We're a little more than a day away from the first pitch of the 2008 NLCS showdown between the Phillies and Dodgers. The Cubs 100th straight year of defeat handed home-field advantage to the Fightins. The rowdy crowd that Philadelphia is known for will be important for the Phillies to establish an early edge over the Dodgers.
Did the Phillies really “luck out” by having to play the Dodgers though? Were the Dodgers, after-Manny, better than the Cubs? Well that remains to be seen. In the regular season, all after-Manny, the Phillies and Dodgers split the 8 game series, both winning all 4 games in their respective parks.
Many experts feel that “Torre + Manny = World Series berth”, but Charlie Manuel and the Phillies plan to have something to say about that.
We will dive into the expected lineups and series analysis to see who is truly the better team.
First things first, the Phillies shared a similar home record with the Dodgers (48-33), but were far better on the road than the Dodgers (44-37 compred to 36-45). Also, something that was lost in the late division race was that the Phillies were a 92 win team; 2nd in the NL and 5th in all of baseball. This should help the Phillies steal a game or 2 in LA with the 2-3-2 series.
The playoff pressure is not gone, but both teams have gotten over the hump of a winning a playoff series for the first time in a long time. In their last playoff meeting 25 years ago, the Phillies knocked the Dodgers out of the playoffs and the Phillies advanced to the World Series.
So, let’s check out the projected lineups.
Starting pitching was great for both teams in the NLDS. This looks to be a series where limiting walks will be important because each teams fields a lineup that can make you pay for the free-pass. In the series against the Brewers, most of the base-runners the Phillies allowed to score reached base because of a walk.
Lowe, Billingsly, Kuroda, and Kershaw or Maddux will likely throw for the Dodgers. The Phillies will throw out Hamels, Myers, Moyer, and Blanton. You know what you’re getting from Hamels, but not many people expect a repeat performance from Myers. The jury is still out there on whether or not he is completely back. Moyer rarely has back to back poor starts, but his effectiveness really depends on whether or not he is getting the corners. Both Blanton and Moyer getting starts in pitcher’s parks will definitely help them out. For the most part, the Phillies’ starters pitched well against the Dodgers this year.
Derek Lowe has re-established himself as a good pitcher and Billingsly is an up and coming star. He’s a hard throwing righty, but that may play into a Phillies lineup that hits the fast-ball well. Kuroda and Lowe have pitched well against the Phillies, but the same cannot be said for Clayton Kershaw, who the Phillies ripped apart.
It’s not even close. Russell Martin is not only one of the best young catchers in all of baseball, but he is near the top of the best young players. He can do it all, including steal bases. Carlos Ruiz is starting to hit the ball a little harder, but he still does not offer much offensive production. He’s good behind the plate defensively though he deals with pitchers that do not hold many runners.
In a down year, Ryan Howard still reached base at the same 34% clip as Loney, but Howard outslugged Loney .543 to .434. Loney does not strike out or walk at a high rate, but he does hit for average (.289) and can do it to all fields. He’s a young, quality player, but he doesn’t compare to Howard.
Ryan Howard may have looked like he had a poor NLDS, but he still reached base 44% of the time. Ugh, that’s great. While his average may have been down, you can expect teams to pitch to Howard when he can change a playoff game easily with one swing unless they have to.
Chase Utley didn’t exactly have a playoff series people dream off, but he’s always been one of the more consistent Phillies. I’d look for his (2-15) effort to rise against a right-hand heavy Dodgers pitching staff. He’s still the guy that had an OPS of .915. Most importantly, Chase Utley defends his position the best in all of baseball. It’s not even close.
Because of Jeff Kent’s injury, rookie Blake DeWitt saw plenty of time this season. He’s pretty much a singles hitter with not a lot of pop. He’s not a menace on the basepaths either as he had only 3 steals. He also had an OPS of only .665 on the road this year.
What’s more important to you? Casey Blake is a better hitter by over 100 OPS points. However, Blake is also apt to strike out a lot more than Pedro Feliz. On the other hand, Feliz is a more superior fielder than Blake. It seems that wherever or however Feliz fields the ball, he always makes the perfect throw. Offensively, Feliz is a guy who will either hit an RBI double or GDIP to end a rally. He’s a good fastball hitter, but that is just about it.
Furcal was hurt for most of the year, but he’s damn good. In 143 at-bats this season he posted an OPS of 1.012. Both Rollins and Furcal are superior defensive short stops, but they also both shared success in this year’s NLDS. They both have great arms, pop off the bat, and speed. The biggest question surrounding Furcal is his health.
I’m not going to waste my time on this one. Manny Ramirez is one of the best right-handed hitters ever. He had a great NLDS and will probably continue that success this series. The Phillies really just need to try and limit his run-producing opportunities. I don’t mean to disrespect Pat Burrell, but the only thing he can hold over Manny’s head is his arm strength from the outfield.
Both Shane Victorino and Matt Kemp are virtually the same players offensively, except for the fact that Kemp strikes out a hell of a lot more. Victorino has one of the best outfield arms in all of baseball, but Kemp is no slouch either. They both steal bases at a similar rate as well. However, I will give the edge to Victorino because he had such a great NLDS run to Kemp’s poor NLDS. We must remember that we’re still using small sample sizes in that regrd.
Andre Ethier came up as a first baseman, but he was moved to right field to make room for the James Loney, the better defender. The move did not change Ethier’s quality batting approach as he posted an OPS of .885. Like Werth, Ethier does not hit well off pitchers that share the same handedness. This should bode well for both Hamels and Moyer. He only had 1 hit in 10 at-bats against the Cubs.
Jayson Werth had a good NLDS, but he really needs to cut down on the 6 strike outs he had in 11 outs that he made. He often succombs to off-speed from righties and that has been his problem. He’s a quality defensive outfielder and he has a very good arm, which you saw when he caught Corey Hart taking a big turn off first base.
Brad Lidge and the Phillies were phenomenal at holding leads, especially late. In the regular season, the Phillies had the better bullpen. Both staffs pitched well in the NLDS, but you have to expect the Phillies bullpen full of guys exceeding expectations will return to Earth at some point. Hopefully it is in the offseason or next year, right? We keep saying this and we saw glimpses of it in August and early September, but the bullpen has remained strong.
Though they are tiring, Ryan Madson appears stronger than ever and is developing into a very good set-up man with extra movement on an improved fastball.
The Dodgers also have a very good bullpen as well. Broxton and Saito provide a great 1-2 punch to close out games for the Dodgers. Also, having a smart pitcher in Greg Maddux as their long-reliever doesn’t hurt.
The Bench and Coaching:
Though the Dodgers bench hasn’t exactly performed well as it is filled with notable names who either lost their jobs or battled injuries. The Phillies on the other hand have only Greg Dobbs. Eric Bruntlett may be their best right-handed hitter off the bench, so that isn’t saying much.
Joe Torre’s been to the Championship Series plenty of times with the Yankees. Charlie Manuel has been there with the Indians. Both managers have their pros and cons. Their decisions are under the microscope in the playoffs and I feel Torre may be able to handle those moves slightly better. Manuel has improved as a manager has improved as a manager in his tenure with the Phillies. Both clubs have former players/coaches of the opposing team in Bowa and Lopes. Both clubhouses are more laid-back to help eleviate the pressure. I still think we have to give the advantage to the Dodgers.
Like I said earlier, this is going to be a series that could be heavily decided on which team’s pitchers give out more free passes. Both teams have good lineups, good rotations, and good bullpens. On paper, it is pretty even, but the Dodgers have the upper-hand in veteran playoff experience, both in the lineup and managing the team.
It should be a close series and I’d expect a few late-inning wins. Both teams had to go on nice runs to make the playoffs, so the question to be asked is:
Which team will slow down first?
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