Thursday, October 9, 2008

Utley and Burrell power Phillies in Game 1

The Dodgers found themselves with a 2-0 lead going into the 6th inning, and were in clear control from the start. Derek Lowe was shaky in the 5th, but managed to get Jimmy Rollins to fly out to left to strand 2 and end the inning. All the Dodgers needed was possibly one more inning of solid pitching to get through this one.

Unfortunately for LA, it didn't happen.

The Dodgers suffered their first playoff blemish in 4 games as the Phillies took Game 1 of the NLCS, 3-2. Lowe was good, but Cole Hamels was just a bit better, and homers by Chase Utley and Pat Burrell in the 5th proved to be the difference.

The game started off promisingly enough for the Dodgers, as they got on the board right away. Andre Ethier doubled with 1 down in the 1st. Manny Ramirez then unloaded on a long double to dead center that just barely missed being a 2-run homer. It still was plenty deep enough to score Ethier, and it was 1-0.

The lead was increased to 2-0 in the 4th, and it all started with a ground rule double by Matt Kemp that just hopped inside the foul line and into the crowd in right. Casey Blake grounded out to get Kemp over to 3rd, and Blake DeWitt came through with a sac-fly RBI to get the lead of 2.

As I said before, Lowe had another good outing, just not quite good enough. He was dealing through 4, but seemed to have trouble with his stuff in the 5th. That's when he stranded 2 on Rollins' flyout to left, so no damage done. But in the 6th, he must have hit a wall, because Utley uncorked a 2-run shot, and Burrell lined a no-doubter 2 hitters later for the lead, which would never go away.

While the homers were legit, I can't help but wonder what kind of an inning the 6th would have been had it not been for Rafael Furcal's throwing error to start. Shane Victorino hit a soft grounded to short, and Raffy rushed his throw, which was high and off of James Loney's glove, allowing Victorino to go to 2nd. It's too bad that the game might have been lost on that one play, but in a tight, 1-run game, that's how it goes.

On the night, Lowe finished at 5.1 IP, 6 H, 3 R, 2 ER, 1 BB, 2 K. Not bad, but it's the 6th that made it look ordinary. Compare that to Hamels' line of 7 innings, 2 runs, and 8 K's, and Hamels lived up to his hype. When that changeup is dancing like it was tonight, there's little that the Dodgers' hitters can do. It's just that good.

Being down 1-0 certainly isn't the end of the line, especially in a 7 game series. Here's what the Dodgers need to do to turn this thing around. First, someone other than Manny needs to step up. He was 2-4, and except for Ethier's 2-4, nobody else really stood out. The guys at the bottom of the order of Loney, Kemp, Blake, and DeWitt went 2-14 with 1 run and 1 RBI. That's just not going to get it done.

Two, they can't give away outs like Furcal did tonight. The Phillies are notorious for being a streaky hitting team. They were doing jack squat all game until they were given an extra out in the 5th. You know how that turned out.

Finally, now that Hamels is out of the way, they need to take advantage of their superior starting pitching at this point. And it all starts with Chad Billingsley on Friday afternoon. He just has to pitch like he has all year long, and they should be fine. Against the Cubs he was lights-out. Another big start would tie this series up at 1 and bring it back to LA for 3. It can happen.

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