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NLDS Preview: Colorado Rockies vs. Philadelphia Phillies

Over at Baseball Analysts, they've posted a series preview that I did with Al Doyle of Baseball Digest. You can hop over to their great website to check it out or read it below. Enjoy!

NLDS Preview: Colorado Rockies vs. Philadelphia Phillies

I'm Al Doyle, history columnist (Past Times) for Baseball Analysts. I have written approximately 100 player profiles, interviews and features for Baseball Digest. One of my favorite experiences in writing baseball history was interviewing the survivors of the pennant-winning 1944 St. Louis Browns for a 2004 article in St. Louis magazine.

My interest in the Rockies dates back to 1993, as our family moved to Colorado just weeks after the franchise played its first game. I have seen the team set records in surpassing the 4 million mark in attendance, the push to the playoffs in 1995 as well as the creeping fan apathy of recent years.

Now back in the Midwest, I follow the Rockies from afar. Although I don't get to see the team much, Denver remains one of my favorite places in America, and Coors Field is a gem of a ballpark. My analysis of what can be expected from the Rockies in the NLDS follows.

Hi, I'm David Cohen, one of the team of bloggers at The Good Phight. We've covered the Phillies for the past three seasons and would love to claim that we were believers even when they were, altogether now, seven games back with seventeen to go. But, we'd be lying if we said that. We do live and die by the team and are finally feeling rewarded with our first playoff game in 5,094 days. No Joe Carters this time, though, ok?

Yorvit Torrealba (396 AB, .255, 8 HR, 47 RBI, .323 OBP) gives the team some gap power and run production at the bottom of the order. From what I've seen of Torrealba behind the plate, he handles himself well and should have a long career (barring injury) as a platoon or solid backup catcher. Chris Ianetta (.218, 4 HR, 27 RBI, .330 OBP in a disappointing rookie season) may also see some action.

Carlos Ruiz (.259/.340/.396, 6 HR, 54 RBI) was a bit of a disappointment this year, but he did show improved patience at the plate. Regardless, he was better than free agent signing Rod Barajas. Ruiz was hit hard by pitches twice in the final series and is day-to-day for the NLDS.

Al says: Tossup.

David says: very very slight edge Phillies.

First base:
Todd Helton (557 AB, 17 HR, 91 RBI, .320, 114 BB, .434 OBP) is no longer the slugger he once was, but his ability to get on base and smack doubles (42) makes him a cleanup-hitting tablesetter of sorts for Garrett Atkins and Brad Hawpe. This will be Helton's first postseason series in an 11-year major league career. The three-time Gold Glover is one reason why the Rockies committed just 68 errors as a team. Helton had just two miscues in 1448 chances this season for a .999 fielding percentage.

Ryan Howard (.268/.392/.584, 47 HR, 136 RBI) didn't duplicate his 2006 MVP line of .313/.425/.659, but who can blame him? He missed 12 games in May due to injury, but still put up monster numbers, including an all-time record 199 strikeouts. With 47 HR and 136 RBI, though, who cares?

Al says: Phillies get the edge here. Howard is an offensive force.

David says: Helton is a great player, but Howard is better.

Second base:
Kaz Matsui's offensive numbers (.410 AB, 4 HR, 37 RBI, .288, .342 OBP) reflect a 2006 move from Shea Stadium to Coors Field. Matsui smacked .330 in Denver as compared to .249 on the road. Baserunning is Matsui's strong suit, as he was 32 for 36 (.889) in stolen bases this season is and 62 for 71 (.873) as a major leaguer.

Chase Utley (.332/.410/.566, 22 HR, 103 RBI) missed even more time than Howard - a full month spanning July and August. But, he was still the best second baseman in baseball (68.8 VORP to Placido Polanco's 49.0) and should be for another decade or so.

Al says: Advantage Phillies. Utley is one of the best at his position.

David says: No easier comparison than here - Utley by a mile.

Troy Tulowitski's skill with the glove was no surprise, but his 24 HR and 99 RBI (.291, .359 OBP) were definitely better than expected. The Rookie of the Year and Gold Glove candidate came on strong in the second half, with 15 HR and 60 RBI after the All-Star break. Tulo definitely likes Colorado, as he hit .326, with 15 home runs and 60 RBI in Coors and just .256/9/39 elsewhere.

Jimmy Rollins (.296/.344/.531, 30 HR, 94 RBI) is the Philadelphia fans' MVP choice (I'm not entirely sold). He joined the rare 20 HR, 20 2B, 20 3B, 20 SB club (only three other members) and set the all-time record for at-bats (716) and total plate appearances (778). Rollins started every game, played excellent defense, hit for power, and was a terror on the basepaths. He still could use some patience at the plate, but that's mere quibbling at this point in his career.

Al says: Give this one to the Phillies, as Rollins is among the elite at SS. Tulowitski is no slouch.

David says: Edge to Rollins, but Tulowitzki is no slacker.

Third base:
Garrett Atkins (.301, 25 HR, 111 RBI, .367 OBP) staggered to a slow start, hitting .223 with 3 HR and 20 RBI in 197 AB during April and May. The right-handed swinger made up for that with a .339/5/29 August before hitting .390 in the final month of the season. Atkins is middle of the pack defensively.

Wegham Nubbselms (.255/.321/.368, 11 HR, 76 RBI) is the combination of Wes Helms, Abraham Nunez, and Greg Dobbs (combination name courtesy of Christina Kahrl), as Charlie Manuel toyed with third base all year, trying to turn water into wine with this crew. Manuel settled on Helms and Dobbs providing the "offense," with Nunez coming in for late inning defense and key starts by groundball pitchers.

Al says: Advantage Rockies

David says: OK, maybe this is easier - huge edge to Atkins (and maybe he'll be a Phillie next year?)

Left field:
Matt Holliday (.340, 50 2B, 36 HR. 137 RBI, .340, 216 hits, .405 OBP) is usually mentioned with Rollins among the top MVP candidates. As his stats indicate, Holliday hits the ball with authority to all fields, as shown by his 13th inning opposite field triple that nearly cleared the right field fence during Monday's play-in game against the Padres.

Defense? Holliday won't be confused with Curtis Granderson. Despite misjudging Brian Giles' flyball turned game-tying double on Monday, he is adequate in baseball's least demanding position.

Pat Burrell (.256/.400/.502, 30 HR, 97 RBI) was absolutely miserable for the first half of the season, and was almost booed out of town. But then July 1 came and he turned into one of the best hitters in baseball with a .300/.427/.612 line and 22 HR and 65 RBI. Already a patient hitter, he had 114 walks, the most in his career and the third most in MLB (to Bonds and Helton).

Al says: Rockies get the edge for sure, but don't be surprised if Burrell does some damage.

David says: Edge to the Rockies and their MVP candidate.

Center field:
Speedy slap hitter Willy Taveras (372 AB, .320, 2 HR, 24 RBI, 33 SB but just 21 walks for a .367 OBP) hopes to recover from his nagging leg injury in time for the series. Even if Tavares claims to be 100 percent, productive Ryan Spilborghs (11 HR, 51 RBI, .299 in 264 ABs) may also see some action (ED: Spilborghs will be starting as Tavares has been left off of the NLDS roster. His AVG/OBP/SLG line was .299/.363/.485 this season).

Born a generation too late to become the perfect 1970s Astroturf chopper that he would have been, Willy T. is the king of infield singles. As might be expected, Taveras covers the spacious Colorado outfield with ease.

Aaron Rowand (.309/.374/.515, 27 HR, 89 RBI) - Rowand had a career year, showing power and patience at the plate he had shown glimpses of in 2004 but never before or again . . . until now. One of the key numbers for Rowand was 161 - games played. He was healthy and didn't pull any stupid hustle moves that wind up in a DL stint.

Al says: Advantage Phillies.

David says: Phillies

Right field:
Brad Hawpe produced 116 RBI batting sixth. Add in a .291 average, 33 doubles, 29 homers and a .387 OBP (81 walks), and Hawpe becomes a genuine threat. He does have one glaring weakness. The lefty swinger hit just .214 against southpaws as compared to .315 against right-handers. It's something that Cole Hamels or crafty Jamie Moyer could exploit.

With no stolen bases in 2007, Hawpe is the extreme opposite of speedy Shane Victorino, his Phillies counterpart.

Shane Victorino (.281/.347/.423, 12 HR, 46 RBI) had an almost identical year to last year, proving to be a very good guy to have on the bases in front of the big boppers. The one major difference this year was that Victorino learned how to steal a base - 37 with only 4 caught stealings. He was a large part of the reason why the Phillies set the all-time record for team stolen base percentage. He missed much of August and September with a leg injury, but appears healthy now.

Al says: Advantage Rox.

David says: Rockies

If Spilborghs doesn't start, a thin Colorado bench becomes much better. Utility infielder Jamey Carroll (.225, 2, 22) hit the game-winning sacrifice fly on Monday, but his average dove 75 points from last season's .300 performance as a regular player. Former everyday shortstop Clint Barmes (.216 in 37 ABs) is eligible for the postseason roster.

Cory Sullivan (.286, 2 HR, 14 RBI in 140 ABs) has a little more pop and less speed than Tavares. Jeff Baker (.222, 4, 14) is a journeyman who can play the outfield and first base. With or without Spilborghs, this is a situation that screams for an experienced lefty pinch-hitter and a multitalented super sub.

Jayson Werth (.298/.404/.459, 8 HR, 49 RBI) was mostly a bench player until Victorino got hurt. He filled in more than admirably, posting a 1.109 OPS in August. He cooled off in September, but he is a potent and patient bat off the bench. Plus, he can steal a base or two when needed, as the Mets learned the hard way when he stole two in the ninth on August 30 to fuel a comeback win and a key four-game sweep.

Greg Dobbs (.272/.330/.451, 10 HR, 55 RBI) is worthless against lefthanded pitching (.481 OPS) and is not much of a fielder at third base, but he has power and patience against righties (.808 OPS, 10 HR, 27 BB). He also provided clutch at-bats down the stretch when needed, including a pinch hit grand slam against the Mets on September 16 that powered the Phillies to their second sweep of the Mets in less than three weeks.

Chris Coste (.279/.311/.419, 5 HR, 22 RBI) didn't make the big league roster out of spring training despite impressing in 2006. He eventually was called up for good in June to pinch hit and occasionally fill in at catcher. He has limited patience and power but is better than the Barajas alternative.

Wes Helms (.246/.297/.368, 5 HR, 39 RBI) never lived up to his promise from 2006 when he hit to the tune of .329/.390/.575 in limited playing time. His power didn't come back and he rarely provided any added value at the plate.

Al says: Advantage Phillies

David says: Phillies - they've upgraded a major weakness from years' past.

Starting pitchers:
What makes the Rockies' run to the postseason especially amazing is how it happened with a rotation that had more patches than an old pair of overalls. Even perennial retreads such as Elmer Dessens (four starts) and Mark Redman (three starts) saw late season action.

Three April starters - innings-eating sinkerballer Aaron Cook, Rodrigo Lopez and Jason Hirsh - are out with injuries. Cook spoke about coming back during the playoffs after a two-month layoff, but that sounds like a stretch even for the courageous righty who previously bounced back from life-threatening blood clots.

Left-hander Jeff Francis (17-8, 4.22 in 215.1 IP) is the real deal. The Canadian-born Francis gives the Rockies a top of the rotation starter that has been a rae commodity in the franchise's 15-year history. Normally a 4 or 5 starter, Josh Fogg's status has grown through attrition. He enters the NLDS with a 10-9 record and 4.94 ERA.

The hopes of Rockies fans are riding on a pair of young and very inexperienced arms. Ubaldo Jimenez (4-4, 4.28, 15 starts, 82 IP) and Franklin Morales (3-2, 3.43, 8 starts, 39.1 IP) have shown incredible poise for 23 and 21-year old rookies. It was Jimenez who put the Rox into the tiebreaker with his 10-strikeout performance against the Diamondbacks on Sept. 30.

Cole Hamels (15-5, 3.39) lived up to his billing in his sophomore season as he emerged as a true ace. He averaged just under a strikeout an inning, and drastically improved his K/BB rate from 3.02 to 4.12. He missed a month but still compiled 177 strikeouts, good for a seventh-place tie in the NL. He was shaky in his first two starts after returning from injury, but looked excellent in a key 8 inning shutout performance last Friday. He'll start game one for the Phillies.

Jamie Moyer (14-12, 5.01) had a sensation April (2.65 ERA in 5 starts), making critics doubt that he was over the hill at 44. He was pretty horrible after that, though, with a 5.68 ERA and over 1.5 baserunners per inning. That is, until the last day of the season when he pitched like a master (0 ER, 5.33 IP, 6 K) to get the Phillies the NL East title. He'll start game 3.

Kyle Kendrick (10-4, 3.87) was a AA call-up in June. The Phils hoped to get an innings-eater, but got much more, as he was the team's most reliable starter (given Hamels' injury) for the rest of the season. He has a weak spot against lefties (.922 OPS), but has been able to shut righties down (.628 OPS) to keep his ERA under 4. With the Phillies' offense, that's enough to get 10 wins and a game 2 playoff start.

Kyle Lohse (3-0, 4.72) was acquired at the trade deadline and helped provide innings when the Phillies desperately needed it. He's a quintessential fourth or fifth starter who will probably be used out of the bullpen in the playoffs.

Al says: Edge to the Phillies, but their rotation is hittable.

David says: Without Adam Eaton and with a healthy Hamels, Phillies.

As in 1995, it was the relievers who played a significant role in putting the Rockies into the postseason. Then-manager Don Baylor squeezed every drop out of an overworked bullpen that was asked to put in three to five innings almost every game.

Starting with the middlemen, Taylor Buchholz (6-5, 4.23 in 93.2 IP) also started eight games, and he could go several innings if needed. Veteran LaTroy Hawkins (62 G, 55.1 IP, 2-5, 3.42) bounced back nicely after a rough start. Lefty Jeremy Affeldt (75 G, 59 IP, 4-3, 3.51) was better than expected, and Matt Herges changed speeds well enough to finish 5-1 with a 2.96 ERA in 48.2 IP. At age 37, Herges is by far the oldest member of the Rockies.

Former closer and two-time All-Star Brian Fuentes was demoted after blowing four straight saves earlier in the season. A strong finish (1.19 ERA from August to the end of the season) dropped his ERA from 3.98 to 3.08. The left-hander finished with a 3-5 record and 20 saves.

Current closer Manny Corpas is another promising young arm. The 24-year old righty had a 4-2 record, 2.08 ERA and 19 saves. The Phillies better come up swinging against Corpas, who gave up just 20 walks in 78 IP. While it wouldn't surprise me to see manager Clint Hurdle go with Fuentes in the ninth if left-handed hitters Utley and Howard were due up, Rox leads are in capable hands with Corpas.

Brett Myers (5-7, 4.33, 21 SV) was controversially moved to the bullpen in April after three horrendous starts. As a reliever, he had a 2.87 ERA, a 3.6 K/BB ratio, and let up only 4 HR in 53.3 IP. Because the rest of his options are not good, Manuel will use Myers to close out almost any lead, and Myers will usually do so effectively.

Tom Gordon (3-2, 4.73, 14 HLD) missed two and a half months with a shoulder injury. Manuel uses Gordon to setup Myers, which he did terribly from August 2 to September 5 (9.69 ERA). But he remembered how to pitch after that, throwing 13.67 innings with a 1.32 ERA from September 8 to the end of the season.

J.C. Romero (1-2, 1.24, 22 HLD) was a waiver wire pickup in June who paid huge dividends. In September, he was the closest thing to a guarantee to ever come out of the Phillies bullpen, as he pitched 15.67 innings and gave up no runs. He'll start the reliever train of Romero, Gordon, and Myers that Manuel will use over and over and over again. If any other reliever appears in a game, the Phillies are in trouble.

Al says: Advantage Rockies.

David says: Rockies, because of their depth and Fuentes being hot and a lefty.

Al's Series Prediction
It's easy to point to the relative rawness of Tulowitski, Jimenez, Morales and Corpas, but just about the entire roster is getting their first taste of the postseason. Amazingly, Hawkins is the only Colorado player with an October resume, as he appeared in the ALDS and ALCS with the Twins in 2002 and 2003.

Starters on both teams are going to get hit hard. If it comes down to the bullpens, the underdog Rockies have the upper hand, but my gut instincts tell me the Phillies win the series in five games.

David's Series Prediction
The two teams are very similar - offensive powerhouses in hitters parks with bad pitching. The difference here is going to be Cole Hamels. The Rockies have a very good pitcher in Jeff Francis, but they don't have a dominant frontline ace like Hamels. Hamels will make two starts (if necessary) and win both (again, if necessary). The Phillies' offense will power the team to at least one win from the other starters. That's three, and that's all that's needed in a five game series. I say Phils in 4 and Hamels is saved for the NLCS, but 5 isn't out of the question either.