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Showtime: Phillies vs. Dodgers series preview

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The Phillies head to Los Angeles for a clash with the first place Dodgers

MLB: Philadelphia Phillies at Los Angeles Dodgers
Can the Phillies find a way to get Cody Bellinger out?
Richard Mackson-USA TODAY Sports

After dealing with lesser lights such as the Brewers and Cardinals, the Phillies will finally get to face some real competition. They’ll head to the bright lights of Hollywood to take on the Dodgers who currently have the best record in the National League.

Los Angeles Dodgers

Record: 38-19, First place in National League West

The last time they met

The Dodgers visited Philadelphia in late July, and the Phillies took two out of three. One of those wins came in the sixteenth inning when the immortal Trevor Plouffe hit a walk off home run. (Surely you haven’t already forgotten the Trevor Plouffe game already?)

Matching the hype?

The Dodgers have the best record in the National League, and to be sure, they’ve racked up an impressive total of wins against the likes of mediocrities like the Mets and Pirates. But really, any team can do that. (Well, except maybe the Nationals.) Will the Dodgers continue to look great when they’re matched against a first place team like the Phillies?

Historical precedent

There was another year when the Dodgers had the best record in the National League: 2009. Does anyone remember how that season ended for them? Here is one of the highlights from the NLCS that year:

Dodgers hitting vs. Phillies’ pitching

At first glance, the Dodgers’ offense is impressive. Led by Joc Pederson and Cody Bellinger, the Dodgers rank first in the National League in batting average, on-base percentage, slugging percentage, and most importantly, runs scored. However, they’re only a mere third in home runs, so it’s not like they’re the greatest offense ever assembled.

The Phillies will counter with Jake Arrieta, Zach Eflin, and Nick Pivetta. Arrieta is coming off of two strong starts, and will need to be at his best to shut down the Dodgers. Fortunately, pitching in Dodger Stadium seems to agree with Arrieta, based on his career 2.67 ERA there.

Eflin - who spent a solitary day as a member of the Dodgers organization - hasn’t had the greatest success against his “former” team, but considering the improvements he’s shown this season, that seems likely to change.

MLB: Philadelphia Phillies at Chicago Cubs
Zach Eflin
Patrick Gorski-USA TODAY Sports

Nick Pivetta rebounded from a poor start in his last outing, so maybe the long-awaited breakout from him is on hand. The last time he faced the Dodgers was back in 2017, but that start went pretty well, as he struck out eight batters in six innings to earn a win.

The Phillies’ bullpen is banged up right now, so it would be a boon if the starters can pitch deep into the game. If they can get to the ninth inning with a lead, things will look promising considering how well Hector Neris has pitched this season. And of course, the Dodgers have no idea what’s coming to them if Gabe Kapler decides to unleash Hammer time upon them.

Dodgers pitching vs. Phillies hitting

It’s tough to decide who’s been hotter over the past week: Andrew McCutchen or Bryce Harper.

Faced with the prospect of going against a red-hot leadoff and three-hole hitter, it would be understandable if the Dodgers were feeling a bit forlorn heading into this series. They’ll attempt to counter the Phillies’ lineup with Kenta Maeda, Clayton Kershaw, and Rich Hill.

Maeda continues to be a croumlent mid-rotation pitcher. He didn’t have much success against the Phillies in 2018, with the Dodgers losing both of his starts. In one of those starts, he had to leave in the second inning, and he allowed four runs in the other.

A few years ago, going against Kershaw would have been a daunting task. While he’s still a good pitcher, and his 5-0 record looks nice, he’s not quite the same uber ace he was in his prime. He actually has a losing record against the Phillies in his career, and that doesn’t even include the way they roughed him up in the 2009 NLCS.

In case you were wondering, yes, that is the same Rich Hill who’s been in the league since 2005. At age 39, he’s still going strong with a 2.73 ERA, although it really feels like he’s due for some regression. And if you thought Jake Arrieta wasn’t a fan of infield shifts, just wait until you see what Hill thinks of them.

As for the Dodgers bullpen, they’ve been struggling over the past two weeks. They have the second highest ERA over that span, behind only the Nationals, whose relievers don’t even qualify as a dumpster fire at this point. Aside from closer Kenley Jansen, just about everyone in the bullpen has had a shaky moment or two.

Not catching a Pollock

This past offseason, there were several pundits who thought the Phillies should pursue outfielder A.J. Pollock instead of Bryce Harper. While there are still miles left to cross before the contracts can be fairly compared, early on, the Dodgers’ investment in Pollock hasn’t paid off. In 28 games, Pollock had a measly .617 OPS before going on the injured list with a staph infection in his elbow. He’ll likely be out for at least a couple more months.

Trivia

Which member of the Phillies hit his first career home run in Dodger Stadium?

Prediction

The Dodgers are a good team, so calling for a Phillies sweep seems a bit too optimistic. But I think a red-hot Harper will carry the Phillies to two wins this weekend.