While the World Series championship of 2008 is still fresh in the minds of Philadelphians, the whopping the Rockies gave the Phillies in the 2007 NLDS has not been forgotten. But despite the similarities between the ’07 and ’09 versions of both teams, this NLDS will have a much different outcome.
For starters, the starting pitching of the Phillies is better prepared to face a tough Rockies lineup in two hitter-friendly parks. By giving Cole Hamels the nod in Game One, the Phillies will allow Cliff Lee, an ace, to pitch against the Rockies’ No. 2 or No. 3 starter. This will give the Phillies a clear advantage in Game Two or Three, and when considering the fact that Hamels and Jimenez are both low-end No. 1/high-end No. 2 types themselves, it’s hard to give the Rockies the advantage in Game One at Citizens Bank Park. Despite Hamels’ seemingly year-long struggles, the lefty had his best month of the season in September, compiling a 3.32 ERA with 40 strikeouts in 43.1 innings and a .238 opponents batting average.
Assuming Lee faces Aaron Cook in Game Two, the Game Three pitching matchup becomes interesting. The reigning champs have to decide among Joe Blanton, J.A. Happ and Pedro Martinez. With Charlie Manuel saying that Happ would be able to pitch in relief during the first two games and still start Game Four, it appears that Blanton will get the call.
For the Rockies, the clear choice for Game Three would be the white-hot Jorge de la Rosa, but he is battling a tight left groin that may, at best, make him less effective, and at worst, sideline him for the NLDS. The best bet for the Rockies would be to start Jason Marquis instead.
De la Rosa was terrible against the Phillies in two outings this season, going 0-2 with an 11.17 ERA, a .364 opponents batting average, and a WHIP just under 2.00. In contrast, Marquis fared well in his lone start against the Phillies in 2009, allowing only two runs over seven innings. Obviously, three total starts between the two pitchers is a very small sample size, but the difference in production is largely due to the fact that the Phillies struggle more against sinkerballers than flame-throwers. A pitcher notorious for inducing ground balls, Marquis had the best year of his career in that department, giving up grounders 55.6 percent of the time, for a ridiculously effective 2.03 ground ball/fly ball ratio. Marquis was third among major league pitchers in both categories, behind Joel Pineiro and Derek Lowe.
The Rockies come into the series with the better bullpen, which features Huston Street (35 saves, two blown saves), Rafael Betancourt, who has been nearly unhittable since donning a Rockies uniform, and enigmas like Franklin Morales and recently acquired Jose Contreras. The Phillies pen is in shambles, as Chan Ho Park and J.C. Romero are likely out for the season, Brett Myers and Scott Eyre are being handled with kid gloves due to previous injuries, and the closer situation is in flux.
This may sound crazy, given that Brad Lidge has blown more saves this season than you can count on both hands, but he remains the best option to close due to the team’s many injuries to late-inning relievers. Ryan Madson needs to be the glue in the eighth inning so that the entire bullpen isn’t topsy-turvy, and unless Madson can work quickly in his first inning of work, Lidge would be the best bet for the ninth frame.
When comparing the lineups of the two teams, the Phillies are favored slightly. The Phils and Rockies were first and second, respectively, in the NL in runs scored, home runs and slugging percentage, proving that both are multi-faceted, dynamic offensive teams. The Rockies led in OPS.
While the Phillies one-through-eight hitters have seldom strayed from their position in the order, the Rockies lineup has changed several times. The emergence of Carlos Gonzalez as a solid hitter (.320, 12 homers in the second half) gives them the good problem of having four quality outfielders in Gonzalez, Dexter Fowler, Brad Hawpe and Seth Smith. It will be interesting to see who receives at-bats.
Unlike in 2007, when they quite simply experienced a power outage at the most inopportune time, the Phillies are a battle-tested team much better prepared to face Colorado pitching. It’s a bit ironic that the Phillies were sapped of their power in that series, because so was Coors Field for a brief moment in Game Three of the ’07 NLDS.
This time around, the Phils have an offensive identity. They won’t hesitate to force the oft-erratic Jimenez to throw a lot of pitches, because outside of Jimmy Rollins, Raul Ibanez and Pedro Feliz, this is an extremely patient lineup. Rollins and Shane Victorino should each have big series, which will serve as the main key to the Phillies success. The power from the three-through-six hitters is so overwhelming and consistent that, so long as the table-setters do their job, the Phils shouldn’t have a problem putting up a fair share of crooked numbers.
With that said, the Rockies offense is not going to lie down and die. Troy Tulowitzki is the key to the Colorado lineup, and it isn’t outside of the realm of possibility that he and Phillies-killer Todd Helton could carry the offense in a short series. But on paper: advantage Phillies.
Defensively, the advantage also goes to the Phillies, who, thanks to a fine defensive season from Ryan Howard and unexpected excellence from Ibanez in left field, are now solid at every position. They committed 76 errors, second least in the majors (the Pirates were better). In addition, the Phillies were fourth in the NL with a 28.2 UZR, and when comparing only the projected starting lineups of both defenses in this series, the Phillies have a 33.8 to -14.8 advantage.
These advantages obviously do not mean as much in a short, five-game series as they would throughout a marathon season, but they still display clear Philadelphia superiority in three out of four facets.
When the first pitch is thrown Wednesday at 2:37 p.m. and all of the stats reset, Phillies-Rockies Part II will be an entertaining match-up between the two NL playoff teams that are actually riding a bit of momentum. But this time, the Phillies feature a playoff-tested nucleus that has “been there before” (that still feels so weird to say) and the Rockies are not the buzz saw they were in 2007.
Sequels often fail to live up to the standards set by the original. But for Phillies fans, this one will have a much happier ending.