Last week, Imagine Sports' Diamond Mind simulation predicted that the Philadelphia Phillies would dispatch the Milwaukee Brewers, most likely in four games, and projected that the Los Angeles Dodgers would upset the team with the National League's best record in the regular season, the ill-fated Chicago Cubs. Sure enough, both the Phillies and Dodgers came through as projected, with L.A. sweeping Chicago and Philadelphia finishing off Milwaukee in four games.
Our simulations projected that Manny Ramirez would continue his torrid hitting to lead the L.A. offense, but the key would be the Dodgers' pitching, which we predicted would shut down the Cubs' lineup, particularly Alfonso Soriano and Derrek Lee. Sure enough, Manny was Manny at his best, going 5-for-10 in the series with two home runs, three RBIs and five runs scored, while the Dodgers' pitchers lived up to their simulation results, posting a team ERA of 2.00, holding the Cubs to a .240 batting average and, perhaps more importantly, limiting them to a .286 on-base percentage. Though Lee had a much better series than we projected, Soriano had only one hit, a single, in 14 at-bats.
For the Phillies-Brewers series, our simulation projected the Phillies with a 54.9 percent chance of winning, most likely in four games, and that the Brewers' chances were heavily dependent on the pitching of CC Sabathia. That was a risky proposition for the Brewers, given that Sabathia made several starts on three days' rest during the stretch run and would need to do it twice more in the playoffs.
Game 2 was especially problematic, as Sabathia threw 122 pitches in the final game of the regular season and would need to turn around and pitch again on three days' rest. Sure enough Sabathia ran out of gas, as we projected, and the Brewers lost Game 2. Our simulations showed the Brewers facing an uphill battle if they lost Game 2 and extremely tough odds if they had already lost Game 1. Furthermore, our simulation projected the Phillies' pitching staff would keep the Brewers in check, and Cole Hamels and company lived up to the projection with a team ERA of 2.31, holding the Brewers to a team batting average of .206.
So what does our Diamond Mind simulation project for the National League Championship Series? Before revealing our predictions for the NLCS, here is a brief recap of our methodology:
- • We updated our projections and ratings for each player based on his 2008 regular-season performance.
• Although playoff rosters were not yet finalized, we used our best judgment about who would be selected, the starting rotations, the batting orders, and the bullpen and bench roles.
• We made judgments about players carrying an injury into the postseason. Beyond deciding, for purposes of setting these roles, whether or not a player would play, we did not attempt to simulate how such an injury might hamper the player, except to the extent already reflected in his regular-season performance.
• We then simulated the series 2,000 times.
As unpredictable as the outcome of the regular season can be, luck can play an even greater role in a short series. Nevertheless, the results of our simulations project the Dodgers will continue their Manny-led run, most likely in six games and maybe even five, and advance to face the winner of the American League Championship Series. In fact, the Dodgers-Phillies series did not project to be as close as we expected; L.A. won 1,231 of the 2,000 simulated series, which equates to a 61.6 percent chance of winning the series:
Pitching appears to have the upper hand, as this series projects to be low-scoring -- the Dodgers averaged 3.2 runs per game while the Phillies averaged 2.6 in our 2,000 simulations of the NLCS.
Yet again, Ramirez was the hitting star for the Dodgers, with a batting average of .333 for the series and an OPS of 1.042, which is even better than he projected for the NL Division Series against Chicago. He also averaged two homers and six RBIs. But if Manny is the engine that drives the Dodgers, Rafael Furcal looks like he will be the spark plug. Furcal led both teams, averaging a .429 on-base percentage and five runs scored in our NLCS simulations. But the Diamond Mind simulations also project that Nomar Garciaparra, Matt Kemp, and Andre Ethier as showing good odds of providing strong contributions at the plate.
For the Phillies, the simulations show Chase Utley and Ryan Howard as having the highest probability of being their offensive stars. Utley led the Phillies' starters with a .304 batting average and an OPS of .907, while Howard averaged an OPS of .815 and led the team with four RBIs. Shane Victorino hit .292 with an on-base average of .346, but the rest of the Phillies' lineup projects to struggle against the L.A. pitching. Philadelphia's team batting average was .246 for the 2,000 simulations, with an on-base percentage of .311 and slugging percentage of .350, indicating the L.A. staff should keep the ball in the ballpark. In contrast, the Dodgers hit .279 and sported an on-base percentage of .341 and a slugging percentage of .441. So if you're looking for a key factor that might turn this series in the Phillies' favor, look to the long ball. If the Phillies are to out-perform the projections, home runs are a key leverage point.
The simulation projects the Dodgers' pitchers to post a team ERA of 3.88, led by Derek Lowe (projected ERA of 3.65) and Hiroki Kuroda (3.12). However, it's the Dodgers' bullpen that truly shines in the simulations, with strong performances from Jonathan Broxton, Joe Beimel, Clayton Kershaw and Takaski Saito, although Saito is now off the playoff roster. The Phillies' bullpen also projects to have a strong series. Other than Cole Hamels, however, the Philadelphia starting rotation struggles. Hamels projects to match Lowe's 3.65, as they split their matchups in most simulation runs. However, the rest of the rotation struggles with ERAs of 4.50-5.06 for the simulations.
If the Phillies are to win, therefore, it appears the key will be the ability of their hitters to produce more power than the projections indicate, and/or the Phillies' starters other than Hamels having a good series.
As we noted in our division series previews, the odds can swing dramatically in favor of the winner of Game 1 of a short series. In fact, the winner of the first game went on to win every series in the 2007 playoffs, and the same is true so far in 2008. However, our simulations show that the Dodgers are still slight favorites even if they lose the opening game. Conversely, our simulations show that the Phillies really need that first game win if they're to have a good shot at taking the series. So the pressure is on Hamels in Game 1. That said, we still see the Dodgers beating the Phillies and making a trip to their first World Series since 1988, when Kirk Gibson limped onto the field at Dodger Stadium and created one of baseball's most memorable moments.