Contrasts at play

The Baltimore Sun

You'll probably hear some derivative of the word at least 50 times during the 2008 National League Championship Series: contrast.

It's Philadelphia and its blue-collar fatalism pitted against Los Angeles and its impassioned and impersonal glitz. It's baseball's most revered manager, Joe Torre, against its most maligned, Charlie Manuel.

It's a bunch of big-name bombers versus a lineup with less power than the Federal Reserve Board. It's a team no one expected versus one always expected to choke.

The survivor represents the NL in the World Series. And, truthfully, both are talented, balanced and are playing well enough to make a run. It's a series of contrasts that is nonetheless intriguing.

The bottom line is whether the Dodgers' offense - which finished 13th in runs scored in the NL - can rattle a competent Phillies pitching staff. Because eventually the Phillies' lineup, which features Ryan Howard, Chase Utley and Jimmy Rollins and hit more homers than anyone in the NL, will score.

It will, however, have to face a Dodgers staff that had the best overall ERA (3.68) in the NL and allowed just six runs in a National League Division Series sweep of the Chicago Cubs.

The Dodgers won just 84 games, the fewest of any 2008 playoff teams. They were 66-70 on Aug. 30 but have won 21 of their past 29.

The Phillies, who won the tough NL East for the second consecutive year, can score in bunches - they were second in the NL in runs behind the Cubs, scoring 99 more than the Dodgers.

However, Howard and Utley combined to go just 4-for-26 in the Phillies' four-game NLDS victory over the Milwaukee Brewers. They'll have to improve, while the league's best bullpen must protect leads for a solid but unspectacular rotation.

The clubs split the season series, 4-4, with the home team winning each game. That's how even this NLCS could be.

Dodgers key player: LF Manny Ramirez

Ramirez only had 10 official at-bats in the three-game sweep of the Cubs. Why? Because he walked four times. In 14 plate appearances, he reached base nine times - a .643 on-base percentage. The scary part is, statistically speaking, the postseason monster is best in league championship series, with a lifetime .310 average and 10 homers in 144 at-bats in six ALCS (his clubs were 4-2 in those). And he has something to prove after being banished from Red Sox Nation in July.

Dodgers key stat: 137

The number of homers the Dodgers hit this season, 22nd in the majors. Of the 137, 27 were hit by midseason acquisitions Ramirez and Casey Blake.

Phillies key player: LF Pat Burrell

Burrell is among the streakiest players in baseball. He was hitless in eight NLDS at-bats heading before going 3-for-4 with two homers and four RBIs in Game 4. It's a matter of time before Howard and Utley get hot, but with Burrell you never know.

Phillies key stat: 1.80

That's the combined ERA of their starters in four NLDS games. Only Jamie Moyer failed to record a quality start. If the Phillies keep that up, they'll be in the World Series for the first time since 1993.

Prediction: : I overlooked the Dodgers in their NL West race and in the NLDS. No more. Dodgers win this in seven games.

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