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Taking on the defending champs*: Phillies vs. Dodgers series preview

The Phillies will head West to take on a team that needs to prove they can win it all in a 162 game season

MLB: Los Angeles Dodgers at Philadelphia Phillies
Hector Neris had an eventful series last time he faced the Dodgers
Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

The Dodgers won the World Series in 2020, something they hadn’t done since 1988 despite a slew of playoff appearances in between. But as we know, the 2020 season was not a normal one, consisting of just 60 games. (For reference, the Phillies have already played 63 games in 2021.) Does that mean their championship wasn’t legitimate?

Plenty of people have debated that question, and will probably continue to do so. But there are more important questions to be answered this week: Can the Phillies’ continue their four-game winning streak out West? Can Spencer Howard avoid tiring himself out in two innings? Will Hector Neris incite a brawl? Will Dodgers fans read this and send me angry emails like they have in the past?

Los Angeles Dodgers

Record: 39-26 (Second place in National League West)

The manager

With Dave Roberts as manager, the Dodgers have never finished a season anywhere besides first place. He’s also led the team to three NL pennants and the team’s first World Series title in a long, long time. Has that kept Dodgers fans for complaining about him, and calling for his firing? Of course not.

It should also be noted that before the Dodgers finally won the World Series last season, many fans were ready to carry pitchforks into Dodgers Stadium if they didn’t win, because apparently Roberts was the reason they had come up short so many years. (Roberts must be an amazingly bad manager if he was somehow responsible for all the playoff chokes that happened before he got there.)

The last time they met

The Dodgers visited Philadelphia in July 2019 and split a four-game series. The key figure in the series was embattled Phillies closer Hector Neris who had a spectacular blown save in one game, and then yelled expletives at the Dodgers after closing out the final game.

Let’s just hope Hector got the blown saves out of his system last week.

A little bit about the 2021 Dodgers

If the season ended today, the Dodgers’ quest for another World Series title would have to start in the Wild Card game as they currently sit behind the Giants in the standings. If I were them, I wouldn’t be too concerned about that since Gabe Kapler’s teams aren’t exactly known for their strong finishes.

The Dodgers come into the series having won five out of their last six games, although considering those wins came at the expense of last place teams like the Rangers and Pirates, I wouldn’t put too much stock in it.

They’re led by Mookie Betts, who is having a relatively down season with a .253/.368/.452 slash line. I’m aware that most players would love to have that good of a “down” season, but that’s how good Betts normally is. I may not care for the Dodgers much, but I can’t bring myself to hate a guy named Mookie. (Even Mookie Blaylock? Especially Mookie Blaylock! But especially Mookie Betts.)

Least valuable player

The Dodgers are loaded with good players. Reliever Nate Jones is not one of them. He spent the first part of the year pitching ineffectively for the Braves before being released and signed by the Dodgers. His impact with his new team has been Brandon Workman-like. He’s given up six runs across 1.2 innings in his last two appearances.

The offense we were promised?

With the exception of Didi Gregorius - and his replacement has been holding his own - the Phillies lineup is healthy, and it shows. Since the eighth inning of Thursday’s game, the Phillies have been hitting the way we expected them to. They spent the weekend dismantling the Yankees’ pitching staff, and that was without cleanup hitter Rhys Hoskins doing much.

They won’t be facing the top of the Dodgers’ rotation (Trevor Bauer and Walker Buehler), and while the other starters aren’t bad, the Phillies have the potential to continue putting up crooked numbers.

Has Bellinger underperformed?

Cody Bellinger won a deserved MVP award in 2019, but based on the games since then, that year may have been an outlier. He couldn’t get untracked in 2020, and between injuries and slumps, he hasn’t done much in 2021 either. Maybe he’s just a good player who had one exceptional year?

No really, it doesn’t bother us!

Obviously everyone involved with the Dodgers and MLB is treating the championship as legitimate. But for the rest of us, it isn’t quite as clear whether or not the trophy should have an asterisk on it. This has given the Dodgers haters across the nation - and there are a lot of them - plenty of ammunition.

Dodgers fans can pretend this doesn’t bother them, but you know that they secretly wish the title drought had come after a normal season. And while nobody on the team is going to outright admit it right now, but I’m sure there’s a lot of pressure on the team to win again, so they can end those taunts.

Trust me, if the team wins the World Series this season, there will be at least a couple of players who say something like, “To be honest, we felt like we needed to show we could also win after a full season.”


Last series’ answer: On April 14, 2014, B.J. Rosenberg surrendered three consecutive home runs to Evan Gattis, Dan Uggla (of course), and Andrelton Simmons. SteveH2331 came closest by getting three of the four names.

This series’ question: Everyone remembers the two-run home runs hit by Shane Victorino and Matt Stairs in game four of the 2008 NLCS against the Dodgers. But who were the players on base when each of those homers was hit?

What to expect

  • It wouldn’t shock me if the Phillies are faced with a save situation, and Archie Bradley is the pitcher chosen to close it out. Joe Girardi will say something along the lines of “We liked the matchups better,” but between Neris’ recent issues, and his history with the Dodgers, we’ll all know the real reason.
  • J.T. Realmuto has four home runs in 16 games in Dodgers Stadium, and he’ll add another to that total this week.
  • Spencer Howard will maintain his velocity into the fourth inning. Baby steps, folks.

Closing thought that may or may not be relevant to the series

I’m not sure why the Phillies didn’t have an off-day before flying West, but they will have a day off on Thursday. I realize LA and San Francisco aren’t next door to each other, but they won’t have to adjust to a three time-zone difference then.