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NLCS Preview Part IV : The Pen's The Thing

2008 National League Championship Series Preview

Part IV : The Pen’s The Thing

Probable Bullpen
Chan Ho Park – 4-4 / 3.40 ERA / 79 K / 36 BB
James McDonald – 0-0 / 0.00 ERA / 2 K / 0 BB
Greg Maddux – 8-13 / 4.22 ERA / 98 K / 30 BB
Cory Wade – 2-1 / 2.27 ERA / 51 K / 15 BB
Takashi Saito – 4-4 / 2.49 ERA / 60 K / 16 BB
Joe Beimel – 5-1 / 2.02 ERA / 32 K / 21 BB
Jonathan Broxton – 3-5 / 3.13 ERA / 88 K / 27 BB

About

This is a very good bullpen, statistically. Unlike the Phillies, however, the Dodgers don’t have very clear, defined roles in their pen. What we know is Broxton will likely close games, and Saito has experience in that arena, but has struggled after an injury. We know Beimel is the only lefty in the bullpen. We know Wade is a pretty good setup man who has come into his own in his first season. And we know Maddux will be used maybe in a middle-relief role in the series.

So we know things, but we don’t know concrete plans. Whereas with the Phils, we know Durbin and Eyre go earlier, Madson and Romero go later, Lidge goes latest, and Condrey and Happ are in when absolutely necessary. And boom goes the dynamite.

All Roads To Broxton

Jonny “I don’t want. Your life” Brox. The 24-year-old throws strikes, and has pretty devastating stuff, but he is hittable. Take Shane Victorino, who is 3-for-5 lifetime against Broxton. Jimmy Rollins has walked twice and hit once in six plate appearances. The main losers against Brox? Ryan Howard, Jayson Werth, Pedro Feliz (3 K) and Pat Burrell (2 K). That makes sense — Broxton beats guys who look fastball first, home run most. Having Chase Utley (2-for-4, 2B) or Victorino up against Broxton is the best thing possible.

Getting to him, the Phils will mostly encounter Wade and Beimel. The former has never faced the Phillies, but will strike out a ton of batters. He’ll be the X-factor for the Dodgers bullpen — the guy who can effectively bridge the starters to Broxton. The latter, Beimel, is a left-handed specialist who has weird splits against lefties. While lefties hit Beimel better than righties (.278 to .263), they’re slugging worse (.311 to .337). What matters is how Beimel has done against the Phils top lefties: Howard (0-for-3, 3 BB); Utley (2-for-7, 2B); Jenkins (4-for-11, 2 BB); Stairs (1-for-4, 2B). Dobbs has no appearances against him. Phils righties have hit him well, so Charlie Manuel might think about breaking Utley and Howard to keep Beimel almost invisible.

Saito On It

Takashi Saito has been an interesting case. Once a drop-dead top closer, he lost his spot with an injury, and has not clearly found a true role since. He might see the end of a game against the Phils, or he might see time earlier. Whatever the case, he hasn’t faced Phillie hitters too much, keeping them hitless almost across the board. The only exception: Stairs, who is 1-for-1 with a home run.

When Saito gets hit, it’s by lefties, and it’s by pulling the ball. Saito might not give Utley, Howard, Dobbs, Jenkins and Stairs pitches to hit, but if he misses, they have to be on it.

The Experience Factor

At the front of the bullpen are three pitchers with varying experience. With the least — just four appearances — is James McDonald, who will see a game if necessary. With the most experience are two established veterans — one with a nice history, one with an amazing history.

Chan Ho Park has been around for some time, but should merely get mop-up duty. He has been used in a solid sixth/seventh-inning role previously, but has been pretty bad lately, and especially on the road (4.50 ERA compared to 2.18 at home). If he enters a game at the Bank, Joe Torre is having a problem.

Then there’s Greg Maddux, maybe the greatest pitcher of our time. Coming over from San Diego, Maddux started as the Dodgers’ No. 5 toward the end of the season. Now he’ll be used in a middle relief role. He’s very good when he sees hitters for the first time in a game (.250 AVG compared to .317 the third time around), so he could be extremely effective in middle relief. Big hitters Burrell, Howard, Jenkins and Feliz have the best track records against Maddux. An interesting contrast to Broxton.

Final Word

This Dodgers bullpen looks tough at first glimpse, but the Phils can match up well against them if they play their cards correctly. Beimel doesn’t have a nice history outside of Howard, so breaking up the big bats might take Beimel out of the picture. While Saito hasn’t seen much of the Phillies, the big lefty bats can hit him. They might not hit Broxton, but there’s a gameplan against him, too. The wild card is Wade. If he’s throwing darts and fooling Phillie hitters, the good guys will be in trouble.

Say the Dodgers starters get through six innings with leads. The Phils will likely have one good chance to beat them after that, and it would probably be the last at bats. If Saito comes in with Rollins-Victorino-Utley coming up, it might be tough. And if Broxton comes in with Howard-Burrell-Werth coming up, it might be tougher. Then again, if Saito comes in with Howard-Burrell-Werth coming up … well, you get my drift. Matchups are extremely important in this series.

Against the Brewers, the Phillies had to get their runs off the starters. They did. It turned out the Milwaukee bullpen performed very well. Now, the Phillies might have to get a couple runs off the Los Angeles bullpen, and it’s not out of the question that they will. These guys are much more hittable than you think, but if the Phils run into the wrong matchup, it will prove futile. Charlie Manuel will be more important than ever.

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