LOS ANGELES -- Now pitching, to keep the Dodgers from falling into an enormous chasm in the National League Championship Series ... Vicente Padilla.
That's the position the Dodgers have put themselves in, and for all anyone knows, it just might work. But after the Phillies put a hurt on Clayton Kershaw and George Sherrill, beating the Dodgers by an 8-6 count in Game 1 of the NLCS, the dynamic for Padilla's game changes quite a bit.
In the Division Series against St. Louis, Padilla was pitching against a wounded foe, a team that had just taken a punch to the gut. Now he's facing a team that smells blood, not to mention a more dangerous lineup than the one the Cardinals trot out. The Phils have not been vulnerable to left-handers, as their reputation suggests, but Padilla has surely been vulnerable to left-handed batters.
And in case you had not noticed, the Phillies have some left-handed batters, including former MVP Ryan Howard, annual MVP candidate Chase Utley and key offseason acquisition Raul Ibanez. Lefties hit .303 with a .384 on-base percentage and a .453 slugging percentage against Padilla this year, so it's fair to say that the three sluggers will be looking forward to facing the veteran righty.
The Dodgers are confident, but it won't be easy.
"I like him against any lineup," said catcher Russell Martin. "He's got that kind of stuff and he's been pitching well lately. It's going to be big for us, this game tomorrow. We don't want to fall behind 0-2 against these guys."
With four days off between the Division Series and the NLCS, manager Joe Torre had any and every combination of starting pitchers available to him for the second round. He went with the impressive young lefty Kershaw in Game 1, a perfectly sensible decision even in light of Kershaw's fifth-inning fade in Game 1. For Game 2, he tapped Padilla, a recent Rangers castoff who pitched well down the stretch, but has been hit hard by left-handed batters this year.
Conventional wisdom suggests that the way to set up the rotation would have been to maximize the starts by left-handers, something Los Angeles could have done by going with Randy Wolf in Game 2 or 3, rather than holding him until Game 4. Instead, Torre chose to ride the hot hand, Padilla, before turning to the recuperating Hiroki Kuroda. The Japanese right-hander is coming back from a neck injury.
However it shook down, a great deal was on Kershaw, the closest thing to a sure thing in the Dodgers' rotation. Torre decided that the next-surest thing was the surging Padilla, and that belief will be tested on Friday.
"We knew he had good stuff," Torre said. "He had pitched against us when we played Texas this year, pitched well against us. ... That game in St. Louis was pretty impressive, how well he pitched against that ballclub. Seven innings was the longest he had gone for us."
If Padilla delivers, the Dodgers should still be in solid shape. They will have lost home-field advantage, but they'll like their chances with Kuroda and Wolf starting the next two games, followed by a Kershaw return in Game 5. But a defeat will put them in dire straits, facing Cliff Lee in Philadelphia in Game 3.
The decision is made. Now we'll see about the outcome.
Matthew Leach is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.