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NLCS Preview: Los Angeles Dodgers against the Philadelphia Phillies

There are many interesting things to pay attention to during the upcoming series between the Philadelphia Phillies and Los Angeles Dodgers, beyond Manny Ramirez leading the Dodgers to the promised land, or how many Dodgers Jamie Moyer is old enough to be the father of*. Here are seven elements that may determine the winner of this series.

Phillies starters not named Cole. It wouldn’t surprise me to see Brett Myers pitch well, Jamie Moyer befuddle the Dodgers, and Joe Blanton keep his team in the game. However, it would be equally unsurprising if none of these starters even managed to pitch six innings. The range of possibilities for all of these starters is very wide; ultimately, how they pitch will determine whether the Phillies win this series.

Takashi Saito’s usage. Is he healthy? Does Joe Torre trust him? If the answer to both of these questions is yes, then the Dodgers have an absolutely filthy combination at the end of the game. Because of the stretched-out nature of a short series like this, having two shut-down relievers can make up for a lot of other bullpen deficiencies.

Brad Lidge. Lidge was just as effective this year as he was last year – ERA be damned – but he was a totally different pitcher. Many people took note of his shaky outing against the Brewers, in which he seemed deathly afraid to throw his fastball. However, he’s been like that all season. Even though Lidge’s results during the regular season were excellent, the process by which he got those results was somewhat shaky – it will be interesting to see how effective he is in this series.

Joe Torre’s outfield. Ever since the Dodgers acquired Manny Ramirez (and even before that, actually) the question has been: what outfielders are going to ride the pine? It seems very clear that Matt Kemp, Andre Ethier, and Manny Ramirez should play practically every inning of this series. Each at bat that Torre wastes on Juan Pierre will be an at bat closer to a Phillies victory.

Chase Utley. Does anyone realize that Chase Utley was the fourth most productive player in baseball this year?  Because he cooled off after a torrid start, the fact that he hit .280/.380/.535 with 33 homers (and 14 steals in 16 attempts) seems to get lost in the shuffle. Oh, and he was absolutely phenomenal defensively, checking in at a ridiculous +47, according to Bill James Online. That’s 21 plays better than the second best second baseman.

Clayton Kershaw vs Greg Maddux. Who is Joe Torre going to start in game four? Will he have the guts to choose the rookie over the veteran? Greg Maddux made his major league debut on September 3, 1986. Clayton Kershaw was born on March 19, 1988. But right now, Kershaw is the better pitcher – especially against a power-hitting team like the Phillies.

Home(r) field advantage. Both teams went 48-33 at home, and the Phillies edged the Dodgers in road victories, 44 to 36. The Phillies excel at hitting homers, and it’s not just because of their home ball park – the Phillies hit the second most homers on the road this season.   The Dodgers, meanwhile, hit the fourth fewest homers (although granted, they spent the majority of the season without the services of Manny Ramirez). However, the Dodgers’ pitching staff is quite adept at preventing homers – they allowed the fewest homers of any NL team by far (the Dodgers gave up 23 fewer homers than the next time, whereas that time gave up 54 fewer homers than the top team). The Dodgers succeed by preventing homers, and the Phillies succeed by hitting them. The fact that both Citizens Bank Park and Dodger Stadium are good parks for homers will play to the Phillies’s advantage.

Prediction: Predicting the outcome of any seven-game series in baseball is a difficult assignment; predicting the outcome between two playoff teams is nearly impossible, given how (relatively) evenly matched they almost always are. If you forced me to predict, I’d say Dodgers in six. But only if you forced me.

*Jamie Moyer is at least 19 years older than 10 Los Angeles Dodgers. Good thing Ned Colletti has a penchant for veterans.