Dodgers, Phillies in Fourth Pennant Battle

The upstart Dodgers, who had the eighth best record in the National League, will hopefully carry the momentum they collected in the sweep of the Cubs in the first round into the title battle. The Phillies edged the NY Mets in the final days of the regular season, then stopped Milwaukee three games to one to move into the title game.

Los Angeles and Philadelphia meet for the fourth time to decide the National League Championship. The two teams met in 1977 and 1978, with the Dodgers winning both best-of-five series in four games. In 1983, Philadelphia defeated the Dodgers in four games. With the addition of the wild card, the NLCS is now a seven-game series.

All the games except for Game 2 start at 8 p.m. Eastern Time. Game 2 will be a 4 p.m. Eastern Time game.

The schedule:

Game Day Date
Gm 1 Thursday Oct. 9 LA @ PHI
Gm 2 Friday Oct. 10 LA @ PHI
Gm 3 Sunday Oct. 12 PHI @ LA
Gm 4 Monday Oct. 13 PHI @ LA
Gm 5* Wednesday Oct. 15 PHI @ LA
Gm 6* Friday Oct. 17 LA @ PHI
Gm 7* Saturday Oct. 18 LA @ PHI * if necessary

The Dodgers will start Derek Lowe, feeling that they can bring him back on three days rest if necessary in both Game 4 and Game 7. Chad Billingsley and Hiroki Kuroda will follow in Games 2 and 3. The Game 4 starter will depend on whether Hong-Chih Kuo is healthy enough to be on the roster for this series.

If Kou is ready to go, he'll be the second lefty in the pen and Clayton Kershaw could will be the fourth starter. If Kuo is still elbow pain, Kershaw will likely have to be the second lefty in the pen and veteran Greg Maddux would get the start in Game 4.

Lefty relievers are vital in this series because the Phillies have so many dangerous left-handed hitters in their lineup, beginning but not ending with N.L. MVP candidate Ryan Howard, who had a strong September.

Left-hander Cole Hamels is set to start for the Phillies in the opener. The 24-year-old left-hander pitched a masterpiece against the Brewers in Game 1 of the Division Series, allowing just two hits and a walk while striking out nine in eight innings as the Phillies won, 3-1.

Since Aug. 30 when the Dodgers started an eight-game winning streak, the team has posted a 22-8 (.733) record, including their three victories in the NLDS. That is the best winning percentage in Major League Baseball during that period, but only slightly ahead of the Phillies (22-9, .710) who also surged in the final month. 

The Phillies lineup includes the last two MVPs in Jimmy Rollins and Howard, and they are as tough as the town they represent. Last year they became the only team to come back from seven down with 17 to play, and this year they're even better.

Howard (48 home runs, 146 runs batted in) and Chase Utley (33 homers, 104 RBIs) bat from the left side; Rollins (38 doubles, nine triples, 47 steals) and Shane Victorino (.293 average, 102 runs, 36 steals) are switch-hitters.

They are particularly tough in Citizen's Bank Park, a small park that is perfect for their power hitters.

The Dodgers won four straight from the Phillies in Dodger Stadium, then lost four straight in Philadelphia in August.

Manny Ramirez has been beyond outstanding and he has made the rest of the lineup much better. The return of Rafael Furcal at shortstop had added a strong bat and glove and the young players are beginning to believe in themselves.

Before the NL Division Series opener in Chicago, the Dodgers said they weren't the same team that lost five of seven games to the Cubs in late May and early June. They were right, Ramirez and Casey Blake were not on the team.

But they were both there over the eight game, home and home series the two clubs split. They beat the Phillies 8-6, 4-3, 7-6 and 3-1. Dodgers' pitching was battered in Philadelphia 8-1, 9-2, 5-2 and 5-0.

The Dodgers' earned-run average against the Phillies was 5.48, the highest of any opponent they faced. If Kuo is unavailable, the Dodgers figure to have only two left-handed pitchers, Joe Beimel and Kershaw.

Beimel held the Phillies to one run in 4.1 innings over five games in the regular season. Kershaw started twice against the Phillies and was 0-1 with an 8.10 ERA, giving up nine runs in 10 innings.

How the Dodgers right-handed pitching handles the Phillies left-handed (or switch-hitting) lineup will determine the outcome.

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