MLB Postseason Preview: Rockies vs. Phillies

Colorado Rockies (92-70) at

Philadelphia Phillies (93-69)

OVERVIEW

The (sigh) defending champion Phillies open with a rematch of the 2007 Division Series, when a red-hot Rockies squad swept them out of the playoffs with surprising ease. To me, this is the most intriguing division series and has a chance to be one of the best we’ve ever seen. These are the two best offenses in the league (the Phillies led the NL in runs; the Rockies were second. The Rockies led the NL in OPS; the Phillies were second), and each team boasts a deep rotation. I think these are the two best teams in the National League, and that this series goes five games.

THE LINEUPS

As mentioned like three sentences ago, these are the two best offenses in the league. Everybody knows about Howard, Utley, Rollins, and Ibanez for Philadekphia; they might be less aware of how important Jayson Werth and Shane Victorino are to the Phillies’ offense. Werth had 36 home runs this season. Jayson Werth!

Colorado, meanwhile, is spearheaded by Troy Tulowitzki, who you could make a strong case deserves to finish second in the NL MVP race behind Albert Pujols. Tulowitzki has made the leap this season and is, in my book, the second-best shortstop at the plate in the NL (behind Hanley Ramirez) and probably the best all-around shortstop in the game right now when you take into account his Gold Glove fielding. Todd Helton has bounced back to his usual .325 form, and the top of the Rockies’ order is formidable now that Carlos Gonzalez has found his swing the last two months.

THE ROTATIONS

It’s hard not to give the edge to the Phillies, who have reigning Cy Young Award winner Cliff Lee and reigning World Series MVP Cole Hamels at the top of their rotation. Philadelphia can follow with either probable NL Rookie of the Year J.A. Happ* and his 2.93 ERA or Pedro Martinez in Game 3, and then go back to Lee and Hamels for Games 4 and 5 if they so wish.

*Who has captained the second-least successful attempt to change one’s name to “Jay” in modern sports history (behind Duke’s Jason Williams).

The Rockies, meanwhile, have a fairly no-name rotation that just happened to lead the National League in wins this year. Ubaldo Jimenez has looked more and more like an ace while veterans Aaron Cook and Jason Marquis have been solid. Colorado, however, will be without Jorge De La Rosa, who led them in wins and was a phenomenal 16-3 since the start of June. Losing their only left-handed starter before a series against the team dominated by lefty power hitters is a pretty big blow.

LINGERING QUESTIONS

JOHN: How big a difference has Jim Tracy made?

TIM: Jim Tracy should be named Manager of the Decade for what he’s done in Colorado this season. The Rockies are 74-42 under Tracy, a pace of 103 wins for a full season. The hitters have become much more comfortable in their roles (Tracy doesn’t change the lineup around nearly as much as predecessor Clint Hurdle), and the pitchers have really taken off. Plus, he’s a nice guy.

JOHN: Are the Rockies riding a 2007-type wave into the postseason this year?

TIM: I don’t think so; I think this Rockies’ version is just a good team. They’ve been hot for four months, so it’s hard to label it a desperation run like the one two years ago. That team had younger versions of guys like Jimenez, Tulowitzki, and Seth Smith and was missing Aaron Cook in the playoffs. Of course, that team also had Matt Holliday. Overall, though, I’m pretty sure this is a really good baseball team instead of a really hot one. And that might make them more dangerous.

JOHN: Is Troy Tulowitzki the best “Troy” to ever play baseball yet? And who’s #2?

TIM: He’s certainly the best Troy who has played most of his career for a team that isn’t the Angels, surpassing Troy O’Leary sometime in June. However, Troys Percival and Glaus might still be ahead of him, at least until Tulo leads the Rockies to the World Series this season. And yes, I needed to look “Troy” up on Baseball Reference to remember those guys.

JOHN: Is the Phillies rotation of Lee/Hamels frightening to Colorado because of how good those guys CAN be or scary for Philadelphia because of how bad those guys HAVE been recently?

TIM: By recently with Hamels, do you mean “2009”? It’s a little bit of both. Hamels was magnificent in the postseason last year, but he hasn’t been good at any point this season, and you have to think all the innings in 2008 have had an adverse effect this year. Lee is 3-4 with a 6.13 ERA the last six weeks (funny, we haven’t heard much about that “Moving to the NL” crap lately) and has never pitched in the postseason (which you know I value to an almost ridiculous degree). It’s odd to realize that Colorado has the more experienced pitching staff when it comes to the postseason. At the same time, I’m inclined to trust Lee and Hamels at the top of the rotation more than Jimenez and Cook, if only because they can neutralize Helton and especially Hawpe.

JOHN: As a Mets fan, who’s the most hateable Phillie?

TIM: Well, in essence, all Phillies are hateable. This is a little tougher than I thought, basically because Jimmy Rollins just isn’t that good anymore. Nevertheless, I’m gonna stick with the guy who successfully trash talked us in the ’07 season and has pretty much hit .750 against us ever since. Other Phillies I really dislike include, in order, Shane Victorino, Cole Hamels, Brad Lidge, Ryan Howard, and J.C. Romero.

JOHN: Your prediction?

TIM: The loss of De La Rosa proves critical, as after splitting the first two, Colorado drops Game 3 with Jason Hammel on the mound. The Rox win Game 4, but Philly prevails in a tense Game 5 saved by Brad Lidge (who gives back two runs of a three-run lead in the ninth and strands the tying run in scoring position).

One response to this post.

  1. […] The Rockies were 10 games under .500 in late May when they replaced Clint Hurdle with Jim Tracy as manager. Now usually, midseason managerial changes don’t make a huge difference (2003 Marlins the exception), but Tracy made the wise decision to establish roles for all his players. He didn’t jockey guys around like Hurdle did at times, instead making Clint Barmes his everyday second baseman and sticking with a regular lineup. It didn’t hurt that his pitching staff improved dramatically (almost suspiciously dramatically) and enters 2010 as the best five-man rotation in the league with Jeff Francis back in the fold (other teams are better at the top, or through four guys, but nobody is better one-through-five than Colorado). The Rockies’ lineup is firmly in the second tier of the NL (Philly solely occupies the first) along with a Dodgers’ team they almost chased down last year and will pass this time around. They are one of the only teams I can see beating the Phillies come October; they may have last year if Jorge de la Rosa didn’t get hurt. […]

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