NLCS Preview Part III : A Stacked Rotation – Phillies Nation

NLCS Preview Part III : A Stacked Rotation

2008 National League Championship Series Preview

Part III : A Stacked Rotation

Probable Rotation
Derek Lowe – 14-11 / 3.24 ERA / 147 K / 45 BB
Chad Billingsley – 16-10 / 3.14 ERA / 201 K / 80 BB
Hiroki Kuroda – 9-10 / 3.73 ERA / 116 K / 42 BB
Clayton Kershaw – 5-5 / 4.26 ERA / 100 K / 52 BB


The Dodgers didn’t have the best staff ERA in baseball without having a good starting rotation. And the four guys lined up to face the Phillies in the NLCS all had pretty good seasons, each sporting an ERA+ over 100 (over the league average). Despite an injured and ineffective Brad Penny (who was staff ace, coming off his best season yet), the Dodgers received nice years from young and old.

The Lowe-End Theory

Game one starter Lowe has a nice history against the Phillies. The sinkerballer has a career 3.02 ERA in seven starts against the Phils. This season, however, he had a very normal start — three earned in 6.1 innings. Though he pitched well, he was taken out in the seventh because the Phils mounted a rally quickly. To wit, Lowe is at least hittable in the seventh inning, with an opponents average of .281. Of course, Lowe is at his most vulnerable in the first two innings (when most good pitchers are most vulnerable). In the first, opponents are hitting .292; in the second, .279. But the second time around is much harder.

It’s because Lowe may have a little early trouble finding the strike zone. If that’s the case, hit the first strike you get. In Lowe’s two worst starts of the season (against the Angels and Cardinals), he was victimized by hits early in counts, and runners got on base behind big hits. The goal, then, is to attack and find ways to get on base. Then disrupt him. Don’t let Lowe settle in and get to his sinker. If he does, it’ll be a tough climb up.

Hanging Chad

Chad Billingsley faced the Phillies once this season, and the Phils used situational hitting (and a Jimmy Rollins 3-for-3) to beat him in a 5-0 shutout. Billingsley is a power righty, a fastball-slider cat who can dial the No. 1 in at about 92-93, and the slider is devastating when it’s on. He has gathered a ton of strikeouts, and doesn’t seem to walk too many. He seems to have more trouble with home run hitters, hearts of batting orders. That means Chase Utley and Ryan Howard will be huge keys to a game two victory.

Billingsley won’t usually go more than seven innings. He’s very effective until he hits that seven-inning threshold, so the key is to raise his pitch count. While he won’t walk many hitters, battling the count and going after his fastball are the best ideas. And yes, he’s very, very good when ahead, but very, very bad when faced with a 2-1 (1.045 OPS) or 3-1 (1.291 OPS) count, as he tries to dial up a sure strike not to get behind. Typical strikeout pitcher. If a Phillie hitter finds himself at 2-1 or 3-1, he should go after the pitch almost automatically. If not, it’s slider time.

Kuroda Sonnet

If you remember back to the offseason, the Phillies were in the running for Hiroki Kuroda, but the Japanese pitcher said yes to more money and a Dodgers contract. It has worked out — he’s been a very solid No. 3 for Los Angeles. The 33-year-old Kuroda, a righty, mixes a mid-90s fastball with a slider, a forkball and a hybrid Japanese pitch called the “shuuto” (a fastball/sinker/slider). He likes the fastball, and when it’s hitting its spots, he’s very good. The Phillies saw that both times they’ve faced him — 13 innings, two runs, four hits.

Why do the Phils have trouble against Kuroda? Because he’s a craft righty who throws a whole bunch of pitches … you know … Dave Bush? Same kind of guy. He’s deceptive, he’s a dancer, but he can also dial it up and flame you out of the box. In two very bad starts against the Mets, Kuroda had batters swinging and missing just five times, total. Against the Phillies, he had batters swinging and missing 19 times. What to know is Kuroda will throw strikes — the key to beating him is to lock in on a pitch, not to just go after everything that looks like a winner.

Clayton’s Place

Clayton Kershaw is your classic, big-armed lefty. He has a mid-90s fastball, a big curve that falls in somewhere in the 70s, and a circle-change. In some ways he resembles Cole Hamels, but he’s much more raw and much more prone to having control issues. As you can see, he had worse than a 2:1 K:BB ratio this season. To his credit, however, he has curtailed the walks in the second half.

He had possibly his worst start yet against the Phils, giving up six runs on seven hits in four innings. In that game, the Phils chased him early, with Pat Burrell knocking a first-inning home run. And that’s your key. With an opponents’ .919 OPS against Kershaw in the first, the Phils have to pounce early in game four. That’s the game Charlie Manuel might want to think about moving Jayson Werth and Pat Burrell up in the order.

Final Word

The Dodgers four-man rotation is good. Lowe and Kuroda pose big challenges for the Phils, but the team has seen a good lot of both of them, making it possible they could hit them well. Still, they’ve been very deceptive against a fastball-happy group of Phils, so the good guys will have to temper their bats and be a little more patient, looking for their pitches. The younger, inexperienced Billingsley and Kershaw will definitely be challenging, but the Phils will have better looks against them. It’s the truth — the Phils can just kill those kinds of pitchers.

Situational hitting will be a huge key in this series, especially early. Jimmy Rollins and Shane Victorino need to reach base and play head games with Lowe and Co. These Dodger pitchers may not walk batters, but they could lose enough focus to possibly lay a fastball down the turnpike. And the Phils better be jumping all over those pitches.

Am I confident the Phils can hit this rotation? Well, situational hitting was a problem in the Division Series, so the outlook isn’t as rosy as I had hoped. But there’s something to be said for scouting reports, the homefield advantage and multiple looks. I’m not envisioning a lot of runs, but if the Phils can scrape together a couple runs in the first three games, they can win two of them. And that’s what they should be seeking.



  1. Griffin

    October 8, 2008 at 10:35 am

    Damn, I was hoping Maddux would start game 4 instead of the lefty Kershaw. Oh well, beating these starters is going to be difficult, but not impossible.

  2. Dennis

    October 8, 2008 at 10:45 am

    I have confidence that the Phils can hit any righty in baseball…. And Kershaw they played well against this year. The bats are going to catch fire in this series and if the pitching holds up, then there is no stopping the Fightins’. I just got the ok to take a half day friday from the boss and will be attending game 2! So Billingsley is going down…..

  3. NC Jason

    October 8, 2008 at 10:50 am

    Dennis, I also believe the lack of lefties in the Dodgers oration will be a plus. The key to any series – have good at bats. Take pitches and jump on mistakes. – All easier said than done. I would love to see a fast start by the Phillies in the first two games. Remember this staff has not had to pitch in many innings when down and they were not tested coming after a loss.

  4. Sct

    October 8, 2008 at 10:51 am

    Nice work. Does Milt have your number?

    They’ve got to win the games they should win, and they’ve got to have a game plan. Hope we don’t see Lowe in game 4.

  5. KM

    October 8, 2008 at 10:55 am

    This is going to be a tough series. The key is to be patient against Billingsley, Kuroda and Kershaw, but not too patient, because if you wait too long any of those guys will send you back to the dugout with a K on the scoreboard. To beat Lowe we are going to have to jump on him early and get him out of rhythm. When he’s on, and that sinker is flowing, he is as dominant as any pitcher in baseball.

    This series goes 6 minimum.

  6. Squonk64

    October 8, 2008 at 10:56 am

    IMHO, people make way too much of the Dodgers’ rotation. The fact is the Dodgers play in a pitcher friendly park, which benefits them. (Note: Since 2005, that hasn’t really been the case, however, Dodger Stadium consistently had a park factor ranging from the mid to low 90s before 2005. The only change since then? Drug testing has taken it’s toll, effectively lengthening the distance of the fences at smaller parks while keeping the larger parks unaffected.)

    Case in point: Lowe’s home ERA is 2.30 with a 0.206 BA at home, but 4.42 and 0.292 away. (Note: doesn’t have better stats, like ERA+, for home/away splits.) Billingsley: 2.95 and 0.236 home, 3.33 and 0.260 away. Kuroda: 3.68/0.241 vs. 3.78/0.264. Kershaw: 3.41/0.248 vs. 5.36/0.287. Overall, the staff is 3.01/0.228 vs. 4.40/0.275.

    This ought to be a good series, but unlike the talking heads on TV, I don’t see the Dodgers rotation as a strength.

  7. Don M

    October 8, 2008 at 11:01 am

    The real key for this series.. is ONE GAME AT A TIME…. if they do that, they can win.. if they start putting pressure on themselves to try to win the whole thing in the first two games at home, they’ll be in trouble..

    I know it sounds stupid, but they really need to just relax and play baseball… the crowds down there will be amazing

  8. Mike N

    October 8, 2008 at 12:11 pm

    Unsurprisingly, our success against this pitching staff will come down to whether Utley and Howard hit the right-handed starters. These two guys didn’t have much success in the last series but must get it going now. It was impressive that the Phils handily beat the Brewers with no contributions from Utley and Howard, but they cannot continue to win that way against the much better Dodgers.

  9. Squonk64

    October 8, 2008 at 12:19 pm

    Here is my case for the Phillies. The Phillies’ rotation home/away stats is very telling on why the Phillies set the rotation the way they did, all that “lefty/righty” stuff aside.

    Hamels: 2.99/0.227 home vs. 3.19/0.226 away. Myers: 3.01/0.232 vs. 6.21/0.301. (Ouch!) Moyer: 4.61/0.294 (Ouch!) vs. 2.92/0.232. Blanton: (Phils only stats not easily available, so I hope I did the math right) 3.55/0.234 vs 5.23/0.260 (Uh, oh…) My bottom line is Hamels is neutral home/away, Myers definately pitches better at home, Moyer definately pitches better on the road, and Blanton is the fourth wheel on a tricycle. The Phillies are making the most of their starting four by pitching their Ace first at home with a possible game 5 on the road, keeping Myers at home regardless in games 2 and 6, pitching Moyer away and praying his experience deals with a possible Game 7 at home, and throwing Blanton out there where he fits.

    The only holes I see is Blanton in game 4, and Moyer in a possible game 7. Game 1 should be gimme. Games 2 and 3 and 6 have the Phillies as a slight edge. Game 5 should be tight. If it gets to games 6 or 7, you throw out all the stops if Myers or Moyer get into trouble or the opposing pitcher is doing extremely well. Looking at only the starting pitching match-ups, I don’t see how the Phils pitching matchups are not, at worst, even on 5 of the 7 days.

  10. Squonk64

    October 8, 2008 at 12:30 pm

    Mike M: “the much better Dodgers?” Huh?

    In all fairness, the Dodgers are a hot team, have done well lately. But so are the Phillies. Both the Dodgers and Phillies beat teams that weren’t hot to get to the NLCS, the Cubbies having lost 4 of 6 at the end of the season and the Brewers being, well, the Brewers.

    That talk makes me laugh. Especially when you look at “polls,” like the only over at See:

    Q1: Who will win the NLCS? 57-43 Dodgers. (As of this writing.)

    Q2: Who has the better starting rotation: Even, 50-50.

    Q3: Who has the better bullpen: Phillies, 58-42.

    Q4: Who has the better top of the lineup: Phillies, 65-35.

    I mean, what am I missing here? That the Dodgers are the better team, even though, when you break things down, The Phillies are better or even in every category?

  11. Griffin

    October 8, 2008 at 12:48 pm

    They should include a 5th question in that poll.” Have we hyped Manny Ramirez vs. the Red Sox enough that now everyone will pick those two teams to win?”

  12. Don M

    October 8, 2008 at 1:03 pm

    It comes down to the fact that any of the 4 remaining teams have a legit chance to win the World Series..

    The RedSox have the experience and the starting pitching.
    The Rays have a lot of players who play for the team, and play great situational baseball.. along with good pitching.
    The Dodgers have Babe Ruth.. I mean Roy Hobbs.. I mean Manny Ramirez.. to go along with the “best” pitching in the NL..

    The Phillies have solid starting pitching, a strong bullpen, power and speed throughout most of their lineup.. very good baserunning and defense.. and the phillies phanatic..

    really any team can win.. and if the ESPN crew is all taking the Dodgers, we should feel great about our chances, cause they can’t pick winners to save their lives!

  13. Gabriel

    October 8, 2008 at 1:10 pm

    hahah donny great point… espn picks are as reliable as a 1972 pinto!
    i’m nervous/anxious/excited for this series all at once… i mean, if we win this thing then we go to the WORLD SERIES! i’m trying my hardest not to get ahead of myself (well i sort of did when i bought WS tickets…) but as a fan i feel as tho i’m entitled to… as a phillies ballplayer i hope they can look at this series one game at a time… that i feel is our best chance to get through to the next step… come on phils! lets go!

  14. Mike N

    October 8, 2008 at 1:50 pm

    Squonk64- Sorry, I wasn’t clear. I meant that the Dodgers are much better than the *Brewers*. I think the Phils and the Dodgers are pretty evenly matched, it wouldn’t surprise me to see it go seven games. My point was, Utley and Howard have to pick it up since we cannot beat the Dodgers without them. We did more or less beat the Brewers without them.

  15. Gabriel

    October 8, 2008 at 2:05 pm

    more or less? how about more than less… did rynho even have a hit in the series?! chase had one – although it was important for the game 1 win, it was also an error on cameron (not officially but hey, we all saw what we saw)…
    i think 7 days worth of BP will help our duo tremendously, i hope at least… i think they are like, 75% the key offensively in this series but not the be all that ends all…

  16. MikeB

    October 8, 2008 at 2:55 pm

    I was modestly surprised when the Dodgers beat the Cubbies in the NLDS but for them to do it in three games straight was a big surprise. After all, the Cubs had one of the best records in baseball. So then the question is, were the Dodgers the superior team or were the Cubs burned out and played their best baseball earlier in the year?

  17. Phil

    October 8, 2008 at 2:56 pm

    MikeB…I think the Cubs were cold because the starters got rested for the last week of the regular season.

  18. db

    October 8, 2008 at 4:04 pm

    throw a RHP/LHP on the top roster for us newbs who dont know every name 🙂

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