Posted on 15 October 2009.
UNITED STATES – A pair of familar foes will clash when the National League Championship Series begins Thursday at Dodger Stadium. For the second straight year, the Philadelphia Phillies and the Los Angeles Dodgers will tangle for a spot in the World Series.
Joe Torre and the Dodgers swept the favored St. Louis Cardinals in the first round, and took the season series against the defending MLB champion, 4-3. But, Charlie Manuel and the Phillies ousted the upstart Colorado Rockies and will arrive in Los Angeles oozing confidence.
LOS ANGELES PITCHING
The Dodgers do not possess a “true” staff ace and will rely on a bevy of arms to reach the pinnacle of the Major Leagues. Chad Billingsley led the team with 12 wins but has regressed this season opening the door for Randy Wolf (11-7), Clayton Kershaw (8-8), and Texas reject Vincente Padilla (4-0).
Also, look for opening day starter Hiroki Kuroda to return from a herniated disc in his neck. The right-hander beat the Phillies in last year’s playoffs, and posted wins in three of his final four starts.
The strength of the pitching corps is a deep bullpen that shined against the Cardinals in the opening round. Closer Jonathan Broxton (7-2) notched 36 saves during the regular season, and appeared in all three wins over St. Louis. Other key relievers includes George Sherrill and Jeff Weaver.
The Dodgers limited the big bats of the Phillies to a paltry .214 batting average in seven regular season games.
The Phillies solidifed their status as serious contenders to reach a second consecutive World Series with the addition of former Cy Young winner Cliff Lee (7-4). Another talented left-hander, Cole Hamels (10-11), has struggled mightily this season after a brilliant 2008 postseason. If Philadelphia is to return to the October Classic, Hamels must regain the form that made him the NLCS and World Series MVP a year ago.
J.A. Happ, who went 12-4 with a 2.93 ERA in 23 starts is expected to complete an all-southpaw pitching lineup against the Dodgers. The bullpen suffered a major blow with the loss of J.C. Romero to injury, but closer Brad Lidge (0-8, 7.21) looked good in the finale against the Rockies after a horrible season.
The Phillies had a 3.12 ERA against the Dodgers. Hamels threw a five-hit shutout in a 3-0 victory on June 4 but Lidge blew back-to-back save opportunities in a pair of one-run losses the next two days.
LOS ANGELES HITTING
Manny Ramirez was the fuel that ignited the Dodgers’ lineup a year ago, and he might reprise that role again in the NLCS. However, young sluggers Matt Kemp and Andre Ethier are budding stars instead of talented prospects.
Kemp, who struggled down the stretch and hit just .143 (2-for-14) against the Cardinals, batted .297 with 26 homers and 101 RBIs. Ethier, who has a flair for walk-off hits, was 6-for-12 in the NLDS with five extra-base hits. During the regular season, the sweet-swinging lefty went deep 31 times and drove in 106 runs.
But let’s not forget Manny. The ultra-talented but moody superstar hit .290 with 19 homers and 63 RBIs, and although he was suspended for 50 games, his 71 walks was second to only Either, who reached base 72 times via a free pass.
However, if the Dodgers are going to advance to the World Series, hitters like Russell Martin, Rafael Furcal, Casey Blake and James Loney must deliver some clutch at-bats.
The Phillies led the National League in scoring, and produced the most home runs (224) and extra-base hits (571) in franchise history. The quartet of 30-homer sluggers (Ryan Howard, Raul Ibanez, Chase Utley, and Jayson Werth) makes this a dangerous group to face.
Six players, led by Utley’s .429 average, hit .300 and higher against St. Louis and their twin Cy Young candidates. Howard once again put up mammoth numbers during the regular season with 45 homers and 141 RBIs.
Jimmie Rollins, who finished third on the squad with 168 hits while batting just .250, will be looking to re-establish himself as one of the game’s premier players after an “ordinary regular campaign.
OUTLOOK: The Phillies’ bullpen and the Dodgers’ starters will be the focus of this series, but the potential of some offensive fireworks bodes well for the reigning champion. Los Angeles must keep the game close and win it with late heroics against Lidge and Co. On the other hand, Philadelphia can pound the ball or rely on superior starting pitcher to win games. The dream of a freeway series is just that.
PREDICTION: Phillies win series in five games.
Coming Friday – American League Championship Preview
Marvin Moore is a former European coach and the Managing Editor at BaseballdeWorld.