LOS ANGELES -- They met in this same round a year ago, finished with the two best records in the National League this season and each had home-field advantage in the division series, and yet somehow the fact that the Phillies will meet the Dodgers in the NLCS feels mildly surprising. The Dodgers upended a Cardinals team overflowing with top-quality starting pitching, supposedly that most determinative of postseason factors, while the Phillies eliminated a Rockies team that had been playing the best of any team in the league since late May.
There will be no surprise, however, when one of these teams advances to the World Series. In many ways, they are a more even matchup than the Yankees-Angels ALCS clash that is being viewed as the main event to the NLCS undercard. Whichever NL team survives will almost certainly be viewed as the underdog in the World Series, but to get there, they will have to first find the answers to these key subplots
He's young, left-handed, the most reliable starter in their rotation and now the Game 1 starter in the NLCS.
Kershaw will start Games 1 and, if necessary, 5 for the Dodgers, who hope he'll be as dominant in those outings for them as Hamels was against them a year ago. But after appearing to emerge as the game's next great starter (being named NLCS and World Series MVP in 2008), Hamels was inconsistent throughout this season, finishing 10-11 with a 4.32 ERA that was more than a run above his 2008 total. He was at his best, however, against the Dodgers this year, posting a 0.56 ERA in two starts, striking out 14 against just one walk in 16 innings pitched. That, even more than his dominant NLCS a year ago, should give
The team's offenses are, for the most part, fairly even, and dangerous in their own way. The Phillies led the league in home runs and runs scored, the Dodgers in batting average and on-base percentage. But both teams have key players who need to heat up. Both
Ramirez, meanwhile, tortured the Phillies in last year's NLCS, batting .533/.682/1.067. But he entered this postseason having struck out nine times in his last four games of the regular season while going just 1-for-14. He had just one hit in the first two games of the NLDS before busting out with three hits in Game 3, causing both Dodgers manager
Arguably the biggest play of last year's NLCS was the pinch-hit home run by Philadelphia's
The bullpen was so vital to the Phillies' World Series triumph last year that it became the subject of a reality show (MLB Network's
The Dodgers, meanwhile, have no such concerns about their 'pen. While Manuel is hoping to get as much length as possible from his starters, Torre has shown that he has no problems pulling his starters early, even with a lead -- as he did to
At 69 years old, Torre spent part of the down time before the start of the NLCS dropping hints about retirement, but he showed in the NLDS that he still has as much managerial acumen as any skipper in the game. His uncanny knack for making all the right moves in the postseason is back. He not only removed Wolf in Game 1 and won, he used Broxton in the eighth inning of Game 2 -- while trailing -- and won that game as well. Then he gave a start in Game 3 to