The MVP won't be determined until the final out of the series, but who is it so far? Let's take a slightly premature look with the Phils up 3-1. Forget Shane Victorino and his fabulous defense and 6 RBI. Forget Brett Myers and his 3 hits from the 9-hole. Forget Cole Hamels and his game 1 win. Forget even Matt Stairs and his home run which almost (but not quite!) wiped away memories of Joe Carter.
The real MVP of the NLCS so far is the center-field designer in both stadiums. With just a slight adjustment to the center field dimensions at Citizens Bank Park and Dodgers Stadium, the outcomes of all three Phillies wins could have been very different. Let's look at all three wins:
Game 1: The Dodgers started the series off with a blast. After Rafael Furcal grounded out, Andre Ethier stepped to the plate and doubled. Up came Manny Ramirez who hit the ball as far as it can possibly go in CBP without leaving the park - just to the left of dead center by the 409 feet mark. But, he didn't hit it just to the deepest part of the park, he also hit it as high on the wall as a ball can possibly be hit without leaving the park. The wall at that part of the park is 14.25 feet high, the highest wall in CBP. From what I saw, the ball hit about 13.25 feet up on the wall. He hit the ball to the deepest part of the park, to the highest part of the highest wall in the stadium, with just inches to spare. Instead of a home run, he had a double. Manny's double scored Ethier, but Hamels stranded Manny, leaving the Dodgers with only 1 run in the first inning. The Phillies eventually won by a score of 3-2 . . . the exact run margin that a Manny home run in the first inning would have bridged.
Game 2: The Phillies took an early 8-2 lead, but the Dodgers came right back to make it 8-5 in the top of the fourth. The score stayed there until the top of the seventh, when the Phillies bullpen got into trouble. JC Romero got two quick outs, but then walked Matt Kemp. Ryan Madson replaced Romero and gave up a single to Nomar Garciaparra. With men on first and third, Casey Blake came to the plate. He drilled a 1-0 pitch to almost the same exact spot Manny hit his double to the night before. However, Blake's shot fell just short of the wall where Shane Victorino managed to catch the ball right in front of the 409 feet sign. Anywhere else in the park and that ball, like Manny's, would have been a home run. And, with men on first and third, it would have scored 3 runs, the exact difference in the game as the Phils won 8-5.
Game 4: The Phillies started strong, scoring two runs off an obviously-unsettled Derek Lowe. Joe Blanton didn't take advantage of the cushion though, giving up a bunt single to Furcal and then intentionally walking Manny after Furcal took second on a fielder's choice by Ethier. Blanton struck out Russell Martin and then faced James Loney with two out and two on. Loney crushed Blanton's 0-2 pitch to deep center. The shot had home run written all over it, but like Manny's first inning blast in game 1, the ball hit just below the top of the wall a few feet from dead center. Loney wound up with an RBI double, and thanks to a great play by Shane Victorino, Manny only reached third on the hit. Blanton stranded both runners to end the inning with the Phillies up 2-1. Thanks to Victorino's and Stairs' eighth inning power-heroics, the Phillies won the game 7-5. A one-RBI double by Loney in the first rather than a three-run home run was the difference.
We're obviously dealing in counter-factuals here. Had Manny's double been a home run, had Blake's long out hit or gone over the fence, had Loney's double been a few feet longer, yes, the Dodgers would have scored more runs at that moment, but the games would have been played differently and who knows what would have happened. But, as it stands now, each of those hits was kept in the park only by the luck of where the hitter hit the ball and the design of center-field. And each was the difference in giving the Phillies a win rather than tying the game up.
The Series MVP so far? Whoever designed both center-fields.