10/13/09 4:39 PM EST
LA feels better equipped for this NLCS
Home-field edge, pair of lefties can help neutralize Phils
By Ken Gurnick / MLB.com
In the rematch, the Dodgers have the home-field advantage, not the Phillies, starting with Thursday's Game 1 at 5:07 p.m. PT.
This time the Dodgers have 21-year-old Clayton Kershaw and former Phillie Randy Wolf in the rotation, left-handed answers to the potent left-handed bats of Philadelphia sluggers Ryan Howard and Chase Utley. Last year, Los Angeles started right-handed pitchers in all five games.
And this time, the Dodgers have the bitter reminder of losing in five games last year, their unfinished business made clear during a subdued celebration after advancing Saturday night.
The Dodgers never acted concerned during the week it took to nail down the NL West title, and now they can't even remember it. In fact, they've won their past five games.
"This is the way we're capable of playing," third baseman Casey Blake said Saturday. "It's nice to be catching fire at the right time."
Of course, that's what they thought when they came into last year's NLCS off a three-game sweep of the Cubs, so the momentum can change quickly.
"With Philly, they have a relentless lineup, and even though Cole Hamels isn't having a typical season, he can dominate," Wolf said. "Cliff Lee is a big acquisition, and going against lefties has been a little tough for us."
The Dodgers went 27-20 against left-handed starters this year, compared with 68-47 against right-handed starters. But they were only 10-10 against lefty starters after the All-Star break, and 29-25 against righty starters. Andre Ethier hit only .194 against lefties on the year, Manny Ramirez only .270.
The good news for the Dodgers on Lee is that he likely won't be starting until Game 3 on Sunday because he pitched Monday's NL Division Series clincher vs. the Rockies. The bad news is, he would be in line to pitch Game 7, if there is one.
In last year's NLCS, it was all about the pitching. Chad Billingsley lost two games with an ERA of 18.00, and that might be reason enough for him to be skipped. Derek Lowe also started twice, and he's already gone. Closer Jonathan Broxton allowed a tiebreaking home run to Matt Stairs as the Phillies won the swing game, Game 4, for a 3-1 lead in the series. The staff ERA in the series was 4.40.
Hiroki Kuroda got the other start and the only Dodgers win, but he still has to show his neck is healed from a herniated disk to return to the rotation. The Dodgers this time also have Vicente Padilla, playoff tested with a clinching win over the Cardinals in Game 3 of the NLDS now on his resume.
Offensively, Ramirez hit .533 against the Phillies with two homers and seven RBIs, and it's hard to expect that to happen again. Second on the RBI list in last year's series was infielder Blake DeWitt with five, even though he had only one hit, and he is not expected to even make the roster this time.
While individually it's not of the same magnitude of Lee's acquisition, the Dodgers believe in-season additions like Padilla, George Sherrill and Ronnie Belliard have deepened the roster in the rotation, the bullpen and the lineup.
The defending World Series champion Phillies consider themselves improved from last year, if that's possible, for no other reason than for outbidding the Dodgers to acquire Lee. He teams with Hamels to give the Phillies something on the order of St. Louis' top tandem of Chris Carpenter and Adam Wainwright.
Lee alone is probably reason the Phillies will be considered the favorite. But the Dodgers have become comfortable with the underdog role.
DODGERS VS. PHILLIESHow the Dodgers fared against the Phillies during the regular season:
- Won season series, 4-3
- Team batting average: .276
- Runs scored per game: 3.7
- Staff ERA: 3.14
- Outscored Phillies, 26-25
"We were supposed to be swept by the Cardinals," Wolf said. "If nobody picks us, that's fine."
The Dodgers won four of seven against Philadelphia in the regular season this year, going 2-2 at home and 2-1 on the road. A year ago in the regular season, the teams split eight games, the Dodgers winning all four at home and losing all four on the road.
The Dodgers have appeared in eight previous NLCS, four of them against the Phillies. They took best-of-five series in 1977 and 1978, lost a best-of-five in 1983 and lost last year's best-of-seven.
Manager Joe Torre believes the Dodgers are better equipped to succeed than last year.
"Yes I do, because of the experience of last year," he said. "Last year, it really was something thrust on us very quickly. Our goal coming in last year was to be six or seven over .500. These guys learned, and especially during Manny's absence, they can function. They are good players in their own right. Just getting to the postseason last year and beating the Cubs. And even getting beat [by the Phillies], there's still something to learn and something to take from that."
Ken Gurnick is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.