Previewing today's game
Dodgers at Phillies
Series: NLCS, Game 1
Time: 8:22 p.m. EST
Any preview of Game 1 of the NLCS has to start with Cole Hamels. Hamels pitched eight shutout innings against the Brewers in Game 1 of the NLDS, limiting Milwaukee to two singles and a walk, not allowing a runner past second base, and averaging just 12.6 pitches per inning. In Game 1 of last year's NLDS, he retired 14 of the last 15 men he faced after changing his shirt. In between, he faced the Dodgers for the only two times in his young career, limiting them to two runs on five hits over seven innings in each of those two starts, both of which came this August, after the acquisition of Manny Ramirez and the return of hitting coach Don Mattingly revitalized the L.A. offense. Six of tonight's Dodgers starters have faced Hamels (middle infielders Rafael Furcal and Blake DeWitt are the exceptions); those six have hit a combined .211/.250/.342 against him.
With Hamels on the hill for the Phils, Derek Lowe's job will be to keep the game close enough for his offense to scratch out a lead or simply to negate Hamels and force the game to be decided by the two bullpens. The good news for Dodgers fans is that Lowe just might be up to the task. In Game 1 of the NLDS against the Cubs, Lowe scattered five singles, struck out six, walked just one, and the only two runs he allowed in his six innings came on a wind-blown, wall-scraping home run down the right field line by Mark DeRosa. Lowe finished the regular season by posting a 0.94 ERA and a 0.85 WHIP over his final nine starts, allowing just one home run and holding hitters to a .193/.234/.238 line, and his last start prior to that run saw him hold the Phillies to three runs on five hits over 6 1/3 innings. Chase Utley and Ryan Howard became major league regulars in 2005, and in six starts against Philadelphia dating back to 2005, Lowe has gone 4-0 with a 2.58 ERA and a 1.07 WHIP, falling just two unearned runs shy of a quality start in all six appearances. Though Utley has hit Lowe well over that span (better than any other current Phillie), Howard is just 2-for-16 against Lowe in his career, and both hits were singles.
Though the Phillies have the clear advantage as long as Hamels is pitching, if the game is decided by the bullpens, it's anybody's ballgame. The Phillies and Dodgers finished first and second in the NL in relievers' ERA this year, and their pens performed similarly in the Division Series. If you look beyond ERA, the Dodgers bullpen had the regular-season advantage in WHIP, strikeout and walk rates, and were better at suppressing the averages of opposing hitters, but the Phillies allowed home runs at a lower rate and blew five fewer save opportunities. Looking at individual performances, Phillies closer Brad Lidge had the best season of any reliever on either team, but the Dodgers' top four of righties Takashi Saito, Jonathan Broxton, and Cory Wade, and lefty Hong-Chih Kuo were each more dominant this season than the second-best man in the Philly pen.
The catch there is that Kuo finished the season nursing injuries. Kuo made just three appearances in September and was left off the NLDS roster due to a triceps injury. He pitched a simulated game on Tuesday and has been activated for this series, replacing likely Game 4 starter Clayton Kershaw as the second lefty in the Dodger pen, but the roster spot he's taking is Saito's. Saito tore a ligament in his elbow in early July and made just six September appearances after hitting the DL on July 18. In a brief mop-up appearance in Game 2 of the NLDS against the Cubs, he failed to retire a batter. With Saito off the roster, the only active Dodger relievers to have pitched since the end of the regular season are Broxton, Wade, and long-man Greg Maddux. By comparison, Charlie Manuel got every Phillies reliever other than 25th man and third lefty J.A. Happ into his team's series against the Brewers. So, while a look at the regular season numbers would appear to give the Dodgers' pen the edge, injuries and rust could hand it right back to Philadelphia. Of course, all of that is moot if Hamels pitches like he did in his last Game 1 start.
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