Monday, October 5, 2009

Rockies vs. Phillies NLDS Preview

The Colorado Rockies enter the postseason against the same team that they started out with in 2007, the Philadelphia Phillies. The Rockies would love a repeat of the ‘07 meeting, when the streaking Rox swept the Phillies in three games. While the two teams are essentially the same that they were in the first playoff meeting, some things are different.

The Rockies are without slugger Matt Holliday, their undisputed leader in getting them to the playoffs, and eventually the World Series. He was shipped off to Oakland for three players, two of which have helped the Rockies make it back to postseason play.

Carlos Gonzalez suffered through a rough June after being called up. He struggled to hit the off speed pitch and seemed over matched. Those who watched him in the minor leagues knew that his struggles were growing pains rather than an issue of ability. The five-tool player indeed figured it out, quickly becoming one of the most potent bats in the Rockies lineup.

Huston Street has re-established himself as one of the best closers in the game. After struggling through an injury-laden season in Oakland, the righty has found his mechanics, and thanks to a slight move on the rubber, Street’s slider has become dominant again. That, however, is not his only pitch. His changeup is nearly unhitable and his fastball rides in on right handed hitters.

The rest of the Rockies have gained much-needed experience. Troy Tulowitzki has shed the “future” title on his star of the future label. His steady hand on defense, where he made just nine errors while demonstrating the most range of any shortstop, and his hitting, where he finished with a .297 batting average to go along with 92 RBI’s and 30 home runs makes him one of the best shortstops in the game.

On the mound Ubaldo Jimenez has turned into a true ace. His fastball is the hardest in the league and he consistently brings a good outing to the game. He has gone deeper into games than any other pitcher in the game. He set a Rockies record for lowest ERA in a season (3.47), and has drawn comparisons to his boyhood idol Pedro Martinez.

Jorge De La Rosa has also established himself as a dominant force for the Rockies. While his groin injury leaves his status in doubt, the lefty has a fastball that touches 96 MPH and a change up that keeps hitters off balance. After a rough 0-6 start, De La Rosa found his mental strength and became the first pitcher to win 16 games after June 1st.

The Phillies have improved as well. In the offseason they picked up Raul Ibanez from the Seattle Mariners. Ibanez did nothing but become a starter in the All Star game, hit 34 home runs and drive in 93 runs, after only playing in 134 games after hurting his hamstring in early June.

2008’s American League Cy Young winner Cliff Lee also joined the rotation. He was acquired at the trading deadline and has been dominant in the National League. His 7-4 record shows that he has been good, but his 3.39 ERA tells the real story. With some run support he could easily have won 10 games in the National League. That is pretty good considering he did not throw his first NL pitch until August.

Brad Lidge now anchors the bullpen, although he is shaky at best. A year after leading the Phillies to a World Series crown, not blowing a save in 47 chances, the righty has been horrible at best. He blew a league leading 11 saves and has given the Phils anything but confidence going into the postseason.

There is one area where the Phillies have the advantage. Over the course of the season the lefty-filled Rockies lineup was just one game north of .500 when facing a lefty on the mound. Philadelphia has the potential to throw three straight lefties in the series. All three have proven themselves to be very good. In order for the Rockies to win this series they must figure out how to hit the lefties.

The Rockies should bring confidence with them. They were the best team in the National League after Jim Tracy took over and have shown the ability to beat any team. Despite a high-flying Phillies offense, if the Rockies pitch like they know how to they should be able to stay in the game long enough to get into Philadelphia’s weakest spot, their bullpen.

During the ‘07 season the Rockies went just 2-4 against the Phillies. The first three games, however, came in April before the Rockies hit their stride, and when the Rockies were in Philadelphia Aaron Cook was suffering through his toe injury that ultimately caused his shoulder issue due to his compensating mechanics.

Injuries are never an excuse, and the Phillies handed it to the Rockies during the season, but for the most part these two teams are fairly evenly matched up. Rockies fans should not expect a sweep in this series. The goal should be to split the first two games and come home and play like they know how to at home. If the Rockies can do that they should be able to win and move on to the NLCS.

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