LOS ANGELES – Asked Tuesday evening to identify his four starters for the National League Championship Series, Joe Torre declined.
"I can't get into that," he said.
Whatever the names and whatever the order, few figured the pitchers would have the Los Angeles Dodgers here, through the NL West, past the St. Louis Cardinals and back in front of the Philadelphia Phillies.
They'll put Randy Wolf(notes), Clayton Kershaw(notes), Vicente Padilla(notes) and, it would seem, Hiroki Kuroda(notes) out there, keep pressing their guys' games against the other guys' names and play it out. It's an unlikely spin-off for a rotation that sought yet never did add the unqualified ace, that appears to have gone on without Chad Billingsley(notes) (who started two NLCS games last October) and that went through the likes of Eric Milton(notes), Charlie Haeger(notes) and even Jason Schmidt(notes) before settling here.
Indeed, in what could be the Cliff Lee(notes) top-of-the-rotation swing series, it was the Phillies who went big at the trading deadline and the Dodgers who made do with a salary dump (Jon Garland(notes)) and a personality dump (Padilla). It's the Dodgers who led the league in ERA, batting average against and bullpen ERA, and they were second in starters' ERA.
General manager Ned Colletti worked long and hard at the deadline to acquire Lee and Roy Halladay(notes) and didn't. He had the prospects but lacked the desire. And now in a postseason that had ones and twos all over the place (CC Sabathia(notes)-A.J. Burnett, Jon Lester(notes)-Josh Beckett, Carpenter-Wainwright, Lee-Hamels), the Dodgers have a developing one (Kershaw) and a bunch of other guys.
It's not the standard, and maybe not even advisable. But so far, prodded by coaches Rick Honeycutt and Ken Howell, pitching in a big ballpark, following the scouting reports, it's worked. They've worked.
"We lack the Cy Young guys, though one or two of them might grow into that," Colletti said. "But this is a result of how they prepare and how they execute, rather than the gaudiness of their strikeouts or pitching 250 innings or whatever. I think this team, those guys, winning is important to them. They figure out a way to win a game. I think the pitching staff has done it. After 162 games and after sweeping St. Louis … they deserve a touch of credit."
Of course, Colletti revealed his preference by chasing Lee and Halladay.
"You'd certainly rather have it," he said of the front-end horse, "but you're not going to cancel the season when you don't. We continue to play with or without."
The staff will be rested.
It rained a little here Tuesday, bringing a respite from the relentless sun and warmth that can soften a club during four days of leisure. The Dodgers took batting practice Tuesday – indoors, of course; it was kind of wet and chilly out – and will again on Wednesday, some of them driving as many as 20 miles to reach the ballpark.
Meanwhile, as Manny & Co. stretched and scouted and plotted, the Phillies were fighting off the Rockies and hypothermia in Denver. Then, some flew overnight to Philadelphia, slept for parts of a day, re-packed and flew back to Los Angeles. Others, presumably those who'd rationed their underwear and socks, went straight from Denver to the coast to thaw.
Because the Dodgers haven't played since Saturday, Torre had his pick of rested starting pitchers. As in the division series sweep of the Cardinals, he could go with Wolf in Thursday's Game 1, Kershaw in Friday's Game 2 and then the resurrected Padilla in the first game in Philadelphia. From there, the Dodgers are considering Kuroda, who didn't pitch in the division series but seems recovered from a sore neck. Torre and pitching coach Honeycutt traveled Tuesday to Arizona to watch Kuroda throw five innings in an instructional league game and came away satisfied.
"We'll think overnight," Torre said, "and we'll see how he feels overnight."
If not Kuroda, then Torre could take a shot with Billingsley or Jon Garland in Game 4. Billingsley, of course, was pounded in two starts against the Phillies in last year's NLCS, failing to get through the third inning in either of them. On the other hand, in four career regular-season starts against the Phillies, three of them in Philadelphia, Billingsley is 1-1 with a 3.24 ERA. He hasn't pitched since the end of September and hasn't won since mid-August, so Torre's decision would seem simple, and it's possible he'll decide Billingsley simply isn't an October guy.
Manuel's choices lie elsewhere. Hamels, who beat the Dodgers twice last October and was the series MVP, is on schedule to start Game 1. He lost to the Rockies in Game 2 of the division series, continuing his uneven season (10-11, 4.32), but he has never lost to the Dodgers in any venue or any time of year. Due to the birth of his boy, Caleb, and his Game 5 assignment at Citizens Bank Park, Hamels wasn't even in Denver with the team.
From there, Manuel will take a long breath.
Lee could pitch Game 2 on short rest, but probably will go Game 3 Sunday. That leaves one of rookie J.A. Happ(notes), Joe Blanton(notes) and Martinez for Game 2, and then one of the two remaining for Game 4.
- Joe Torre
- Clayton Kershaw