NLCS Preview: Phillies vs. Dodgers

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Rematch.  And from a historical perspective, a rubber match of sorts as well.  The Dodgers beat the Phillies in the 1977 and 1978 NLCS.  The Phillies took 1983.  For our purposes, however, really only last year is relevant, and the Phillies won 4-1.  Going in to that series the question was whether the Phillies’ big bats would actually show up for a postseason series, whether the Dodgers could do anything about the Phillies’ shutdown-bullpen, and whether the Phillies had an answer for what seemed like an unstoppable Manny Ramirez.

Those questions are no longer really operative.

Indeed, we basically have the reverse in 2009.  Can the Dodgers’ contain a bombastic Phillies’ lineup?  Will the Phillies’ bullpen be able to keep things together?  Will Manny Ramirez crank it up and be the straw that the Dodger drink so desperately needs to stir it?  The short version: yes, no, and maybe.  The quick prediction:  Dodgers in seven.  The reasons.  Well, read on:

2009 NLCS Probables

Game 1 – Cole Hamels vs. Clayton Kershaw

Game 2 – Pedro Martinez vs. Vicente Padilla

Game 3 – Cliff Lee vs. Hiroki Kuroda

Game 4 – Joe Blanton vs. Randy Wolf

Game 5 – Hamels vs. Kershaw

Game 6 – Lee vs. Kuroda

This is all obviously subject to change, depending mostly on how deeply in trouble a given team finds itself as the series progresses.  The most notable thing — as Matthew noted yesterday — was the young Mr. Kershaw getting the start in Game 1. I’m less worried about his age and the potential for an Ankielesque meltdown than I’m worried about the fact that the Phillies roughed him up this year.  Still, the last time he saw them was June 4th, and since then he has really stepped up his game.  I like him against a less-than-stellar-of-late Cole Hamels.

The next most interesting thing is Pedro in Game 2.  The Dodgers were more vulnerable to righties this season so it probably makes sense to go with Martinez over Happ, but the fact is that Pedro hasn’t pitched for over two weeks.  Does this give his old arm much needed extra rest or problematic extra rust?  The answer to that question will be pretty important given that I think the Dodgers will win tonight, thereby making Game 2 fairly damn important.  OK, fine, they’re all important, but the Phillies don’t want to be down 0-2.

As for the rest of the series, Cliff Lee may be a lefty, but he’s stone cold dealing lately.  Vicente Padilla may be stone cold dealing lately, but he’s Vicente Padilla and I wouldn’t bet the milk money that a guy like him is going to pull a 2006 Jeff Weaver and rip off a third stellar start in a row.  Kurdoa is an X-factor in that he’s coming off a long layoff, though the Dodgers can throw Jeff Weaver v. 2009 or Chad Billingsley out in long relief if necessary.

Overall, I think that season-long numbers aside, the rotations are more or less even at the moment.  Maybe a slight advantage to the Phillies, really.  It’s all going to come down to Kershaw and Pedro, methinks.

Offenses

The Dodgers get on base and get timely hits. The Phillies mash.  Historically speaking, mashers seem more likely to go cold in a short series than the patient and pesky of the world.  Certainly L.A. has nothing to compare to the 1-2-3-4 punch of Utley, Howard Werth and Ibanez.  Right now Matt Kemp and Jimmy Rollins are cold.  If one or the other warms up, his team gets the advantage.  If neither or both do, it’s going to come down to bullpens.  Hell, I think this series comes down to bullpens regardless.

Bullpens

You know the storyline by now: The Dodgers’ bullpen is lights out, and unlike Jim Tracy, Joe Torre isn’t a slave to conventional bullpen use when the postseason comes around.  He’ll stretch Broxton if he has to.  Unlike Tracy, he’ll throw a lefty out there if Ryan Howard comes up in a key situation, whether it’s to replace Broxton or whoever.  The Phillies, in contrast, have Brad Lidge, Ryan Madson and a prayer.  Given that Charlie Manuel managed the NLDS as if he was scared to death to actually use a reliever — and given that Lidge’s two saves were both shaky affairs — the Dodgers have a big, big advantage in this department.  If a game is close as we approach late innings, you have to like L.A.’s chances.  If the Phillies knock the cover off the ball early, however, no bullpen is going to save the boys in blue.

Overrated Angle

The lookahead.  These teams are really, really evenly matched in my view and I think this has all the makings of a close, fantastic series.  I just have this feeling, however, that we’re going to hear countless references to a potential Yankees-Dodgers series or a Freeway series (and yes I know I became part of the problem yesterday. I’m way easier to ignore than TV, however, so my contributions are minimal at best).  Which should drive Phillies fans absolutely nuts and rightly so.  Indeed, I’m having trouble remembering the last time a still-contending defending World Series champ got as little respect as the Phillies are getting right now. 

Underrated Angle 

The actual games. If there was ever a series that begged for near total coverage of the on-the-field stuff and the eschewing of “storylines” and all of that garbage, it’s this one.  These are two very different yet very strong, very interesting teams facing off.  The differences between the very essences of these two teams — power and patience, the bullpens, the temperaments of the managers, etc. — and the intriguing matchups they create call out for some hard-nosed analysis, the sort of which, if a young kid or a casual fan heard it, could teach them oodles and oodles about the intricacies of baseball and turn them into a hardcore baseball fan for life.  I have zero faith that we’ll get that from Chip Caray.

Prediction

After my spectacular failure to predict the Dodgers-Cardinals series within ten miles of reality I should probably get out of the prediction business.  But what the hell, it’s not like I’m going to get sued or fired or killed or anything for being wrong about this stuff.  So here it is: this thing could go either way, but I like the Dodgers in a close, hard-fought seven game series that, ultimately, is decided by the Dodgers’ bullpen and the Phillies’ lack thereof. 

Tim Raines, Jeff Bagwell, Ivan Rodriguez to be inducted into the Hall of Fame on Sunday

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This Sunday three players will be honored in Cooperstown as Tim Raines, Jeff Bagwell and Ivan Rodriguez become the 313th, 314th and 315th members inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame. Executives Bud Selig and John Schuerholz will be inducted as well, making it 316 and 317.

Raines was quite possibly the NL’s best player in a five-year span from 1983-87.  WAR thinks so, placing him ahead of Mike Schmidt, Tony Gwynn and Dale Murphy, all of whom got more plaudits at the time. Raines hit .318/.406/.467 during that period and averaged 114 runs scored and 71 steals per year. During those five years, only Rickey Henderson scored more runs (572-568) and only Wade Boggs had a better OBP (.443 to .406). That Raines had to wait until his last year of eligibility was in large part due to him being a very similar player to Henderson. Which is kind of an unfair comparison — Henderson is one of the best players of all time — but that’s how the voters operate sometimes.

Bagwell likewise had to wait a bit longer than he should’ve, mostly due to thus far evidence-free beliefs that he used PEDs. On the merits, Bagwell was one of the best first basemen of all time, with a career line of .297/.408/.540, 449 homers and 1,529 RBI. Between 1994 and 2001, he averaged — averaged! — a line of .306/.428/.589, 37 homers and 120 RBI while playing in perhaps the worst hitters park in history in the Astrodome.

People whispered about Rodriguez and PEDs just as much as they did Bagwell, but he got in on the first ballot, suggesting that the BBWAA is getting over its hangups. He is also clearly deserving of induction. Rodriguez, the 1999 AL MVP, was named to 14 All-Star teams and he won 13 Gold Gloves. He finished his career with a .296/.334/.464 line, 311 homers and 1,332 RBI. His 2,427 games caught is a major league record. He was, without question, the best defensive catcher of his era and many believe he was the best of all time. If he’s not, he’s in the top two or three.

As for the executives: we’re long on record as believing that Bud Selig’s induction is a disgrace. It was nonetheless a foregone conclusion, as the Hall of Fame has tended to view induction as part of retiring commissioners’ severance package. If there was any remaining doubt about him getting in, the fact that the committee which elected Selig was, more or less, hand-picked by people loyal to Selig and/or Major League Baseball put it to rest.  John Schuerholz is clearly deserving as he was one of the top executives of the past half century, starting out with the Orioles and then building winners in both Kansas City and Atlanta, sustaining those organizations’ success for far longer periods than most teams experience it.

Beyond those two, ESPN’s Claire Smith will be on the stage to accept the 2017 J. G. Taylor Spink Award, given to baseball writers. She is the first woman to be given baseball writing’s highest honor.  Athletics broadcaster will be honored as the Ford C. Frick Award winner for broadcasting. Smith passed away in 2005.

The ceremony will be held on a big lawn a mile south of the Hall of Fame. If you’re in the neighborhood, admission is free and lawn chairs and blankets and things are welcome. If you’re not in the neighborhood, the festivities will be broadcast live on MLB Network and will be shown via webcast at http://www.baseballhall.org.

Aaron Judge broke a tooth celebrating the Yankees walkoff win

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Brett Gardner hit a walkoff homer last night, giving the Yankees a dramatic 11-inning win. A grand celebration ensued. And then a trip to the dentist presumably ensured for Aaron Judge.

Seems that Judge broke a tooth during the scrum, as Gardner’s helmet — which was bouncing around, not on Gardner’s head — bounced up and smacked Judge in the mouth. Judge quickly went to the clubhouse and wasn’t available for comment afterward. If he was, he likely would’ve said “Thith wath a great win. Gardner juth looked for hith pitch and put a good thwing on it.”

Judge is expected to make the start tonight for the Yankees.