works fast and is unmoved by any pressure at all; Brett Myers gutted his way through on the mound and at the plate as he beat Sabathia; Moyer was settling down and working his way through a rough start before Manuel inexplicably yanked him after only allowing two runs when he was due to hit with one runner on base; the bullpen gave up a couple of more runs to seal the game for the Brewers; Joe Blanton was excellent in his game four start.
It seemed that Manuel was looking for a reason to get his bullpen some work in that game three; as if there was something in the back of his mind that said he’d get the likes of Clay Condrey and Chad Durbin in just for the sake of it when he would’ve been better off staying with Moyer. J.C. Romero won’t be a factor at all because the only lefty bat the Dodgers trot out every day is James Loney and Loney hits lefties well enough. Brad Lidge has his footing in the post-season, but as good as he’s been, there’s always that Albert Pujols-moment creeping around in the background and until Lidge leads his team to the World Series, it’s not going to completely go away. Against the Dodgers, Manuel can’t afford any more gaffes.
- What will happen:
The most interesting interplay of the entire series may be between the veteran managers. On one side is Dodgers manager Joe Torre; the sterling resume littered with championships and goodwill throughout baseball; the Frank Sinatra of the baseball set with his big time personality and charm. Phillies manager Charlie Manuel is like the grumpy, but goodhearted uncle who’s all frumpy and rumpled, has a giant belly, cusses a blue streak and yells a lot, but is lovable anyway. Torre won’t make a panicky nor a sentimental move in this entire series; he’ll use the relievers he trusts again and again; and try to force Manuel to make unnecessary pitching changes and desperation decisions and Manuel will oblige. As much as the Phillies players like Manuel, they have to know that he’s prone to making mistakes due to the high-pressure of the post-season and because of his notoriously and unnecessarily quick hook.
The Dodgers have a player in Manny Ramirez who’s been carrying the entire team on his shoulders since his arrival and there probably isn’t anyone in baseball who knows Manny better than his former hitting coach in Cleveland—-Manuel. The Phillies are not going to let Manny beat them, so it’s going to come down to what the other bats in the lineup do. Kent is going to play a big part in this series before it’s over. There will be a couple of high-scoring games in this series and the Phillies are notorious for falling behind early and chipping away to come back and win. Utley and Howard won’t be as bad as they were in the NLDS, but will they hit enough and against the Dodgers situational lefties?
The way the Dodgers are rolling and with Torre’s karma working overtime, unless the entire Phillies lineup starts mashing; their pitchers are as good as they were in the NLDS; and Manuel doesn’t make some huge mistake, the Phillies are going to lose. The Dodgers are on a mission, aren’t the same team that only won 84 games and ran hot and cold until the last month of the season and have turned it on to a remarkable degree as evidenced by their whitewashing of the Cubs. They’re also getting their veterans healthy and can throw a superior bench at the Phillies with the likes of Nomar Garciaparra, Kent and Juan Pierre ready to pinch hit. This series will come down to the managers and which team’s pitchers do their jobs better. 2008 is turning into a 1996-style, magical year for Joe Torre and it’s going to result in another trip to the World Series.
Prediction: DODGERS IN SIX.
NLCS MVP: Jonathan Broxton.