NLCS redux: Dodgers get second chance

NLCS redux: Dodgers get second chance

Vengeance has been the recurring theme of the 2009 postseason. The Angels took care of a lot of past business against the Red Sox, the Phillies gained retribution for being swept out of the Division Series two years ago by the Rockies, and the Dodgers have already answered a history of playoff failures against the Cardinals.

The Dodgers now get a chance to collect another marker against the Phils, who took them out of the 2008 National League Championship Series in five games.

No hard feelings, as the '09 NLCS kicks off on Thursday at 8:07 p.m. ET? That's what the Dodgers may be saying, but not what they are thinking.

The Angels, too, had shrugged off their litany of Boston horrors going into that ALDS. Coming out of it, though, they danced over the fallen Red Sox with a little extra vim.

And we haven't even gotten into the personal side of payback. The Wolf Pack will be back in Philadelphia -- and so will Vicente Padilla. Randy Wolf and Padilla topped the Phillies' rotation in 2002-05, and now are reunited on the other side.

The Phillies are not short on emotional ammunition, either. They have visions of becoming the first NL team to win back-to-back World Series since the 1975-76 Cincinnati Big Red Machine, and have taken the next step toward that dream by becoming the first NL reigning champ to even advance to the NLCS since the 1996 Braves, who had taken the '95 Classic from the Indians the previous October.

Between the lines, the teams are well-matched -- assuming Manny Ramirez's predictable postseason awakening continues and reaches the long-ball stage, to give the Dodgers an answer to the constant Ryan Howard threat.

NL Championship Series
Gm. 1 PHI 8, LAD 6 Wrap Video
Gm. 2 LAD 2, PHI 1 Wrap Video
Gm. 3 PHI 11, LAD 0 Wrap Video
Gm. 4 PHI 5, LAD 4 Wrap Video
Gm. 5 PHI 10, LAD 4 Wrap Video

With the Phillies set to reprise the all-lefty rotation that dismissed the Rockies -- with the likely addition of way-back Dodger Pedro Martinez -- that could be critical for Los Angeles.

The Dodgers' modest Division Series attack on three St. Louis righties -- their 13 runs were the second-fewest ever in 15 NL Division Series sweeps -- was led by Andre Ethier, a .194 hitter against southpaws this season who has one hit in 13 career at-bats against Cole Hamels and Cliff Lee.

But both Matt Kemp and Ramirez are available for protection there, which has helped level the playing field between the teams. They split eight regular-season games in 2008 and, while the Dodgers had the slight edge (4-3) this season, they outscored the Phils by all of one run.

The caveat for Los Angeles is that all the '09 games occurred in late May and early June, when their rotation was healthy and dependable. Meaning, both Chad Billingsley and Hiroki Kuroda were integral.

Now some of the chips have been moved around, and Joe Torre's adjusted rotation faces a far sterner test, as it should be as you progress on the postseason ladder.

The Phillies who led the NL in scoring, who had the most homers (224) and extra-base hits (571), who throw at you the first quartet of 30-homer men (Raul Ibanez, Chase Utley, Jayson Werth, Howard) in their history ... well, these aren't the little-ball Cardinals.

DODGERS VS. PHILLIES
How the Dodgers fared against the Phillies during the regular season:
  • Won season series, 4-3
  • Team batting average: .276
  • Runs scored per game: 3.7
  • Staff ERA: 3.14
  • Outscored Phillies, 26-25

The Dodgers also have to be wary of one of the factors that might have contributed to their hot-then-cold 2008 postseason. Playoff experience is all about making the necessary adjustments, so they should have a better handle on the long layoff between series.

They had five days between the end of the Division Series and the start of the Championship Series in '08 -- and are now looking at the same lag. Due to weather and stiffer competition from the Rockies, the Phillies should remain more in rhythm.

In contrast to last year, this NLCS opens in Dodger Stadium at 8:07 p.m. ET on Thursday, but that won't be a telling twist. As the NL's best traveling troupe, the Phillies' road record (48-33) virtually matched the Dodgers' record at home (50-31).

The all-important bullpens also neutralize each other. Closer Brad Lidge's struggles have gotten an inordinate amount of attention but, as a whole, the Philadelphia relief corps and manager Charlie Manuel's use of it can stay with the Dodgers' league-best. Phillies relievers, in fact, led the Majors in allowing the fewest inherited runners (49) to score.

Tom Singer is a reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog, Change for a Nickel. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.