J.D. Martinez

Getty Images

Previewing the N.L. Wild Card Game

7 Comments

The Rockies and Diamondbacks have played each other 19 times this season. Tonight it’s number 20. The National League Wild Card game. The winner advances and the loser goes home.

The storyline here is going to be all about the glass slipper. Both of these teams were terrible in 2016, with the Dbacks going 69-93 and the Rockies going 75-87. Each fired their managers after the campaign, hiring Torey Lovullo and Bud Black, respectively and each flipped their records for the better. No one expected either team to contend strongly this year, let alone make the playoffs. The “happy to be here” factor should be pretty low, however, as both teams started the season strong and looked to be on a postseason trajectory well before the All-Star break.

Arizona took the season from Colorado, winning 11 to the Rockies’ eight. They outscored the Rockies 101-69 and took five of the seven games the two teams played in September. The teams split the ten games they played at Chase Field. If you care about such things, the Rockies beat the Diamondbacks in the 2007 NLDS. You probably shouldn’t care about such things, though, as there is no one around from back then who will have a say in how this turns out.

Let’s take a quick glance at the matchups.

The starting pitchers:

  • Rockies: RH Jon Gray (10-4, 3.67 ERA in 20 starts, 110 1/3 IP).
  • Diamondbacks: RH Zack Greinke (17-7, 3.20, 215 Ks in 202 1/3 IP).

Gray is 2-1 with a 3.50 ERA in three starts against the Diamondbacks. He didn’t allow more than three runs in any of the starts.  Greinke is 2-1 in five starts against Colorado with a 3.41 ERA. Greinke has playoff experience, going 3-3 with a 3.55 ERA in nine starts. This Gray’s first taste of the postseason.

The lineups:

The Rockies are what the Rockies always are when they’re playing well: powerful and potent, featuring the top offense in the National League. It’s an attack led by NL batting champion Charlie Blackmon, who hit .331/.399/.601 with 37 home runs and 104 RBI and Nolan Arenado, who hit .309/.373/.586 with 37 homers and 130 RBI. As always, you have to take Rockies’ hitters’ numbers with a grain of salt due to the Coors Field factor: both men hit worse on the road than at home, though Arenado’s splits are nowhere near as pronounced of many past Rockies sluggers.

Arizona counters with the fourth best offense in the National League, but one which vastly improved in the second half of the season due to the addition of J.D. Martinez. Martinez’s production after the trade is comic book stuff, as he batted .302/.366/.741 with 29 homers in just 62 games. He’s backed by Paul Goldschmidt who put up another fantastic season — .297/.404/.563 with 36 homers — but who finished the season in a slump. A sharp slump, actually, going 0 for his last 17 heading into the Wild Card game.

The bullpens:

As we’ve seen so often in recent years — and as we saw last night in New York — bullpens are a key factor to postseason success. An outsized one, in fact, with the manager sporting the quickest hook often being the one with the advantage. Greinke, of course, has a $200m+ contract which assumes he’ll pitch long into games that matter. He averages about six and a third innings per start. His counterpart, Gray, averages about five and a half innings per start, but he’s been on a roll of late, tossing five or more innings and allowing three or fewer earned runs in 13 consecutive starts.

Don’t be shocked if Dbacks’ skipper Lovullo uses a starter — possibly even projected NLDS Game 1 starter Robbie Ray — as a reliever. The idea is to get Greinke through the Rockies lineup twice — and likely not more than twice — and then to eventually get the ball to Fernando Rodney to start the ninth in a position for a save. He is not the kind of closer you want to bring in to put out a fire in the eighth. He kinda creates his own fires. Just how he rolls.

As for the Rockies, if Gray falters early, they could use Chris Rusin and possibly starter German Marquez to bridge the gap to relievers Jake McGee, Pat Neshek and Greg Holland. Bud Black has a lot more options in his pen than Rockies managers past.

All in all, this is pretty even matchup. I give the Dbacks the edge as the slightly better team on paper, as the winner of the season series and as the home team who will have close to 50,000 fans in attendance. I knock the Rockies a bit more than I usually knock a road team because that’s just how the Rockies work.

Of course, it’s a one-and-done game and anything can happen. That’s why they call it the Wild Card.