Why the Phillies will beat the Dodgers

It’s been awhile.

The Dodgers haven’t sniffed an NLCS since 1988—the Phillies were last in back in 1993.

It should be a good series, but I think we’re going to see the City of Brotherly Love not treat the Dodgers with anything resembling filial kindness. As per usual, I have Crashburn Alley‘s and Baseball Digest Daily’s Bill Baer riding shotgun as we discuss why Manny being Manny will get a head start on Manny being Yankee.

But I digress (even when in the company of the long suffering and disturbingly leggy Baer—get ‘im while he’s hot ladies.).

Q: O.K. Bill, what’s your initial take?

Bill: The Los Angeles Dodgers looked simply flawless in dismantling a very good (and apparently choke-tastic, if you listen to the media) Chicago Cubs team. They did not stutter in any one aspect of the game, while the Phillies were entirely reliant on home runs to support their pitchers—80 percent of their runs came via the long ball, while the Dodgers had only 35 percent of their runs come in that way. The teams did not differ much in OPS in their respective division series: the Phillies put up an OBP/SLG/OPS line of .329/.469/.798 while the Dodgers had a line of .345/.442/.787.

John: Well, it’s not like the Cubs didn’t help matters along. I found it odd that the clubs that clinched earliest (Cubbies/Angels) were the first kicked to the wayside. While in the case of the Halos it might be that simple regression took place, I do feel there is such a thing as clinching too early. If a team plays too many “meaningless” games I do think they lose a certain edge that only playing pressure-filled games can provide. Both clubs struggled with their fundamentals and lacked execution (although I’m sure Lou Pinella would have been agreeable to executing a couple) and seemed to lose that edge.

No such problem exists with either the Phillies or the Dodgers as both were involved in a race in the final week of the season.

Q: While the big bats will likely be the focus of many, both these clubs relied on top-flight pitching to get to this point. How about a quick recap of their performance in the LDS?

Bill: Dodgers starting pitchers gave up three earned runs in 19 innings (1.42 ERA); their relievers gave up three earned runs in eight innings (3.38 ERA) with Jonathan Broxton recording one save.

Philly starting pitchers gave up five earned runs in 25 innings (1.80 ERA); their relievers gave up four earned runs in 10 innings (3.60 ERA) with Brad Lidge recording two saves. Both teams’ starters earned a decision in every game started.

Q: We know that the Phillies have been a top shelf offensive unit the last couple of seasons. How do the Dodgers compare?

Bill: During the regular season, the Philly offense was, for the most part, consistently elite, averaging 4.93 runs per game (third in NL) while the Dodgers averaged a meager 4.32 runs per game (13th in NL). Since Manny Ramirez joined the Blue Crew at the start of August, they’ve averaged 4.63 runs per game, which by itself would tie with the Milwaukee Brewers for seventh in the NL.

Q: Getting back to the pitching for a moment … the Dodgers staff has received most of the press pre-Manny … especially the rotation. Explain why it won’t be a major advantage in the NLCS.

Bill: Philly starters threw almost exactly two-thirds of the innings during the season, while Dodger starters threw 64 percent. However, Dodgers starters had the better ERA, 3.87 to 4.23, mostly because their rotation featured three above-average starters (Chad Billingsley, Derek Lowe, and Hiroki Kuroda) while the Phillies only had two (Cole Hamels and Jamie Moyer). It evens out if you consider Brett Myers and what he’s done since being recalled from a voluntary demotion to the minors: 13 starts with 88.3 innings and a 3.06 ERA.

John: Don’t forget that Joe Blanton was an underrated addition. While he struggled with his command at late August/early September, he’s generally pretty solid in that regard (career BB/9: 2.52) and had a BB/9 of 1.88 in his last four starts. Although it’s not much of a sample size, he has a 3.32 ERA in 19 career innings against the Dodgers. I think he matches up well against Greg Maddux at this point of the future Hall of Famer’s career.

While I think we have to grudgingly give a slight edge to the Dodgers when assessing the rotation, we certainly do not when comparing their relief corps.

Bill: When it comes to the bullpens, the teams have striking similarities, as both ranked closely together but well ahead of the pack in bullpen ERA: the Phillies 3.22 and the Dodgers 3.34. Jonathan Broxton, their closer, blew eight save chances during the season and Takashi Saito (whose job was taken by Broxton) blew four. Overall, closers accounted for 60 percent of their blown saves, while the Phillies’ closer, Brad Lidge, never blew a save en route to a perfect 41-for-41 season.

No reliever on the Dodgers’ postseason roster finished the regular season with an ERA+ under 130, which is amazing. I mentioned in the Phillies-Brewers preview that Philly relievers all had an ERA+ over 120, so that gives you some perspective on just how good their bullpens are. Presume any late lead is safe in the NLCS.

John: Well, any lead of more than two runs anyway. I never discount the ol’ “bloop and a blast” possibility or as we witnessed in the LDS … the IBB and a blast. My gut tells me we’re going to see one “walk-off” win in this series, or so my sources inside my head inform me (yes, I always think with my stomach).

Q: The Phillies were a much better road team than the Dodgers this year. How much of a factor will this be in the series?

Bill: Both teams had equal home records (48-33) but the Phillies shined on the road at seven games over .500 (44-37), while the Dodgers were nine games under (36-45). When the two teams played each other in two four-game series, the home team swept each series, so home field advantage, which the Phillies have, figures to be a larger factor than usual.

Q: Still … we know who’s gonna win—now let’s discuss how. Why are the Phillies heading to the World Series?

Bill: The Phillies have the advantage in the series for several reasons: a better offense in theory, a slightly better and more successful bullpen, home field advantage, bas running guile, and match-ups based on handedness.

The top of the Phillies’ lineup will feature three players who are not just fast on the basepaths, but smart as well. Jimmy Rollins (47-for-50, 94 percent), Shane Victorino (36-for-47, 77 percent) or Jayson Werth (20-for-21, 95 percent), and Chase Utley (14-for-16, 88 percent) all steal bases with high success rates. That is thanks in part to Davey Lopes, who has been preaching quality, not quantity, when it comes to stealing bases. In the two seasons he’s been a Phillies coach, they’ve enjoyed an 85 percent stolen base success rate in ’08 and 88 percent in ’07. The Dodgers had a 75 percent success rate this season, which is about the “break-even” point where it makes stealing bases worth the risk.

“Match-ups based on handedness” refers to the fact that the Dodgers have no left-handed starting pitchers (unless they plan to use Clayton Kershaw in game four instead of Greg Maddux, who has been pitching out of the bullpen), which means plenty of at-bats against RHP for the Philly switch-hitters (Jimmy Rollins and Shane Victorino) and left-handed mashers (Chase Utley and Ryan Howard).

The Phillies have two lefty starters and two lefty relievers, so they present good match-ups against Blake DeWitt, James Loney, and Andre Ethier. Late in the game, however, Joe Beimel is as good as they come, as he holds left-handers to a .641 OPS. Utley and Howard will have their hands full late, but should get ample opportunities prior against the Dodger right-handers.

The Phillies will also enjoy success if/when Chase Utley heats up and if they can get any production at all from Pedro Feliz and Carlos Ruiz. Against a slew of right-handed starters, it’d be a big bonus if their right-handed hitters (Feliz, Ruiz, and Pat Burrell) can pick it up.

John: I like the fact that the Phillies rotation is set: Hamels (home: 2.99 ERA away: 3.19 ERA) and Myers (home: 3.01 ERA away: 6.21 ERA) at home and Moyer (home: 4.61 ERA away: 2.92 ERA) and Blanton in Dodger Stadium (which should be a much better fit for his flyball tendencies).

While the Dodgers may have the edge in starting pitching overall, things are set up very well for the Phillies in this series. Barring any rainouts, there are three off days in the series giving Charlie Manuel the option of shortening the rotation and letting Hamels pitch game four on three days rest and game seven on normal rest. I don’t see an overwhelming need to do so but it’s nice to have it as an option.

Bill: Overall, I don’t see either team being dominated in any way during the NLCS—the teams are too similar. It looks like it will be a tooth-and-nail kind of a series, likely to require all seven games.

John: I was very critical of how the Brewers handled Ryan Howard in the LDS; having said that, if I’m Manuel I do not let Manny Ramirez beat me in the LCS. While both Kemp and Ethier are fine young hitters they’re not Manny Ramirez. Both have struggled in their limited post season exposure while Ramirez (who is very hot) has 26 home runs in 363 post season at-bats, is a career .319/.422/.563 batter in his six previous LCS and is coming off hitting .500/.643/1.100 against an excellent Cubs pitching staff.

There is a wide gulf between the abilities and track records of Ramirez and Howard and I would not pitch to Ramirez in a big situation.

I do concur that this is going seven games although I think (assuming Hamels wins the opener) that game two will be huge. If they can get out of Philadelphia with two wins and Moyer and Hamels going in LA I wouldn’t be shocked if the series ends there.

Hopefully Bill, we’ll next be discussing why we were right and looking forward to examining why the Phillies will be 2008 World Series champions.

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