In their brief history, the Rockies and Diamondbacks have squared off once in the playoffs, in the 2007 NLCS. Colorado swept Arizona in four games as part of a 21-1 run that started in mid-September in the regular season. This year, the Diamondbacks won the season series 11-8. Even though Arizona never had a shot at the NL West title, they were on a clear playoff path for most of the year. The Rockies faded somewhat in the second half but held off the Brewers for the second Wild Card and their first playoff berth since 2009.
CF-L Charlie Blackmon (.330/.399/.601/.332)
2B-R DJ LeMahieu (.311/.375/.410/.268)
3B-R Nolan Arenado (.309/.373/.587/.318)
SS-R Trevor Story (.237/.307/.434/.261)
1B-R Mark Reynolds (.267/.352/.487/.284)
RF-L Carlos Gonzalez (.262/.339/.423/.260)
LF-R Ian Desmond (.276/.328/.377/.245)
C-R Jonathan Lucroy (.263/.342/.370/.243)
SP-R Jon Gray (.079/.103/.158/.105)
LF-L David Peralta (.293/.352/.444/.283)
SS-S Ketel Marte (.258/.341/.394/.266)
1B-R Paul Goldschmidt (.299/.405/.565/.329)
RF-R J.D. Martinez (.305/.378/.693/.338)
3B-L Jake Lamb (.249/.359/.488/.293)
CF-R A.J. Pollock (.267/.332/.473/.287)
2B-L Daniel Descalso (.233/.331/.397/.256)
C-R Chris Iannetta (.254/.354/.504/.296)
SP-R Zack Greinke (.210/.246/.274/.195)
The overall numbers for the Diamondbacks (eighth in runs scored, 10th in TAv) aren’t impressive, but this fails to account for the late-season acquisition of Martinez. His bat added a potent weapon to an already solid middle-of-the-order. Peralta and Marte are not traditional top-of-the-order base-stealing threats, but the Diamondbacks are one of the smartest baserunning teams in the game. Although Goldschmidt and Martinez get most of the attention, Arizona has a solid lineup from top to bottom. Unlike most pitchers, Greinke isn’t an automatic out.
In a year when the league home run record was shattered, you would expect the Rockies to lead the league in home runs. Instead they finished with a mere 192 home runs, good for 21st overall in the majors. The Rockies do employ some pure sluggers, but in 2017 their offense relied more on wearing opposing pitchers out with a barrage of singles and doubles. Much is made of the Rockies' radical home/road splits and with good reason, as their .862 OPS at Coors obliterated their subpar .703 OPS on the road. Desmond and Gonzalez both had disappointing seasons, and while anything can happen in a one-game playoff, if seasonal trends hold this could put Colorado at a disadvantage.
OF-L Gerardo Parra (.311/.342/.455/.268)
C-R Tom Murphy (.042/.115/.083/.113)
IF/OF-R Patrick Valaika (.264/.290/.545/.278)
OF-L Raimel Tapia (.290/.333/.426/.256)
OF-L Michael Tauchman (.174/.321/.174/.189)
IF/OF-L Alexi Amarista (.238/.269/.354/.212)
IF-L Ryan McMahon (.125/.333/.188/.198)
C/OF-L Chris Herrmann (.174/.268/.339/.221)
C-R Jeff Mathis (.216/.279/.324/.208)
IF/OF-R Brandon Drury (.266/.314/.445/.260)
IF/OF-R Adam Rosales (.225/.261/.356/.218)
OF-L Gregor Blanco (.236/.325/.350/240)
OF-L Reymond Fuentes (.235/.278/.338/.226)
IF/OF-R Chris Owings (.221/.276/.368/.224)
OF-L Jeremy Hazelbaker (.327/.421/.510/.317)
The Rockies' projected playoff bench is heavy on the left side, but there isn’t a good way for them to combat this unless the team elects to start Parra over Reynolds. This isn’t just an inexperienced playoff bench, it is an inexperienced major-league bench, with four rookie hitters potentially making the roster. In a close game in the late innings Tauchman offers speed as a pinch-runner while Amarista offers positional flexibility, but outside of Valaika’s power this is a weak unit.
The Diamondbacks' bench has more balance and one or two players who could start on other teams. Carrying three catchers gives Arizona manager Torey Lovullo some flexibility in the later innings if he wants to pinch-hit for Iannetta, while Blanco and Owings (if his finger is healthy) give him pinch-runners if needed. Drury and Rosales’ ability to play multiple positions probably won’t matter, but it is a nice luxury to have.
Rockies: RHP Jon Gray (110, 3.67, 3.67)
Diamondbacks: RHP Zack Greinke (202, 3.20, 3.00)
It was only Gray’s second full season, but don’t be fooled: He is one of better pitchers in the playoffs, and while his opponent is better this is hardly a one-sided mismatch. Gray throws a fastball in the mid-90s that he can dial up in the high 90s at times, but his bread-and-butter pitch is a slider that almost touches 90 mph and has a tight downward break that gives hitters fits. Gray has abandoned the changeup he was using earlier in his career in exchange for a low-80s curveball. Gray has faced the Diamondbacks three times this season, winning twice in Arizona and losing once in Colorado. In 2017, Gray has a 3.50 ERA in 18 innings versus the Diamondbacks, with 26 strikeouts and only four walks.
Greinke bounced back from a disappointing 2016 campaign with the Snakes and returned to the near-elite level he has shown in the past. Greinke has lost velocity since his heyday with the Royals, but has adjusted by throwing fewer fastballs and mixing in more off-speed pitches. The slider is Greinke’s most frequent non-fastball, but he also throws a mid-70s curve and a changeup as well. The Rockies faced Greinke five times in 2017, twice in Colorado and thrice in Arizona. Greinke went 2-1 with two no-decisions, tossing 34 1/3 innings with a 3.37 ERA, 37 strikeouts, and two walks.
Bullpen (IP, ERA, DRA)
RHP Greg Holland (57, 3.61, 3.42)
LHP Jake McGee (57, 3.61, 4.33)
RHP Pat Neshek (62, 1.59, 2.51)
LHP Chris Rusin (85, 2.65, 4.07)
LHP Mike Dunn (50, 4.47, 6.28)
RHP Adam Ottavino (53, 5.06, 4.84)
RHP Scott Oberg (58, 4.94, 5.84)
RHP Carlos Estevez (32, 5.57, 6.42)
RHP German Marquez (162, 4.39, 5.88)
RHP Fernando Rodney (55, 4.23, 3.11)
RHP Archie Bradley (73, 1.73, 3.71)
RHP David Hernandez (55, 3.11, 3.98)
LHP Jorge De La Rosa (51, 4.21, 5.06)
LHP Robbie Ray (162, 2.89, 3.61)
RHP Jimmie Sherfy (11, 0.00, 4.22)
LHP Andrew Chafin (51, 3.51, 3.60)
RHP Zack Godley (155, 3.37 3.14)
The Rockies’ bullpen was 28th in DRA this year. Only the White Sox and Tigers posted poorer numbers and the Rockies’ 5.18 DRA is 0.40 behind Washington, the next-worst playoff bullpen. On the other hand, Neshek was terrific after Colorado picked him up from the Phillies and most of Dunn’s poor numbers were accrued in the second half. Holland put his August struggles behind him with a strong September and will get the ball in the ninth if the Rockies have the lead.
In 2017, Fernando Rodney Major League Closer sounds like a punchline to a bad joke but the ancient right-hander managed to put together yet another solid season. The key to the Diamondbacks' bullpen, though, is Bradley, a former starting pitcher who has thrived in a setup role. Lovullo won’t be afraid to stretch Bradley in this do-or-die game as needed if Greinke can’t go more than six innings. In the unlikely event Greinke doesn’t have it, Ray is the most likely candidate to come out of the pen to try to keep Arizona in the ballgame.
The Rockies rank 28th in Park Adjusted Defensive Efficiency. They do have two great defensive infielders in Arenado and LeMahieu, but the rest of the team’s defensive alignment falls apart, particularly with Desmond and Gonzalez in the outfield and Reynolds at first base. Lucroy’s decline from one of the best pitch framers in 2016 to one of the worst in 2017 was baffling, although his numbers did improve somewhat in Colorado.
The Diamondbacks aren’t a defensively strong team but their middle-of-the-road rating (13th overall in PADE) gives them an advantage. Marte and Descalso are both OK up the middle, but neither one is a particularly strong defender. Mathis is one of the best defensive catchers/framers in the game, but is likely to be on the bench in favor of Iannetta. Losing Owings in the field also hurts Arizona somewhat.
Both the Rockies and Diamondbacks hired new managers this past winter. Bud Black managed the Padres for eight-plus seasons but never took them to the playoffs, so this is his first trip to the postseason as a manager. Even though he isn’t a younger manager, Black is nevertheless regarded in some circles as a “modern” skipper who understands both the on-the-field as well as the analytic aspects of the game. Black’s experience as a pitcher has been a positive in terms of managing his staff, which has been particularly noticeable for a Colorado team that has historically had difficulty keeping its arms fresh down the stretch.
Apart from an interim stint with the Red Sox in 2015, this is Lovullo’s first job as a major-league manager. Lovullo took over a team that struggled both on and off the field in 2016 and provided a stability that had been lacking under the prior regime. Like Black, one of Lovullo’s strengths comes from his embrace of the front office’s analytical concepts. He utilized his three-catcher tandem successfully all season long and was able to maximize his lineup and bench despite several in-season injuries.
In a one-game playoff the default position is to pick the team with the best starting pitcher, so the Diamondbacks get the edge with Greinke on the hill. The Rockies aren’t pushovers on the road, but not having to play this game at Coors is another advantage for Arizona. PECOTA sees Arizona as clear favorites, at 63 percent to win.