Like Lidge, Hamels hoping to start over

Updated: October 14, 2009

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Cole Hamels will start Game 1 for the Phillies. Can Brad Lidge close it?

The National League Championship Series kicks off Thursday with a great pitching matchup between the Dodgers' Clayton Kershaw and the Phillies' Cole Hamels, two of the better young left-handers in baseball.

These two met earlier this year, on June 4, and Hamels walked away with a win in a 3-0 Phillies victory. Hamels had a great 2008 postseason, but he had a less-than-stellar regular season in 2009 (10-11, 4.32 ERA). He hasn't morphed back into postseason 2008 form this year, either, losing the only game the Phillies dropped in their 3-1 NLDS win against the Rockies.

With Cliff Lee having pitched Monday and unable to start, Phillies manager Charlie Manuel hopes Hamels can reclaim his success from last season. To be effective, Hamels must command his fastball to maximize the effect of his changeup.

Kershaw has the potential to overpower some of the game's best hitters. However, the Phillies fared exceptionally well this season against left-handed starting pitching (29-16). Kershaw isn't just any left-handed pitcher, though. He has an overpowering fastball and an unhittable curveball at his disposal. Command of the fastball is critical to get the Phillies' hitters to chase the curveball out of the zone.

The key matchup to check out in Game 1 is Kershaw against Ryan Howard. Howard is swinging the bat extremely well right now, as evidenced by his three doubles and six RBIs in the NLDS against Colorado. Howard will have to wait on a Kershaw fastball because it's hard to believe he can put the curve in play.

Ultimately, I think this game is going to turn into a battle of the bullpens, which significantly favors the Dodgers. Johnathan Broxton closes games with an exclamation point after the deep, balanced bullpen bridges the gap from the starting pitcher back to him. The Dodgers' Hong-Chih Kuo and George Sherrill are going to be critical in neutralizing Chase Utley, Howard and Raul Ibanez.

One thing the Dodgers' lefties cannot do is relax once they get through the left-handed Phillies bats. If they do, red-hot Jayson Werth will make them pay. The Philadelphia bullpen, and its issues, has been talked about all year. The Dodgers had a walk-off win against Brad Lidge in early June and tied another game in the ninth off of him, a game L.A. went on to win in 12 innings. If Lidge takes the mound with a lead in Game 1, you know Dodgers manager Joe Torre and his staff will be reminding the team of its recent success against Lidge. This has a chance to be a great series, and an exciting Game 1 should set the tone.

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Clayton Kershaw Phillies hitters had a big advantage on balls in the upper and middle thirds of the strike zone, but struggled with balls in the lower third and below.

The Dodgers, starter Clayton Kershaw and the bullpen, will need to get the ball down and keep it there to outlast the Philly sluggers. The L.A. staff had great success with pitches down in the zone, but it needs to live down there in this series.

Phillies and Dodgers in 2009
By area of strike zone
Middle/up Down
Philadelphia BA .287 .218
Philadelphia SLG .521 .343
Los Angeles BA against .265 .197
Los Angeles SLG against .411 .294
Los Angeles pitch pct. 56.5 43.5

-- ESPN Stats & Information

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Analysts: John Kruk, Buck Showalter
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Each night throughout the postseason, "Baseball Tonight" will remember some of the postseason's best pitching performances.

Oct. 15, 1986 -- Mets reliever Jesse Orosco threw six straight sliders in Game 6 to strike out Kevin Bass, ending the NLCS as the Mets beat the Astros 7-6 in 16 innings.

Orosco is one of five pitchers to record a postseason series-ending strikeout in a one-run game with the tying run on base (the Astros had runners on first and second). The others are Dolf Luque (1933 Giants, World Series), Rollie Fingers (1974 Athletics, ALCS), Derek Lowe (2003 Red Sox, ALDS), and Brad Lidge (2008 Phillies, World Series and 2009 Phillies, NLDS).



Simon Says ESPN researcher Mark Simon digs deep looking for the night's best baseball numbers.

Tonight, he looks at Clayton Kershaw, who gets the Game 1 call for the Dodgers despite struggling against the Phillies in the regular season. Kershaw's primary issue has been throwing strikes with his curveball and slider.

Clayton Kershaw (2009)
vs. Phillies vs. others
W-L 0-2 8-6
ERA 5.23 2.64
BB per 9 6.1 4.7
BA against .222 .198
Curve/slider strike pct. 39.1* 51.5*

* Courtesy of Inside Edge