Phils, Dodgers capitalize on momentum
Late-season surges by both teams carry them into NLCS
The Los Angeles Dodgers and Philadelphia Phillies, who have both provided convincing testimony for the postseason adage that it isn't what you've done but when you did it, will brave each other's heat in the 2008 National League Championship Series.Momentum certainly wasn't upset in the Division Series. Only the NL-best Cubs were, by a misunderstood Dodgers team whose sweep ran its record to 16-8 since taking over the NL West lead on Sept. 6 and 22-8 over a longer stretch.
So forget all those cracks about the NL Worst Dodgers, No. 15 in your Major League composite standings with their final regular-season record of 84-78.The Phillies' 6-2 dismissal of Milwaukee in Sunday's Game 4 of their Division Series gave them 16 wins in their past 20 games. Although not considered the same shade of dark horse as the Dodgers, the Phils did not assume the NL East lead from the Mets for good until Sept. 19. This retro best-of-seven series kicks off Thursday night in Philadelphia, where October stud right-hander Derek Lowe will face left-hander Cole Hamels of the Phillies. The Dodgers, those West Coast rulers of the oppressed, now get to do it again. The Cubs naturally toted the baggage of not having won a World Series since 1908, but at least the franchise does have two championships to its credit (having also won in 1907). Well, the Phillies have belonged to the NL since 1883 and have precisely one World Series title, coming in 1980. Historically, then, the Phillies have been only half as accomplished as the Cubs, and the Dodgers get another chance to keep them in their place. It is an evenly matched pairing. Except for Manny Ramirez against the Phillies pitchers. The edge goes to the pitchers, just as you would expect.
Regular season by the numbers
Postseason by the numbers
Most relevant, all of those Dodgers-Phillies meetings -- in early and late August -- happened after Ramirez had already joined the Dodgers to transform their personality.That scheduling quirk will keep the Phillies from the complacency that may have conspired against the Cubs, who ran into a Los Angeles team vastly different than the one from which they had taken five of seven games in late May and early June.
Alluding to shortstop Rafael Furcal's return from injury as well as to Ramirez, Cubs manager Lou Piniella noted on his way back to Chicago, "All of a sudden, you're facing a different look than what you've seen this past summer from the Dodgers."Manuel also acknowledged the impact of Furcal, calling him the Dodgers' "Jimmy Rollins-type player." Even post-Manny, the Dodgers took a while to break loose from mediocrity. From the time he joined the lineup on Aug. 1, they closed 30-24, still tied for only the Majors' 10th best record over the last two months. "We had a lot of people doubting us all year," Dodgers manager Joe Torre said. "And we weren't resentful about it. It was just the fact we haven't really played well enough to get anybody's attention." They overcame that image problem after ending an eight-game losing streak -- which had begun with that sweep in Philadelphia -- on Aug. 30. Philadelphia hurlers have been exempt from Manny's reign of NL terror. Including a couple of Interleague run-ins while he was still with the Red Sox, Ramirez is batting .212 (7-for-33) against the Phillies and is 3-for-22, without an RBI, in six games in Citizens Bank Park. Lifetime, Ramirez is 5-for-27 (.185), with one home run, against Hamels and Brett Myers, Philadelphia's probable Game 2 starter. This will be an overdue reunion of constant LCS dance partners as the '70s dissolved into the '80s. The Dodgers scored copycat three-games-to-one wins over the Phillies in the 1977-78 NLCS, then still a five-game program, on their way to World Series dates with the New York Yankees. In 1983, the Phillies returned the favor, prevailing by the same 3-1 margin to qualify to meet, and lose to, the Orioles in the World Series. It was, of course, a different era in baseball, with more roster stability. Despite the seven seasons spanning those postseason showdowns, a sense of rivalry was cultivated by the common threads running through the teams. On the Dodgers side, catcher Steve Yeager, shortstop Bill Russell, left fielder Dusty Baker and right-handers Bob Welch and Burt Hooton were principals in all three series. Philadelphia constants included a pair of Hall of Famers -- third baseman Mike Schmidt and lefty Steve Carlton -- and shortstop Larry Bowa and outfielders Greg Luzinski and Garry Maddox. Now, they're ready to write new chapters, perhaps seven of them. Both are loaded up on the caliber of pitching that can dominate October nights, at both ends. While the Phillies were outscoring the Brewers 15-9, their quartet of starters (Hamels, Myers, Jamie Moyer and Joe Blanton) combined to allow five earned runs in 25 innings (1.80 ERA). The Dodgers were even more ruthless, holding the NL's top scoring team to six runs, three of them in 19 innings off the starting triumvirate of Lowe, Chad Billingsley and Hiroki Kuroda. And they were still holding back, at least according to Ramirez. "We don't want to peak too soon," he said. "The key is to go to the big dance." For now, both will go to the bigger dance, hoping to hog the floor from the other.
Tom Singer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.