As we learned in the first round, the Los Angeles Dodgers are no longer the team that appeared destined to miss the playoffs in August and scraped in with an 84-78 record.
They're a versatile outfit with dangerous bats up and down the lineup and a stingy starter in every rotation slot. Their matchup with the Philadelphia Phillies is no easy call, but I'll take the team that's hitting and pitching better than at any point this season.
Not only do the Dodgers boast a nuclear-hot Manny Ramirez in the three hole, they have their chief table-setter, Rafael Furcal, back at the top of the lineup. Add that pair to young stars Russell Martin, Andre Ethier, James Loney and Matt Kemp and you transform a mediocre offense into a potent one. The Dodgers hit 15 points higher against left-handers this year, which bodes well for matchups with Cole Hamels and Jamie Moyer.
Los Angeles is also peaking on the mound.
Derek Lowe pitched as well as anyone not named Sabathia down the stretch. No. 2 starter Chad Billingsley finished seventh in the National League in ERA and overpowered a stacked Chicago Cubs offense in the NL Divisional Series. Hiroki Kuroda posted an ERA below 3.00 for the last two months of the season and also baffled the Cubs. Finally, if the Dodgers want to attack the Phillies' lefty power in Game 4, they can turn to rookie Clayton Kershaw, who, you guessed it, pitched his best ball late in the year.
The Phillies had the league's best bullpen this year, but the Dodgers were nearly as good. And even if closer Takashi Saito is on the fritz, the Dodgers have as good an alternative as any team in Jonathan Broxton.
Finally, the Dodgers will benefit from Joe Torre's tactical experience with postseason baseball. It's one of many small edges that will tilt the series to Los Angeles.