Wednesday, October 4, 2017

NL Wild-Card Preview

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A look at the National League wildcard playoff between the Colorado Rockies and Arizona Diamondbacks:

Season Series: Arizona won 11-8.

Starting Pitchers

Diamondbacks: RH Zack Greinke (17-7, 3.20, 215 Ks in 202 1/3 IP).
Rockies: RH Jon Gray (10-6, 3.67 ERA in 20 starts, 110 1/3 IP).


It’s the second postseason meeting between the teams. Colorado swept Arizona in the 2007 NLCS. ... The current collection of Rockies has a .260 combined batting average against Greinke with 15 homers and 42 RBIs. Lucroy leads the way at .636 (7 for 11), while Gonzalez has five home runs. Reynolds and Story each have four homers against Greinke. Arenado and Blackmon have never homered off him. Desmond is 3 for 22. ... The Diamondbacks are hitting .295 against Gray with two homers and 11 RBIs. Martinez has both homers, and four RBIs. Goldschmidt is 0 for 11 with five strikeouts. ... Greinke is 13-1 at home with a 2.87 ERA and 131 strikeouts in 116 innings. He went 2-1 with a 3.41 ERA in five starts against the Rockies this season. ... If first-year Diamondbacks manager Torey Lovullo decides to go with Iannetta instead of Mathis at catcher, Iannetta would probably bat second. Mathis, a strong defender who normally catches Greinke when healthy, just returned from a broken right hand. ... Gray has allowed three or fewer runs in 13 consecutive starts. ... Goldschmidt ended the season in an 0-for-17 slump and batted .171 over the final month. ... Martinez hit .478 against Colorado with three homers, nine RBIs and 10 runs scored. ... Two of Rodney’s six blown saves came against the Rockies. ... Blackmon had only eight hits in 44 at-bats (.182) vs. the Diamondbacks. ... Arizona and Colorado split 10 games at Chase Field this season. ... The winner heads for Los Angeles to play the NL West champion Dodgers (104-58) in a best-of-five Division Series beginning Friday.

Big Picture

Diamondbacks: Just like the Rockies, Arizona (93-69) also flipped its record after going 69-93 last year. Lovullo preached communication from the first day of spring training and repeatedly uses the word “love” to describe team chemistry. ... New general manager Mike Hazen chose not to overhaul the roster, saying he saw enough talent. Instead, he tinkered around the edges. ... Arizona got off to a 6-1 start and was 44-26 on June 18 after a seven-game winning streak. Although the Diamondbacks couldn’t keep up with the torrid pace set by Los Angeles in the NL West, they were in the playoff picture throughout. A franchise-record 13-game winning streak late in the season helped secure the No. 1 wild card. ... While the lineup was expected to be good, Arizona also got strong pitching. Only the Indians and Dodgers had a better ERA than the Diamondbacks (3.66). ... Goldschmidt led the offense most of the season but faded in September. That didn’t matter much because of the powerhouse performance by Martinez. Acquired from Detroit on July 18 for three minor leaguers, Martinez hit .302 with 29 homers and 65 RBIs in 62 games with the Diamondbacks. He was NL player of the month for September, when he batted .404 with 26 runs, eight doubles, 16 homers and 36 RBIs in 24 games.

Rockies: Under new manager Bud Black, the surprising Rockies (87-75) got off to a fast start and hung on down the stretch to take the second NL wild card. This is their fourth postseason appearance and first since 2009. Colorado finished a game ahead of upstart Milwaukee, clinching baseball’s final playoff spot on the next-to-last day of the regular season when the Brewers blew a six-run lead in a 7-6 loss at St. Louis. That put Black in the postseason for the first time as a big league skipper. He managed the Padres for 8½ seasons from 2007-15 and was the 2010 NL Manager of the Year, but never took them to the playoffs. ... Colorado improved by 12 wins over last year and fashioned the third-best record in team history behind 2009 (92-70) and the 2007 team (89-73) that got swept by Boston in the World Series. ... Rockies had just one losing month, going 12-15 in August, and typically play solid defense. They are 65-40 when committing no errors and 22-35 when they make one or more. Arenado made one highlight reel after another at third base and is a favorite for his fifth straight Gold Glove. ... The biggest offseason signings were Desmond and Holland. Desmond has dealt with injuries this season, but Holland rebounded after missing 2016 as he recovered from Tommy John surgery. He matched the club record for saves in a season set by Jose Jimenez (2002). ... Blackmon is known for his bushy beard, mullet and sweet swing. He won the NL batting title and drove in 103 runs from the leadoff spot, most in major league history. He surpassed Darin Erstad, who knocked in 100 for the Angels in 2000. ... Gonzalez struggled most of the season but hit .377 in September. He’s the only holdover from 2009 when the Rockies were beaten by Philadelphia in the NLDS. ... Lucroy steadied a young pitching staff after arriving from Texas in a July 30 trade. ... Right-hander Chad Bettis has been a feel-good story in his return from testicular cancer. He had surgery last November and went through treatments during spring training and into the season before returning in August. ... Reynolds was signed to a minor league contract in the offseason. He joined Arenado and Blackmon in the 30-homer club this season.

Watch For

MVP! MVP! MVP!: Three top contenders for NL MVP are in this game: Goldschmidt, Blackmon and Arenado. Goldschmidt finished runner-up for the award in 2013 and 2015. Arenado hit 18 home runs on the road this season and 19 at home. Blackmon’s 37 homers were the third-most by a leadoff hitter, trailing Alfonso Soriano’s 38 in 2002 with the Yankees and 39 in 2006 with the Nationals.

Ray in Reserve: The hard-throwing lefty had a breakout season and would figure to start Game 1 against the Dodgers if Arizona advances. Lovullo, however, said he wouldn’t hesitate to use Ray for an inning or two in the wild-card game if needed.

Wacky Wednesday: The Rockies have a winning record on every day of the week except one. They are 10-14 on Wednesdays, while the Diamondbacks are 15-10.

Surging Center Fielder: Pollock came on strong at the end of the season after a subpar year at the plate. He batted .363 in September.

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