Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Phillies-Dodgers NLCS Preview

A rematch from a year ago as the Dodgers and Phillies get ready to do battle again. The Dodgers were the surprise of the Division Series by sweeping aside the Cardinals, with the help of a misplayed fly ball that hit Matt Holliday in the groin. The Phillies essentially took care of business against the Rockies and came through in clutch situations the way this team tends to always do. Now we have the first rematch in an NLCS since 2005 Cards-Astros. Here's the matchup:

1B: Ryan Howard vs. James Loney- Both men had major roles in comeback wins during their division series. Loney reached on Holliday's error, while Howard hit the double off Huston Street in Game 4 to tie the game, not to mention his sac fly to put Philly in front in Game 3. We know the story about Ryan Howard, who can change any game with one swing, but can strikeout easily. Loney is a solid ballplayer who can hit a homer sometimes, but he's no threat like Howard is. Advantage Phillies

2B: Chase Utley vs. Ronnie Belliard- All of a sudden, Belliard has become Joe Torre's choice at second base. It doesn't matter if it's him or Orlando Hudson, Chase Utley is better. Best second baseman in the National League who hits well, plays defense and is clutch like the rest of this team. Advantage Phillies

SS: Jimmy Rollins vs. Rafael Furcal- Furcal had a tremendous series against St. Louis, hitting .500 with a couple RBI's and two runs scored. Rollins had more of a pedestrian series only hitting .263, but four of his five hits came in the 7th inning or later. Both men are table setters for their ball club and difficult to beat when they are on their games. Even

3B: Pedro Feliz vs. Casey Blake- This matchup isn't the highest profile but each player are better than their numbers indicate. The only difference I can make is that Feliz is more likely to slump than Blake. Advantage Dodgers

LF: Raul Ibanez vs. Manny Ramirez- Ibanez has had a great season for the Phillies, while Ramirez had a down year. Ibanez had the same average in his series as Manny did in his, while driving in more runs and reaching base more times. However, when Ryan Howard was on second and Jayson Werth was at the plate in a 4-4 tie in Game 4, I thought the Rockies should have walked him to face Ibanez. I would have never considered such a thing for Manny Ramirez. Nuff said. Advantage Dodgers

CF: Shane Victorino vs. Matt Kemp- Here's one of those matchups of do you want the four tool player or the player who comes up big when the situations are big. However, Kemp is capable of being just as clutch as Victorino while Victorino just can't change the facets of his game to be like Kemp. Either guy can hit for average, can play good defense and run the bases (Shane's a little better) but the power threat of Kemp is important, especially in a series which the Phillies will start a lefty as much as five times. Advantage Dodgers

RF: Jayson Werth vs. Andre Ethier- This is a very interesting battle because the Dodgers have already decided an answer for them. Ethier essentially replaced Werth (and J.D. Drew) and has lived up to that promise, while Werth has bounced back now with the Phillies and has become this decades Paul O'Neill. I had every confidence in Werth driving in Howard in Game 4 Monday night because I knew he would try to get the hit. Ethier has shown his own clutchness this season as Mr. Walkoff, ending the year with six walkoff hits. It's hard to pick either guy, so I won't. Even

Catcher: Carlos Ruiz vs. Russell Martin- Martin has had a tough season and his struggles continued into the Division Series as he hit .111. Ruiz, on the other hand, continues to be the modern-day Pat Borders; poor to average hitting in the season, and a .300 postseason hitter. To be fair, Martin has more potential and more talent than Ruiz. Unfortunately, we're not seeing it right now. Advantage Phillies

Starting Pitching: The Phillies will go as far as Cliff Lee and Cole Hamels go. Lee was brilliant in the first round, while Hamels struggled, but to be fair, his wife was about to give birth to their first-born. (I just found out his wife is Heidi from Survivor, who posed in Playboy and said this in the offseason. Wow.) The Phillies will have Pedro Martinez in Game 2, which isn't terrible since it's in warm LA and a pitchers park instead of cold rainy Philly and a bandbox. More than likely, J.A. Happ will pitch Game 4. The Dodgers have Clayton Kershaw for Game 1 and bring back Hiroki Kuroda for Game 3, with former Phillie Vicente Padilla in between and Randy Wolf greeting the old Wolfpack in Game 4. At each teams best, the Phillies have the better starters but it will come down to who's been pitching well. Despite some struggles, I still believe the Phillies starters will come through and Hamels performance a year ago will prove helpful. Advantage Phillies

Bullpen: While the starters are a Philly strength, the relievers aren't. However, they escaped the Division Series with Brad Lidge getting a couple of saves and starting to gain some confidence. Of course, the Dodgers have the best bullpen in the National League. Jonathan Broxton just deals heat and guys like George Sherrill and even Jeff Weaver have pitched well. The only bullpen question is how will Joe Torre handle them, but I have confidence in Broxton to get the job done when he needs to. Advantage Dodgers

Bench: Both teams have great benches, the two best in baseball. The Dodgers have been using Orlando Hudson, Juan Pierre, Jim Thome, and Mark Loretta in key situations and I know Thome is due to blast one for them. The Phillies have Matt Stairs, Miguel Cairo, Greg Dobbs and Ben Francisco ready to play and Francisco was key in Game 4 with his one out catch on the Troy Tulowitzki flare. Even

Manager: Charlie Manuel vs. Joe Torre- Another too close to call matchup because both have teams in their own image. Manuel's teams mash the ball, Torre's teams calmly win baseball games. Both teams never give up in games and believe they can win each and every night. Even

Intangibles: Both teams, like I've said many times before, are comeback teams who aren't dead when you think they are. The one difference I can say though is last year is something the Phillies can harp on for this series, but this Dodger team won't fall victim to that. Even

The Phillies will win if: Lidge remains in postseason form; Hamels pitches better now that he has a son; Lee maintains his hot pace; Pedro gives them 5, 6 innings in his start(s); the lineup continues to hit; Manny struggle continue; Torre makes a major gaffe in decision-making.

The Dodgers will win if: They match or exceed the starting pitching of the Phillies like against the Cards; the Dodgers bullpen remains lights out while Lidge and Co. have blowups; Dodgers lineup hits strong and not the Phillies; Torre can make moves like he did in the 90s.

Prediction: Phillies in 6; NLCS MVP: Jayson Werth

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