Spin Forward: LA, Philly eye Game 5
With plenty at stake, neither club looking past next matchup
LOS ANGELES -- It's not a matter of momentum. It's a simple question of winning a game. Then you move on to the next game.
That's what the Dodgers must do in order to win the National League Championship Series, in which they currently trail, three games to one. They need to win on Wednesday.
"We win tomorrow, that would be the start," manager Joe Torre said on Tuesday.
The fact is, there's nothing inherent in a 3-1 series deficit that makes it harder to win three games in a row. It's just that winning three games in a row is a difficult thing. In the history of the baseball postseason, 70 teams have found themselves in 3-1 holes. Ten of them have come back to win the series, which actually means the odds aren't as bad as you might think. That's better odds than winning three straight coin flips.
But at the risk of extreme redundancy, it starts on Wednesday. Los Angeles faces a tough task in trying to beat the Phillies' best pitcher, Cole Hamels. They counter, however, with their own best starter, Chad Billingsley. The young righty struggled in Game 2, but over the course of the season, he was one of the 10 best pitchers in the National League.
There's an interesting parallel for such a matchup in the very recent past. In 2003, the Marlins trailed the Cubs, 3-1, in the NLCS. They sent emerging ace Josh Beckett to the hill in Game 5, five days after he stumbled badly in Game 1. The Cubs, meanwhile, had their rotation set up just as they wanted, with Carlos Zambrano, Mark Prior and Kerry Wood set for Games 5-7.
Beckett was brilliant in Game 5, though, and you probably know about Games 6 and 7 at Wrigley Field. It starts with one big game from one starting pitcher, and the Dodgers are at least in position to get that.
"He's pitched a lot of important games this year," Torre said. "I think the most important thing, and hopefully he can get himself in that frame of mind, is that you still remind yourself this is still a baseball game and you can only win one game right now and that's the game you're pitching."
|The Dodgers have a 3-1 hill to climb, but it has been done before. Here are the 10 teams that have come back from a 3-1 series deficit to win a best-of-seven series, including five that closed out the series on the road:|
|* Won final two on the road.|
Even more recent history, moreover, suggests that Billingsley has what it takes to rebound from an ugly outing. Four times this season, he allowed as many runs in a start as he had innings pitched. Each time, he was magnificent in the ensuing game. Over the four bounce-back starts combined, Billingsley went 3-1 with a 1.44 ERA, 31 strikeouts and eight walks in 25 innings.
Winning the Hamels-Billingsley matchup is critical not only for the obvious reasons -- if they don't, the Dodgers are done -- but because if they do, the odds get better going forward. Los Angeles will hold the starting pitching advantage in Game 6 and Game 7, if the series continues.
L.A. would send Hiroki Kuroda against the unpredictable Brett Myers in a sixth game. And while Derek Lowe would pitch on full rest in a Game 7, it's not even clear who would get the ball for Philly in a deciding game. It might be Jamie Moyer, it might be Joe Blanton. The Phils might even have to consider using Hamels on short rest.
In any such scenario, the visitors would have the starting pitching advantage. Home-field would blunt some of that edge, but it's still significant. If the Dodgers win Game 5, this is a much different series.
"When we come to the ballpark tomorrow," Phillies manager Charlie Manuel said on Tuesday. "We come to win that game. And like I said last night, last night's game was the biggest game, and tomorrow's going to be the biggest. And they keep getting bigger until somebody tells you to go home or you win something."
Matthew Leach is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.