The simple explanation, of course, is that the Rockies cannot lose. They are invincible. Look it up, there is not one single person on their roster named Vince.
Lame jokes aside, the Rockies are playing out of their heads right now, winning 14 of 15 to close out the season and complete an improbable run to the playoffs. Did I say improbable? I meant impossible. They were in fourth place in the NL West when the streak started, 6.5 out of that race and 4.5 back in the NL wild card. That’s not supposed to result in a playoff berth, but there it is.
So, now that they’ve gotten to the proverbial dance, how will the Rockies move past Philly in the NLDS?
Stuck in the middle
The Rockies have three terrifying hitters in the middle of their lineup. Matt Holliday is an MVP candidate, while Todd Helton and Brad Hawpe are guys that many teams would love to have leading the charge. Garrett Atkins and Troy Tulowitzki are no slouches either.
Yes, Tulowitzki is largely a product of his environment (960 OPS at Coors Field, 719 on the road), but Citizens Bank Park, although not as extreme as Coors, is a terrific place to hit. Tulowitzki himself has batted .538/.647/1.077 in 17 plate appearances there over his brief career; that’s not enough of a sample to make a serious judgment, but it should at least grab your attention.
(Colorado also has a lousy-hitting catcher whose name begins with the letter Y. We all saw how well that worked for the Cardinals in 2006.)
The Phillies lineup is a little deeper, consisting of five guys who can do consistent damage in any park, but overall fairly similar to that of the Rockies. The point is that both of these teams are going to put runs on the board, which means that any differences will be a function of which pitching staff can do a better job of damage control.
Who’ll stop the runs?
Lessee, on the one side, you’ve got a rotation headed by Jeff Francis and Aaron Cook, plus a couple of kids (Ubaldo Jimenez, Franklin Morales) who came up big when needed. Heck, even Josh Fogg finished with an ERA under 5.00.
On the other side, you’ve got Cole Hamels and … um, Kyle Kendrick? Nice ERA, but that 3.64 strikeout rate should make Phillies fans nervous in either ballpark. Beyond those two, what? Jamie Moyer is a crafty veteran but his ERA is 5.01. Adam Eaton? He would have to reel off 42 straight scoreless innings to catch Moyer. I guess that helps explain his absence from the NLDS roster.
The bullpen isn’t much better. Philadelphia has two reliable relievers — J.C. Romero, who generally faces two or three batters, and Ryan Madson, who hasn’t pitched since the end of July and who might be available for the NLCS should the Phillies advance. In a battle of potent offenses, this lack of depth will create problems for Philadelphia late in games (or in the cases where Hamels isn’t starting, possibly early in games).
Meanwhile, almost everyone in the Rockies corps has put up good numbers in 2007. Even Jorge “Don’t Call Me Armando” Julio kept his ERA under 4.00. They’ve also all had experience closing in the big leagues. Say what you will about the closer’s role, there’s something to be said for knowing what it’s like to work the late innings of close ballgames. Sure, Julio has been known to implode on occasion, and Jeremy Affeldt loses the plate every now and then, but for the most part, this is a group that gets the job done.
Got no expectations
Stepping back a bit, the Rockies also enjoy the advantage of being the team that “isn’t supposed to be here.” Yeah, the Phillies came on strong toward the end to overtake the Mets, but at least people were talking about them in spring as a potential contender. Heck, the Phillies were our consensus pick to win the NL East.
The Rockies? They were our consensus pick to finish last in the NL West, behind even the lowly Giants. Nobody in our midst had Colorado finishing higher than fourth. I don’t mean to suggest that the writers here at Hardball Times are infallible, but when you ask 15 of us for our opinion and we all tell you roughly the same thing, I like our chances. And it’s not like we were alone in our assessments: The good folks at ESPN and Baseball Prospectus reached similar conclusions about both teams.
Nobody expected the Rockies to be here, and that makes them dangerous. They’ve demonstrated over the past few weeks that they can play with anyone. Unlike some other teams, who have had lofty expectations placed on them from the beginning, the Rockies have nothing to lose. I don’t know that this in itself makes them a better ballclub, but it places added pressure on the Phillies, who, like the Mets, will have to answer uncomfortable questions if this as far as their 2007 season goes.
In a nutshell, the Rockies will win this series because theirs is one of the few offenses in the NL that can keep up with Philadelphia’s. For as good as Hamels is, I just don’t see anyone else on the Phillies containing the Rockies bats with regularity. And although Colorado doesn’t have a starter in Hamels’ class, it’s pitching staff is much deeper, which gives the Rockies the upper hand. Both teams play a similar brand of baseball, Colorado just does it a little better.
References & Resources
Disagree? Here’s why Geoff Young thinks the Rockies will win.