In Game 3 of the division series, the oft-frustrating Dave Bush shut down the powerful Phillies offense to bring the Brewers-Phillies series to 2-1. Yesterday, another unlikely “hero” emerged in the form of Joe Blanton, who managed to walk nobody and fan seven hitters, allowing just one run over 6+ innings. The Phillies won the series, their first playoff series win since 1993, and advanced to the NLCS to take on the Dodgers. The Torre Gang swept the Cubs in their division series, thanks to solid pitching and timely hitting with two outs. This sets up quite the interesting matchup given that the two teams played each other eight times after Manny Ramirez was acquired, with the home team sweeping a four-game set each time.
The Dodgers did not have Rafael Furcal in either series, but since both offenses are impressive, this will likely come down to which starting pitchers can truly perform well enough to not only shut down the opposing offense but also limit the bullpen usage. Not that either bullpen is bad, but I am sure fans have more confidence in their starters facing tough hitters in crucial situations than, say, Ryan Madson or Cory Wade, regardless of how effective each has been. Let’s take a look at the potential rotations for both teams, using their regular season statistics:
Cole Hamels: 3.09 ERA, 3.72 FIP, 1.08 WHIP, 76.0% LOB, 3.70 K/BB, 2.83 WPA/LI
Brett Myers: 4.55 ERA, 4.52 FIP, 1.38 WHIP, 72.6% LOB, 2.51 K/BB, -0.40 WPA/LI
Jamie Moyer: 3.71 ERA, 4.32 FIP, 1.33 WHIP, 76.6% LOB, 1.98 K/BB, 1.01 WPA/LI
Joe Blanton: 4.20 ERA, 5.03 FIP, 1.37 WHIP, 74.4% LOB, 1.58 K/BB, -0.07 WPA/LI
Blanton’s stats are strictly in a Phillies uniform. Brett Myers is a much better pitcherthan his ERA, FIP, and WPA/LI would indicate, and since returning to the majors at the end of July, has been fantastic in all but two starts. Unfortunately for the Phillies, those starts were his final two of the regular season. Fortunately, however, he rebounded quite nicely and tossed a gem against the Brewers in the division series. Moyer was not very accurate in Game 3, and was squeezed a bit by the home plate umpire, so he is the wild card of the Phillies rotation.
If he is getting calls and pitching in and out like he did during the regular season, he will be very tough. If, however, he struggles with control and is not getting calls, there honestly is no point in keeping him in the game. 82-mph fastballs might be tough when the ump is generous with the strike zone, but as he has to adjust to a tighter zone, they become very hittable. Quick sidenote: all four of these guys have 10-letters in their names.
Derek Lowe: 3.24 ERA, 3.26 FIP, 1.13 WHIP, 70.8% LOB, 3.27 K/BB, 2.61 WPA/LI
Chad Billingsley: 3.14 ERA, 3.35 FIP, 1.34 WHIP, 78% LOB, 2.51 K/BB, 0.91 WPA/LI
Hiroki Kuroda: 3.73 ERA, 3.59 FIP, 1.22 WHIP, 68.5% LOB, 2.76 K/BB, 0.62 WPA/LI
Clayton Kershaw: 4.26 ERA, 4.08 FIP, 1.50 WHIP, 75.7% LOB, 1.92 K/BB, -0.61 WPA/LI
Derek Lowe had an outstanding season and is going to land a hefty contract this off-season. His ability to strike batters out, keep balls in play on the ground, and limit his walks deemed him over two and a half wins better than an average pitcher this year. If you are unsure just how good that is, look at Cole Hamels‘ season, a 2.83 WPA/LI, and it should become clear how good Lowe’s season really turned out. Lowe is always tough on the Phillies lineup, primarily due to their reliance on the longball for runs. They will need to steal bases and be more patient with him, rather than attempt to launch everything in orbit.
Billingsley is very interesting because his season is pretty much what fans in Philadelphia hoped for from Brett Myers. Both are power-pitchers with nasty breaking pitches. They also both had nearly identical K/BB ratios and WHIPs this season. Whether or not it speaks volumes to Lowe’s effectiveness against the team or Billingsley’s repertoire—if there is anything the Phillies offense does well it is hit 93+ mph fastballs—and lack of experience, the word around Philadelphia is that Billingsley should be a much easier game than Lowe. I would highly doubt either game will be easy, but Myers-Billingsley is very intriguing because both pitchers essentially rely on the same ingredients to concoct their outs-recipe.
Kuroda won’t win the rookie of the year award but he should merit some love in that regard. Despite a well below average strand rate of 68.5%, Hiroki produced just a 3.73 ERA. His controllable skills were even better, earning him a 3.59 FIP. The fourth spot in their rotation will likely go to Clayton Kershaw, as he is a lefty while the other three are righties. Torre seems enamored with using Greg Maddux out of the bullpen, but I would not be surprised if Maddux gets the call at some point in this series.
This has all the makings of a very fun series, with top-notch pitching, impressive starting rotations, and both finesse and flames out of the bullpen. I firmly believe that if the Dodgers had Rafael Furcal and Manny Ramirez all season long, they would have won more games than the Cubs, or at least been within striking distance. They are not the team they were in May, and are much more potent now, with a scarier 1-8 than the Phillies. If Myers is on, then both Game 1 and Game 2 will essentially see ace vs. ace. I can honestly see this going all seven games, but either team will need to fire on all cylinders to take the series, and neither can get satisfied after taking a lead.
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