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NLCS Preview: Philadelphia Phillies vs. Los Angeles Dodgers

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Lineup: Yes, it's been a different lineup in Los Angeles since the addition of zOMG MANNY.  But this was a Phillies team that finished second in the league in runs scored, has more and better weapons, and will benefit from the Dodgers' lack of lefty starting pitching.  Advantage: Phillies.

Starting Pitching: Derek Lowe very quietly put together an absolutely dominating home stretch, overshadowed by the hot pennant race pitching of CC Sabathia and Johan Santana.  Chad Billingsley has begun to develop into one of the league's top starters, and Hiroki Kuroda has absolutely stymied the Phillies this year.  The effect of pitching Lowe on three days rest in Game Four remains to be seen; at least anecdotally, sinkerballers pitch a little better when they're a little fatigued.  I'm looking a little more favorably on the Phillies starting pitching after the series against Milwaukee; we certainly got "Good Brett" and, with over a week's rest, I'm hopeful we can get "Great Brett."  Blanton was a revelation, too.  And hopefully Jamie Moyer can do well in pitcher-friendly Dodgers Stadium.  Advantage: Dodgers.  Slightly.

Bullpen:   Two fantastic bullpens, and hard to choose which is better.  The Dodgers have better power arms and a couple of LOOGYs to neutralize Howard and Utley in late innings, while the Phillies play matchups just a little more.  Lidge has a slight edge over presumptive closer Jonathan Broxton, but the rest of the Dodgers bullpen is somewhat superior.  Advantage: Dodgers.  Slightly.

Bench: Lifted directly from my Brewers preview: The Phillies have lefty Greg Dobbs, the best pinch hitter in baseball this year, and now the ageless (really?) Matt Stairs provides a solid lefty power / patience option.  However, since the emergence of Jayson Werth as the regular right fielder, the bench lacks a credible right handed bat outside of Chris Coste, who Charlie Manuel is reluctant to use lest he use up/injure himself and risk the happy ending of the inevitable Disney film.  The Dodgers' "bench" is nothing less than the baseball equivalent of "Dancing with the Stars," names to remember from the not TOO distant past who don't have all that much left to offer anymore... Juan Pierre, Nomar Garciaparra, Jeff Kent, etc.  Advantage: Phillies.  Barely.

Defense: The Dodgers team DER is .691.  The Phillies is .696.  Pretty close, but looks like a slight edge to the Phillies.  However, it's worth noting that the Dodgers were forced to play Garciaparra at shortstop for a stretch this season -- a position he had previously abandoned in 2004, and that he probably had no business playing for a couple years before that.  So the team they're running out there now is probably somewhat better.  James Loney, for one, is a terrific defensive first baseman, but Rollins and Utley are the class of their crucial positions in the league.  Both Martin and Ruiz/Coste are fairly bad at throwing out potential basestealers, which should benefit the Phillies and their terrific running game.  And between Manny and Pat Burrell in left field, um... Advantage: Phillies.

Manager: Apparently Joe Torre has had some success in the postseason in the past.  News to me!  Seriously, though, as dajafi has discussed, both Torre and Phillies' skipper Charlie Manuel embody similar characteristics -- essentially, both excel at the "leader of men" part of the job, but struggle here and there with nuts-and-bolts in-game decisions.  Torre is infamous for favoring "proven veterans" in tight spots, while Manuel's strict adherence to roles has some back to bite him at times.  Advantage: Dodgers. 

The Phillies have the offense to dominate even a good pitching staff, as they did with Milwaukee, when their two biggest bats are virtually silent.  The pitching staff is well rested, and last week we saw the result of Hamels and Myers pitching on extra rest.  Expect the Phillies basestealers to run wild on the basepaths and give the Dodgers' defense fits.

As far as my pick to win the series, I say be bold or go home. 

PREDICTION: Phillies in 5.