And then there were three.
The Dodgers were eliminated last night; the Phillies beat them 5-1 to send Los Angeles home. Looking back at my prediction for the series, I was totally right. Five games. You heard it right here, baby.
Of course, there is the small issue of the fact that I thought it would be LA celebrating after five contests, rather than the Phightin' Phils. Oh well. You win some, you lose some. I still totally called the five games thing.
If you're the Dodgers this morning, you have to be asking yourself, "What happened?" Well, luckily for you, Dodgers, I'm here to help you out.
For most of the season, up until the point that they acquired Manny Ramirez, there was one issue that really plagued the Dodgers: they had a hell of a time scoring runs. The culprit was, to put it bluntly, a lack of power.
As talented and exciting as many of the young Dodger players are, there simply aren't very many of them that are going to put the ball over the wall with much regularity. A guy like James Loney, the talented young first baseman for Joe Torre's squad, is a very nice young hitter, capable of hitting for a consistently solid average, as well as being able to get on base via the walk.
However, in almost 600 at bats this season, Loney only hit thirteen home runs. Now, you can survive on only thirteen homers, if you do some other things well, but thirteen home runs is thirteen home runs. Ditto Russell Martin, who hit thirteen as well. Ditto Matt Kemp, with a robust eighteen.
Bottom line: the Dodgers just lacked that thump in the middle of the order that you look for in a big time contender.
All that changed when they acquired Manny. Suddenly, there was a real threat in the middle of the Dodger lineup. A threat who just happened to have more than 500 home runs, as a matter of fact. On the 31st of July, the Dodgers had a team OPS of .697. I don't think I need to tell you, that's not great. On the day the season ended, the Dodgers' team OPS stood at .732. Again, I think it's probably pretty obvious to everyone out there that a thirty five point jump in the team's OPS over a two month period is awfully damned impressive.
Now, was that jump in OPS all due to Manny? Of course not. No one player could possibly get enough at bats to pull a team stat up that much. There were other factors; not the least of which was the replacement of under-performing vets like Andruw Jones (remember him?), and Juan Pierre with younger, more productive players. Still, the effect that Manny had on the LA offense cannot be overstated. Not only does a player like that add his own numbers to the offense, but he changes the entire dynamic of how a team is approached. Manny wasn't the sole factor, no. But I have no problem with saying he was probably the biggest.
So what happened in the NLCS? How did a team that had improved so markedly over the last couple months of the season somehow get shut down again? Well, the answer is simple.
The Phillies just didn't pitch to Manny.
It can't be that simple, can it? Well, in a word, yes. It can be that simple. When a team has one true threat in the lineup and a whole bunch of players that really don't scare you, what do you do? That's right. You just don't give that one player the chance to beat you.
There was an interesting statistic flashed on the screen last night on the Fox broadcast, during an at bat by Russell Martin, who was batting cleanup behind Manny last night. Dodger hitters had, for the post-season, hit .130 in the fourth spot, directly behind Manny. That's not a typo. One three zero. Let me tell you something, you want to know why the Dodgers lost this series? There it is, in one convenient number.
What happened to the Dodgers was simple. At some point in time, one of the Phillies, either a player, coach, or front office type, had simply said to themselves, "You know, we really ought to just stop throwing that guy anything to hit." And guess what? It worked.
And so, the Dodgers became essentially the team that they had been all season again. No real power to speak of, trouble scoring runs. Only now they had a guy on first base. A lot.
Did the Dodger pitching hold up? Eh. Decently enough, though Chad Billingsley wasn't at all what I had expected him to be. Still, he is a twenty three year old kid, something we might do well to remember. Derek Lowe was pretty good but not great, and the kid Kershaw never did get a chance to show what he could do. But really, not a bad performance by the Dodger hurlers overall. The defense was sound. The bullpen, honestly, wasn't much of a factor.
No, it wasn't any of those things. In the end, what sunk the Dodgers' championship hopes was just one good idea. Just don't throw it to Manny. Repeat.
And that's all there is to it.