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NLCS Preview: Offense

It’s déjà vu all over again, with the Phillies and Dodgers getting together in the National League Championship series.  Each team got here in a different way – the Phillies series was tough-it-out four gamer, while the Dodgers ran through the Cards in three games – but one thing is for sure, both offenses are revved up right now.

Here is a sneak peek at the series with a positional breakdown on offense:

Catcher:

Carlos Ruiz has never been known to be one with the stick, but he’s changing his M.O. here in the postseason.  “Chooch” put together a healthy .308/.400/.308 stat line for the Rockies series, driving in three runs.  Two of those came in the ridiculously drawn out Game 3 win, a sign that yes, the bottom of the order can produce big hits. In his career against the Dodgers, his OPS is 1.132, and in the playoffs last year he hit .313 in the NLCS, without a strikeout.

The Dodgers have a stellar backstop themselves in Russell Martin. However, this has been a trying year offensively for him, as he finished with a .250 average after three straight seasons above .280.  In the NLDS against St. Louis, Martin went just 1-for-13, a sure sign that Joe Torre overused his catcher for the past two seasons.

Normally, in a healthy year, the edge would certainly be in Martin’s favor.  But Ruiz has proven himself to be a clutch performer as of late, while Martin is struggling mightily at the dish.

SLIGHT EDGE: Phillies

First Base:

Right off the bat, this would seemingly be a lopsided position.  And not that it isn’t, however, Dodgers first baseman James Loney deserves some credit.  He is not a power hitter, but is a professional who knows how to drive in runs (90 the past two seasons) – perhaps a testament to his work with batting coach Don Mattingly. Last year’s LCS was a coming out party for Loney, who hit .438 in the five-game series.

Still, it’s all about Ryan Howard, Mr. Rocktober. Howard pounded the Rockies into submission in round one, driving in six runs while hitting a robust .375. He did so without a single long ball, too.

MAJOR EDGE: Phillies

Second Base:

This one isn’t even close. Chase Utley is the premier second baseman in the league and backed that up against Colorado with a .429 average, and a silly OPS of 1.198. There was some worry about Utley coming into the playoffs worn down, but he has quelled those thoughts with a sick stat line. On top of that, Utley hammered the Dodgers in last year’s LCS, putting together a .353/.522/.647 line.  Yikes.

On the other side, the Dodgers have been going with Ronnie Belliard since he was brought over from the Nationals in late August, instead of the incumbent Orlando Hudson.  He was superb in the regular season, hitting .351 for L.A., and is at .273 in the postseason. That’s nice and all, but this one is a no-brainer.

MAJOR EDGE: Phillies

Third Base:

The Dodgers get the nod on this one.  Lately, Pedro Feliz has looked overmatched and possibly worn down after a long season.  His defense has not wavered, but he looks to be swinging a wiffle bat up there.  Pete hit .214 in the opening series, but it looked much worse, as he continually swung at pitches early in the count.  He saw, on average, just 2.84 pitches per plate appearance against the Rox.

Casey Blake plays the hot corner for the Dodgers, and while his best days are behind him, he is known for his professional approach and leadership qualities.  He hit .273 in the divisional series and .280 in the regular season.  In the playoffs, he’s seeing 4.5 pitches/PA, which kills opposing hurlers.

EDGE: Dodgers

Shortstop:

Looking at the names head-to-head would seemingly make this match up a laugher.  However, it’s no longer that way as Jimmy Rollins has been unable to find a sustained groove for quite a while.  Rollins is hitting .263 in the playoffs, but has just one extra-base hit, no steals, and has whiffed five times, a team high. In ’08, Rollins was awful against L.A., sporting a .217 OBP in the five games.

On the other hand, Rafael Furcal is smoking hot right now.  He finished off the regular season by raising his average 15 points in just 13 games, a tough feat late in the year.  He then hit .500 against the Cardinals in the sweep.  He is a leadoff buzzsaw right now, so Phillies pitchers beware.

As much as it pains me, I have to give the edge to the hotter hitter, and presently, that’s Furcal.

SLIGHT EDGE: Dodgers

Outfield:

This one, too,  is very close.  The Dodgers most potent hitters reside in the outfield, with of course, Manny Ramirez still hanging around. But he’s no longer the focal point. Rather, that belongs to the two men to his left, Matt Kemp and Andre Ethier.

Ethier and Kemp combined to knock in 207 runs, taking the reigns when Ramirez was suspended.  Ethier had a superb NLDS against the Cardinals as well, going 6-for-12 with two homers and three batted in.  Kemp struggled a bit, but Manny is still being Manny, as he went 4-for-13 with two doubles.  In last year’s playoff series, Kemp was a nuisance, reaching base over 47 percent of his plate appearances, while Manny torched everything in site, hitting .533 against the Phillies in the NLCS.

Here in Philly, our outfield is just as potent.  Jayson Werth went .357 in the Rockies series, with an absurd OPS of 1.429.  He’s mashing right now.  Raul Ibanez and Shane Victorino were also very good in round one, both hitting over .300.  Werth struggled in the 2008 LCS, striking out seven times in 22 at-bats against the boys in blue.

I have a feeling it’s going to come down to which group performs better in this seven-game series.

SLIGHT EDGE: PHILLIES

OVERALL – EDGE: PHILLIES

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