Big League Stew - MLB

For the second straight NLCS Game 5, the Dodgers could do nothing but watch as the Phillies took home the National League title and made plans for the World Series.

"It's going to take all offseason to get over this," outfielder Matt Kemp(notes) wrote on his blog. "It hurts the most when you turn on the TV and see the World Series and the team you thought you could beat is playing there."

So how did the disappointing Dodgers again find themselves in such a spot?

Here are five reasons: 

1. Shoddy Starters: Ever since Chad Billingsley(notes) decided in the middle of the season that he wasn't up to the challenge of being the team's ace, Dodgers players and fans reassured the rest of the baseball world that a leading man wasn't necessary. Though they were able to win the NL West title (albeit just barely) with Clayton Kershaw(notes) doing a reasonable impression of one, their lack of a take-charge pitcher killed them in the NLCS. While Cliff Lee(notes) confidently nailed down the Phillies' must-win in Game 3, Los Angeles was unable to take advantage a similar luxury in Games 4 or 5. Joe Torre's starters were 0-3 during the series with a 8.72 ERA — numbers that include Vicente Padilla's(notes) great start in Game 2.

2. Bullpen Breakdown: We'd be looking ahead at the keys to Game 6 if it weren't for Jonathan Broxton(notes) walking Matt Stairs(notes), hitting Carlos Ruiz(notes) and then serving up the game-winning double to Jimmy Rollins(notes) in Game 4. Having Broxton and George Sherrill(notes) in the 'pen appeared to be Dodgers' biggest trump card coming into the series, but both were outperformed by Brad Lidge(notes), the Phillies' assumed weak link.

3. No '08 Man-Ram: It was impossible to assume that Manny Ramirez(notes) would replicate his ridiculous numbers from last year's NLCS (.533, two homers and seven RBIs) and he indeed did not even come close this season (.263, one homer, two RBIs). The problem is that no one else from the Dodgers' lineup stepped up with a series of big totals like Ryan Howard(notes) did for Philadelphia. A huge part of that blame lies with the offensive production from top to bottom. Five of LA's six homers were solo shots and the team only hit three doubles over five games. In contrast, the Phillies hit six doubles and 10 home runs (seven with runners on base).

4. Not Joe Torre's finest hour: It'll be interesting to see if more people jump on Jeff Passan's "Joe Torre is overrated" bandwagon. Torre simply didn't have a good series from convincing himself that a beat-up Hiroki Kuroda(notes) was ready for an important Game 3 start to continuing to think that starting Ronnie Belliard(notes) over Orlando Hudson(notes) was a good idea. He has now gone nine straight postseasons without a World Series title, so be prepared for a 2010 season filled with "Can Joe win one for the road?" storylines. 

5. The better team won again: No matter what Kemp's pride tells him, there's no shame in losing to this Phillies team. They're nowhere near a flash-in-the-pan and Dodgers GM Ned Colletti would be well served to see how Pat Gillick and Ruben Amaro turned a great homegrown core into a team with a shot at winning back-to-back titles.

But if there's anything for Dodgers fans to be bitter about, it's over the fact that the Phillies dominated the between-NLCS improvement battle. Give me Lee, Raul Ibanez(notes) and Pedro Martinez(notes) over Hudson, Padilla, Randy Wolf(notes) and Jim Thome(notes) any day.

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