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Same teams, but who's better now?

Dodgers-Phillies: Who's better now?

LOS ANGELES -- The Dodgers have been off the field since Saturday, their longest time off since the All-Star break.

"Yeah and we've been partying every day," third baseman Casey Blake said.

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He was kidding, even if people in Philadelphia think that life in the shadows of the Hollywood Hills is one big party.

"We've been watching baseball instead of playing it," Dodgers outfielder Matt Kemp said. "We've got a chance to rest a little bit, now we're ready to go."

The party really starts Thursday evening when the Dodgers play hosts to the Phillies in Game 1 of the National League Championship Series. Cole Hamels pitches for the Phillies against Clayton Kershaw for the Dodgers in a rematch of last year's NLCS.

The Phillies won that one in five games and took down Tampa Bay to capture the second World Series title in franchise history. The Phillies, who advanced in four games against the Rockies in the NL Division Series, are trying to become the first NL team to go to consecutive World Series since the Braves in 1995-96.

"We won it once and we want to continue to do it," Phillies manager Charlie Manuel said. "That was our goal coming out of Spring Training, to repeat and get back there. We've got two more steps."

The Dodgers, who swept the Cardinals in the NLDS, have won six World Series -- including one in Brooklyn -- but haven't been there since winning it all in 1988. Eleven of the other 15 National League teams have played in the World Series since then.

NL Championship Series
Gm. 1 PHI 8, LAD 6 Wrap Video
Gm. 2 LAD 2, PHI 1 Wrap Video
Gm. 3 PHI 11, LAD 0 Wrap Video
Gm. 4 PHI 5, LAD 4 Wrap Video
Gm. 5 PHI 10, LAD 4 Wrap Video

The Dodgers come into this best-of-seven NLCS convinced they are a better team than last year. Both teams have added and subtracted players over the course of the year but the Dodgers believe a year of experience plus home-field advantage will make a big difference this time around.

"I think the guys are more ready this time," Dodgers outfielder Manny Ramirez said. "But we're going against the best team in the National League. So let's just wait and see what happens."

The Phillies come into this series just knowing they are a good team. They moved into first place in the National League East on May 29 and were there for the rest of the season. They were tied with the Marlins on July 2 but then won 14 of 15 to take control of the division. They also signed Pedro Martinez and traded for Cliff Lee in July, the likely Game 2 and 3 starters, respectively.

"This team has never focused on repeating," said Phillies outfielder Raul Ibanez, who wasn't a part of last year's title team, signing as a free agent in the offseason. "We've focused on competing every day and every game. The ultimate goal is to win the World Series, but if your focus is too far out, then you lose contact on the immediate future and the present. What our team does best is focus on the present."

The Dodgers, on the surface, also focus on the present. They downplay the motive of revenge.

"It's just another opportunity," Dodgers outfielder Andre Ethier said. "This team is different, that team is different. It's not about revenge. It's about the team we're facing and being four games closer to our goal."

Philly, LA have history
As the Dodgers and Phillies prepare to meet in the NLCS for the fifth time, no two teams in either league have met as many times in an LCS.
Year Winner Loser World Series
1977 Dodgers 3 Phillies 1 Lost to Yankees
1978 Dodgers 3 Phillies 1 Lost to Yankees
1983 Phillies 3 Dodgers 1 Lost to Orioles
2008 Phillies 4 Dodgers 1 Defeated Rays

The Phillies won last year because Hamels dominated the Dodgers in his two starts to win series MVP honors and because their bullpen dominated. Led by Brad Lidge, who had three saves, the Phillies bullpen allowed just three runs in five games.

Hamels and Lidge are not the same pitchers they were in 2008. Hamels went from 14-10 with a 3.09 ERA in 2008 to 10-11 with a 4.32 ERA in 2009 and lost his only Division Series start against the Rockies. Lidge had two saves against the Rockies but eight losses, 11 blown saves and a 7.21 ERA in the regular season left much doubt if he would remain the Phillies closer.

Lee and Martinez provided the biggest boost to the Phillies staff, combining to go 10-5 with a 3.47 ERA in 21 starts down the stretch. Lee was 1-0 with a 1.10 ERA in two starts against the Rockies but won't pitch until Sunday in Game 3 in Philadelphia.

The Dodgers have some uncertainty about their rotation but none about their bullpen. Dodgers relievers had a 3.12 ERA during the regular season, best in the NL, and were 2-0 with a 1.86 ERA in the sweep of the Cardinals.

Adding George Sherrill at the Trade Deadline was as important to the Dodgers bullpen as the Phillies picking up Lee. He and Jonathan Broxton form a formidable 1-2 combination at the back of the bullpen with Hong-Chih Kuo, Ronald Belisario and Ramon Troncoso setting them up.

"Sherrill really made a difference in our bullpen, there's no doubt about it," manager Joe Torre said. "He sort of put things in order."

Offensively, the Phillies led the league with 820 runs scored while hitting an NL-leading 224 home runs. The Dodgers scored 780 runs while hitting only 145 home runs. Ramirez's 50-game absence didn't help, plus he hit just .219 with four home runs and 14 RBIs in his last 25 games during the regular season. Breakthrough seasons by Ethier and Kemp made up for Ramirez. They combined to drive in 55 more runs than they did the previous season.

The Dodgers believe they have a team that can end a 21-year World Series drought. But they also know it won't be easy to unseat the defending champions.

"I think the main thing about Philadelphia is how resilient they've been," Torre said. "They are a ballclub that has a purpose. They have a purpose out there and we are certainly aware of it."

T.R. Sullivan 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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