NLDS Roundtable: Colorado Rockies vs. Philadelphia Phillies
The National League Division Series between the Colorado Rockies (92-70) and Philadelphia Phillies (93-69) matches the wild card team against the club with the second-best record in the league. But this series is much more than that. It also pits the hottest team in the NL vs. the defending World Series champions.
The last time these two teams met in the postseason was in 2007 when the red-hot Rockies swept the NL East champs. Colorado tanked the following year while Philadelphia bounced back to win its first world title since 1980.
Who will prevail this year? The World Series representative from the NL in 2007 or 2008?
To preview the Colorado-Philadelphia series, let's turn to Dave Allen, Sky Andrecheck, Jeremy Greenhouse, Chris Moore, and yours truly of the Baseball Analysts staff.
Rich: All of us know that almost anything can happen in a short series, especially one between two quality teams like the Rockies and Phillies. With that caveat in mind, I'd like to examine the strengths and weaknesses of each team's hitting, pitching, and defense to determine which side should have the edge in this series. For starters, how do the offenses match up?
Dave: The Rockies are a three-true-outcomes offense, leading the majors in K/9 and BB/9 and ranking second to only the Phillies in number of HRs in the NL.
Jeremy: Yes, the Rockies lead the league in both walk percentage and strikeout percentage. They also have a decent amount of pop, ranking fifth in the Majors in ISO and HR/FB. It should be interesting because Philadelphia's pitchers have the league-worst groundball rate.
Dave: Good point, Jeremy. The GB per ball in play for the Phillies starters is under 40%. This could play a big role in a series played in two of the most HR friendly parks.
Sky: Well, Dave, with the humidor at Coors, we don't see the crackerjack numbers there anymore. They've got a decent offense with a great hitting outfield but it's largely lefty dominated, which may prove to be unfortunate given the matchup.
Dave: The Phillies haven't had any trouble scoring runs. They had four guys with more than 30 HRs, but what happened to Jimmy Rollins? He never took many walks and now that his BABIP fell out from under him he had a sub-.300 OBP this year.
Sky: Philadelphia's offense is star-laden, for sure. Like Dave, I wonder if Rollins can regain some of his form or will he continue to slump as he has all year? His offensive production has always been overrated, but he's probably better than he's shown this year.
Rich: Rollins has earned his offensive reputation more for his counting numbers than anything else. While the 2007 NL MVP has made over 500 outs in each of the past three seasons, his supporters point to the 100 runs he scored this year as well as the 43 doubles, 21 home runs, 31 stolen bases, and even the 77 runs batted in from the lead-off spot as measures of his so-called greatness. A player can put up a lot of big numbers when he gets 725 opportunities in a single season as Rollins did this year.
Jeremy: Speaking of steals, the Phillies, renowned for their power, have actually excelled on the bases with 119 SB to 28 CS and a MLB low 90 double plays.
Chris: I focus on pitching, and this series doesn’t do much for me. I don’t believe that the pitches J.A. Happ throws deserve a sub 3.0 ERA. If Charlie decides to start Pedro Martinez instead (not a bad idea in my mind), Phillies fans should start chanting “Pull him! Pull him!” well before pitch #100.
Sky: Will Manuel reveal his plan already? Happ's probably better than Martinez at this point. But he can also go out of the bullpen more easily and gives the club a much needed lefty reliever. If I'm managing the Phillies, Martinez starts Game 4.
Rich: With Brad Lidge struggling all year long, how would you describe Philadelphia's bullpen?
Sky: Shoddy. That's why they need Happ out there. How much confidence will they have in Lidge? It will take some stones to run him out there for saves in the playoffs. Reminds me of a certain 1993 closer....
Jeremy: I can't wait to see Lidge's projections for next year. This is the first year that he's had poor peripherals, which is scary, but he still is a useful part of the bullpen. I do think Ryan Madson is the better pitcher.
Dave: Over at FanGraphs, I wrote a little bit about Lidge's struggles. The whiff rate on both his fastball and slider has dropped each of the past three years, helping to explain the drop in strikeouts. The Phillies 'pen seems pretty shaky, particularly the back end.
Rich: The uniforms remain the same but the names on the backs have changed since these teams squared off in the NLDS in 2007. Just two years ago, Colorado went with Jeff Francis, Franklin Morales, and Ubaldo Jimenez, while Philadelphia countered with Hamels, Kyle Kendrick, and Jamie Moyer. Only two of these six pitchers are scheduled to start this year.
Jeremy: Jimenez is the most underrated elite pitcher going. Rockie starters led the league in groundball percentage, as the Rockies believe that's the solution to the Coors effect. That's possible, but having a starter in Jimenez who averages a league-leading 96 MPH on his fastball in that thin air doesn't hurt either.
Sky: Jorge de la Rosa is injured, but I don't think it hurts too much. After Jimenez, the Rockies starters are all pretty much interchangable. It's a solid staff.
Rich: I actually like de la Rosa quite a bit. He showed up well in my K/GB rankings last year. He struck out more than a batter per inning this season and was 10-2 with a 3.46 ERA in the second half. I think he will be missed.
Dave: Denver has very good starting pitching, with GBs playing a big role. They give up 51% ground balls per BIP, highest among starting rotations. This will be especially important in a series played in two home run friendly parks.
Jeremy: In case you haven't noticed, Rafael Betancourt has 29 strikeouts to five walks in 25.1 innings since joining the Rockies. He's back. Huston Street? 5.38 K/BB ratio. He's back. Alan Embree's not going to cut it as their lefty coming out of the pen, so they'd be better off sticking with exclusively righties.
Sky: Street and Betancourt are huge for Colorado.
Rich: My take is that the Rockies and Phillies may have the two worst bullpens of all the teams in the playoffs. But I would give Colorado the nod as, in addition to Street, relievers Betancourt, Joe Beimel, Matt Belisle, and even Jose Contreras were throwing much better down the stretch than their Philadelphia counterparts.
Dave: In contrast to the starters, Colorado's relievers give up the second fewest GBs of any relief staff. They offset that by minimizing walks and maximizing strikeouts and have a top three K/BB ratio as a group.
Rich: OK, we've covered hitting and pitching pretty thoroughly. Let's talk about team defense for a minute.
Dave: Over the past three years, Chase Utley has saved an average of 15 runs per 150 games on defense above the average second basemen, according to UZR. That is five runs per 150 games better than second place. He anchors a good Phillies defense.
Jeremy: Troy Tulowitzki is a pleasure to watch in the field, too.
Sky: I believe Colorado's defense is pretty average with the exception of Hawpe in RF, which UZR says is terrible. However, I'm not 100% confident in UZR assessment of defenders at Coors.
Jeremy: Hawpe has silently turned into a slightly lesser three-true-outcome version of Adam Dunn.
Sky: All that "Raul Ibanez' defense stinks" talk and he's got a UZR of 7.3. Go figure.
Jeremy: Have you taken a look at Jayson Werth's season recently? I mean UZR and +/- still rate him as a plus right fielder. He has 20 steals to 3 caught. A .382 wOBA for the second straight year. I wonder if Phillie fans know he's better than Ryan Howard.
Rich: How do you see this series playing out?
Sky: The Phillies are particularly suited to shut down Colorado's lefty lineup. Otherwise, the teams seem evenly matched. Phillies are home as well and you can't discount that - especially when the opponent is Colorado. Phillies in five.
Dave: Thanks to lots of power hitters and two of the most home run friendly parks, these two teams are far and away the two leaders in NL ISO (both above .180). Looks like it could be HR-fest. Rockies in four.
Rich: Dave is going for the upset. And in four games no less.
Jeremy: I think the series will go four games as well, but I have the Phillies winning this one.
Chris: Me, too. Philadelphia in five.
Rich: I guess I had better take a stand here. I think it could go either way but look for Jimenez to carry the Rockies to victories in Games 1 and 5. It will be quite an accomplishment if he and Colorado can pull it off as both contests will be played at Citizens Bank Park in Philadelphia.
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Be sure to check back later in the day to read our roundtable discussion on the NLDS between the St. Louis Cardinals and Los Angeles Dodgers.