The Dodgers and Philadelphia Phillies open the National League Championship Series tonight at Dodger Stadium, a rematch of last year’s NLCS. Here’s a glance at how the teams stack up:
The Dodgers finished the regular season tied with the New York Mets with the NL’s best team batting average, .270, while the Phillies tied for eighth, .258, with the lowly Washington Nationals. But with Chase Utley, Ryan Howard, Jayson Werth, Shane Victorino and Raul Ibanez in their lineup, the Phillies can still overpower a pitching staff in short order, which is why they led the league in runs scored (820) and home runs (224). Still, the Dodgers are balanced offensively and strong throughout their lineup, with leadoff hitter Rafael Furcal and a middle of the order that includes Manny Ramirez, Andre Ethier and Matt Kemp.
Both teams finished the season among the NL’s best clubs in fielding percentage and errors. Philadelphia is strong up the middle with Utley at second base, Jimmy Rollins at shortstop and Victorino in center field. The right side is more suspect with Howard at first base, where he committed 14 errors. The Dodgers generally are solid defensively with Furcal at shortstop, Casey Blake at third base and either Orlando Hudson or Ronnie Belliard at second base. And though Ramirez in left field can still turn an easy fly ball into an adventure, Kemp has become a premier center fielder.
The quality of the Dodgers’ starting rotation is a question mark, just as it has been all season — at times brilliant and at times wanting. Veteran left-hander Randy Wolf came on strong in the second half and finished 11-7 with a 3.23 earned-run average, and 21-year-old lefty Clayton Kershaw earned the Game 1 start against Philadelphia after a strong outing against the St. Louis Cardinals in the division series. Vicente Padilla, the scheduled Game 2 starter, turned out to be strong acquisition for the Dodgers. Likewise, Cliff Lee has helped the Phillies since being acquired in July, with a 7-4 record and 3.39 ERA at Philadelphia. He joins ace Cole Hamels, J.A. Happ and Joe Blanton, who can start or pitch middle relief.
Both teams have a strong corps of relievers, with the Dodgers led by right-handed closer Jonathan Broxton, who had 36 saves and a 2.61 ERA. The Dodgers also bolstered their bullpen with the acquisition of George Sherrill from the Baltimore Orioles; he posted a 0.65 ERA in nearly 28 innings of work with the Dodgers, often as Broxton’s setup man. The Phillies, in turn, rely on closers Brad Lidge — who struggled badly at times this season — and Ryan Madson, who had a 3.26 ERA in 79 innings.
The Dodgers’ bench has been especially strong this year, with Juan Pierre, Mark Loretta, Juan Castro and Brad Ausmus, among others, delivering timely hits and defensive help. The Dodgers are still waiting for a big contribution from late-season pickup Jim Thome (564 career home runs). The Phillies, in turn, still have one Matt Stairs, who tore out Dodgers fans’ hearts with a pinch-hit, two-run home run off Broxton that enabled the Phillies to win Game 4 of last year’s NLCS. What did Stairs do this year? He led the majors in pinch-hit homers with five.
Dodgers in six games.