Phillies and Dodgers set for NLCS showdownby Eric Schwartz
Tonight begins the next step in the Philadelphia Phillies quest to repeat as World Series champions. The Phils take on the Los Angeles Dodgers tonight at 8:07 p.m. in the first game of a best-of-seven NLCS series. Last year the Phillies beat the Dodgers in five games in the NLCS, but how will they fair this year?
He is a breakdown of how the match up:
Game 1: Cole Hamels: The lefty has had his ups and downs this season and was less than stellar in his outing against the Rockies. Against the Dodgers, however, he has been dominant. In his two starts against them this season, Hamels posted a 1-0 mark with a 0.56 ERA. He also struck out 14 while walking just one. And who can forget last year’s NLCS where Hamels went 2-0, including winning the series clincher in Game 5 and being honored as the series MVP.
Game 2: While it has yet to be confirmed by Charlie Manuel, Phillies.com is reporting that veteran Pedro Martinez will get the nod. It is hard to predict hat Pedro will do in his first playoff outing since he was in a Red Sox uniform.
Game 3: Cliff Lee will return to the mound on his regular day of rest and look to continue what has been a marvelous postseason. Lee has allowed just two earned runs in 16-plus innings of work this postseason and is making it clear that he is indeed an ace.
Game 4: The Phillies will trot either J.A. Happ or Joe Blanton out to the mound. Manuel’s decision may come down to which of the two he needs to use out of the bullpen in the first three games of the series. Blanton has the experience of pitching against the Dodgers in last year’s NLCS, but my guess is that Happ will get the nod here.
Game 1: Clayton Kershaw: One of the top young pitchers in the game, Kershaw has the kind of stuff that can cause nightmares for hitters. Against the Phillies, that has yet to be seen though. He has a 5.23 ERA in two starts against the Phils this year.
Game 2: Vicente Padilla: The first of the two former Phillies pitchers to take the mound in the series, Padilla has done surprisingly well with the West Coast squad. Acquired in a midseason trade with Texas, Padilla has pitched eight games for L.A., going 4-0 with a 3.20 ERA.
Game 3: Hirokia Kuroda: Kuroda was the only Dodgers pitcher to record a win against the Phillies in last year’s NLCS. He was mediocre this season going just 8-7.
Game 4: Randy Wolf: It is hard to believe that Wolf has been one of the most consistent pitchers for the Dodgers, going 12-7 with a 3.23 ERA. A left-hander, Wolf could be a dangerous pitcher in this series.
There are no surprises when Charlie Manuel brings out the lineup card during the postseason. Just as was the case in four NLDS games, the Phillies will go with Jimmie Rollins, Shane Victorino, Chase Utley, Ryan Howard, Jayson Werth, Raul Ibanez, Pedro Feliz and Carlos Ruiz. It is a lineup that as worked for the Phils for the majority of the year.
While Rollins has had a down year by his standards, the career years from Ibanez ad Werth have easily offset that. Werth has joined Utley and Howard to become one of the most feared middle-of-the-order trios in all of baseball.
Philadelphia’s lineup showed in Game 4 against the Rockies, that trailing in the ninth inning on the road is not anything its lineup can not overcome. Despite the team’s strikeout tendencies, one would be hard-pressed to find a better lineup in the National League.
Dodgers lineup: Joe Tore likes to play with the lineup from time to time, but for Game 1 the Phillies will see Rafael Furcal, Orlando Hudson, Manny Ramirez, Andre Ethier, Matt Kemp, James Loney, Casey Blake and Russell Martin.
Like Werth, Ethier had a breakout season, posting 31 homers and 106 RBIs. He has been the type of hitter that when paired with Ramirez can bring flashbacks to the Many-Big Pappy years. You don’t want to face that part of the order with the game on the line. Kemp has also been solid, providing great defense in centerfield, while hitting .297 with 26 home runs.
The big letdown for the Dodgers has been the downfall of Martin, who even until last year was one of the top hitting catchers in baseball. This season, Martin’s power disappeared and he hit just seven home runs and limped to a .250 average.
The rest of the Dodgers lineup is solid, although the Phillies should certainly be happy not have to see Jeff Kent anymore.
The Phillies: This has been a sore spot for most of the season and has been predicted to be the reason the Phillies don’t repeat as World Champions. The good news is that closer Brad Lidge showed signs of finding his old form, picking up two saves in the NLDS (even if one of them was of the one-out variety). Also promising is that left-hander Scott Eyre appears to be fie after his stumble in Game 4. The bullpen still leaves much to be desired, though, as Ran Madson continues to be hit and miss and it is still impossible to know what can be expected of Brett Myers.
The Dodgers: A team strength all season, the Dodgers’ bullpen really became solidified when the team acquired left-hander George Sherrill from the Orioles at the trade deadline. Sherrill has been remarkable since the trade, posting a 0.65 ERA in 20 appearances. He has also yet to allow a home run to a left-handed batter. Expect to see him in each game this season. The Dodgers have several other quality arms to go to in late innings as they look to get the ball to hard-throwing Jonathan Broxton. The Los Angeles closer had 114 strikeouts in 72 innings, but the Phillies have had success of him in the past, including last postseason.
The Phillies: While there has been little to celebrate about the Phils bench this year, it is impossible not to think of Matt Stairs’ eighth inning, two-out, two-run home run that beat the Dodgers in Game 4 of the 2008 postseason. The Phillies know what they get when they send Stairs up to the plate and they will deal with his well-below par .194 average. The rest of the bench doesn’t offer much as Greg Dobbs, Miguel Cairo and Paul Bako leave a lot to be desired. Ben Francisco is a wildcard, as he has pop in his bat and his late-inning defense is valuable, as evidenced by his diving catch late in Game 4 of the NLDS.
The Dodgers: Like the Phillies with Stairs, the Dodgers have a long ball threat in Jim Thome. Though he is not the player he once was, the Thome can still hit the ball out of the park. Orlando Hudson may also come off the bench from in a couple games as Torre has been giving more starting time to Ronnie Belliard at second than expected. The Dodges also have veterans Juan Pierre Mark Loretta and Brad Ausmus.
Prediction: While the Dodgers have the better bullpen and better depth, the Phillies have a better rotation and a more dangerous lineup. A lot of people see this series going all seven games. The two big factors for the Phillies in this series will be the performances of Hamels and Pedro. Can Cole continue his dominance over the Dodgers and can Pedro muster up one more gem? If they can this series could be short. My guess is that one of them slips up but the Phillies have more-than enough to close out the Dodgers in six games.