NLCS Preview

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

It's time to officially start the coverage of the National League Championship Series between the National League East Division champion Philadelphia Phillies and the National League West Division champion Los Angeles Dodgers. We are not talking about politics when it comes to red states and blue states now folks. Pennsylvania is red for the Phillies and California is blue for the Dodgers this week.

Regular Season Records
Dodgers 84-78
Phillies 92-70

How They Got Here
The Phillies advanced to the NLCS by defeating the wild card Milwaukee Brewers in four games in the NLDS. Pitching from the Phillies was superb while the offense showed small amounts of explosiveness. Struggling at the plate and in key situations all series long the Phillies relied on the pitching of Cole Hamels, Brett Myers, Jamie Moyer and Joe Blanton to carry the team. The bullpen did their part as well, filling in when needed to get to ace closer Brad Lidge in the final inning three times. The starters were fantastic in the series and although Moyer was uncharacteristically off he only only allowed the Brewers to score twice.

Chase Utley continued to lack any presence at the plate and his two RBI double in game one was a gift from a misplayed ball by Brewers outfielder Mike Cameron. Ryan Howard came on late in the series to get some hits but Shane Victorino and Jayson Werth were able to pick up some of the slack with their own at-bats.

Playing the role of underdogs the Dodgers swept the Chicago Cubs in three games in dominating fashion. Taking advantage of Cubs errors in game one the Dodgers set the tone early for another dismal Cubs playoff series. The Dodgers got dominant pitching from Derek Lowe, Chad Billingsley, and Hiroki Kuroda. Offensively the Dodgers were offensive to the Cubs.

Manny Ramierez brought his "Manny Being Manny" act to Los Angeles in a trade earlier this year and Ramierez has provided the spark the Dodgers needed into the post season. Ramierez hit .500 in the NLDS against the Cubs, adding a pair of homeruns and driving in three crucial RBIs at key moments. James Loney added six RBIs of his own in the series and Russell Martin added five.

Regular Season Matchups
It doesn't get too much more even than what the Phillies and Dodgers did to each other this season. The Dodgers struck first by sweeping the Phillies in a four game set in Los Angeles. A week later the Phillies returned the favor, sweeping the Dodgers in a four game set at Citizens Bank Park.

the Dodgers put together a better batting average than the Phillies in those eight games, but this is the playoffs. We can throw away all of those stats from earlier this year!

This is a great series as far as storylines go. The main stream media will pick up the Manny Ramierez storylines in hopes of seeing him take the Dodgers to the World Series for a possible match up with the Red Sox, but if you look closer there are some other key stories of intrigue to digest.

Larry Bowa
Former Phillies manager, and the predecessor to Charlie Manuel, Larry Bowa is now the Dodgers' third base coach. Bowa, a Phillies Wall of Famer, helped lead the Phillies to becoming a legitimate contender in the division and an annual player in the wild card chase. While Bowa's teams never made the final push during the Scott Rolen years it ws Bowa who was routinely criticized by some fans, some media and many players for the short comings of the team. Bowa ultimately was fired and Manuel was selected to replace him. Bowa went on to become a third base coach under Joe Torre with the New York Yankees, and followed Torre to the Dodgers.

You know Bowa would love to stick it to his former employer, but I am sure there must be a part in Bowa's heart that hopes to see the Phillies win again. One thing is for sure; Bowa hates wearing that helmet on the field.

The Phillies have a former Dodger player as well. Davey Lopes. The Phillies first base coach was directly involved in "Black Friday" in 1977, a play that also directly involved Bowa.

Phillies-Dodgers Playoff History
There was a time when the Dodgers were in the same division as the Phillies. But that was when the Dodgers were playing in Brooklyn. Despite the Whiz Kids beating out those Brooklyn Dodgers for a National League pennant the two organizations have faced each other a number of times before in the NLCS. If you have been reading this blog regularly you may have seen (or possibly even read!) my NLCS Phlashback series, chronicling the 1977 and 1978 NLCS. They also faced each other in the 1983 NLCS.

Pitching Probables
Game One
Cole Hamels vs. Derek Lowe

Cole Hamels is the ace of the staff in Philadelphia, there is no disputing that. In game one of the NLDS he was masterful, shutting down the free swinging Brewers over eight innings before handing the game over to Brad Lidge. Hamels is 1-0 against the Dodgers lifetime with an ERA of 2.57. Earlier this season Hamels pitched seven innings giving up five hits and two runs in Los Angeles. His only two walks in the game were both intentional walks to Ramierez and Garciaparra.

While this is not exactly the Derek Lowe who helped guide the Red Sox to a World Series championship a few years ago, he is no pushover. After allowing two early runs to the Cubs in game one he shut them down and let the Dodgers rally to win. The Phillies will need to score on Lowe more than one inning a game.

Game Two
Brett Myers vs. Chad Billingsley

If Myers pitches the way he did against the Brewers with CC Sabatia on the mound, it would be hard to go against him in this game. Myers pitched well against the Dodgers this season, including a strong seven inning outing at Citizens Bank Park on August 25. While Myers did give up nine hits in the game he was able to keep the Dodgers off the scoreboard en route to a win.

Billingsley took the loss in that particular outing. When Billingsley pitched down the stretch for the Dodgers though he won five of his last six games to close out the season.

Game Three
Jamie Moyer vs. Hiroki Kuroda

Moyer will without a doubt be ready for his second postseason outing and it will come in the pivotal game three when the series moves back to Los Angeles. After starting slow against the Brewers Moyer seemed to find his groove that he typically does find. Unfortunately for the Phillies it may have been too late in game three against the Brewers. Moyer recieved no help from his offense in that game but Moyer did keep the Phillies in the game.

Moyer is a savvy veteran. He will be ready to do what he needs to do against the Dodgers in game three. If the Dodgers can hold off on some of Moyer's pitches though he could get into some trouble.

Taking the mound for the Dodgers will be Hiroki Kuroda, who stiffled the Phillies in two games this year. In thirteen innings against the Phillies Kuroda allowed only two runs (one in each game). He also only issued two walks in that same work load. The Phillies will need to find a way to strike against Kuroda and get him out of the game as quickly as possible.

Every game of the NLCS will be broadcast on Fox. TBS will be airing every game in the American League Championship Series between the Boston Red Sox and the Tampa Bay Rays. Thursday night the NLCS will get centerfield, er center stage, all to itself as the ALCS starts up Friday night. Here is the schedule for the NLCS as it stands right now...

Game 1 - October 9 8:22pm (Phillies)
Game 2 - October 10 4:35pm (Phillies)
Game 3 - October 12 8:22pm (Dodgers)
Game 4 - October 13 8:22pm (Dodgers)
Game 5 - October 15 8:22pm (Dodgers)
Game 6 - October 17 8:22pm (Phillies)
Game 7 - October 18 8:22pm (Phillies)

By the way, why in the world would the NLCS start at 4:15pm on Friday (1:15pm on the all important west coast) when the NLCS actually has a west coast team and the ALCS has two teams on the east coast? Must be the whole "fair and balanced" system being employed.

On the Record

I correctly predicted that the Phillies would get past the Brewers in four games in my NLDS Preview. Let's see if I can keep the luck going in the NLCS. I will say that the Phillies win this series in six games.

Just eight wins away.

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