With the NLCS rematch starting tonight, here's a look at one fan's keys to the series:
1) Cole Hamels' performance. Despite what you may have read elsewhere, Cole Hamels has not been a different pitcher in 2009 than he was in 2009. In fact, he has been an almost identical pitcher both years, as the chart below shows:
Thus, from an analytic standpoint, this year's Cole Hamels is the same Cole Hamels who posted a 1.93 ERA against the Dodgers last year in the NLDS, winning both games he pitched.
However, from a results standpoint, this year's Cole Hamels, as we all know, has not been the same. He has been incredibly unlucky, as the results-oriented stats show:
And, although the first chart is the best way to evaluate Cole Hamels as an individual player, the results on the day he pitches are what matters in determining who gets a win or loss that day (of course, along with the bullpen and offensive results). The Phillies' chances against the Dodgers may very well hinge on whether the lucky Hamels of 2008 or the unlucky Hamels of 2009 shows up.
2) Bullpen usage. The really wonderful side effect of Brad Lidge's struggles has been that Charlie Manuel has started managing his bullpen in a much smarter way. He is playing matchups, even if it means sitting his closer for much of the ninth inning. He is bringing in his best relievers earlier in games. He's even using his starting pitchers in key spots when they might otherwise not be used in a short series. If Manuel keeps up this bullpen usage, the Phillies can go a long way toward negating one of the major deficiencies they have. On the other hand, if Manuel thinks that the two S's next to Brad Lidge's name in the last two box scores indicate that Lidge is now "the closer" and goes back to robotically calling on him in the ninth and trying to get Ryan Madson to always set him up in the eighth, the bullpen is likely to flail, as it did much of the season.
3) Ryan Howard's at bats against lefties. The Rockies lost to the Phillies in part because Jim Tracy didn't have the guts or brains to pull Huston Street and put a lefty on the mound to face Ryan Howard in the top of the ninth Monday night. This year, Ryan Howard was Albert Pujols (a 1.076 OPS) against righties but David Eckstein (a .653 OPS) against lefties. With all righty starters, the Rockies weren't able to neutralize Howard as much as the Dodgers will be able to in the NLDS.
The Dodgers have two lefty starters (Clayton Kershaw and Randy Wolf) who will probably start 4 of the first 5 or 6 games of the series. With two very good lefties in his bullpen in Hong-Chih Kuo and George Sherrill, if Joe Torre manages it correctly, in the 26ish plate appearances that Howard will probably get in the first 6 games of the series, Howard will only face righties 5 or 6 times. If Howard sees any more than that, Torre has made a major mistake. Thus, we need Howard, when he's hitting more like David Eckstein, to perform. After all, even Eckstein drives in the occasional run and hits the occasional home run.
4) Jayson Werth. Against lefties, Jayson Werth should bat cleanup. In fact, Jayson Werth should bat cleanup the entire series. That's crazy, you say? Ryan Howard is our cleanup hitter? Well, that's true most of the time, but not when he's going to be turned into David Eckstein (see previous point) for most of the series. On the other hand, Werth goes from Marlon Byrd (.806 OPS) against righties to Albert Pujols (a 1.080 OPS) against lefties. Here's the difference for Werth:
In every way, Werth is a much better hitter against lefties. In fact, although not as drastic an absolute change as Howard's, Werth's performance against lefties puts the same quality hitter in the four-hole as Howard would be against righties.
Add in that Chase Utley actually hits lefties better than righties (.962 OPS compared to .877), and Werth hitting cleanup would keep the pressure on the Dodgers' pitchers that perfunctorily putting Howard there would alleviate. And, if Torre ignores the platoon difference and puts in a lefty to face Utley, putting Werth in between Utley and Howard gives the Phillies much more of a chance, as Torre would keep the lefty in against Werth, whereas he would probably take him out for Werth if Werth is batting after Howard.
5) Silencing Manny Ramirez. Despite the fact that the Phils won the World Series last year, most Phillies' fans probably still have nightmares of Manny Ramirez at the plate last October. In case you've purposefully pushed the memory from your mind, these were Manny's triple-slash numbers in the NLCS against the Phillies: .500/.643/1.100. This translates to a 1.743 OPS. Saying Manny was "on fire" against the Phils last October is like saying the Nationals were simply "not good" this year.
This year, Manny continued his absurd NLCS pace . . . but only for the first half of the season. In the second half of the season, Manny was a different player. In fact, he was quite human. And, as this chart shows, although he did improve a bit, his mere mortal performance continued in the NLDS against the Cardinals:
If the 2d half and NLDS Manny shows up, the Phillies will have a much better chance of quieting the Dodgers' lineup. If the 1st half Manny, or worse, the NLCS Manny from last year, shows up, the Phillies are going to have their work cut out for them once again. Obviously, the Phillies were able to overcome that Manny last year, but it would be easier not to have to deal with that Manny.
So there you have it. If Cole Hamels' actual results are good, Charlie Manuel continues to strategically use his bullpen, Ryan Howard can manage to hit lefties, Jayson Werth continues to pummel lefties and does so from the cleanup spot, and Manny Ramirez stays human, then the Phillies are going to be in great shape.