Dodgers, Phillies continue postseason rivalry
The NL's best team in the regular season crossing swords with the reigning champs? Sounds like a worthy series to us.
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Here's how things figure to unfold, as the Phillies and Dodgers meet in the NLCS for the fifth time ...
This season, the Phillies paced the NL in runs scored, and the Dodgers finished a respectable fourth. Of course, given the different tendencies of their home parks, raw unadjusted numbers won't do. On the road — more of a neutral context, obviously — the Dodgers outscored the Phils by a narrow margin of 415 to 412. In terms of park-adjusted OPS (on-base percentage plus slugging percentage), the Phillies check in at 8 percent better than the league average, while the Dodgers are 6 percent better than the mean. All of this is to say: What's commonly regarded as a big edge for the Phillies really isn't.
The Dodgers will probably arrange their rotation like this:
Randy Wolf, Clayton Kershaw, Vicente Padilla, Chad Billingsley
And the Phils may counter with:
Cole Hamels, J.A. Happ/Pedro Martinez, Cliff Lee, Joe Blanton/Martinez
Because Philly's series with Colorado went four games, they were forced to start Lee on Monday night. That means Lee won't be available on full rest until Game 3, and that means despite an accommodating schedule (see below), Lee won't be able to make more than two starts in this series. The Dodgers won't mind.
Also, as you probably noticed, lefties abound. With that in mind, some numbers ...
The Philly attack doesn't particularly care what hand you throw with, but the Dodgers have been significantly — albeit not staggeringly — more effective against left-handers. So does Charlie Manuel attempt to blunt that advantage by dispatching Happ to the pen and rounding out his rotation with Martinez and Blanton, right-handers both? Given the above numbers, that's a defensible strategy.
Also, like the ALCS, the NLCS will have three off days built in. That means the Dodgers and Phillies will have the option of starting their Game 1 hurler — probably Wolf in L.A.'s case, Hamels in Philly's — three times in a seven-game series (on short rest in Game 4 and on full rest in Game 7). Since L.A.'s rotation is more deep than top-heavy, they're less likely to take such an approach. The same goes for Philly should Manuel decide to use both of his right-handers. It remains an option, though.
Another key might be the fully rested Billingsley. Whether because of fatigue or some other factor, Billingsley's numbers declined badly in the second half. However, if he goes in Game 4, then he'll be pitching on 19 days' rest. Perhaps such a layoff leads to rust or perhaps it rejuvenates the young right-hander.
As advantages go, it's a difficult call. How does Billingsley respond to all that rest? Can Padilla continue defying expectations? How will Manuel flesh out the rotation behind Hamels? Speaking of Hamels, which version — dominant or middling — will show up? It's a stew of x-factors, contingencies and hypotheticals. All things considered, give a narrow edge to the Dodgers.
Here's an obvious advantage for L.A. The Dodgers had the best bullpen in baseball during the regular season, and that bullpen acquitted itself quite nicely in the NLDS against St. Louis. Jonathan Broxton is a shutdown closer, lefty George Sherrill has a 0.65 ERA as a National Leaguer, Ramon Troncoso is a groundball machine, Hong-Chih Kuo has been dominant since returning from injury, and Ronald Belisario has been one of the most effective right-handed setup men around. Oh, and there's more where that came from.