First off, this is going to be a battle. These are the two best teams in the National League, and they are very familiar with each other.
And before anyone spouts Pythagoras and run differentials to dismiss Arizona—just, don’t. They won the games, they’re in the playoffs. End of story.
The main problem with the Diamondbacks, and one that I think the Rockies are well equipped to exploit, is the fact that their offense is decidedly below average. Recognizing the limitations inherent in OPS+, here are how the starters at each position stack up in that metric:
Advantage Arizona, except for the whole “Yadier/Yorvit” magic October thing.
Jackson is one of the Diamondbacks’ best hitters, but there’s no contest here.
Both of these guys are playing way over their heads. Your guess is as good as mine which will blink first.
Fairly even, although Reynolds has the ability to suffocate rallies with his high strikeout totals. Still, this one is very close.
Drew’s NLDS heroics notwithstanding, give Colorado the edge.
Look, I don’t believe that Holliday deserves an MVP award, but really…
Spilborghs hasn’t played every day all year and Young is the superior defender; call this a draw.
Upton is a complete unknown with loads of potential who had a real nice series against the Cubs. Hawpe has been a destroyer of pitchers over the last two years. I’ll go with Hawpe.
So, to summarize:
Strong advantage to Rockies: shortstop, left field, right field
Mild advantage to Rockies: first base
Draw: second base, third base, center field
Mild advantage to Diamondbacks: catcher
If you assume that first base and catcher cancel each other out, Colorado still has the upper hand—by a lot—at three different positions. Arizona will benefit from something the Phillies didn’t have, i.e., good pitching, but the question is whether it’ll be enough to compensate for these huge positional mismatches.
Speaking of pitching, the Rockies are keeping their rotation a secret. We know that Jeff Francis will start Game 1, and Ubaldo Jimenez is expected to start Game 2, but after that, it’s anyone’s guess. There’s even talk that Jason Hirsh—out since August 8—might make the roster.
I’ve gone ahead and penciled Franklin Morales into the No. 3 spot on the basis of his having started in the NLDS, and given Josh Fogg the nod at No. 4 because he was there most of the year. With the caveat that this order is subject to the whims of Clint Hurdle and associates, here’s a quick look at what I think the matchups will be (ERA+ is used):
Jeff Francis: 112
Brandon Webb: 156
Ubaldo Jimenez: 111
Doug Davis: 111
Franklin Morales: 138
Livan Hernandez: 95
Josh Fogg: 96
Micah Owings: 109
Arizona has a decided advantage in the Francis/Webb game(s), but the rest of these are up for grabs. Even Webb, though, has had trouble with Colorado this year, going 1-3 with a 5.77 ERA in six starts. The Rockies batted .287/.361/.427 against Webb in 2007. They had more plate appearances against him than any other team and also more success. That 1.53 strikeout to walk ratio in particular is very un-Webb-like.
None of this is meant to suggest that Colorado will have an easy time against Webb. That would be stupid. The point is that the Rockies have been largely immune to his usual complete dominance. In other words, they at least have a chance against him. If they take even one of the games that Webb starts, they’ll win the series because the rest of Arizona’s rotation just isn’t strong enough to contain that lineup.
The bullpens? The Diamondbacks have a good one, but so do the Rockies:
Both teams feature great closers. Arizona has stronger support guys, while Colorado’s ‘pen is a little deeper. No appreciable advantage here.
When the Rockies faced Philadelphia in the NLDS, it was like looking into a mirror. Both teams featured similar strengths, and Colorado advanced because of superior pitching.
In this series, we’ve got two very different teams. For the Diamondbacks to win, they need a lot to go right — they need guys like Drew and Ojeda to stay hot, and everyone not named Webb to work deep into games.
For Colorado, the equation is much simpler. If they just keep doing what they’ve been doing all year, and in particular over the past month or so, they’ll take the series. They may need six or even seven games to do it, but in the end, their offense will overcome Arizona’s pitching, which won’t be quite strong enough to compensate for its weak offense.