Thursday, October 9, 2008

Phillies and Dodgers- A Blast from the Past

This is an old school NLCS as the Phillies are facing the Dodgers in post season play once again. The two faced each other in 1977 and 1978 (again in 1983) while providing audiences with some very good baseball. Both teams were loaded with star players and more often than not, it was a matter of match ups than overall talent. I don't think there's a huge disparity in ability between LA and Philly and that is the reason I'm bringing up teams that played 30 years ago. (and because I consider myself a baseball historian as well as a geek).

(Side Note: Who knew Jim Lonborg, ace of the 1967 Impossible Dream team, was on these Phillies teams?)

The "I'm Gonna Have to Carry This Team on My Back" Comparison: As far as the late 1970s Phillies pitching was concerned, Steve Carlton was the man and he had very little support behind him. Cole Hamels must be feeling the same way heading into this series. I know Brett Myers was very good in his lone start in the NLDS but he has yet to prove he is in any manner reliable. It's fitting that the man with the fate of his team on his shoulders is Cole Hamels. He should give Steve Carlton a call sometime.

The "No One's Great, But All are Very Good": The 1977 Dodgers are similar to this current crop in that they had deep pitching (far deeper pitching than I realized). Five (that's right- five) different pitchers won at least 12 (all others at least 14) games for this team. Tommy John [yeah, the guy who they named the surgery after] won 20 games but wasn't really considered to be at a higher level than Don Sutton or Bert Hooton.. I see the same in the Dodgers of 2008 in that Derek Lowe might be considered the "ace" of the staff but there's not a huge drop off with Chad Billingsley as their No. 2.

The "Struggling Infield MVP Candidate": Mike Schmidt hit .063 and .200 in the 1977-78 NLCS, respectively. Chase Utley has had a great year but struggled in the opening round, collecting 2 hits. I don't see it continuing in the NLCS but Schmidt proved how detrimental the heart and soul of a team struggling can be. Each had power-hitting teammates (in Schmidt's case it was 39 HR, 130 RBI man Greg Luzinski) but Utley needs to produce to give the Phillies a shot to win the series.

The "Behind the Scenes Left Fielder": Andre Ethier (90 RBI) didn't have a great series against the Cubs but is comparable to Reggie Smith (32 HR) in that he faces the shadow of Manny Ramirez while Smith didn't receive the same type of publicity that Steve Garvey did.

The "$20 Million Player Who Quit on His Team": Oh wait...that never happened in the '70s...that was just Manny being Manny!

Some of the similarities of this series are stark. It's always fun revisiting some of the old rivalries from the past that don't just involve the Red Sox and Yankees.

Now, onto this upcoming NLCS. My heart wants the Phillies to win but I won't be making the same mistake as I did in the first round. These Dodgers are for real and shouldn't be considered just Manny's team. Joe Torre has them playing well at the right time and their pitching depth as well as their 1-8 hitting should be a scary prospect for the Phillies.

Something that would give me hope as a Phils fan is that these should be close contests and if there is a battle of the bullpens, I'd take Brad Lidge over Jonathan Broxton without even thinking about it. However....

I fully expect Hamels to come out and dominate Game 1 but for the Dodgers to steal Game 2 with Billingsley on the mound. Games 3-4 should be the key to the series. Hiroki Kuroda vs. Jamie Moyer won't make it onto ESPN Classic but whoever holds a 2-1 lead will have momentum heading into Game 4. The Dodgers haven't announced a game 4 starter but I'd guess it would be between Greg Maddux and Clayton Kershaw. No offense, Mad Dog, but I'd start Kershaw. The kid's filthy.

If I were a Dodger fan, having Lowe on the mound in a potential 2-2 series fills me with confidence. I see Billingsley out-dueling Myers in Game 6 for the Dodgers for the series. I'm not being quite as bold as I was a few weeks ago but I'm basing this prediction on what I saw in the opening round.

I'll be checking back after the game and will have a full Rays-Sox preview by tomorrow.

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