The NLCS: Are the Phillies in the Dodgers’ heads?

George SherrillLOS ANGELES—Lots of interesting plots and subplots to last night’s Game 1 of the NLCS here at Dodger Stadium. The biggest, of course, was the Phillies’ ability to get clutch hits against the Dodgers’ lefties.

Both of the three-run homers and a key double from Ryan Howard came against lefties Clayton Kershaw and George Sherrill. The notable one there was the blast off Sherrill by lefty Raul Ibanez. After all, no lefty had homered off Sherrill in 98 games and nearly two seasons.

For a team that went out and got Sherrill specifically to pitch to the Phillies sluggers in late-game playoff situations, Ibanez’s homer was huge. Deeper than that, five of the Phillies’ eight hits in the Game 1 victory were from lefty hitters against lefty pitchers.

So it begs the question… are the Phillies in the Dodgers’ heads?

Yeah, yeah, it’s only Game 1, but if Pedro were to dial it up in Game 2 and the Phillies go home with a two-game lead and Cliff Lee ready to pitch in chilly and rainy Philly, this one might be over before it gets started.

So are the Phillies in the Dodgers’ heads? Certainly based on some of the moves the Dodgers have made it’s not an unreasonable idea. After all, in addition to trading for Sherrill, the Dodgers got Jim Thome to do what Matt Stairs does for the Phillies. In fact, Dodgers’ GM Ned Colletti cited Stairs when talking about the move to bring in Thome.

The thing about that is people barely knew Stairs was on the Phillies until he crushed that ridiculously long homer at Dodger Stadium in Game 4 of last year’s NLCS. Reliever Jonathan Broxton has been known to get salty when talking about Stairs’ homer and the Dodgers fans booed Stairs louder than anyone else during the player introductions.

So maybe the Phillies are in their heads?

We’ll see as the series wears on, but in the meantime Tommy Lasorda (the greatest phony in baseball history according to those in the know), is already chirping. The old Dodger manager was reportedly talking trash about the 1977 NLCS where the Phillies took Game 1 only to lose it in four games.

Really, 1977? That was generations ago. As one of Lasorda’s old players Davey Lopes said in regard to Larry Bowa harboring ill feelings about a controversial call in the 1977 NLCS:

“It was 31 years ago. Quit crying and move on.”

Maybe they can’t. Maybe they’re too wrapped up on what happened last year.

Here’s a few fun facts:
• The Phillies are 1-6 all-time in Game 2 of the NLCS. The only Game 2 victory came last year at the Bank against the Dodgers.

• The Phillies and Dodgers are meeting for the fifth time in the NLCS, which is tied for the most championship series matchups with the Pirates and Reds. Chances are those two teams won’t be playing each other in the NLCS any time soon.

• The Phillies have won 15 of their last 21 games in the NLCS dating back to 1980.

• Dodgers manager Joe Torre is making his 14th straight trip to the playoffs. He has not been to the World Series since 2003 and hasn’t won it since 2000.

Hittin’ weather

Raul IbanezCrazy day at the old ballyard yesterday. So crazy that I had four different stories written during the game based on the outcome only to scrap them all when Raul Ibanez smacked his grand slam and when we learned Brad Lidge had an MRI, a cortisone shot AND was taking anti-inflammatory medication.

So yeah, crazy day at the ol’ ballpark.

“Good ol’ slugfest,” Charlie Manuel said.

Charlie calls these early hot days “hittin’ weather.” He’s certainly right about that considering the ball seems to travel a little bit longer when the winds are calm and the temperatures higher at Citizens Bank Park. Ibanez says he noticed the ball carrying well during batting practice earlier on Monday afternoon. But even Ibanez or Manuel would have had difficulty predicting the long shots belted by the Nationals and Phillies.

Not only did two shots clear the center field fence and strike the batter’s eye (Ryan Zimmerman and Ryan Howard), but the Nats clubbed two upper deck shots – one to left by Zimmerman and one to right by Nick Johnson – and blasted one onto Ashburn Alley by Elijah Dukes.

Clearly the Nats gained more yards in the air than the Washington football team did all of last season.

Though the Phillies offense seems to be clicking after the two losses to the Brewers late last week and the first part of the Marlins games, Manuel is clearly concerned about the team’s pitching. The staff’s ERA is far and away the worst in the National League and only the Rangers and Yankees have a worse mark in the Majors.

“Looks to me like they are leaving pitches out over the good part of the plate,” Manuel said when asked about his staff’s troubles.

And by good he meant from a hitter’s perspective.

At this point it seems as if the manager has little flexibility in regard to his staff. J.C. Romero is still serving his suspension (he has 32 games to go), Lidge might have a DL stint coming and the starters aren’t giving the relievers too many breaks. So far the Phillies are fifth in the league for innings by relievers and 14th in innings pitched by starters.

Unlike with hitters, Manuel can’t sit pitchers when they struggle. In fact, it might be the exact opposite – if a pitcher is struggling the manager might opt to get him more work.

You know, depending on the circumstance.

Surely the pitching will be a topic to rear its head again soon…

*
Not messing around…
Speaking of J.C. Romero, the suspended reliever is not messing around with his law suit against the makers of the supplement 6-OXO Extreme as well as the retailers that sell the product. How so? Consider that he has Howard Jacobs as one of his attorneys.

Yes, that Howard Jacobs.

For anyone who follows cycling, track or doping cases, Howard Jacobs is the go-to name in law. It seems as if he has represented everyone from Tyler Hamilton to Floyd Landis to Marian Jones. If there is one lawyer who knows about the ins and outs of doping tests and drugs in sports, it’s Jacobs.

Better yet, Jacobs was a competitive triathlete so he understands all of the aspects of doping and athlete’s rights.

The presence of Jacobs on Romero’s legal team as well as thoughts from several attorneys weighing in on the case indicates that the pitcher has a strong case.

Still, one lawyer said if the supplement company advertised its product as something that complies with the MLB testing regimen, then yeah, Romero has a case. Otherwise, he might be losing even more cash.

All rock all the time…

moyer_cardIt’s definitely going to be a crazy week around these parts. Not only do we have Villanova heading to the Final Four and all the pomp that goes with that, but also the Phillies return to Philadelphia this week for a pair of exhibition games against Tampa on Friday and Saturday before kicking off the season for real on Sunday night against Atlanta.

Who knows, the most anticipated Phillies season ever could be sandwiched between ‘Nova’s national semifinal game and a National Championship on Monday night.

Hey, crazier things have happened.

Anyway, we’ll have a bunch of ‘Nova and Phillies stories all week leading to the big weekend. Until then, here’s a short list of the things I won’t write about this baseball season.

Before I start, I know how lame the list is. After all, don’t you hate those radio ads in which a station defines itself by what it doesn’t play? Then they cue them up and play programmed and contrived crap. I heard one the other day where the station’s big calling card was, “We aren’t iTunes, we are your tunes.

What? This is what they announce before they launch into Don Henley.

No, take them… they’re definitely your tunes.

So from here on out I’m drawing a line and painting myself into a tidy little corner. These are the stories I’m going to work as hard as possible not to write this baseball season:

1.) Jamie Moyer’s age

Yes, we all know that Jamie Moyer is old. In fact, he’s 46 and there have been just a select few ballplayers that had careers to that age. It’s remarkable, sure, but not necessarily such an anomaly anymore.

The fact of the matter is that 46 isn’t as old as it used to be. Better yet, a ballplayer only gets old if he allows himself to be that way or injuries add up. Ask Don Wildman about how limiting his age is. Or Dara Torres. Or Chris Chelios. Or Jamie Moyer.

Better yet, don’t.

“Some players get injured and others just lose the desire,” Moyer told me last August. “Then some, for one reason or other, are told to quit because they reach a certain age or time spent in the game. Some just accept it without asking why.”

Along the same vein, Moyer’s age won’t be used as a crutch, either. He’s 46. So what? He’s as fit as any player in the league and he hasn’t lost a thing off his fastball (tee-hee), so if he’s walking out there he’s no different than anyone else.

He’s 46? Big deal.

2.) J.C. Romero’s suspension

Oh yes, this is an important issue. It’s especially important since the Phillies won’t have their workhorse reliever for nearly a third of the season. But stories knocking it down as no big deal or some type of insignificant or unfortunate occurrence don’t get it. The truth is MLB did not want Romero to pitch in the playoffs, but they allowed him to do so anyway.

Why? And why not?

3.) Lefty lineup

Chase Utley to Ryan Howard to Raul Ibanez… deal with it. Certainly the opposing managers will have to figure out a way to deal with it. Last year Utley his .277 with 13 homers against lefties, while Howard hit 14 homers (just .224 though) and Ibanez batted .305 with seven homers vs. lefties.

Oh sure, in the late innings the Phillies will face a ton of situational lefties, but any time a manager goes away from his regular habits to rely on a pitcher generally used to facing just one hitter just might level the odds a bit.

For that middle of the order trio, even odds are pretty good.

chuck4.) Charlie Manuel’s managerial acumen

These are the facts: Charlie knows more about baseball than you. Actually he’s forgotten more about baseball than you have ever known. To top it off, he’s funnier than you and tells far better stories.

Plus, the way he handled that great comeback against the Mets last August in which he used to pitchers to pinch hit, had Carlos Ruiz play third base and put Chris Coste into the game in the eighth inning and watched him get four hits. The guy is always looking at the big picture and sometimes, just for fun, he’ll play a hunch.

What he doesn’t do is try to over think or out-fox the game like Tony La Russa or some other new age type. He’d rather beat you Earl Weaver style – sit back and wait for a big home run – but if he has to get some base runners moving with some steals or hit-and-runs, that works, too.

Meanwhile, he likes to put his pitchers into firm roles. Yeah, sometimes that can get him in trouble, but the good part is that everyone on the roster understands their role. Big league ballplayers love that.

And if that doesn’t work, Charlie will pull out the old, “Just hold ’em, guys… I’ll think of something.”

It’s worked so far.

5.) Raul Ibanez vs. Pat Burrell

Stat heads aren’t going to like this one, but Ibanez’s superior batting average and lower strikeout rate will matter. It mattered in Seattle and it will matter at cozy Citizens Bank Park, too.

The reason is as simple as the triple-digit RBI totals over the last three years – Ibanez hits the ball a little more. With Jimmy Rollins, Shane Victorino, Utley and Howard hitting in front of him, the 20 fewer times Ibanez strikes out as opposed to Burrell could be significant. Figure there are 26 weeks to a season with the potential for one more run a week produced from one spot of the lineup could add up.

Right?

There you go. Now I’m going to go put the iPod on shuffle… yep, my tunes.

Whatever the hell that means.