NLCS Preview

Tonight in Chavez Ravine two familiar foes get ready to battle it out for the National League’s ultimate prize, a trip to the World Series.  Last year the Philadelphia Phillies and Los Angeles Dodgers  met in the National League Championship Series with the Phillies emerging victorious in five games.

In last years series Cole Hamels and the Phillies pitching staff shut down the Dodgers en route to eventually winning the World Series.  This year the Dodgers pitching staff will have to be up to the task in order to reverse the results.

This years Dodger lineup is very balanced with Matt Kemp, Manny Ramirez and Andre Ethier amongst the many who can beat you on any given night.  For the Dodgers to greatly increase their chances of victory, they’ll need lead off man Rafael Furcal to continue to get on base as well as RBI’s from the bat of first baseman James Loney.  Philadelphia has a very potent lineup of their own lead by slugger Ryan Howard who smacked 45 home runs and drove in 145 runs.  Providing a strong supporting cast for Howard are Chase Utley, Jayson Werth and Raul Ibanez who each topped the 30 home run mark.   The key for the Phillies offense will be the production of former NL MVP Jimmy Rollins and Shane Victorino.  Victorino was a big key to the Phillies success last year against the Dodgers. 

Los Angeles topped the NL in batting average with a .270 mark while Philadelphia finished .258 which was good enough for eighth in the league.  This tells me that Philadelphia is a very streaky team that could run into trouble at any given time.  Because of their balance one through nine I give the offensive advantage to the Dodgers. 

Pitching wise Philadelphia tends to have the better arms on paper led by former AL Cy Young award winner Cliff Lee.  Lee is 7-4 with a 3.38 ERA since coming over from Cleveland in July.  The key to the Philadelphia staff is Hamels who has been less than impressive all-year long.  If he can recapture any of the form that made him so effective in last years postseason, the Dodgers are in for a long series.  Joe Blanton had a good second half of the season while J.A. Happ has emerged from the shadows to finish his first full big league season with a 12-4 record to go along with a 2.93 ERA. 

The Dodgers pitching has been a question mark all season with Chad Billingsley and Clayton Kershaw both performing below expectations at times during the season.  However Kershaw has heated up as of late.  His performance in Game two of the NLDS was a huge key to the Dodgers eliminating the Cardinals.  Randy Wolf emerged as the unexpected “ace” down the stretch providing a steady hand when the team has needed it most.  I look for him to do the same this series.  I give the slight pitching advantage to Philadelphia.

As for relief pitchers, the Dodgers acquisition of George Sherrill from Baltimore  at the trade deadline has provided their bullpen with great depth and gives them a great 1-2 punch in the eighth and ninth innings.  Ryan Madson has been solid for Philadelphia all season long with a 3.26 ERA while Brad Lidge has been shaky to say the least.  Because of the inconsistency of Lidge I will give the advantage to the Dodgers.

As for the benches, the Dodgers are loaded with guys like Juan Pierre, Orlando Hudson, Mark Loretta, Juan Castro.  All of these guys are capable of providing production in the late innings or starting games without the Dodgers skipping a beat.  Pierre was a huge reason for the Dodgers success while Ramirez was serving his 50 game suspension.  He completely changes the Dodgers dynamic by providing them with a second lead off man who can steal bases.  Loretta provided the game winning hit in game two of the NLDS.  Let us also not forget about Jim Thome who has 564 career home runs and is capable of breaking out of his pinch hitting slump at any moment.  The Phillies still have last years Dodger killer Matt Stairs as their primary pinch hitter who lead the majors this year with five pinch hit home runs.  Accompanying Stairs off the bench is fourth outfielder Ben Francisco who hit .278 after arriving in Philadelphia in the July Cliff Lee trade.  Due to sheer volume of solid bench guys, I give the advantage to the Dodgers.

My prediction:  Dodgers in six games

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