These players must step up (Cont.)
Cole Hamels: Hamels was the Most Valuable Player in the Phillies' title run last October, going 4-0 with a 1.80 ERA in five starts, all of them Phillies wins. Though those 35 innings pushed his season total to a whopping 262 1/3, his struggles this year have been largely due to a change in luck (while his fielding-independent peripherals held steady, his opponents' batting average on balls in play swelled from last year's well-below-average .262 to an above-average .321). That's small consolation for his shaky outing in Game 2 against the Rockies, when he allowed four runs on seven hits in five innings while taking the only loss suffered by an advancing team thus far this postseason.
Whereas the Rockies had a lefty-heavy lineup, the Dodgers are more right-handed. That means lefty J.A. Happ should return to the bullpen, from where he can be deployed against Andre Ethier in key spots. That leaves the Phillies with a back-half of a rotation comprised of Joe Blanton and Pedro Martinez, neither of whom started in the first round. (Martinez did not pitch at all in the LDS.) That makes it all the more important for Hamels to win his starts.
The Bench: The Phillies' bench went 0 for 8 against the Rockies, while the Phillies' pitchers went 1 for 7 with a walk and a stolen base. Facing a Dodgers bullpen that was the best in the National League during the regular season, the Phillies' bench bats (especially lefties Greg Dobbs and Matt Stairs, who had disappointing regular seasons, and righty Ben Francisco) need to at least prove that they can out-hit the pitchers for whom they're pinch-hitting.
Matt Kemp: Kemp got the Dodgers off on the right foot with a two-run homer off Chris Carpenter in the first inning of Game 1, but he managed just one more hit in his last 13 at-bats of the series, didn't drive in another run, and struck out eight times, just one less than LDS leader Jason Kubel of the Twins.
The Rotation Behind Clayton Kershaw: Kershaw is an emerging young ace who pitched like one in Game 2 of the NLDS, but the rest of the Dodgers' rotation is a mystery, perhaps even to manager Joe Torre. Yes, Vicente Padilla threw seven shutout innings at the Cardinals in Game 3, but the Cardinals could have been pushed over with a feather after their shocking loss in Game 2. General Manager Ned Colletti has said that Padilla will start in the NLCS, but Torre has yet to confirm that. Torre is right to be cautious. Released by the Rangers in August, Padilla made just two quality starts for the Dodgers in seven tries down the stretch, though he more often fell short due to innings rather than runs. Hiroki Kuroda, who pitched well in his two starts last October, is likely to rejoin the rotation against the Phillies, but he wasn't even on the LDS roster due to a stiff neck, and by the time his start comes due, he won't have seen game action in nearly three weeks.
The final spot in the rotation is likely to go to Chad Billingsley, another youngster who got beat up by the Phillies last October and was set to be the team's fourth starter in the NLDS, but it's telling that Billingsley has dipped below Padilla in Torre's hierarchy, due to a disappointing and erratic second half. Then again, Torre has never been known to have much patience with young starting pitchers. That, plus Billingsley's poor LCS history against Philadelphia, could send the youngster to the bullpen with the final rotation spot going to another hurler who hasn't pitched since September: roster-deadline acquisition Jon Garland. Garland turned in five strong starts for L.A. before getting rocked by the lowly Padres in his final regular-season outing. Torre could also turn back to NLDS Game 1 starter Randy Wolf, who led the Dodgers in WHIP, starts and innings pitched during the regular season while finishing behind only Kershaw with a 3.23 ERA, but who didn't make it out of the fourth inning in NLDS Game 1 after allowing six hits and walking a whopping five men in 3 2/3 innings. That's a lot of uncertainly and dearth of exciting options to throw against what was the best offense in the National League this year, averaging five runs per game in both the regular season and the NLDS.
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