NLCS Preview: Phillies-Dodgers

↵NLCS: With A Vengeance. That has to be the title of this series for the Dodgers. Yet again, the best team in the NL West will face off against the best from the NL East for a chance to go to the World Series. In 2008, things obviously didn't go the Dodgers' way, losing the NLCS in five games. But the Dodgers have home-field advantage this time around, and that might change things. Or it might not, as the Phillies had the best road record in the league at 48-33. There will be a lot of people picking the Dodgers. I will not be one of them. And here's why ... ↵

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↵Starting Pitching: ↵

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↵Phillies: Cliff Lee, Cole Hamels, J.A. Happ, Joe Blanton, Pedro Martinez ↵

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↵Dodgers: Randy Wolf, Clayton Kershaw, Vicente Padilla, Chad Billingsley, Hiroki Kuroda ↵

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↵Would it be glib to say that the advantage has to go to the team with current Phillies aces over the team with former Phillies aces? For those who don't remember the Randy Wolf and Vicente Padilla era in Philadelphia – it stunk. From 2002-05 the Phillies missed the playoffs, just like they did the ten years prior to that. In fact, it wasn't until the Phillies stopped settling for the likes of Padilla and Wolf at the top of their rotation that they started to win more games and get to the playoffs. ↵

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↵That's not to say Padilla and Wolf weren't well liked. Heck, when the Vet was empty, the Wolf Pack – a group of rabid fans in the nose-bleeds who danced like Teen Wolf after every strikeout for the lefty – was often the only entertaining part of the game. Those Wolf Packers started a fan club trend in the upper deck that made its way to Citizens Bank Park. Sadly, Padilla's Flotilla didn't catch on as well. ↵

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↵Dodgers fans may point to Clayton Kershaw as the Dodgers' ace. After all, the TBS announcers wouldn't stop talking about how people in Dodgerland are comparing him to Sandy Koufax. But Kershaw is no Koufax when facing the Phillies, going 0-2 with a t 5.23 ERA this season. Lifetime, Kershaw is 0-3 with a 6.64 ERA against Philly. The Game One starter for the Phillies will be Cole Hamels, whose numbers against the Dodgers are far more Koufax-like than Kershaw's against the Phils. Hamels is 2-0 with a 1.50 in four career regular-season starts against the Dodgers. Oh, and the lefty was 2-0 with a 1.93 ERA in last year's NLCS. Hamels has struggled this year, but he has owned the Dodgers in his career. ↵

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↵The good thing for the Phillies is that Hamels doesn't even have to be the ace anymore. Lee is 1-0 in two postseason starts this year, giving up two earned runs in 16.1 innings. But since Lee pitched in Game Four of the LDS, the Phillies will likely hold him for Game Three at home in the NLCS. Which leaves the Game Two starter somewhat of a mystery. Will it be J.A. Happ, Joe Blanton or Pedro Martinez? Blanton probably deserves the start the most, but wouldn't it be great to see Pedro tee it up at Dodger Stadium? ↵

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↵The Dodgers may get Hiroki Kuroda back, which will be a boon to their duct tape and bubble wrap rotation. Kuroda beat the Phillies in the LCS last season, and held them scoreless over six innings earlier this year. He's clearly the better option than Chad Billingsley, who couldn't get through the third inning in either of his losses in last year's NLCS. ↵

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↵Advantage: Phillies ↵

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↵Bullpen: ↵

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↵Phillies: Ryan Madson, Brad Lidge, Chad Durbin, Scott Eyre, Antonio Bastardo, Kyle Kendrick, Chan Ho Park, Brett Myers ↵

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↵Dodgers: Jonathan Broxton, George Sherrill, Ronald Belisario, Jeff Weaver, Hong-Chih Kuo ↵

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↵The story of the LCS, if the games are close, will be the Phillies bullpen. Is Lidge back? Is Madson still the best bullpen option, even after blowing two saves in the LDS (with one a hard-luck blown save if there ever was one)? The Phillies still have a ton of question marks in their pen. Unsure of who is starting Game Two, and therefore Game Four, who will be coming out of the pen if Hamels falters in Game One? Will Happ and Blanton vacillate between starter and reserve like in the last round? Will Chan Ho Park, a former Dodger, be healthy enough to contribute? ↵

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↵The Dodgers have far fewer questions marks in their pen. Jonathan Broxton saw action in all three first-round games, getting a save in his only opportunity. Kuo has been solid against Philadelphia, including last year's playoffs, and George Sherrill was, in essence, brought to Los Angeles specifically for this series against the Phillies. ↵

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↵Advantage: Dodgers ↵

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↵Infield: ↵

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↵Phillies: Ryan Howard, Chase Utley, Jimmy Rollins, Pedro Feliz, Greg Dobbs, Miguel Cairo ↵

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↵Dodgers: James Loney, Ronnie Belliard, Rafael Furcal, Casey Blake, Orlando Hudson, Jim Thome, Mark Loretta ↵

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↵The ninth inning of Game Four against the Rockies was a showcase of what this Phillies infield is capable of doing to the opposition. Held in check most of the game, Rollins got a one-out hit, Utley worked a key two-out walk to put the tying run on base and Ryan Howard, well, Ryan Howard is the man. It's odd that Rollins has only scored one run and has just one extra-base hit in the playoffs this season, yet the Phillies have won three games. If he gets going like Utley (.429 BA, .643 SLG, 5R) and Howard (.375 BA, 6 RBIs) the Dodgers will be in for a long, yet short, series. ↵

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↵The Dodgers need to get more production out of their infield. In the LDS, James Loney was 3-for-12 with no runs or RBIs and Casey Blake hit .273 with just one run and RBI. Joe Torre has said that Belliard will stay in as long as he keeps hitting, but he only had three hits in the series. Only Furcal had the stick going, with six hits in 12 at bats, though just one extra-base hit. ↵

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↵Advantage: Phillies. ↵

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↵Catcher: ↵

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↵Phillies: Carlos Ruiz, Paul Bako ↵

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↵Dodgers: Russell Martin ↵

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↵Last year, Russell Martin had two hits in 17 playoff at-bats against the Phillies. He hit .118 with one RBI. Carlos Ruiz hit .313 with five hits in 16 at bats, scoring three runs. This season, Martin has one hit in nine at bats in the playoffs. Ruiz is hitting .308 with three RBIs. ↵

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↵Advantage:Until Martin proves he can hit in the playoffs, it has to go to Ruiz and the Phillies. ↵

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↵Outfield: ↵

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↵Phillies: Raul Ibanez, Shane Victorino, Jayson Werth, Ben Francisco, Matt Stairs ↵

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↵Dodgers: Manny Ramirez, Matt Kemp, Andre Ethier, Juan Pierre ↵

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↵We've mentioned this before, but the Phillies have three All-Stars in the outfield, and they've been playing like it in the postseason. Victorino is batting .353 with four runs scored while playing stellar center field. Ibanez is hitting .308 with five RBIs and Werth is playing possessed, hitting .357 with five runs scored, four RBIs, two home runs an OPS of 1.429. Oh, and an outfield assist at third base from right field. The over-under on the number of times TBS shows Matt Stairs' home run in last year's LCS that most likely is still going into the LA night: 15. ↵

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↵But the Dodgers have Manny, who hit .533 with seven RBI and an OPS of 1.748 last year in the LCS. And while Werth has been huge for the Phils, Andre Ethier has been just as good, if not better, in three games for the Dodgers. He hit .500 with two homers, three RBI, five runs scored and an OPS of 1.904 against the Cardinals pitching, which on paper, is far more fearsome than the Phillies. Matt Kemp needs to get going in center after getting just two hits in the first round. ↵

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↵Advantage: Push ↵

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↵Managers: ↵

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↵Charlie Manuel, Joe Torre ↵

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↵I said before and I'll say it again, Charlie Manuel is the master of puppets, especially in the playoffs the last two years. Did you see Brad Lidge out there? Did you see Ben Francisco make a diving catch? Did you see Scott Eyre with important outs? Cholly and his staff are look like geniuses right now. ↵

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↵That other guy, Joe something ... yeah I hear he's won a few big games too. ↵

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↵Advantage: Push. ↵

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↵Intangibles: ↵

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↵The Dodgers have revenge on their side. They should be playing with a bit of a chip on their collective shoulders. They also have Manny, and if nothing else, Manny can be, at times, quite intangible. That said, the Phillies offense does have some kind of mojo going after the ninth inning of Game Four. ↵

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↵Advantage: Dodgers ↵

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↵Prediction: Tim Kurkjian said earlier in the week on Tony Kornheiser's radio show that he had picked the Dodgers in seven before the ninth inning of Game Four, but after watching Ryan Howard, Jayson Werth and company come back in the way they did against the Rockies, he changed his prediction to Phillies in seven. The Phillies sluggers are literally game changers. But I don't think it'll go seven. I'll give the Dodgers one more game than last year. Phils in six. ↵

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This post originally appeared on the Sporting Blog. For more, see The Sporting Blog Archives.

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