10/08/08 4:24 PM ET
LA must neutralize Philly's home edge
Dodgers' pitching will try to shut down Phillies' potent bats
By Mike Bauman / MLB.com
The Dodgers' side of the argument in the National League Championship Series has more to do with timing than location. The Dodgers swept the Cubs, the club with the NL's best regular-season record, in a Division Series. The Dodgers, despite their unimposing 84-78 record, gave every indication of being a team peaking at exactly the right time.
Still, the venues for this series are strikingly different. So are the ballpark atmospheres. And so were the results in the regular season. The Dodgers swept a four-game series from the Phillies at Dodger Stadium. The Phillies swept a four-game series from the Dodgers at Citizens Bank Park. The home-field advantage doesn't get more pronounced than that.
Dodger Stadium is pitcher-friendly. Citizens Bank Park is hitter-friendly. These ballparks seem to be tailored to the respective strengths of the teams. The Dodgers led the National League in team earned run average. The Phillies led the league in home runs.
The intangibles are different, too, as varied as the differences between the East Coast and the West Coast. The Philadelphia audience is typically among the most passionate in the game, in directions both positive and negative. The Los Angeles crowd with its intensity for the clinching Game 3 of the Division Series defeated the laid-back SoCal stereotype. But it's still not the same thing.
Cole Hamels, the Phillies' starter for Game 1 on Thursday night, is a Southern California native. He's looked at both sides now. There were, he said on Wednesday before the Phillies' workout, more diverse activities to occupy one's time on the West Coast. But, he said, fan intensity at baseball games wasn't close.
|The Phillies earned the right to host four NLCS games to the Dodgers' three, but will home-field advantage carry Philly to the World Series?|
|Stadium:||Dodger Stadium||Citizens Bank Park|
|Home Win %:||.593||.593|
|Road Win %:||.444||.543|
"On the West Coast, I think when I went to the games we arrived at the third inning and left by the eighth," Hamels said. "You had to wake up the next morning to see if the team won, versus the East Coast, they're here. They'll be [here] after the game cheering you on. I think that's been great for what I've experienced and great for a player. And that's something you want to play in front of.
"So it's just something where I love the West Coast, don't get me wrong," Hamels added with a smile. "I hope they don't kill me now. They're never going to invite me back. It's just something that the East Coast, they're more passionate and more involved, and I think that just brings the love of the game a little bit more."
The Philly fans are nothing less than legendary. "They're very boisterous," said Larry Bowa, now the Dodgers' third-base coach, but a shortstop on the 1980 Philadelphia World Series championship team and later a manager for the Phillies. "They let you know when you're not doing well, but they also let you know when you're doing things right.
"They're not front-runners; they come out. They come out and support their team. Watching the playoffs against Milwaukee, it was quite a sight. And I told our guys if they thought Chicago was bad, they're in for a rude awakening, because it's not even close."
So when the Phillies talk about having a genuine home-field advantage, they're not just paying lip service to the concept.
"I think a home-field advantage becomes an advantage to us in two ways," said Phillies manager Charlie Manuel. "I think our fans, I think it's very noisy. I think our players, they like to play for our fans, especially when all the energy is in the ballpark. I think that definitely plays a part in it.
"And the fact that we would have four games here, if it happens to go to seven games. I think that definitely helps us. I think you're going to see two very balanced teams. And I don't see no reason why we can't be the winners, though."
The Phillies' home-road split was only marginally different this season, 48-33 to 44-37. But there is no doubt that Citizens Bank Park's cozy dimensions are ideal for the Phillies' explosive offense.
This advantage, of course, could be neutralized with the kind of pitching that the Dodgers produced against the Cubs. They held the highest scoring offense in the National League to a total of six runs.
The history of the postseason is a history of superior pitching defeating even the best of lineups. This would be the Dodgers' hope at Citizens Bank Park. It was more than a hope against the Cubs at Wrigley Field.
"We know they're a good team," Dodgers manager Joe Torre said of the Phillies. "They're dangerous. They're big-inning guys. And it all comes down to being able to pitch.
"That's controlling the game, and that's what we need to do. And when we've had success this year, just like the last series, we pitched really well."
This task on Thursday night is in the hands of Derek Lowe, who set the tone in the opener of the Division Series, limiting the Cubs to two runs over six innings. In some ways, as Lowe indicated on Wednesday, this is a tougher assignment because the Phillies have more dangerous left-handed hitters than the predominantly right-handed Cubs.
But this still comes down to the Dodgers needing to win at least one game on the road. And that probably means a Dodgers starter controlling the explosive Philadelphia lineup. Lowe was 3-0 for the Red Sox in the 2004 postseason when Boston staged its historical breakthrough to a championship, so he has sufficient background in this line of work.
"It's a tough place to play, no doubt about it," Lowe said of Citizens Bank Park. "The crowds here, every time we come, have been fantastic. But you're going to have to win on the road to win this thing. And so it's definitely going to be a challenge. But I've always said this time of the year should be a challenge.
"But if you go into a game worrying about elements that you can't control, you're setting yourself up for a negative mind-set already. I think everybody knows that this is a notoriously hitter-friendly park, but there's been a lot of good games pitched here, too. I think both teams have the ability to hit home runs and both teams have good enough pitching to shut it down.
"I think the only difference is maybe in this park you can't get away with maybe as many mistakes. But again, for me to come in this park worrying about the dimensions, you know, pretty much sets me up to fail."
The home-field advantage, both on the NLCS schedule and intangibly, does go to the Phillies. For the Dodgers to take that away and make themselves a World Series team, they're going to require the time-tested October formula for victory -- terrific pitching, especially on the road.
Mike Bauman is a national columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.