Key To Phils Game One Success: Hit The Low(e) Ball

Miles MusselmanContributor IOctober 6, 2008

On the surface, an NLCS Game One matchup between Cole Hamels and Derek Lowe may look like a huge advantage to the powerful lefty lineup of the Philadelphia Phillies. 

After all, since the beginning of the Chase Utley/Ryan Howard era in Philly, the sight of a power righty on the mound has Phils fans dreaming of balls soaring out of Citizens Bank Park.  As Derek Lowe prepares to take the ball in Game One for the Dodgers, this should come with a warning sign for Philly: "BEWARE THE LOW(E) BALL."

Over the past three years, the Phillies have consistently torn apart right-handed pitching in the National League.  There have, however, been a couple righties that continue to give Howard and the rest of the Bash Brothers fits.  Brandon Webb, Tim Hudson, and Tim Redding come to mind.  Oh, and then there is Derek Lowe.  The common denominator? A heavy sinker that turns 400 foot shots into measly ground balls to shortstop.

Therein lies the problem for the National League's home run champs.  They like to hit the ball up, and pitchers like Derek Lowe do everything in their power to keep the ball down.  While Chase Utley, Pat Burrell, and Jimmy Rollins all boast .300+ batting averages against Lowe, not one of them has taken him deep.  The same goes for Ryan Howard and his 2-16 lifetime work against Lowe.

In fact, the only Phillies to have taken Lowe deep in their careers are Pedro Feliz (twice), Matt Stairs, and Chris Coste.  Feliz is likely the only one of that group to start for the Phillies on Thursday.  The reason all of this poses a problem for Philly is that they have learned to live and die by the long ball, which was never more evident in their 6-2 clincher against the Brew Crew that saw four Philly bombs leave the yard. 

To score against Lowe, the Phillies are going to have to alter their game plan.  This means laying down bunts, slapping balls the other way, and avoiding double plays. 

While they are at it, they might want to establish this same game plan against potential Game Three starter, Hiroki Kuroda, who they are hitting a combined .095 against with 12 punch outs in 42 at bats.

So what are the chances of this lineup changing the way they have been approaching life at the plate for the entire season?  Probably slim.  Good teams make necessary changes, though. 

Just ask the Milwaukee Brewer lineup that worked three crucial walks and knocked out Jamie Moyer, a pitcher who had handled them easily earlier this year, after being incredibly impatient against Cole Hamels and Brett Myers in their first two losses of the series.  Desperate times call for desperate measures, and with Game One of the NLCS looming on Thursday, the Phillies hope to make the necessary adjustments at the plate.