As soon as my hangover from the Cubs series faded, we roll right into the next big thing. The Dodgers enter their first NLCS since 1988 and we at least have history on our side because it could be against the one franchise that's been as pathetic as the Cubs.
The Phillies have two major strengths: A very dangerous lineup filled with three true outcomes hitters, and a solid defense to backup what looks to be a thin pitching staff. Combine this with one of the best closers in baseball and you have a very dangerous opponent.
On paper, the Phillies should have an elite defense with Chase Utley and Pedro Feliz being arguably the best in baseball at their positions, Jimmy Rollins leading shortstops in +/- this year, Shane Victorino being all around mobile and Jayson Werth, a competent centerfielder, in right. Despite this, the team finished only 10th in defensive efficiency this year. This is probably due to having two absolute butchers, Pat Burrell and Ryan Howard, in the field. This solid defense does help the back end of the Phillies rotation who can't strike anyone out, but it's not quite to the level of the Cubs.
The Phillies lineup is very scary 1-6, but they do have a mid June Dodger style black hole at the bottom of their lineup with the deadly trio of Pedro Feliz, Carlos Ruiz, and the pitcher. Feliz does have some pop, but as long as you keep the ball at least two feet out of the strike zone, he's an easy out. The Phillies can fix this by platooning him with Greg Dobbs, but this does hurt their defense.
One of the scarier things about the Phillies lineup is the balance they have, the lineup won't suddenly fold if you bring in a pitcher who throws the ball with the correct hand. Chase Utley and Ryan Howard are murdering righties this year, while Jayson Werth and Pat Burrell are both beasts against lefties. Unlike the Cubs series, Joe Beimel is going to need to come up big time with the Phillies likely hitting Utley and Howard three and four in the lineup.
The biggest hope we have in this series is that we beat up on Cole Hamels. Outside of their ace, the Phillies pitching just isn't that scary. Brett Myers has put up a four ERA after working out some mechanical issues early by mid May, but that's far from unstoppable. After Myers, the Phillies have Jamie Moyer who has worked miracles by only allowing 20 home runs in Philadelphia but isn't exactly the type of power pitcher you want going for you in the playoffs, and Joe Blanton who somehow managed to improve despite going to a much more hitter friendly park with a worse defense behind him during the season. Hamels is the only shutdown guy the Phillies have, and taking even one game against him could go a long way towards winning the series.
Aside from beating up on Hamels, the other key to this series is getting to the Phillies starting pitching before the 8th. Brad Lidge has been a deadly closer this year, but after that, the Phillies pen is just full of middle relievers. Unlike the Cubs who could potentially throw Marmol and Wood out there for three, or even four innings if it really came down to it, the Phillies have to go to Ryan Madson who put up middle relieverish numbers all season. Guys like Blanton and Moyer have to go long in the game or else the Dodgers get a huge advantage. It's very possible we'll see some big sixth and seventh innings out of the Dodgers this series.
The sudden shift in the media from the Dodgers facing an unstoppable juggernaut in the Cubs to it being a foregone conclusion that Manny is going to face Boston in the World Series just isn't true. The Phillies are a very talented team featuring a lot of the same strengths as the Cubs, I'm much more optimistic about this series than the last one, but just remember what overconfidence did for the Cubs.