2008 National League Championship Series Preview
Part II : Defeating Manny Ramirez
Then there’s Manny.
Yes, Manny Ramirez made this a different team. From April to June the Dodgers hit 53 home runs. From July to September: 84. Ramirez had a lot to do with that — he hit 17 after joining the Dodgers. Ramirez gives the Dodgers exactly what they were lacking: a consistent extra-base hit machine.
And that’s precisely what the Phillies have to stop.
Of course, Andre Ethier, James Loney, Russell Martin and Matt Kemp are important. And so are Jeff Kent, Juan Pierre, Nomar Garciaparra and Rafael Furcal. But Manny is the king. Manny will take this team where he wants to take them. If he hits, they’ll win. Simple as that.
Case in point: When the Dodgers swept the Phillies at Chavez Ravine, Ramirez had 5 RBI. When the Phils swept the Dodgers at the Bank, Ramirez had 0 RBI.
Trying To Stop Him
So how do you keep him from driving in runs? The first, most obvious answer, is to get the guys out in front of him. As I said earlier, the Phils need to shut down Furcal and Martin. The second, next most obvious answer, is to walk Ramirez. Of course, with multiple men on base, you’re running the risk of letting a young kid beat you, and that’s a huge momentum error. The third, next next most obvious answer, is to pitch around him and hope he swings badly. But he won’t. Though he has 124 strikeouts, only 42 are in the second half. Since joining Los Angeles, Manny has suddenly remembered how to hit a baseball.
Okay, so how can you make him record outs? Well, first off, Ramirez is hitting .373 when he puts the ball in play (.407 in the second half), so good luck. But, wait, there are ways.
Pitch Him Here
According to his Dodger Stadium, Fenway Park and Citizens Bank Park hit charts, he has more trouble getting hits into right field, and will hit into a lot of outs on the left side of the infield. That would mean the best places to pitch him are belt-inside, and low and away (where he’d try to get the barrel under the ball). And his hot zones show he’s “just” a .279 hitter belt-inside, and a .282 hitter low and away (everywhere else is fire-red). As the Phils own a couple pitchers who dance in the strike zone, it’s possible for the balls to hit their spots and Manny to come up early or late.
But here’s the kicker. While it seems the best way to pitch Ramirez is by dancing, power pitchers have it much easier. These guys (who tend to walk more, but also strike out more) have held Ramirez to a .265 average, while finesse pitchers (guys who dance around the zone) have received a .382 knocking against him. RBI totals are also as contrasting.
With that last part said, this shouldn’t surprise:
- Cole Hamels hasn’t been hit too badly, at a .250 clip.
- Brett Myers has held Ramirez to .158, but all three hits are extra-base hits. And he has walked Ramirez five times.
- Jamie Moyer has been owned to a .340 average. In 53 at bats, Ramirez has taken Moyer yard 10 times. Moyer does have 12 strikeouts against him.
- Then there’s Joe Blanton. Ramirez has a .560 average in 25 at bats. Yet just two of the 14 hits are for extra bases.
So power pitchers Hamels and Myers should fare better against Ramirez, as long as they throw strikes. Moyer and Blanton? Grab a glove. Luckily Moyer and Blanton match up well with the free swingers around Ramirez, so they’ll have to do their best in those spots.
As for relievers? Ramirez has put Ryan Madson, JC Romero, Chad Durbin and Scott Eyre all in his book. And Eyre should not face Ramirez — Manny has torched him, 4-for-4 with 2 HR and 5 RBI. If anyone in the pen should get Manny it’s Madson (.222). Brad Lidge, by the way, struck out Ramirez the only time he ever faced him.
I decided to write a lot about Ramirez because, and you can’t hide this, he is the key to this series. Keep him off the board and the Phils should win their sixth NL crown. While it’s important to stop the top of the order, one Manny swing can change the complexion of the series. To beat him, pitchers will have to fire strikes at him, and in his cold zones (belt-inside, low and away). Walking him helps, but you’re taking a gamble either way. Late, the Phils may walk him every time, unless No. 63 or No. 54 are on the hill. And I wouldn’t mind that. They cannot … cannot … let No. 99 beat them.