In last year’s Division Series, the Dodgers looked invincible against the Cubs, but then went down in flames in the Championship Series against the Phillies. Why will this year be different? There are many reasons, but one sticks out.
The first few all revolve around the Dodgers. The starting staff is similar to last year’s, but it doesn’t matter this year. A Randy Wolf, a Clayton Kershaw (not to minimize the development of Kershaw and the fact that he can dominate a game), a Vicente Padilla, who can provide five good innings is all they need, with the solid bullpen they now have. The return to health of Hong-Chih Kuo and the acquisition of George Sherrill combining with Ronald Belisario and the now more experienced Jonathan Broxton is a powerful component they did not enjoy last season. The additional year of experience that Andre Ethier and Matt Kemp have gained cannot be over-emphasized. These guys are now full-fledged major league stars, producing stellar defense, key hits, and those little intangibles, game after game. And take a look at second base. Last season, the soon-to-be-retired Jeff Kent was injured through the end of the season and missed the playoffs, replaced by the likes of the displaced Brad DeWitt, Angel Barroa, and Pable Ozuna. Today, the Dodgers’ lineup features the all-star play of Orlando Hudson and the late-season heroics of veteran Ronnie Belliard. All of these reasons foretell a better outcome for the Dodgers in the Championship Series.
But what else?
Easy. This year they won’t be facing the total dominance of Brad Lidge. Lidge was THE reason the Phillies knocked off the Dodgers and went on to the title. Whether it is the Phillies again or the Rockies, neither team has at this time, a closer who can compare to what Lidge used to be – neither Ryan Madson nor Lidge himself with the Phillies, nor Houston Street with Colorado.
I’ll take the Dodgers’ chances to make it to the World Series for the first time since 1988. And there is a real chance that there could be a Freeway Series, with the Dodgers facing the Angels.