NLCS Preview: Rockies vs. Diamondbacks
Chris Snyder (Ross D. Franklin/AP)
Senior Editor
Posted Oct 10, 2007


The two top teams from the National League's best division square off in the National League Championship Series. FutureBacks.com has a position-by-position analysis.

Records - Rockies 90-73, D-Backs 90-72
Runs Scored
- Rockies 860 (2nd), D-Backs 712 (14th)
Runs Allowed - Rockies 758 (8th), D-Backs 732 (6th)

The Colorado Rockies won 10 of the 18 contests between these two teams, but their final two wins against the Arizona Diamondbacks came with low-stakes for Arizona, as the D-Backs had already clinched a playoff berth.  Not only are these two teams evenly matched, they are similarly matched; both squads are laden with young talent with a couple of veterans sprinkled in. 

Both teams have excellent bullpens as well.  What follows in an in-depth look at how these clubs match up.

Catcher

Arizona's Chris Snyder has significant advantages over Colorado's Yorvit Torrealba in both CS% (35.8% to 19.7%) and SLG (.433 to .376).  Though Torreabla is nearly three years Snyder's senior, he has only appeared in 125 more career games than the Arizona backstop, making the two relatively even in terms of experience.  Torrealba did perform much better in the first round of the playoffs (.500 BA to .143), but that's not much of a sample size to go on.

Arizona backup Miguel Montero has served as Livan Hernandez' personal catcher all season long, and manager Bob Melvin has made it clear that he won't change tactics in the postseason.  This means that Montero will start Game 3 against southpaw Franklin Morales, where the left-handed hitting Montero could be at a disadvantage.

Edge: Diamondbacks

Infield

Todd Helton has had a resurgent year at the plate, finishing second in on-base percentage only to You-Know-Who in the National League.  The Diamondbacks have an effective first base platoon in Conor Jackson and Tony Clark, but it doesn't stack up against what Mr. Rockie brings to the table.

Edge: Rockies

Second base matches up two veterans whose careers were supposed to have ended by now.  Kaz Matsui was dubbed a bust in New York, then suffered injuries when shipped to the Rockies at a discount.  He finished first in both Relative Zone Range and fielding percentage among all NL second basemen with over 500 defensive innings.  Augie Ojeda has done better than anyone could have predicted filling in for the injured Orlando Hudson, but even a 4-for-9 NLDS isn't enough to make him Matsui's equal.

Edge: Rockies

Troy Tulowitzki is the favorite to win the NL Rookie of the Year Award for playing the best shortstop defense in baseball and producing 104 runs and 99 RBI for the Rockies primarily out of the #2 and #7 lineup spots.  Stephen Drew has played solid defense and been hot of late for the Diamondbacks, but overall this has been a disappointing season for him.

Edge: Rockies

Garrett Atkins batted .349 in the second half after a difficult start to the year, but is also among the Rockies most aided by Coors Field, as he batted just .254 on the road.   Mark Reynolds has batted .319 over the season's final two months, but is susceptible to power pitchers.  Reynolds has struck out once every 2.8 at bats this year.  Atkins will have to play up to four games on the road and Reynolds will face two extreme power pitchers in Ubaldo Jimenez and Morales.

Edge: Even

Outfielders

Matt Holliday is an MVP candidate, while Eric Byrnes hit just .258 after the All-Star break.  Byrnes' speed doesn't slump, however.  His 50 stolen bases were double his previous career high, which could pose a big problem for the Rockies with Torreabla behind the dish. Byrnes will need to steal an awful lot of bases to make up the offensive disparity between himself and Holliday.

Edge: Rockies

Ryan Spilborghs has filled in nicely for the injured Willy Taveras, but isn't outstanding in any facet of the game.  Chris Young has outstanding power and speed, but lacks any kind of plate discipline at this stage of his career.  His value to the team has been overstated, and he shouldn't be mentioned alongside Tulowitzki and Ryan Braun in Rookie of the Year talk, but Young's definitely more of an impact player than Spilborghs is.

Edge: Diamondbacks

Brad Hawpe has been overshadowed by the likes of Holliday, Helton, and Tulowitzki this season, but his numbers (.291/.387/.539 116 RBI) would be the toast of the desert if he played for the Diamondbacks.  A platoon of Justin Upton and Jeff Salazar isn't going to compete with Hawpe's production unless Salazar goes berserk lusting after vengeance against the team that released him and Upton suddenly hits his prime at age 20.    

Edge: Rockies

Bench

Neither team boasts great numbers among their bench players, but each team has gotten big clutch contributions from their role players.  Jeff Baker can attest to that after his pinch hit NLDS series-winning single against Philadelphia.  Baker, Corey Sullivan, Jamey Carroll, and Chris Iannetta are all clearly backups, while the Diamondbacks have platoon situations at catcher, first base, and right field.  Diamondbacks pitcher Micah Owings (.333/.349/.683) is also available to pinch hit any night. This definitely makes the Diamondbacks' bench,  who led the majors with a dozen pinch hit homers this year, the more formidable squad.   

Edge: Diamondbacks

Starting Pitchers

Brandon Webb obviously ranks as the best pitcher in this series, giving the Diamondbacks an edge over the merely solid Jeff Francis in Games 1 and 5.  Webb had struggled against the Rockies in his career, but dominated them in his last regular season start, which was incidentally the only time Colorado has lost in its past 18 games. 

Ubaldo Jimenez would appear to give the Rockies an edge in Games 2 and 6 because he fanned 16 Diamondbacks over 13 innings in his two career starts against them.  The Rockies went just 20-25 this season against southpaws, however, giving junkballer Doug Davis a fighting chance in those contests. 

Franlin Morales versus Livan Hernandez provides an interesting dynamic in Games 3 and 7.  Morales is clearly the more talented pitcher, but he also struggled mightily against the Phillies in his first career postseason start.  Livo is the embodiment of a grizzled veteran; he held the Chicago Cubs to one run in Game 3 of the NLDS despite allowing them 12 base runners through six innings.  This battle of talent versus experience should favor the Rockies in Game 3, but the Diamondbacks in a potential Game 7 scenario.

The entire series may hinge upon what Rockies manager Clint Hurdle does in Game 4.  Josh Fogg has come up big lately, both in matching Cy Young winner-to-be Jake Peavy in a one-game playoff against the San Diego Padres and in saving Morales from his aborted start against the Phillies three days later.  But Fogg could be relegated exclusively to long relief duty in the series if ace sinkerballer Aaron Cook, out since mid-August with a strained rib cage muscle, is deemed healthy enough to start Game 4.  One of those pitchers will face a well-rested Micah Owings, who is 3-1 with a 2.11 ERA this season on six or more days between starts.  Owings can also hit as well as any Diamondback, and might put on a real show in hitter-friendly Coors Field.   

Edge: Diamondbacks

Bullpen

The Diamondbacks and Rockies each boasted stellar bullpens with sub-4.00 earned run averages this season.  The Rockies' late men logged 45.2 more innings than their Arizona counterparts, meaning that they could be at a higher risk of tiring at this late juncture.  A lot has been made of Jose Valverde's blowing seven save chances despite leading all of baseball with 47 saves, but Colorado stoppers Manny Corpas and Brian Fuentes have combined to blow 10 saves in 49 opportunities despite stellar earned run averages.  Colorado might have one advantage if they can use Fogg as a long reliever, but Edgar Gonzalez isn't a bad option in that role for Arizona.         

Edge: Diamondbacks

Final Word

As in the series against the Cubs, the Arizona Diamondbacks have the edge in pitching but appear overmatched at the plate.  Overall, the Rockies are the better team right now; everyone knows about their 17-1 record over their past 18 games.

But also like the Cubs series, the Diamondbacks will enjoy some good matchups that exist in part through having home-field advantage; these were both sub-.500 teams on the road.  The Diamondbacks won 63% of the time when facing left-handed starters, and could face four such pitchers in this series.

The Diamondbacks therefore appear to have significant advantages in Games 1 and 5 when Webb pitches, Games 1, 2, 6, and 7 in Chase Field, and Games 1, 3, 5, and 7 against southpaws.  There's quite a bit of overlap there, and quite a lot of reasons to like the Diamondbacks in this series despite Colorado's superior hitting, near-flawless defense, and hot young pitching.

Prediction: Diamondbacks in seven


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