Faith is contagious

The Baltimore Sun

LOS ANGELES - For the first two games of the National League Championship Series, the Los Angeles Dodgers will head back to Philadelphia, the site of a four-game sweep in late August that started a season-worst eight-game losing streak for the Dodgers.

But memories of Philadelphia don't necessarily elicit negative emotions for the Dodgers, who were outscored 27-5 by the Phillies in that series. Because of the beatings they absorbed, the players say, they found out how much manager Joe Torre believed in them. Or how crazy he was.

Torre called a team meeting in Washington, the next stop on their 10-game trip.

"You're going to win the division," Torre told them.

"Where is this faith coming from?" pitcher Derek Lowe said he recalled thinking at the time.

But, Lowe added, "It was important to have our leader feel that way."

Because soon the players felt that way. They passed the Arizona Diamondbacks in the NL West, won the division, swept the Chicago Cubs to win their first playoff series in 20 years and punched their ticket to the NLCS, which opens Thursday at Citizens Bank Park.

Their faith in themselves will be tested again.

What Torre might find disconcerting is how the Dodgers' pitching fared against the NL East champion Phillies.

Torre has long insisted that with or without Manny Ramirez in his lineup, pitching would dictate the Dodgers' postseason fate. Pitching was what lifted the Dodgers to their victory over the Cubs, as starters Derek Lowe, Chad Billingsley and Hiroki Kuroda combined for a 1.42 ERA in the three-game sweep.

The Cubs had a lineup consisting almost exclusively of right-handed hitters - Jim Edmonds was the only left-hander who started every game of the series for manager Lou Piniella - something the Dodgers used to their advantage. The Dodgers faced the Cubs 10 times this season, including the three times in the postseason, and Dodgers left-handers did not throw a pitch.

The Phillies, on the other hand, have plenty of left-handed bats. Most Valuable Player candidate Ryan Howard (48 home runs, 146 RBIs) and Chase Utley (33 homers, 104 RBIs) bat left; Jimmy Rollins (106 runs, 47 steals) and Shane Victorino (.293 average, 36 steals) are switch hitters.

The Dodgers' ERA against the Phillies was 5.48, higher than it was against any other NL opponent. The only other team against which the Dodgers had a team ERA above 5.00 was the New York Mets, whose lineup was also stacked with lefties.

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