The biggest difference between this Dodgers team and the one that the Phillies split with in August is that Los Angeles now has switch-hitting speedster Rafael Furcal back at the top of the order. That's a big edge for Los Angeles, which upset the Cubs in a stunning sweep in the National League Division Series. And then, of course, there was the trading deadline acquisition of Manny Ramirez. This is a much better team than the won that won only 84 games during the regular season.
This shapes up as a close, low-scoring series that could go either way.
The Phillies won 16 of their last 20 games; the Dodgers won 22 of their last 30. If the Dodgers can keep the Phillies in the park, though, that could be enough to swing the series, and they have the pitching that just might be able to do that.
Dodgers in 7.
Maybe just the sight of Manny Ramirez will be enough to awaken the bats of Ryan Howard and Chase Utley. Their collective October slumps sure are getting annoying.
In the two postseason series this year and last, Howard and Utley are hitting a combined .184, with Howard hitting the only home run, a cosmetic solo shot in the Game 2 blowout loss to the Rockies last year.
Ramirez, on the other hand, is the most clutch hitter of his generation. He won't be rattled by the insanity that awaits him at Citizens Bank Park. In fact, he'll embrace it. Here's hoping Howard and Utley take a cue. Should be a heartstopper.
Phillies in 7.
Let's be real about this: The Phillies didn't exactly look like an offensive machine. That remains a concern, since they won Games 2 and 4 with homers. Their lack of execution should cost them a game or two.
Which is why it goes the full seven. Cole Hamels is out of his mind right now; Brett Myers is right again; Jamie Moyer is just right to baffle an overeager bunch of young hitters.
It should be long, but, ultimately, if they pitch around Manny Ramirez and remain patient and disciplined against Derek Lowe, it should be '93 all over again.
Phillies in 7.
The baseball gods must have had themselves a knee-slapping good time the way they manipulated the season series between the Phillies and Dodgers.
Phillies went to Chavez Ravine and were swept by a team celebrating its Mannyhood. Then the Dodgers came to the Bank, still looking up at the Diamondbacks, and were swept. Phils 4, Dodgers 4. All even in a season series where each team looked like Team China.
The gods can stop laughing. The NLCS will be decided by such things as pitching matchups and whether Manny Ramirez will get enough pitches to hit for the Dodgers and whether Ryan Howard will see a mistake or two to hammer for the Phillies. The X-Factor could be the still-unanswered question: Will Chase Utley's bat ever show up in October, or will he continue to jab at the ball with the shortest stroke this side of Paul Newman in "The Hustler"?
The Phillies won't be rolled over in Dodger Stadium. Nor will the armed and dangerous Dodgers suffer their Mannyfest Destiny in the Money Pit. A tense, long series begins tonight. Only the homerism that sometimes contaminates old age when the home side is teetering on the edge of something special compels me to pick ...
Phillies in 7.
The Phillies finished with a better record, with just as hot of a September as the Dodgers, playing in a better division.
Beyond that, this series is as too-close-to-call as it gets. Will Manny Ramirez tattoo Phillies pitching, or does Charlie Manuel really have the goods on him? Will Chase Utley continue to deaden the third spot in the order, or will this be his breakout postseason series? Pat Burrell?
Cole Hamels will give you two good outings. Jamie Moyer will battle for six innings. I'm starting to believe in Joe Blanton, and I hope Brett Myers doesn't have yet another relapse of a lack of confidence.
But the Dodgers are good, and they are opportunistic. The Phillies can't afford a messy start. Just look at the Cubs.
Phillies in 7.
Anybody who feels really strongly about this series is lying. It is that close. If it doesn't go at least six games, it will be an upset.
If I'm the Phillies, I don't like the 2-3-2 format. Yes, you get the extra home game but it puts an enormous imperative on winning the first two games of the series at home. To split is to invite disaster. To split is to come home trailing, 3-2, in all likelihood. And while the Phils do their best work on the precipice, it cannot be healthy to continue existing there.
The Phils really have to hit right out of the chute this time. Given the overall righthandedness of the Dodgers' pitching staff, there's a real shot.
Phillies in 6. *