Kershaw Surprise Starter in Game 1

In a remarkable turn of events, Dodgers manager Joe Torre has announced that he will start young (21) Clayton Kershaw against the Phillies in Game 1 of the National League Championship Series. Los Angeles swept St. Louis and Philadelphia disposed of Colorado three games to one in the division series.

With the start of the National League Championship Series against Philadelphia tonight in Los Angeles, the Dodgers bypassed Randy Wolf, a more experienced left hander, and will give the ball to Vincente Padilla in Game 2.

Torre explained at a press conference that he chose Kershaw on the basis of his division-clinching win against Colorado on Oct. 3 when he worked six scoreless innings, striking out his first five batters and retiring his first 11 in a row.

"He really did pretty good that day," Torre said. "To me, where he is and how he's come back from the shoulder, it could benefit us by saving innings. His recent starts are really what made it in the equation. That last start was a huge game for us. We lose that game and we're tied in the division."

The defending World Series champion Phillies will start left-hander Cole Hamels tonight at Dodger Stadium. Hamels beat the Dodgers twice in the 2008 NLCS, working 14 innings, allowing 11 hits, striking out 13 and posting a 1.93 earned run average. The game starts at 5:07 p.m. Pacific Time on TBS.

Padilla, who held the Cardinals scoreless in the third, and final game of the NLDS, is another surprise. However, Torre tends to go with the hot hand, and Padilla certainly had that in the clincher.

And a wild card in the entire pitching rotation is Hiroki Kuroda, who pitched five innings in an Arizona Instructional League game on Tuesday, a game that both Torre and pitching coach Rick Honeycutt attended.

Kuroda missed his final start of the regular season because of a bulging disk in his neck and was not on the roster for the division series.

"Kuroda felt good and that's the main thing," Torre said. "He's been away a little bit, but I was comfortable watching him. He got a little bored there in the middle, but I thought his command was surprisingly good.

So Kuroda (who will probably replace Jon Garland on the roster) will start Game 3 and Wolf, who everyone thought would draw the opening start, will be on the mound in Game 34 at Philadelphia. That puts Chad Billingsley in the bullpen.

Kuroda shutout the Cubs last year over 6.1 innings in the NLDS sweep of Chicago, then won the Dodgers only game against the Phillies in the championship game, allowing five hits and two runs over six innings

That setup allows Torre to pitch Kuroda in the potential seventh game of the series in Los Angeles.

The feeling is that Kershaw and Wolf would negate the Phillies left-handed power, but during the season the club was 29-16 against left-handers.

This is a well-rounded lineup that scored 40 more runs during the season than the Dodgers and hit 79 more home runs. They can handle pitching from either side of the rubber.

The deciding factor, it says here, will be the superb Dodgers bullpen who smothered a good St. Louis offense, with perhaps the best one-two starting pitching punch in all of baseball in Chris Carpenter and Adam Wainwright, and won two of the three games.

George Sherrill, Ronald Belisario, Ramon Troncoso and Jonathon Broxton are lights out and adding Chad Billingsley to that mix will only make it better.

With just days left in the regular season, the Dodgers led the league in batting average and earned run average and were only .001 behind Pittsburgh in fielding average, working toward a triple crown.

Milestone Missed
The Dodgers currently lead the National League in batting average (.273) and ERA (3.41) and are tied for second in the league with a .987 fielding percentage, just .01 behind the league-leading Pirates and going for the triple crown.

They won the batting title, edging the NY Mets .27002 to .26994; won the earned run title with a 3.41 (The Giants were second at 3.55) but slipped to fifth place in the league with a .986 fielding average, trailing first-place Pittsburgh (who won with a .988), Houston and Colorado.

The last National League team to accomplish the feat was the 1946 St. Louis Cardinals, which had a .265 average, 3.01 ERA, and .980 fielding percentage.  

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