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October 12, 2008

Prospectus Preview

NLCS Game Three

by Caleb Peiffer

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Matchup: Phillies (92-70) at Dodgers (84-78), 5:22 p.m. PT, FOX
Probable Starters: Jamie Moyer (196 1/3 IP, 3.90 RA, 1.33 WHIP, 123 K) vs. Hiroki Kuroda (183 1/3, 4.17, 1.22, 116)
Pythagorean Record: Philadelphia, 93-69 (799 RS, 680 RA); Los Angeles, 87-75 (700 RS, 648 RA)
Hit List Rankings: Philadelphia, #5; Los Angeles, #11
Series Favorite: Phillies, 76.5% (Up 2-0)
Prospectus: The Dodgers return to Chavez Ravine from their trip to Philadelphia in a very difficult position, but they can take solace in the fact that the task before them, while a hard one, has been accomplished 13 times before in major league history. A team has won a seven-game series after losing the first two games just three times before in a League Championship Series-it happened twice in 1985, with the Royals beating the Blue Jays and the Cardinals taking down the Dodgers, and again during the epic Red Sox-Yankees ALCS in 2004-but it has happened 10 times in World Series play.

The Dodgers have a history of climbing out of a two-game hole in the postseason, having done so three times. The most famous of those comebacks came in 1955: having already lost to the Yankees in the World Series five times (1941, '47, '49, '52, and '53), and dropped the first two games of the latest title tilt with their crosstown tormentor at Yankee Stadium, 6-5 and 4-2, Dem Bums came back to win the next three at Ebbets Field, and then got a shutout from Johnny Podres to win Game Seven 2-0 and bring Brooklyn its first (and only) World Championship. After moving west, the Dodgers pulled off the feat twice more: in the 1965 series against the Twins, they repeated the pattern by taking games three through five at home and Game Seven on the road, and in 1981 they stormed back to stymie the Yankees again, this time winning four straight. The Dodgers have also lost 2-0 leads three times-the Yankees returned the favor in the 1956 and '78 Fall Classics, and the Cards came back against LA in the '85 NLCS. Dodgers skipper Joe Torre has a history of being involved in series that were turned around in dramatic fashion, as well; besides being on the wrong end in 2004, he guided New York to four consecutive wins over the Braves after dropping the first two at home in 1996, bringing the Bombers their first championship in 18 years.

If the Dodgers hope to augment their tradition of epic October reversals, they will need to get started against Moyer tonight, and the man most able to help them do that is the inimitable Manny Ramirez. LA's left fielder has hit 10 home runs against Moyer in his career, more than any other batter has ever launched against the ageless left-hander, which is saying quite a bit considering Moyer has been around since 1986, seven years before Manny's debut. Those 10 homers are also a career high for Ramirez against any one pitcher. They all came when both he and Moyer were in the American League; Ramirez has only faced Moyer once since the latter moved to Philadelphia, going 1-for-3 with a single against him earlier this year while Manny was still with the Red Sox. Moyer was beaten by the Brewers in Game Three of the NLDS, but that four-inning, two-run effort made him the second-oldest pitcher to start a post-season game, at 45 years and 321 days, ranking behind only Jack Quinn, who started for the Philadelphia Athletics against the Cubs in the 1929 World Series at the age of 46.

Tonight, Moyer will be facing Los Angeles for the first time this year. He has pitched against the Dodgers just once since joining the Phillies in late 2006, last July 16, a game in which he was hammered for 10 runs on 10 hits, including homers from Jeff Kent and Matt Kemp. Not surprisingly, Moyer describes the Dodgers lineup as a "school of sharks" able to sense blood in the water, and that school preferred to attack left-handers during the regular season, posting a 769 OPS against them as opposed to 716 against righties. Kuroda, his opponent tonight, pitched very well in his two starts versus the Phillies during the regular season, giving up one run in seven innings at Citizens Bank Park on August 14, and then one run in six on August 24 at Dodger Stadium, allowing Philadelphia to collect only two hits in each game.

The Phillies have had huge contributions from the bottom of their lineup in the first two games of this series-nine of Philadelphia's 18 hits have come from the lower third of the batting order-but if they hope to finish the job, they'll likely need their two MVP winners to step it up at the dish. Jimmy Rollins and Ryan Howard have combined to hit one single in 17 at-bats, with a walk and six strikeouts. Howard has driven in just a lone run in the past eight games, stretching back to the final weekend of the regular season, after leading the majors in RBI and the NL in OBI percentage.

Caleb Peiffer is a contributor to Baseball Prospectus. He can be reached here.

Related Content:  Philadelphia Phillies

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