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Spin Forward: Phillies need top pair

Spin Forward: Phillies need top pair

LOS ANGELES -- Here's the thing about so-called "RBI men." They don't earn that title without having people to drive in.

Chase Utley and Ryan Howard, who have combined to drive in 740 runs in the past three seasons, haven't done so without help. They've been driving in leadoff man Jimmy Rollins and No. 2 hitter Shane Victorino throughout that span.

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On Sunday night, though, in Game 3 of the National League Championship Series, the two sluggers didn't get the help. Rollins and Victorino went a combined 0-for-8, and the Phillies offense stagnated. For the Phils to get started again, they need their tablesetters to get back to starting rallies.

"I think every person needs to get on base, not just Jimmy and I," Victorino said. "But if we get on, it shows. It's not a happy time for me and Jimmy that we didn't get any hits, but it's one game. We're still up 2-1. We get ready to go tomorrow."

They'll need to get ready. Rollins has been quiet in the NLCS after an excellent Division Series, going 1-for-13 in the first three games. Victorino was held down in Game 1 and Game 3 but had a huge Game 2 in the Phils' 8-5 win.

In seven games this postseason, Rollins and Victorino have four games where they have combined to get on base at least three times. The Phils have scored 22 runs in those games and have won all four. In the three games where Rollins and Victorino have been dormant, the Phillies have scored six runs and are 1-2.

It was especially noticeable on Sunday, because the heart of the Phillies' order produced in a way it often hasn't so far in October. Utley, Howard and Pat Burrell combined for two doubles and two singles -- but drove in one run. If there's nobody on base, it takes a homer to drive in a run.

Looking ahead to Game 4, the Dodgers will start a pitcher who kept the top of the order down in Game 1. Derek Lowe held Rollins hitless, and Victorino reached base only on an error in that game. But that play perhaps reveals just how pivotal the top two men are, because when Rafael Furcal's error allowed Victorino to reach, Utley followed with a two-run, game-tying homer.

Over the years, Lowe has had decent success against both players. Rollins is 6-for-20 against him in the regular season, a .300 average, but also has a .300 OBP against the sinkerballer, no homers and two doubles. Victorino in limited exposure is 1-for-5 with a walk.

So Lowe can control the top of the order. And with his tremendous success in controlling Howard (2-for-16 regular season, 0-for-3 in Game 1), if Lowe keeps Rollins and Victorino at bay, he can isolate Utley and simply pitch around him if he so desires.

Perhaps he can look to Sunday's starter, Hiroki Kuroda, for a template. Kuroda had both hitters looking silly. In six at-bats against Kuroda, the two got exactly one ball out of the infield -- Rollins' fly ball out to center in the sixth. Otherwise, they rolled over three ground balls, popped up and struck out.

Not a good night -- unless you're the Dodgers.

"We pitched," said Dodgers manager Joe Torre. "We pitched well in the first game, but we didn't give them a chance to get off the mat tonight."

And as a result, the Phils did give the Dodgers a chance to get off the mat in the series. To knock them back down will start with getting in the first swings in the first inning.

Matthew Leach is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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