Every baseball ‘expert’ crowned the Chicago Cubs as the presumptive winner of the National League Division Series against the Los Angeles Dodgers, a team that had lost the series on paper before the first pitch was even thrown.
One week later after tapping into their streaky offense and trouncing the Cubs with big-game pitching, focus now shifts back east, where the Philadelphia Phillies will play host to the Dodgers starting tomorrow.
Widely known as baseball’s premier launching pad, Citizens Bank Park will be the venue of Game 1 where the playoff-proven Derek Lowe will pitch against Philadelphia’s fireball-throwing lefty, Cole Hamels. Like Lowe, Hamels (14-10, 3.09 ERA) already has one 2008 playoff victory under his belt.
The Dodgers will benefit with the groundball-inducing Lowe opening the series in Philadelphia, where he will face Ryan Howard (48 home runs) and Pat Burrell and Chase Utley (33 HR’s each). Lowe hopes for similar results following a smooth Game 1 against the Cubs and can also be presented the opportunity to take the mound three times by Game 7. The Phillies, though, have no fear in opposing pitchers as their feast-or-famine offense led the National League with 214 home runs in the regular season. Led by closer Brad Lidge, their major-league leading bullpen will try to keep the suddenly-resurgent Dodgers offense at bay.
The two most influential players in this series will be featured at the shortstop position. Rafael Furcal and 2007 MVP Jimmy Rollins are two of the game’s premier leadoff men, rabbits once they reach base and defensive assets. Each will be setting the table for their super-slugging teammates, Manny Ramirez and Howard.
The teams faced each other eight times during a 14-day stretch in August and both swept one another in four-game home stands. The four games in Los Angeles were decided by two-runs or less. However, in Philly’s bandbox, it was a whole different ballgame as they won by seven (twice), five and three runs, sending the Dodgers off on an eight-game losing streak, their most at any point this season.
The Dodgers defeated Chicago 10-3, 7-2 and 3-1 largely for the sparks provided at the top of the order by Rafael Furcal, Russell Martin and Ramirez (combined .371 BA/11 Runs/10 RBI). James Loney added two of the biggest hits of his career to finish with six RBI as well. Look for the quartet to capitalize on an inconsistent starting rotation for Philadelphia.
With this being a two-three-two format series and the Dodgers already having proved they can win on the road, they will be the beneficiary of playing three in a row at home where the pitcher-friendly Dodger Stadium will hold most of the long balls in. Compliment it with the Dodgers holding a Major League-best 24-9 record at Chavez Ravine since the All-Star break, the city will witness baseball’s most improbable juggernaut heading into the World Series for the first time in 20-years. Paging heavens, will the Boston Red Sox do their part for a true Fall Classic?
Prediction: Dodgers in six.
Los Angeles Dodgers vs. Philadelphia Phillies
Game 1: @ Philadelphia, Tomorrow, 5:22 p.m. (Cole Hamels vs. Derek Lowe) Game 2: @ Philadelphia, Friday, 1:35 p.m. (Brett Myers vs. Chad Billingsley) Game 3: Los Angeles, Sunday, 5:22 p.m. (Hiroki Kuroda vs. Jamie Moyer) Game 4: Los Angeles, Monday, 5:22 p.m., TBA Game 5: Los Angeles, Oct. 15, 5:22 p.m., TBA * Game 6: @ Philadelphia, Oct. 17, 5:22 p.m., TBA * Game 7: @ Philadelphia, Oct. 18, 5:22 p.m., TBA *?