What we've learned in the NLCS
The Phillies have proved they can win without an effective Ryan Howard
The Phils' bullpen is better than L.A.'s, and Ryan Madson is a big reason
Citizens Bank Park is a tough place for visitors, which is bad for L.A.
PHILADELPHIA -- At least one person at Citizens Bank Park on Friday wasn't impressed with the biggest defensive play in Game 2 of the NLCS. "It wasn't that tough a catch," Dodgers third baseman Casey Blake said, of Shane Victorino's leaping grab in front of the centerfield wall at Citizens Bank Park. It was Blake's deep drive in the seventh inning, with two men on base, that Victorino snagged to preserve a three-run lead for the Phillies. "I'm not sure he had to jump like that," Blake said. "I think [Victorino] had more room than he thought."
These Dodgers, down 2-0 in the NLCS, clearly aren't willing to concede anything yet. In the L.A. clubhouse after Game 2 (Recap | Box Score), L.A. manager Joe Torre stood in front of his players and said, "We've worked too hard to get to this point to just lay down without a fight. Think of how hard you fought to get into the playoffs."
Even though this is the first time in eight trips to the NLCS that the Dodgers trail 2-0 in the series, Torre's players have reason to be optimistic as they return to Chavez Ravine, where Game 3 starter Hiroki Kuroda was brilliant against the Cubs in the NLDS clincher. Taking the mound for Philly is the ageless wonder Jamie Moyer, who couldn't locate his pitches in front of a raucous Miller Park crowd in the NLDS. On Sunday he'll pitch in front of a raucous Dodger Stadium crowd, against a tougher lineup.
Still, the Phillies, overlooked in this postseason of Manny and The Rays, are two wins from their first World Series berth since '93. Of the 18 previous teams that went up 2-0 in the NLCS, only two -- the '84 Cubs and the '85 Dodgers -- went on to lose the series.
As the series shifts to L.A., here's a look at what we've learned through Games 1 and 2:
The Phillies can win without Ryan Howard. A reporter tried to get a laugh out of the big man after Game 2, noting that Fox put up a graphic comparing the Philadelphia first baseman's NLCS hitting stats (2-for-19, 1 RBI) to those of Brett Myers (4-for-5, 3 RBI). Howard, though, wasn't in a joking mood, even after a win. "If people want to make jokes, they can make jokes," he snapped back. Howard, 0-for-8 in the NLCS, would seem due for a big game. But the slugger, notoriously bad against lefties, has looked awful at the plate while facing righthanded Dodger starters, who have silenced him with a steady diet of curveballs. "They've been keeping balls down and away," Howard said. "They've been pitching me real tough." The Dodgers are considering a Game 4 start for lefthander Clayton Kershaw, which would give them an advantage against Chase Utley and Howard. But the way Howard is hitting, that doesn't seem so necessary.
The Phillies' bullpen is better than L.A.'s. Yes, Brad Lidge is four-for-four in save opportunities in the postseason. (His Game 2 save was his 10th career postseason save, which tied him with Rollie Fingers for fifth all-time. Only Mariano Rivera, Dennis Eckersley, Jason Isringhausen and Robb Nen are ahead of him on the list.) But it's setup man Ryan Madson who has emerged as an October star. A year ago he sat out the season's final two months and the Phillies' brief postseason appearance with a strained right shoulder. Now he is that critical eighth-inning Bridge to Lidge: in 6 1/3 postseason innings, he's allowed one earned run with five strikeouts and no walks. Madson, who throws a plus change with a 95 mph fastball, has been overlooked all year. That's about to change.
The Bank can rock. The Phillies know that no matter what happens in L.A., they will return to Philly next week, where they have now won seven straight and 12 of their last 14 games at their home ballpark. Over that stretch they've averaged 5.9 runs a game. The place was literally rocking in the NLCS-- sitting in the auxiliary press box in left field, I could feel my laptop shake after Pat Burrell's sixth inning homer in Game 1. In Game 2, the Phillies showed they can light up the home scoreboard without hitting the long ball: Friday afternoon was the first time this season the Phillies scored eight runs at The Bank without hitting at least one homer. "There's no doubt, it's an impressive crowd," Blake said after Game 2. "They get real loud here. It's not an easy place to play."