NLDS Preview: Phillies vs. Rockies

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phillies_091006.jpgThe good news for fans of the Colorado Rockies is that their team — on the strength of their big 2007-esque second-half surge — is once again baseball’s feel-good story.

The bad news? The Phillies don’t really care.

Since firing manager Clint Hurdle and replacing him with Jim Tracy, the Rockies have gone 74-41 (.643) to go from last place in the NL West to within three games of catching the division champion Los Angeles Dodgers.

The NL wild card entrant scored the second most runs in the National League, were second in home runs, second in on-base percentage, second in slugging and fifth in stolen bases.

Even the pitching was improved with solid seasons from Ubaldo Jimenez and Jason Marquis, plus the emergence of Jorge De La Rosa (16-9), who finished 16-9 after losing his first six starts.

But now the bad news: De La Rosa will be a non-factor, as his injured groin will keep him out at least until the NLCS, should the Rockies manage to advance that far.

Also, the Phillies are simply a terrible matchup for Colorado.

2009 NLDS Probables
Game 1: Ubaldo Jimenez vs. Cliff Lee
Game 2: Aaron Cook vs. Cole Hamels

Game 3: J.A. Happ or Joe Blanton or Pedro Martinez vs. Jason Hammel
Game 4: Whoever is left vs. Jason Marquis

Game 5: Jimenez vs. Lee

The Phillies appear to have the edge in starting pitching, though maybe not as big an edge as it appears at first glance. Lee started hot after joining Philly at midseason, but had mixed results down the stretch, including a six-inning, seven-run outing against the Brewers on Sept. 25, and a three-inning, six-run outing against the Astros on Sept. 4.

2008 playoff hero Hamels was spotty all season, a maddening occurrence that continued into September. And Happ, the Phillies’ most consistent pitcher over the course of the season, faces — against all logic — an uncertain role.

On the Rockies’ side of things, Jimenez has blossomed this season , and Cook and Hammel have been solid. But without De La Rosa, and with Marquis coming back to Earth after a dazzling first half, the edge has to go to the Phillies.

THE OFFENSES
As mentioned above, the Rockies have been a run-scoring machine this season despite the loss of Matt Holliday in an offseason trade. Troy Tulowitzki has been the star, reverting to 2007 form (better, actually) after a 2008 season hampered by injuries. His .297/.377/.552 line makes him the big threat in a solid Rockies lineup.

The problem is the Phillies’ offense is even better. Put together a powerful lineup with stalwarts Chase Utley, Ryan Howard and Jayson Werth, throw in a career season from Raul Ibanez, and you have a force to be reckoned with.

The Phillies led the NL in doubles, home runs, slugging percentage, RBIs and runs scored. They were also second in stolen bases, with Utley, Werth, Jimmy Rollins and Shane Victorino each swiping at least 20 bags. Once again, edge goes to the Phillies.

Numbers
Phillies won season series 4-2
Phillies outscored Rockies 31-28 

Runs per game
Phillies: 5.06
Rockies: 4.96

Runs allowed per game
Phillies: 4.38
Rockies: 4.41

Overrated angle
The Phillies bullpen:
Yes Brad Lidge has had an awful season. Yes Ryan Madson has had moments where he has struggled. But this is a short series with two off days (if it goes to a fifth game), and the Phillies have a wealth of starting pitching. Some combination of Joe Blanton, J.A. Happ and Pedro Martinez could be available in relief, taking pressure off the back end guys. And Lidge finished the season with three scoreless outings. I’m not saying he’s anywhere near 2008 form, but that’s gotta be a good sign right?

Underrated angle
The lefty-righty matchups:
With De La Rosa out, the Rockies have no left-handed starters to face a Phillies lineup dominated by lefties (Ibanez, Howard, Utley) and switch hitters (Rollins, Victorino). On the other side of things, the Phillies are loaded with left-handed starters (Hamels, Happ, Lee) to face a Rockies lineup dominated by left-handed hitters. This will give Philly a huge edge.

Prediction:
Despite the matchup problems, the Rockies — led by Tulowitzki — should be able to score some runs on the Phillies. The problem is Colorado’s pitchers should struggle against that dominant Phillies lineup. And when you consider the Rockies’ home/road splits (51-30 in Denver/41-40 away from Denver) the Rockies really needed homefield advantage to make this happen.

Phillies in 4.

Jake Peavy is having a bad go of things right now

SAN FRANCISCO, CA - MAY 25: Jake Peavy #22 of the San Francisco Giants pitches against the San Diego Padres during the first inning at AT&T Park on May 25, 2016 in San Francisco, California.  (Photo by Jason O. Watson/Getty Images)
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Veteran hurler Jake Peavy has not signed with a team. It’s not because he’s not still capable of being a useful pitcher — he’s well-regarded and someone would likely take a late-career chance on him — and it’s not because he no longer wishes to play. Rather, it’s because a bunch of bad things have happened in his personal life lately.

As Jerry Crasnick of ESPN reports, last year Peavy lost millions in an investment scam and spent much of the 2016 season distracted, dealing with investigations and depositions and all of the awfulness that accompanied it. Then, when the season ended, Peavy went home and was greeted with divorce papers. He has spent the offseason trying to find a new normal for himself and for his four sons.

Pitching is taking a backseat now, but Peavy plans to pitch again. Here’s hoping that things get sorted to the point where he can carry through with those plans.

The AT&T Park mortgage is paid off

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This is fun: The San Francisco Giants recently made their last payment on the $170 million, 20-year loan they obtained to finance the construction of AT&T Park. The joint is now officially paid for.

The Giants, unlike most other teams which moved into new stadiums in the past 25 years or so, did not rely on direct public financing. They tried to get it for years, of course, but when the voters, the city of San Francisco and the State of California said no, they decided to pay for it themselves. They ended up with one of baseball’s best-loved and most beautiful parks and, contrary to what the owners who desperately seek public funds will have you believe, they were not harmed competitively speaking. Indeed, rumor has it that they have won three World Series, four pennants and have made the playoffs seven times since moving into the place in 2000. They sell out routinely now too and the Giants are one of the richest teams in the sport.

Now, to be clear, the Giants are not — contrary to what some people will tell you — some Randian example of self-reliance. They did not receive direct public money to build the park, but they did get a lot of breaks. The park sits on city-owned property in what has become some of the most valuable real estate in the country. If the city had held on to that land and realized its appreciation, they could flip it to developers for far more than the revenue generated by baseball. Or, heaven forfend, use it for some other public good. The Giants likewise received some heavy tax abatements, got some extraordinarily beneficial infrastructure upgrades and require some heavy city services to operate their business. All sports stadiums, even the ones privately constructed, represent tradeoffs for the public.

Still, AT&T Park represents a better model than most sports facilities do. I mean, ask how St. Louis feels about still paying for the place the Rams used to call home before taking off for California. Ask how taxpayers in Atlanta and Arlington, Texas feel about paying for their second stadium in roughly the same time the Giants have paid off their first.