Around The Bases Vol XXI: National League Championship Series Preview

national_league_logo1This year’s National League Championship Series is a replay of last season’s: The Philadelphia Phillies vs. the Los Angeles Dodgers. The Dodgers of course, hope it’s not an exact replay, because last season, the Phillies beat them in five games.

It did not take very long for the Dodgers to dispatch the St. Louis Cardinals in the National League Divisional Series. Everyone on the planet expected the Cards to take care of the Dodgers, maybe even sweep them. The Dodgers shocked the baseball world by completely shutting down the Cardinals’ hitting and taking advantage of pitching mistakes, and being the ones doing the sweeping.

Dodgers’ pitchers held the Cardinals’ batters to a .262 average, with 1 HR and only 6 RBI over the 3 games. Matt Holliday was held to a .167 average with a solo HR. Albert Pujols went 3-for-10 (.300) with no homers and only 1 RBI. The Cardinals’ best hitter of the series was rookie Coby Rasmus (likely NL Rookie of the Year). Rasmus hit .444 (4-for-9) with 3 doubles and an RBI.

The Cardinal’s pitchers didn’t do any better. The three starters combined for an 0-2 record with a 4.76 ERA over the three games. The relievers were not bad, however. In 8.2 innings pitched, they only gave up 2 earned runs for a 2.08 ERA. Cy Young Award candidate Chris Carpenter got lit up in Game 1 for 4 runs on 8 hits and 4 walks for a 7.20 ERA. Cardinals’ other Cy Young candidate, Adam Wainwright, faired much better. He pitched a gem in Game 2. He only gave up 1 run on 3 hits over 8 innings. But closer Ryan Franklin couldn’t close the door and gave up 2 walks and 2 singles, with an error sandwiched in the middle, to blow the lead and the save for the Cardinals’ 2nd loss of the series.

The Dodgers, on the other hand, batted when they needed to and pitched much better than anyone expected. As a team, they batted .276. Both Andre Ethier and Rafael Furcal hit .500. Ethier, my series MVP, hit for the series cycle, if there is such a thing. He had a HR, a triple, 2 doubles, and 2 singles, 3 RBI, and 5 runs scored. Not a bad three game set.

Their starting pitching was very, very good. 1-0 with a 2.08 ERA over 17.1 innings pitched. They were anchored by Vincente Padilla, of all people. Padilla was completely given up on and outright released by the Rangers earlier this season. The Dodgers picked him up for nothing, and really made the most of it. Against the Cardinals, he pitched 7 strong shutout innings and only gave up 4 hits. He is the only NL starting pitcher with a 0.00 ERA so far in this post-season.

As expected, the Philadelphia Phillies had little problem with the Colorado Rockies. Well, they had some problems, but they were small and they were quickly overcome. Philadelphia outhit and outpitched the Rockies, and Colorado still came within an out of taking it to Game 5. But, with 2 outs in the top of the 9th inning of Game 4, Ryan Howard and then Jason Werth got a couple of clutch hits, scoring three runs and giving the Phillies a one-run lead that troubled closer Brad Lidge would not give up.

The Rockies hit .254 in the series, which is very misleading because LF Carlos Gonzalez hit a post-season (so far) high of .588 (10-for-17), and catcher Yorvit Torrealba hit .357 (5-for-14), but none of the rest of the starting lineup hit higher than .250, and most were much lower.

The Phillies, on the other hand, had 7 of 8 regular players in the lineup hit over .250, and 6 of them hit over .300. 2B Chase Utley hit .429 (6-for-14) with a solo HR. 1B Ryan Howard hit .375 with 3 doubles and 6 RBI.

Phillies’ pitching was good, doing what it had to do, when it had to do it. Newly anointed staff ace Cliff Lee was just that, the staff ace, as he started Games 1 and 4. He combined for a 1-0 record with a 1.10 ERA over 16.1 innings. He gave up 2 runs on 11 hits. Closer Brad Lidge showed signs of the brilliance he exhibited last season when he was a perfect 48 for 48. He appeared in 2 of the 4 games, pitching 1.1 innings. He gave up 2 walks, but no hits, and most importantly, no runs. So far, his 2009 post-season is perfect. 2 saves in 2 opportunities.

The Rockies’ pitching was as bad as Philadelphia’s was good. Colorado ace, Ubaldo Jimenez, couldn’t get anything going. In 2 games, he gave up 7 runs on 15 hits over 12 innings for a 5.25 ERA and 1 of the 3 Colorado losses. The other 2 losses were both picked up by closer Huston Street. He lost Game 3 when he gave up a sacrifice fly to Ryan Howard, allowing Jimmy Rollins to score. He lost Game 4 on the aforementioned hits to Howard and Werth, sending Colorado home for the winter and sending Philadelphia onward to LA.

The NLCS starts tonight in Los Angeles. The Phillies will start Cole Hamels against the Dodgers’ Clayton Kershaw.

In Hamels last five starts against the Dodgers, going back to last season (including the 2008 NLCS), he is 4-0 with a 1.46 ERA. Matt Kemp is 4-for-12 (.333) against him with a double and Ronnie Belliard is 7-for-26 (.269) with 2 HR. Hamels has handled the rest of the Dodgers lineup pretty handily over the past couple of years. He owned them in the NLSC last year, going 2-0 with a 1.93 ERA and earning MVP honors.

Clayton Kershaw, the young Dodgers hurler, went 8-8 with a 2.79 ERA this season. In two games against the Phillies this season, he went 0-2 with a 5.23 ERA. Raul Ibanez has hit him for 2 doubles in 5 at bats (.400) and 2 RBI, but both slugger Ryan Howard and hitter Shane Victorino have both only hit .125 against him. In last season’s NLCS, Kershaw pitched 2.0 innings in short relief and gave up 1 run.

In Game 2, the Phillies will send out Pedro Martinez and the Dodgers will send out Vincente Padilla. Ironically, Martinez is a former Dodger while Padilla is a former Phillie. Martinez hasn’t pitched in about two weeks, and fortunately he missed his last start against Colorado, which would have been brutal on his sore neck and shoulder.

In his short season, Martinez is 5-1 with a 3.63 ERA. He has never faced the Dodgers, but he has faced some of their current players. Combined, the current Dodger staff is batting .223 against Pedro. Jim Thome is a dismal 6-for-35 (.171) against him with 14 strikeouts, but 3 of those 6 hits are homers. And Manny Ramirez is only 5-for-30 (.167) against Pedro with no homers and 2 doubles, but 13 punchouts.

The Dodgers will counter in Game 2 with Padilla. Padilla has not had a great season. After an erratic 8-6 (4.92 ERA) record with the Texas Rangers, they unceremoniously dropped him. The Dodgers picked him up for the stretch run and the post season and he has paid off in a big way. Since coming to the team, he has only gone undefeated (3.20 ERA) going 4-0 in 8 appearances.

Padilla has faced the Phillies once, last season. He gave up 7 runs on 7 hits over 6 innings pitched. He has faced several of the current roster, however, and combined they are batting .286 against him. Ryan Howard is 1-for-2 with a HR, and Raul Ibanez is 9-for-28 (.321) with 2 HR and 4 RBI.

On the batter’s side, the Dodger’s certainly have Ryan Howard’s number. Coming into this series, he is batting .190 against them in his career. This is the worst batting average he has against any NL team. Jimmy Rollins also has not hit well against the Dodgers. His .232 average against them throughout his career ties them with the Chicago Cubs for the team he has hit the worst against. Chase Utley, however, has done fairly well against them, batting .304. And he particularly likes Chavez Ravine, where he’s batted .354 over his career.

Anytime you talk about the Dodgers’ hitting, you have to start the conversation with Manny. He destroyed the Phillies’ pitching in last season’s LCS, hitting .533 with 2 HR, 2 doubles, and 8 RBI. He hasn’t faced the Phillies since, but they know he can do serious damage anytime he has a bat in his hand. The other guy they have to keep their eye on is Andre Ethier. He only batted .232 in last season’s NLCS, but has hit .275 against them this year, and he is on fire right now.

The number one key to the Phillies winning this series is Brad Lidge. They can and will take several of these games into the 9th inning with a lead. The question is, will he be able to hold on to it for the save. He was pure money last season. This season he led the majors in blown saves with 11. If he can hold the lead the team gives him, they will be in great shape.

The key to the Dodgers having a shot at winning this series is their bench. It is very deep, and it is very good. They have power with Jim Thome, they have speed with Orlando Hudson and Juan Pierre, and they have key hitting with Pierre, Mark Loretta (walk off pinch hit to win Game 2 against Cardinals), and Ronnie Belliard.

Game 1: Thu Oct 15, 8:07pm
Game 2: Fri Oct 16, 4:07pm
Game 3: Sun Oct 18, 8:07pm
Game 4: Mon Oct 19, 8:07pm
Game 5: Wed Oct 21, 8:07pm
Game 6: Fri Oct 23, 8:07pm
Game 7: Sat Oct 24, 8:07pm

Let’s make this interactive. Who do you like?? Drop me a line at and let me know who you think will win and what you think the keys to the series will be.