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2009 NLCS Preview
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2009 NLCS Preview:
Philadelphia Phillies vs. Los Angeles Dodgers

by Asher B. Chancey, BaseballEvolution.com
October 15, 2009


The Los Angeles Dodgers and Philadelphia Phillies face off in the National League Championship Series for the second year in a row, with the Phillies hoping to do the unthinkable and the Dodgers hoping to avenge last year’s loss.

Let’s start this NLCS Preview off with some NLCS Fun Facts:

The first NLCS was played in 1969, between the Mets and the Braves. That was the Miracle Mets year. Starting the following year, a team from Pennsylvania (either the Pirates or the Phillies) made it to the NLCS in nine of the next ten seasons.

This is only the fourth time that the NLCS has featured the same two teams in consecutive years. The third time involved the Cardinals and Astros in 2004 and 2005, when those two teams took turns going to the World Series to get destroyed by an AL team that hadn’t won the World Series since the Wilson Administration. That 2005 series was the infamous series in which the Astros were one out away from the World Series when Albert Pujols obliterated a pitch from Brad Lidge for a three run homerun that hasn’t landed yet, and the Astros lost. What so often gets lost in that story is the fact that the Astros won the next game and went to the World Series. Lidge has since avenged his demons only to let them avenge his vengeance of them.

The second time it happened was in the early 1990s, when the Bonds-Bonilla Pirates failed twice to beat the Glavine-Smoltz Braves (for some odd reason the spell-check on my computer has no problem with the word “Bonds-Bonilla” but is telling me “Glavine-Smoltz” isn’t a word). That Pirates team was on the cusp of all-time greatness, but couldn't get over the hump, disbanded, and hasn't been back.

And the first time two teams faced each other in the NLCS in consecutive years? The Dodgers and the Phillies in 1977 and 1978. Both times the Dodgers beat the Phillies for the privilege of losing in the World Series to the New York Yankees.

The good news for Phillies fans is that the same team has won both series two out of three times.

This series will be notable for all its inter-team connections. In 2004, Eric Milton, Vincente Padilla, and Randy Wolf combined to start 77 games for the Philadelphia Phillies. All three now pitch for the Dodgers (though Milton is out for the year). Meanwhile, two-thirds of the Phillies' All-Star outfield, Jayson Werth and Shane Victorino, are former Dodgers castoffs.

Think about that for a second – former Phillies pitchers are now starring for the Dodgers, and former Dodgers hitters are now starring for the Phillies. How appropriate.

Phillies Manager Charlie Manuel will also be facing two of the biggest stars he's ever coached in future Hall of Famers Jim Thome and Manny Ramirez.

Anyway, on to the preview:

Offense

There is no doubt as to whom the best hitter in this series is: it's Manny Ramirez. Manny is playing for his fifth trip to the World Series, and we’ve seen Manny get downright electric in Championship Series of the past, as when he hit over .400 when the Red Sox came back from a 3-1 deficit to beat the Cleveland Indians in 2007. After Manny, though, the next three or four best hitters in this series play for the Phillies. Ryan Howard, Chase Utley, Raul Ibanez, and Jayson Werth all enjoyed fantastic seasons, and three of the four are coming off of a lights-out NLDS round against the Rockies. Further, Shane Victorino also lit it up for the Phils in the last series, and has a post-season OPS is 80 points over his career average.


The Dodgers hitters are either overrated or underrated, depending on how you look at it. As much as we hear about Juan Pierre, James Loney, and Russ Martin, all three players had terrible offensive seasons. On the other hand, without any real standout performances the Dodgers finished fourth in the National League in runs scored per game. Plus, playing at Dodger Stadium deprives us of the other half of Matt Kemp, who would probably look like Bobby Abreu if he played in a league average ballpark or in the American League.

Nevertheless, if this series is going to be won on offense, it will be won by the Phillies.

Oh by the way

Here’s a funny thing that I haven’t noticed until just now – the Los Angeles Dodgers and Philadelphia Phillies both use not one but two switch hitting speedsters in the first and second spots in the batting order. For the Phillies, Jimmy Rollins and Victorino have gotten things started for most of the year, while the Dodgers have sent out Rafael Furcal and Orlando Hudson for most of the year.

This is such an obvious recipe for success that it is shocking that more hasn’t been made of these teams switch-hitting combos. To have an opposing pitcher face a platoon disadvantage in not one but both spots ahead of the meat of the order is rather brilliant.

Truth be told, it hasn’t been all roses for these dynamic duos. Neither Hudson nor Furcal enjoyed a standout year in 2009, and Jimmy Rollins (or at least his on-base percentage) nearly fell off the face of the earth in the first half of the season. Nevertheless, each of these guys is capable of getting hot, and each of these teams owe at least part of their success to never surrendering the platoon advantage at the start of a game.

Pitching Matchups

One thing this series will have no shortage of is left-handed pitching. With Clayton Kershaw and Randy Wolf going for the Dodgers and Cole Hamels, J.A. Happ, and Cliff Lee going for the Phillies. This naturally favors the Dodgers, as after Hudson and Furcal they get most of their offense from right-handed hitters Manny Ramirez, Casey Blake, and Matt Kemp. The Phillies, meanwhile, sport a bevy of left-handed hitters in Ryan Howard, Chase Utley, and Raul Ibanez. That could make this a big series for their lone righty threat, Jayson Werth.

Clayton Kershaw vs. Cole Hamels

The Phillies have pulled a bit of a coup with having Cole Hamels go up against Clayton Kershaw in Game One of the series. Kershaw pitching in Dodgers Stadium is as close to automatic as it gets – he had an ERA under 2.00 at home this season, struck out 97 batters in 88.1 innings pitched, and allowed only one homerun all season long. If you know you’re going to lose, you don’t want to throw Cliff Lee out there and waste a good start from your only marketable pitching commodity. Meanwhile, Hamels has been incredibly erratic this season, has an ERA over a run worse on the road than at home (4.99 vs. 3.76) and lost for the Phillies in the first round of the playoffs against the Rockies despite having the home field advantage.

Result? It’s a win-win situation. If the Dodgers win, then you chalk it up to home-field advantage against a dominant home-field pitcher. If the Phillies win, it will snatch home-field advantage from the Dodgers and be a huge boost for Hamels and the pitching staff. No pressure, nothing on the line, no expectations.

Vicente Padilla vs. Pedro Martinez

This is more of an assumption than anything right now, since Charlie Manuel has not indicated which pitcher will be starting in Game Two, though indicating that J.A. Happ and Joe Blanton would be available out of the bullpen. This would be an intriguing matchup if only because it matches two pitchers who would be pitching against their former teams (How’d Delino DeShields work out for you, L.A. ?).

Here’s a Vicente Padilla Fun Fact for the Phillies-Dodgers Preview: Padilla went more than six innings in a start just six times this season, which includes only three times after June 1st, and not one single time after joining the Dodgers in the middle of August. Padilla may represent the Phillies' best opportunity in the first two games to score any runs at all.

Martinez, meanwhile, failed to get through five innings in either of his final two starts of the season and hasn’t pitched since September 30th. That makes him a big old wildcard, and gives the Phils no idea what to expect. Meanwhile, J.A. Happ, who has a 1.99 ERA on the road this season, will be available for bullpen duty. If the Phillies had used their heads, they’d be starting this guy in Game Two.

Hiroki Kuroda vs. Cliff Lee

This has the potential to be a big matchup in Game Three back in Philadelphia. Here’s a well-kept secret: Kuroda is one of the few pitchers in recent Dodgers history that performs better away from Dodgers Stadium. Having already pitched two guys in Kershaw and Padilla who could end up pitching batting practice in Philadelphia, the Dodgers will give the ball to a guy who would rather be on the road.

Cliff Lee, meanwhile, has been dominant in the post-season and is, according to conventional wisdom, the reason the Phillies are in the second round. The Phils wouldn’t want anyone else going for them in Game Three.

Randy Wolf vs. J.A. Happ/Joe Blanton

More bad news for the Phillies here: Randy Wolf is also better away from Dodgers Stadium, to the tune of a 3.63/2.78 ERA split. Wolf handled the Phillies in his only start in Philadelphia in 2009, giving up three hits and a run while striking out eight in six innings.

Meanwhile, the Phillies will have their choice in Game Four between the rookie Happ and the veteran Blanton. The choice is simple: Happ has an ERA under 2.00 away from home and over 4.00 at home, while Blanton is better at home.

It is pretty clear that Joe Torre has his pitching ducks in a row, while Charlie Manuel is still scraping by as best he can even though he has five or six starting pitchers. If this series is going to be won with pitching, it will be won by the Dodgers.

Bullpen

It's simple: Brad Lidge and Ryan Madson have been ridiculously bad out of the bullpen in 2009 while Jonathan Broxton and company have kept the Dodgers water-tight all season. So any close game after seven innings favors the Dodgers whether they lead or trail. The Phillies can't win if Lidge and Madson don't turn it around. The Dodgers can't lose if their bullpen does what its done all season.

Conclusions?

This series goes to the Dodgers, and here’s why:

As between pitching and hitting, pitching wins in the post-season.

If you are going to win in the post-season, you have to have a close-out bullpen. The Phillies have a let-you-back-in bullpen.

The Dodgers have home-field advantage and the exact home/road pitching matchups they want. This is a dagger through the throat.

You heard it here first: Dodgers in six, for the right to get killed by the American League team, whomever it may be.




Questions? Concerns? Comments? Asher lives in Philadelphia, PA, and can be reached at asher@baseballevolution.com.

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