NLCS: Colorado Rockies vs. Arizona Diamondbacks
Colorado Rockies (wild card, NL West, #4 seed) vs. the Arizona Diamondbacks (first place, NL West, #1 seed)
Colorado vs. Arizona. Both teams hail from the NL West. Both teams are expansion franchises from the 1990s. Both teams hold spring training in Tucson. Both teams met to open the season and split their first 16 meetings before Colorado won the last two games of the season-ending series after Arizona secured the division. Both teams lost 76 games last year and tied for last place. Both teams won 90 games this year. Both teams are made up of homegrown talent. Both teams are chomping at the bit to represent the NL in the World Series.
Game 1: Thurs., 10/11, 8:37 PM ET - COL (Francis, 17-10, 4.22) @ ARI (Webb, 18-10, 3.01)
W L PCT HOME ROAD RS RA Arizona 90 72 .556 50-31 40-41 712 732 Colorado 90 73 .552 51-31 39-42 860 758
The Rockies won 10 of 18 meetings against the Diamondbacks this season.
Besides having Brendan Webb, the Diamondbacks are best known for the fact that they were outscored by opponents on the season and won their division. Despite playing in a field that inflates offense almost as much as the post-humidor Coors Field, they scored the third fewest runs in the NL, posted the worst batting average and OBP, and allowed the fifth fewest runs in the NL. Huh? The Diamondbacks rotation is led by Webb, but after him it's a collection of warm bodies, all of whom are pretty average pitchers.
The Rockies starting rotation is very similar, with the biggest difference coming at the top, where Webb is better than Jeff Francis. Offensively, the Rockies are far and away the better team. They scored more runs than Arizona, both at home and the road, and however you break it down, the Rockies have much better hitters than the Diamondbacks.
For the first all-NL West NLCS, I predict two things. First, that the record for most total feet above sea level in a playoff series will be shattered. Second, a Rockies win in 6 games. I think the Rockies' offense gives them a big advantage, although the Diamondbacks have been confounding people all year.
OK - let's get the obvious out of the way:
1) Colorado is on fire. Since September 15 they have lost just once (to Arizona and Brandon Webb interestingly enough). They hit .298/.373/.488 in September and had an un-Coors like 4.02 team ERA for the month. They steamrolled through the Phillies.
2) Arizona won the National League West this season with a negative run differential. This makes many statheads sad. Nonetheless here they are, hosting Game One of the NLCS at Chase Field.
So Colorado in a cakewalk, right? Not so fast. Arizona has actually been a very good team by virtue of run differential and any other metric that drills down further than wins and losses for some time now. In the month of September they were 15-11 and sported a comfortably positive run differential. A theretofore limp offense came around as Conor Jackson and Tony Clark were both sensational, and Mark Reynolds recaptured some of his early season magic. They hit .272/.354/.457 in September and pitched well to boot. They were the first team in the NL to clinch a playoff slot and once they were in, absolutely dominated the Cubs. It's ok to say it. The D-Backs are now a legitimately good ballclub.
I think it is going to be a fantastic series but ultimately the Rockies prevail thanks to more offensive star power and a deeper rotation (I really like Ubaldo Jimenez and Franklin Morales). Colorado in 6.
The Rockies made me look stupid by sweeping the Phillies after I predicted a 3-2 Philadelphia win in the NLDS. The trio of Ryan Howard, Chase Utley and Jimmy Rollins was one reason for picking the eventual loser, but the law of averages was the main factor in my wrong choice.
The contrarian streak in me says Arizona is going to win the series. Nine of ten ESPN experts picked the Rockies to win the series. Seven of them predict it will last no more than six games. Joe and Sully like Colorado in six as well. But something doesn't add up. Arizona is a -125 favorite tonight, yet Colorado is favored to win the series.
As Sully noted, the Diamondbacks beat the Rockies the last time the game mattered for both sides. Brandon Webb defeated Jeff Francis. But Webb is far from a lock against the Rockies. In five prior starts vs. his division rival, the reigning Cy Young Award winner was 0-3 with a 6.47 ERA. Brad Hawpe (9-for-15 with 3 HR and 11 RBI) owns him. Kaz Matsui (8-for-17 in 2007 and 11-for-26 lifetime) has hit the sinkerballing righthander, too.
With a minus-20 run differential, the D-Backs are the fifth division winner since 1969 to be outscored during the regular season. Bad news, right? Well, the others were the 1984 Royals, 1987 Twins, 1997 Giants, and the 2005 Padres. Of these teams, Arizona and Minnesota are the only two to advance past the first round . . . and the Twins won the World Series. That sounds like a blueprint for the Diamondbacks to me.
Whichever team wins tonight wins it all. The layoff and a loss will shatter Colorado's momentum. Besides, momentum is overrated when it comes to the postseason. The 1960 Yankees won their last 15 games but lost in the World Series to the Pirates. Webb and the home-field advantage will be the difference makers. Arizona in 7.