10/22/09 2:15 AM ET
Dodgers tip cap to NL champions
Missed opportunities were costly against Phillies
By Matthew Leach / MLB.com
And despite a sound 10-4 beating in Game 5 of the National League Championship Series, as well as an identical series score to last year's disappointment, the Dodgers felt they were closer than a year ago to winning their first pennant in 21 years. They like their squad; they're just forced to admire a Phillies team that for now is the standard in the NL.
"They're a good team over there," said third baseman Casey Blake. "We got beat by a really good team. They were probably better than us this week. It's tough to swallow, but we got beat. I don't think we beat ourselves. We weren't clicking on all cylinders this week, I don't think. It would have been interesting to see what would have happened if we had."
Even in defeat, the Dodgers laid out something of a blueprint for whichever team emerges from the American League Championship Series. It won't be easy to dethrone the reigning World Series champs, but a few things stand out.
It certainly begins with containing their offense, something the Dodgers did not do nearly enough. Los Angeles pitchers allowed 23 walks, five hit batters and 10 home runs in five games. Sometimes a team can get away with issuing walks, or with giving up home runs. Doing both -- especially in the same inning -- leads to disaster.
"Singles and doubles can plate one or two runs, but one swing of the bat, when it puts three on the board, it's tough to overcome that," outfielder Andre Ethier said. "They did a great job of getting runners on base, and when they had runners on base, they picked them up. I don't think we did a good enough job of getting runners on base, but when we did have them, we didn't do a good enough job of getting them to the plate."
That brings up another issue: The Dodgers went 7-for-36 with runners in scoring position. With the exception of Cliff Lee, most of the Phillies pitchers are not dominating. They will allow baserunners. When that happens, the opponent must convert.
The same holds true on a broader level. The Phillies' bullpen delivered wins when it had the chance, for the most part, in the NLCS. But it wasn't bulletproof. Philadelphia relievers allowed eight walks against 11 strikeouts in 13 1/3 innings in the series. The Yankees or Angels will likely have chances to do damage, especially if they can chase the Phillies starters early. They'll have to convert when they get those chances.
And then there's the ballpark. The Phillies' regular-season home record this year was a deceptively uninspiring 45-36, following an early-season slump at home. But Citizens Bank Park is a very tough place to play, and a very tough place to contain the Phillies' lineup. The American League champ will get the first two games at home, and it would be well-served to win them both.
Even a split in the first two games -- as happened in the NLCS -- puts the Phillies in great position. They've won 11 of their last 12 home playoff games, so they have every possibility of running off three straight and never letting the series get to a sixth game.
Just ask the Dodgers. They saw it first-hand.
"We're good enough to get to the next round, and whoever we would have faced in the World Series, definitely compete at that level," said Matt Kemp. "We have everything it took: good bullpen, good starting pitching, good hitters. We just didn't put it all together at the right time. We played them good during the season. We beat them I think more times than they beat us. They just beat us at the right time. They're just better than us right now."
Matthew Leach is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.