- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 15, 2009

Los Angeles Dodgers vs. Philadelphia Phillies

Lineup

Dodgers: They aren’t thought of as an overwhelming offensive club, but the Dodgers did lead the NL with a .270 batting average and .346 on-base percentage this season. No longer reliant solely on Manny Ramirez for production, Los Angeles now has Andre Ethier (31 homers, 106 RBI) and Matt Kemp (26 homers, 101 RBI) spreading the wealth.

Phillies: No one has more power from top to bottom than the Phillies, who led the league with 224 homers and 312 doubles. Even bottom-of-the-order guys Pedro Feliz (3-for-10) and Carlos Ruiz (3-for-9, three RBI) came through in the NLDS. The only drawback is that they rely a bit too much on left-handed hitters (Chase Utley, Ryan Howard, Raul Ibanez), but it’s a minor gripe.

Edge: Phillies

Rotation

Dodgers: There’s no clear-cut ace on the staff, but there are four solid starters in Randy Wolf, Clayton Kershaw, Vicente Padilla and Hiroki Kuroda. Kershaw (two runs in 6 2/3 innings) and Padilla (seven scoreless innings) came up huge in the NLDS sweep of the Cardinals. Wolf, who was knocked out after only 3 2/3 innings in Game 1, needs to bounce back.

Phillies: Midseason acquisition Cliff Lee paid huge dividends in the NLDS; he dominated the Rockies twice in four games. Fellow lefty Cole Hamels was MVP of last year’s World Series and went 4-0 in the postseason. There are questions after those two, though, with manager Charlie Manuel left to choose between Joe Blanton, J.A. Happ and Pedro Martinez.

Edge: Dodgers

Bullpen

Dodgers: Nobody in baseball had a better relief corps this season than Los Angeles, which has a dominant closer in Jonathan Broxton, a dominant setup man in George Sherrill and a deep cast of middle men in Hong-Chih Kuo, Ronald Belisario and Ramon Troncoso. All had ERAs at or below 3.00 this year.

Phillies: None of the eight clubs that advanced to the postseason this year had a bigger question mark in the bullpen than the Phillies, who entered with no set closer. But Brad Lidge (perfect last season, horrible this season) came up big against the Rockies and perhaps rediscovered his mojo. Still, Lidge and Co. are anything but a sure thing.

Edge: Dodgers

Bench

Dodgers: Joe Torre barely used his bench in the NLDS, with only three guys (Jim Thome, Juan Pierre and Mark Loretta) combining for five pinch-hit plate appearances. Pierre, though, is a dynamic baserunner and outfielder who can make a real difference. And whoever doesn’t start at second base between Orlando Hudson and Ronnie Belliard provides a solid bat off the bench.

Phillies: Philadelphia pinch hitters went 0-for-6 during the NLDS, but Charlie Manuel does have some nice options at his disposal. Miguel Cairo and Greg Dobbs are pros, and Matt Stairs is always a threat to drive the ball out of the park. Ben Francisco came up big with a spectacular catch in left field in Game 4 against the Rockies.

Edge: Even

Manager

Dodgers: Joe Torre has been here before, countless times. In fact, he hasn’t missed the postseason since 1995 when he managed the Cardinals. A calming presence in the dugout, he knows how to use his bullpen in the playoffs and isn’t afraid to let his closer go more than one inning.

Phillies: Charlie Manuel is beloved by his Phillies and won over any remaining doubters last season when he guided this team to its first World Series title in 28 years. With his southern drawl, “Uncle Charlie” can sometimes come across like a bumpkin, but he’s a lot smarter than some might think.

Edge: Dodgers

Prediction

Mark Zuckerman: The Phillies cruised in five games last season, but that was with a lights-out bullpen and against a Dodgers lineup that relied way too much on Manny Ramirez. Los Angeles has made major improvements since last year and looked downright dominant in sweeping the Cardinals in the NLDS. As long as Joe Torre can get quality efforts out of his starters, he can ride that great bullpen and an opportunistic offense straight to the World Series. Dodgers in 6.

Ben Goessling: The Dodgers’ lineup might be better than the one that lost in five games to the Phillies last year, but Philadelphia’s rotation is also better because of the addition of Cliff Lee. The Phillies’ chances will depend on how consistent their bullpen can be in what likely will be a long series. But with Lee and Cole Hamels setting the tone and the NL’s best lineup clicking without hitting home runs, the Phillies have enough to get past a few flaws and take their second straight NL pennant. Phillies in 7.

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