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Philly2Philly NLCS Preview of the Phillies vs Dodgers

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For the second straight year, the Los Angeles Dodgers stand in the Phillies way of a trip to the World Series.

Let's break down the keys to the Phillies sending the Dodgers home again.

Cole Hamels MUST be the old Cole Hamels:

Simply put, Cole Hamels can set the tone for this entire series by throwing an absolute gem at Dodger Stadium tonight. Brad Lidge (knock wood) has shown "some" signs of getting his groove back, and now it's Hamels turn to do the same. We all know he's capable of it. Just watch the DVD's from last year's NLCS. It was a thing of beauty. No excuses now, Cole.  If he pitches like he did in the 2008 NLCS, you can pretty much chalk up two wins right there for the Phils.

Neutralize the big bats of the Dodgers:

You have to give credit to the Dodgers. This team could have crumbled amongst the media circus surrounding Manny Ramirez and his desperate attempt to start a family of his own (literally). However, the 50-game suspension of Ramirez allowed players like Matt Kemp, James Loney, and Andre Ethier the chance to forge their own identities. And that they did. All three represent the core of the Dodgers lineup and are extremely tough outs. Despite his fall from grace, Ramirez can still pop one out at any time, so he is not to be taken lightly. These guys make pitchers throw pitches, and this could be a potential nightmare for Phillies starters, who need to go into the latter innings of these games if they are going to win anything. You also have to keep an eye out for Rafael Furcal, but he is much less dangerous if you can quiet the meat of their order. Another key is how Charlie Manuel mixes and matches his starters against the Dodgers. Ethier and Loney are the only left handed bats in their lineup, but they are two of their three top RBI men (Kemp being second on the list). With Cole Hamels, Pedro Martinez, and Cliff Lee lined up as your probable starters for the first three games, it should be interesting to see if Manuel goes with J.A. Happ for game four, or right-hander Joe Blanton. It will probably depend on where the Phillies stand at that point in the series.

 

Attack the Dodgers' starting pitching. Score often and early:

Lefty Clayton Kershaw pitched very well against the Cardinals in the NLDS. It will be interesting to see how he follows up in the NLCS, especially with the Phillies left-handed trio of Chase Utley, Ryan Howard, and Raul Ibanez. Then there's Randy Wolf and Vicente Padilla (insert joke here). ANYONE who has watched the Phillies for the last decade knows for the most part what you are getting with these former Phils. Larry Bowa can't get away from these guys. Wolf had an ERA of 4.91 in the NLDS, but is also capable of throwing a one-hitter. Padilla has been an enigma throughout his entire career. He can either throw seven shutout innings like he did last week against the Cardinals, or get blown out like he did when the Phillies faced him last year while he was with Texas. If these guys dominate the Phillies, the team should be embarrassed. They will also be in serious trouble. Call me crazy, but the dark horse in the Dodgers rotation (concussion or not) is Hiroki Kuroda, whom the Phillies have NEVER been able to figure out. Overall, I do like the Phillies starters over any of the Dodgers starters. Now if we can just find a way to get Chad Billingsly back in there. In all seriousness, the Phils must score on these guys early if they stand a chance at beating them. This is a possibility because the Phillies are much more explosive on offense than the Dodgers are. You have to get to their bullpen early and beat up on them as well. The team has proven once again that they can win without the long ball.  Jimmy Rollins and Shane Victorino must be the table setters. The Phils bullpen is still a question mark, which is unfortunately not something you can say about the Dodgers. Joe Torre has to feel pretty good about Hong-Chih Kuo, George Sherrill (who I REALLY wanted the Phillies to pick up), and Jonathan Broxton because they are absolutely nasty. In other words, if you go toe to toe with the Dodgers bullpen, chances are you will lose.

 

Don't give a team four outs in an inning:

The Phillies only had 76 errors this season and the Dodgers had 83. So chances are you can expect a fundamentally sound series from a defensive standpoint. However, one error can change the outcome of a game or an entire season. As you may recall in last year's NLCS, multiple errors by Furcal led to several Phillies runs in the first and final game of the series. Although an error was charged to Jimmy Rollins on the "Dexter Fowler high jump debacle" Monday night, that was not a common play where one person remains necessarily accountable. In saying this, that "freak play" led to three Colorado Rockies crossing the plate. The Dodgers were victims of a Matt Holiday "gift" last week. It can happen.

Bull pen match-ups are crucial and lead off men MUST be kept off base late in the game:

Manuel will probably use match-ups in the latter innings of games due to the inconsistency of his bull pen. If Chan Ho Park returns effectively from his injury, Manuel can breathe a little easier. People don't realize the importance of Scott Eyre retiring Eric Young Jr. for the first out in the 9th inning Monday night. Young is one of the fastest runners in the game. In the playoffs, speed kills. The Dodgers have Juan Pierre off the bench for their speed. The Phillies have Cliff Lee...................

So there you have it. Truth be told, this series could go either way. If the Phillies starters can't keep the Dodgers' offense in check, they will be in trouble. All L.A. has to do is score enough runs to where they are winning after six innings. With the exception of Kuroda, I can't see the Phillies offense being shut down by Wolf and Padilla. If that is the case, tip your hat to the Dodgers.

As far as the mental edge goes, the Phillies have that swagger of those Yankees teams of the late 90's. That's what happens when you're playoff tested for the last three years. It can also help overcome obstacles such as shaky bullpen and a sometimes questionable closer. Expect this series to be talked about for years. It will be a see saw of wins, losses, and excitement that may possibly rival that of the 1980 NLCS between the Phillies and the Astros.

 

Prediction: Phillies in 6 if they get to the Dodgers starters

                  Dodgers in 7 if the Phillies bats are quieted