Larry Bowa, Jim Thome, Randy Wolf, Vicente Padilla in the NLCS. That’s what Phillies fans were thinking about and hoping for in 2003. Well, it finally happened, but as we know, it happened with the Dodgers, who now face the Phillies in a re-match of last year’s NLCS.
Make no mistake about it, this a better, more experienced Dodger team than we faced last year, and this will not be a 5-game Phillies’ victory. The Phils will have to play well in every facet of the game to win, and that might not even be enough.
As I said before the NLDS: Until the Phillies lose, I will not be changing the format of my previews. So, in the same format as last year’s preview, here’s my 2009 NLCS rundown.
Cliff Lee / Cole Hamels
vs. Randy Wolf / Clayton Kershaw
Like in the Rockies series, the “name” pitchers are on the Phillies’ side, but that doesn’t mean they are better. Let’s take a quick look at how these pairs pitched in the first round.
The Dodgers won the 2 games Wolf and Kershaw pitched, but they more won in spite of them than because of them. Wolf gave up 6 hits and walked 5 in 3.2 innings, while Kershaw pitched into the 7th but still gave up 9 hits. I doubt that they will sport a 2.03 WHIP again in this series; they are much better pitchers than that, but they didn’t pitch particularly well against a worse line-up than ours. On our end, Lee has been magnificent, and Hamels would fall into the Wolf / Kershaw category. If you look at regular season stats, both Wolf and Kershaw posted better numbers than Hamels but usually don’t go much more than 6 innings. The Dodgers have seriously struggled against Hamels, while the Phils got to both Wolf and Kershaw this season. Edge to the Phillies.
On a side note that I just can’t help from posting. I have always thought that Clayton Kershaw looks like a werewolf and noted it in my Game 4 NLCS blog last year. Therefore I find it tremendous that Randy Wolf is the #1 starter ahead of him and I can write the phrase “Wolf / Kershaw category” in an appropriate context.
Joe Blanton / Pedro Martinez / J.A. Happ
vs. Vicente Padilla / Hiroki Kuroda / Chad Billingsley
This is a tough category to grade because we don’t know who is going to be pitching out of these groups for either squad. Padilla pitched 7 scoreless in his first start, and Happ pitched poorly in the 20-degree night in Colorado. Let’s look at the combined stats for each trio in September.
Though for most of the year Blanton and Happ were more than stellar, it’s pretty clear that the Dodgers’ group has been better lately, and really that is what matters. Their two likely starters, Padilla and Kuroda, have ERA’s of 3.20 and 2.72 respectively since August. If the Phils’ guys pitch like it’s July, advantage Phils. But it’s not July, so edge to the Dodgers.
Jimmy Rollins / Shane Victorino
vs. Rafael Furcal / Matt Kemp
The season stats of the two lead-off hitters and 2-hole hitters are pretty similar…
Though he doesn’t get on base as much, I take Rollins over Furcal. Furcal is mostly a singles hitter, and Rollins is a much better producer in scoring situations. Kemp over Victorino by a hair because of his power threat and even better speed threat on the bases. It’s tough to choose between the pairs, but I’m giving the edge to the Dodgers, because right now Kemp is the best offensive player of the four. Slight edge to the Dodgers.
Chase Utley / Ryan Howard / Jayson Werth
vs. Andre Ethier / Manny Ramirez / James Loney
As I said in the NLDS preview, I don’t think there is a trio in the entire league that I would put over the Phils’ guys here. But just in case you needed statistical proof, here are the average 2009 season numbers for each team (even adjusting for Manny’s 50-game suspension):
After looking at the Dodgers’ numbers, it actually seems that Ethier, not Manny, has been the better run producer this year. Manny only had 19 HR and 63 RBI – adding 50 more games to that puts him around 24 and 88. He’s not the Manny of last year, but he’s still Manny – and still dangerous. Edge to the Phillies.
Raul Ibanez / Pedro Feliz / Carlos Ruiz
vs. Casey Blake / Ronnie Belliard / Russell Martin
Let’s hope Pedro Feliz doesn’t have money on the Dodgers, because he clearly had it on the Rockies. In one of the worst offensive performances I’ve seen in the playoffs, Feliz took half swings at first pitch breaking balls in almost every at-bat in the NLDS. If I’m Charlie Manuel, I seriously consider starting Miguel Cairo over him. On the bright side, Ibanez and Ruiz probably had the best ABs of any Phillies in the series, making the pitcher work, and usually getting hits.
As for the comparison, this is pretty easy for me. Ibanez > Blake, Feliz < Belliard and Ruiz > Martin. Belliard has been so hot lately, he’s supplanted Orlando Hudson at 2B, which isn’t easy to do. Blake is solid, but Martin gets on base and nothing more. Ibanez playing like he did at the beginning of the year, and Ruiz sporting a Utley-esque 0.925 OPS since August makes this an easy call. Edge to the Phillies.
Ryan Madson / Chan Ho Park / Scott Eyre
vs. George Sherrill / Ronald Belisario / Hong-Chih Kuo
If Lidge is now the full time closer, and if Chan Ho Park is really coming back, this part of the bullpen looks a lot better than it did for the NLDS. However, it’s not going to overtake the Dodgers. Sherrill and Kuo are going to be a very dangerous left-handed combo, and Utley, Howard and Ibanez should be ready to see a lot of them. Sherrill has only allowed 2 earned runs in his 30 games with the Dodgers and is likely to be a weapon for them the way Madson was for us last year. Edge to the Dodgers.
vs. Jonathan Broxton
This was the shortest category last year as Brad Lidge was perfect and Broxton was shaky. This year? Still the shortest, for pretty much exact opposite reasons. Edge to the Dodgers.
Ben Francisco / Greg Dobbs / Matt Stairs
vs. Jim Thome / Orlando Hudson / Mark Loretta
If someone can explain to me how Stairs and Dobbs had 5 ABs in the NLDS and Francisco has 1, I’d love to hear it. Charlie has fallen in love too much with L/R match-ups, Francisco should be getting every important pinch-hitting AB, regardless of pitcher. Meanwhile, the Dodgers, like the Rockies, have 2 starters sitting on their bench and a great pinch hitter in Loretta. Edge to the Dodgers.
vs. Joe Torre
Last year this was a slam dunk for Torre, but this year, with a series championship under Charlie’s belt, it’s not that simple. However, while it’s close, I’m still giving the edge to Torre. Torre just won his 19th playoff series just the other day, but more impressive was the job he did with the Dodgers this year. Losing Manny for 50 games, having an ace (Billingsley) fall off the face of the earth, several injuries to starting pitchers, and several young streaky players in the line-up, and still no problem getting the NL’s best record. Edge to the Dodgers.
- Dodgers have home field advantage
- Phillies have league’s best road record
- The Dodgers, like the Phillies in 2008, have the same group of players coming back to the playoffs after some quality experience the prior year. They’ll have less fear in them this time around.
- The Phillies have slightly better team defense
- LA’s lefties could neutralize Ryan Howard
- Phillies are better baserunners as a team (0.27 vs. -1.8 EqBRR average)
- Dodgers are only 45-38 since July 1st, Phillies are 54-33
Not a whole lot here, but as I’ve seen enough Phillies games won by their defense and baserunning to know it has more impact than the Dodgers’ home field. Slight edge to Phillies.
The Phillies took only 4 of the 10 categories, but obviously I’m not making my prediction based solely on that. They have the better front-end starters and the better overall line-up while the Dodgers are a deeper club in pretty much every area.
This has the potential to be a truly great series. The Phillies are on a mission to repeat and have more confidence and desire than I’ve seen in a Philadelphia sports team in my entire life. The Dodgers remind me a lot of our 2008 squad as I mentioned above. They are young, hungry and have tasted the post-season enough to not get cold feet.
There are 3 players that will likely decide whether or not the Phillies win this series. First of all, Cole Hamels needs to put together 2 quality starts; they don’t have to be dominant but 7 innings, 2-3 runs – something like that. Second, Jayson Werth needs to continue to rake because I have a feeling Howard is going to have trouble this series with Wolf, Kershaw and the lefty relievers. Finally, Lidge needs to continue his short revival, if only for a couple more weeks.
Chances are, like last year, the teams will be so evenly matched that it will come down to a couple plays (the Matt Stairs’ HR comes to mind for some reason). There is a part of me that thinks the Dodgers will win, and I am certain this will be the toughest series of our last two years. But after watching last night’s game and hearing Jimmy say after the game, as he has many times before:
We don’t play this game to walk away in October and say, ‘Well, it was a great season. See ya in spring training.’ We have something to prove on this team. We want to be known as winners. We want that legacy. We want to be known the way everyone knows New York and Boston.
They were only the 3rd NL team since 1922 to win a post-season series after winning the World Series the year before; they are a unique squad. And I do think they are winners, and you’d have to be crazy to think I’m picking against them now.
Final prediction: Phillies in Seven