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The summer game has ended. It is October, and while the perennial champions--Cincinnati and Pittsburgh--and the new challengers--among them Chicago--have faltered, two teams have survived the 162-game schedule to earn the right to wage battle for the National League pennant.
More than survived, really; the Philadelphia Phillies, with 101 wins, and the Los Angeles Dodgers, with 98, duked out the teams in their respective divisions to establish themselves beyond a doubt as the class of the league.
Their five-game playoff series, beginning in L.A. tonight, is a dead-even tossup, but if the Phillies can put together their diverse talents, they should win. Maybe.
The Phils did just that in an early August series against the Dodgers at Veterans Stadium. Philadelphia took the first game, 8-3, behind a seven-run eighth-inning explosion led by sluggers Mike Schmidt (38 HR's, 101 RBI's) and Greg Luzinski (.310, 39 HR's, 130 RBI's).
The Phillies drew two more weapons from their arsenal to swipe the second game, 1-0, behind the sterling relief work of Gene Garber (2.37 ERA) and a tenth-inning single by ex-Dodger Ted Sizemore (.282), who represents the Philly slap-hitting contingent.
In game three, Philadelphia unleashed another of its weapons in the person of Steve Carlton (23-10, 2.64 ERA), who locked horns with Dodger ace Don Sutton (14-8, 3.18) and came up with a 3-1 win.
A Hydra of the Diamond
In a nutshell, the Phillies can beat you in any one of several ways. Besides the right-handed power, Garber & Co. in the bullpen, the spray-hitting and Carlton, the Easterners have the best bench in baseball, one of the better defenses, and more base-stealing threats than L.A.
The Phils can go up the middle with any major league team: Bob Boone (.286) and Carlton's designated catcher Tim McCarver (.323) are solid behind the plate. Larry Bowa (.279) stands above all other major league shortstops in the field, and he teams with Sizemore for an excellent doubleplay combo. In center, Garry Maddox (.291, 74 RBI's) slurps up fly balls like a Hoover vacuum cleaner, and discharges them to the infield just as quickly.
Schmidt, at third, has no peers in baseball at that position, and Buke McBridge has hit nearly .350 since June.
One glaring weakness sticks out, however. Game 2 and 3 starters Larry Christenson and Jim Lonborg are less than superb, so the pitches they serve up could make for a Dodger feast.
And the Dodgers certainly know how to chew up opposing pitchers. Their offense finished first in the league in home runs, and third in run production (behind the first place Phils, who also led in average).
The line-up is a murderers' row, capable of crunching some of Carlton's fastballs over the fence and blowing the playoffs wide open. The numbers tell the whole story: first baseman Steve Garvey (.300, 33 HR's, 115 RBI's), the defensive wizard of right field Reggie Smith (.307, 30, 84), third baseman Ron Cey (30 HR's, 110 RBI's), and left filder Dusty Baker (29, 85) lead the hitting parade.
L.A. has more weaknesses than Philadelphia, most notably at shortstop, center field and the bullpen. But they will be stronger on the mound for at least the beginning of games two and three, with Sutton and probably Burt Hooton (11-7, 2.66) starting. As for the bullpen, cheerleading manager Tommy Lasorda will probably shore up that Achilles heel with reserve started Doug Rau (3.43) and Rick Rhoden (3.74).
In the end, the small things will probably determine the playoff winner. L.A. second baseman Dave Lopes' ex- plosive baserunning, well-executed cutoff throws, timely double plays--these are the rarely noted but critically important factors that are the stuff of championship teams.
Whatever edge the Phillies may have, it will be more than negated tonight if crafty southpaw Tommy John (20-7, 2.78) outduels Carlton in the opener.
But for now, it's the Phillies in five
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