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The opening game matchup of Cy Young candidates John (20-6 at the end of last week) and Carlton (23-9) should be the best of either playoff. But the pivotal pitcher in the series could be the Phillies' 23-year-old righthander, Larry Christenson, who is 0-2 against the Dodgers this season and 2-4 lifetime. He will probably face Sutton, who is a better pitcher than his 14-8 record indicates. Christenson was not even used during Philadelphia's playoff loss to Cincinnati last fall, but he has emerged recently as the most dependable man on the staff, winning 12 of his last 13 decisions. The tipoff on whether Christenson is going to pitch as he has lately—and not as he has against the Dodgers in the past—should come early in Game No. 2. When his sinking deliveries are sharp, he takes advantage of Philadelphia's superb infield defense by inducing batters to hit grounders. If the Dodgers start off by pounding liners and flies to the outfield, they are likely to knock some balls out of the park and Christenson out of the game.
Backing the Philadelphia starters is the deepest bullpen in baseball. "That's where I have an advantage," says Manager Danny Ozark. "I won't hesitate to take a starter out and use one of my relievers." When the work is divvied up, Warren Brusstar gets the long stints and Garber, Tug McGraw and Ron Reed the short. "We can flat-out pitch," says Reed of the bullpenners, who have 28 wins and 42 saves. And because Ozark has had so many reliable men to work with, all of Philadelphia's relievers should come into the playoffs in fine fettle. None of them has had to work more than 120 innings.
Compared to the Phillies' firemen four, the Los Angeles bullpen looks like a bunch of arsonists. Charlie Hough, the early-season relief ace, has been caught with the matches in his hands so often of late that he might not appear at all. In fact, Lasorda may be forced to shift Doug Rau and Rick Rhoden, both starters of the first rank, to the bullpen. By the time they finish warming up, the damage may already have been done.
All pitching plans could go out the window (or, more precisely, over the fence) if the big bats crank up. The Dodgers have a certified Murderers Row in Reggie Smith, Ron Cey, Steve Garvey and Dusty Baker, who have combined for 120 homers, while the Phillies' power is concentrated in Greg Luzinski and Mike Schmidt, who have 73. They could feast on the gopher balls Carlton and Sutton frequently serve up.
At the top of the batting orders there is a different, but no less volatile, matchup between McBride and Lopes. McBride, the ex-Cardinal who has been a sensation since joining Philadelphia in mid-June, is so destructive at the plate and on the bases that Lou Brock describes him as "a man walking around with a jar of nitroglycerin."
Lopes could be the detonator for the Dodgers. Anderson considers him "the key player of the series. If he plays well, he could turn it around." This was not the case in regular-season games between Los Angeles and Philadelphia. Although Lopes reached base 20 times, he scored only three runs and stole but two bases. He was picked off twice by Carlton, and when Bob Boone, the Phillies' regular catcher, was behind the plate, Lopes did not steal at all. In effect, the Phillies forced him to stay at first and wait for the Dodger power to ignite.
Philadelphia's final edge seems to be psychological. The Phillies are pleased as punch at the way they charged to the front in August, and they figure they learned a valuable lesson in last fall's playoffs when they thrice allowed the Reds to come from behind and win. "Rather than concentrate on the game last year, I was awed by just being there," says Bowa. "This time I won't feel that way. I want to do something. I want to win, to be in the World Series." Bowa and his teammates should make it, thereby becoming the first Phillies to win the National League pennant in 27 years.
Kansas City, Philadelphia's likely opponent, has never won a pennant, but then the franchise is only nine years old. At the end of last week the Royals had the best record in baseball, and their 16-game winning streak from Aug. 31 to Sept. 15 was the longest in the American League since 1953. Like Philadelphia, Kansas City brings a momentum into the playoffs it lacked a year ago. Even then the Royals were noble in defeat, losing in the last inning of the last game. "We know now we can play under pressure," says Pitcher Paul Splittorff. "Before, we just hoped we could."
It is difficult to define Kansas City's superiority. New York hits for higher average, Boston swings with more power and Baltimore plays better defense. The Royals have the best overall pitching in the league, but they do not have a single overpowering starter. What Kansas City does have is a little bit of everything—and it has two big advantages as a result of the schedule. The Royals are one of only three teams in the American League whose home park is covered with artificial turf. Because three of the playoff games will be in Kansas City if the series goes the full route, the AstroTurf could provide a pivotal edge. New York. Baltimore and Boston were 4-12 at Royals Stadium and 10-5 against Kansas City on terra firma.
K.C. has another advantage in the pitching variations Manager Whitey Herzog can employ. Because there is no off-day in the American League playoff schedule, a team must use four starters instead of the three the National League schedule will allow. The key pitcher is Splittorff, a lefthander who was so effective in relief against New York last October and again this season as a starter. Splittorff does not usually finish what he begins, but the Royal bullpen is admirable, featuring the superb Donald Duck impersonations of Marty Pattin, that rara avis Doug Bird and that gangling goose of a country boy, Mark Littell.