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Previewing the N.L. Wild Card Game

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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.

And That Happened: Tuesday’s Scores and Highlights

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Here are the scores. Here are the highlights:

Dodgers 4, Cubs 3; Cubs 2, Dodgers 1: Kyle Farmer hit a two-run double to rally the Dodgers to victory in the top of the ninth in Game 1 and, in the nightcap, Albert Almora knocked in a walkoff single in the bottom of the tenth. Almora’s heroics were set up by a Kris Bryant leadoff triple. After the game Almora talked about how this was redemption for him in that he missed an opportunity to plate an insurance run or two late in Game 1. If the sequence and the game outcomes had been reversed, someone on the Dodgers would be telling a story about how they got redemption and didn’t let Almora beat them again. A great bit of life is colored by recency bias and the order in which things occur as opposed to that which simply occurs.

Indians 6, White Sox 3: The Indians’ four-run second inning was all Mike Clevinger needed as he struck out ten and allowed only one run in seven and two-thirds. Clevinger has three wins against the White Sox this year, striking out 11 Pale Hose batters just last week. He owns Chicago. Loves to face the Chisox. Yes, I’m just vamping here in order to get in as many nicknames for the South Siders in one blurb as a I can.

Twins 6, Red Sox 2: Jose Berrios allowed only one run while pitching into the seventh and Eduardo Escobar hit a pair of RBI doubles and then came around to score on an RBI triple from Robbie Grossman in the eighth. Escobar has 32 doubles on the year, which is on pace to break the single season doubles record of 67 which has been held by Earl Webb for 87 years. And let’s be honest, back in 1931 the science of groundskeeping and security was not what it is now, so Webb probably got a bunch of gift doubles by ricocheting balls off of rocks and trash left by orphans, anarchists and random members of the Bonus Army who were all allowed to just wander and loiter around baseball fields back then. Seriously, there were almost no laws in the early 30s. Thank you, FDR, for restoring order!

Yankees 7, Mariners 2: Four homers — from Giancarlo Stanton, Miguel Andujar, Aaron Hicks and Gleyber Torres — powered the Yankees and Domingo German‘s two runs — one earned — over seven with nine strikeouts tamed the M’s. Hicks’ homer was his third in the past three days. Maybe people should be more careful with him and instead go after . . . ah, wait. Now I see the problem with trying to pitch to the Yankees. Never mind.

Giants 6, Marlins 3: This one got ugly, with the sides throwing at one another over — depending on who you believe — Evan Longoria getting his hand broken last week or Hunter Strickland getting mockingly jawed at by Lewis Brinson on Monday night. Personally, I don’t buy the “retaliation for Longoria” thing because said retaliation would’ve happened on Monday. I suspect this was over the Brinson stuff, which is dumb, but whaddaya gonna do? Not that this will end soon Jose Urena is pitching for Miami this afternoon and he hits guys like it’s his job, so no one better dig in too deeply. As for the game: Dereck Rodriguez allowed three over five but the Giants bullpen blanked Miami for the final four. Gorkys Hernandez homered and drove in three and Buster Posey went deep as well.

Nationals 9, Orioles 7Trea Turner went 4-for-4 with a homer and Anthony Rendon drove in three. At one point the Orioles led 4-1 and then loaded the bases with no one out and only got one run across. In the bottom half of the same inning Washington loaded the bases with no outs and batted around, scoring four. The O’s season in a nutshell. Washington is 4-0 against their regional rival this year and has outscored them 20-8.

Cardinals 7, Phillies 6: Matt Carpenter broke a 6-6 tie with a solo homer in the top of the ninth, two innings after his two-run double had tied it up at four. Tommy Pham and Kolten Wong each went deep for St. Louis as well. Adding to the misery for Philly: they lost infielder J.P. Crawford when he was hit by a Luke Weaver pitch in the fourth inning, fracturing his left hand. He’ll miss four to six weeks.

Brewers 3, Pirates 2: Freddy Peralta tossed six shutout innings allowing only two hits and striking out seven. Jesus Aguilar was all the offense the Brewers got or needed, homering in the first to plate himself and Lorenzo Cain and then plating Cain once again in the third with an RBI double.

Braves 11, Blue Jays 4: Johan Camargo hit a second inning grand slam, went 4-for-5 and knocked in five on the day. Atlanta had seven doubles and ten extra-base hits in all. The bottom four hitters in Atlanta’s lineup — Kurt Suzuki, Charlie CulbersonEnder Inciarte, and Camargo — combined to go 11-for-18 with five doubles and two dingers. The Braves have won six of seven and maintain a 3.5 game lead in the NL East.

Reds 9, Tigers 5: Joey Votto hit a third inning grand slam. It was his first homer in 30 games. It also came after he unsuccessfully tried to shoo a bird that was sitting on the infield out of the way. As he rounded the bases, Votto flapped his arm like a bird:

Votto is weird. Like, the good kind of weird. I’d like to hang out with him.

Rays 2, Astros 1: All good things come to an end, including winning streaks. The Rays’ snapped the Astros’ 12-gamer, thanks to Blake Snell allowing only one run over seven. He did that, somehow, despite walking seven dudes. Justin Verlander was also sharp for the Astros — he struck out ten while pitching into the seventh — but he gave up a solo shot to C.J. Cron and Wilson Ramos singled in the tie-breaking run off of Hector Rondon in the eighth. Cron’s homer broke a personal 0-for-23 skid.

Rangers 4, Royals 1: Hammels beat Hammel, with the former allowing only an unearned run in seven and the latter allowing four over five and two-thirds. The Royals have lost eight straight and 14 of 15. They are 22-51, which is the worst mark in franchise history after 73 games. Which is saying a lot given their franchise history, particularly from the 1990s-on.

Rockies 10, Mets 8Nolan ArenadoTrevor Story and Ian Desmond hit back-to-back-to-back homers in the sixth. Carlos Gonzalez went deep too. German Marquez pitched well enough to win a Coors Field game and (all together now) helped his own cause with two hits, scoring a run and driving one in as well.

Angels 5, Diamondbacks 4: Mike Trout drove in two with an RBI single — kudos to him for not being overly distracted by the unusual circumstance of there being men on base when he came to the plate — and walked a couple of times. Kole Calhoun and Ian Kinsler added solo homers, which gave the Angels a glimpse of what happens when, you know, someone besides Mike Trout contributes. Trout raises his line for he month of June to .448/.554/.776.

Athletics 4, Padres 2Stephen Piscotty hit a tying home run off closer Brad Hand with two out and with two strikes in the ninth to force extras and Jed Lowie hit a two-run shot with two outs in the 10th off of Adam Cimber to give the A’s the win. Lowrie on his homer: “I was just looking for something over the plate that I could square up.” Interesting. Never thought about it that way.