October baseball has arrived! The Philadelphia Phillies and the Colorado Rockies square off in the National League Division Series on Wednesday. With the 2007 NLDS fresh in mind, the Phillies hope for a better outcome this time around.
The last time the Rockies entered the postseason, they were the hottest team in baseball, winning 21 out of their last 22 games. This year, they closed the season 18-9 in September. They haven’t been as impressive as they were in their pennant year, although they had an impressive turnaround. The Rockies opened April with a record of 8-12 before firing manager Clint Hurdle. Jim Tracy took over as skipper, leading the Rockies to a Wild Card berth.
Charlie Manuel’s crew will try to defend their 2008 World Championship. The Phillies finished the year with a record of 93-69, one more win than the Rockies. The Phillies won the season series, 4-2, and outscored the Rockies, 31-28.
This Division Series may be loaded with offense. Both Citizens Bank Park and Coors Field are extremely hitter friendly. In addition, these two teams are power houses that rank first and second atop many offensive categories. The Phillies 820 runs scored rank first in the National League. The Rockies are right behind with 804 runs. The Phillies led the National League with 224 home runs and a .447 slugging percentage. The Rockies finished second with 190 home runs and a .441 slugging percentage. The Rockies have a .343 on-base percentage, which is higher than the Phillies’.
The Phillies struggled with runners in scoring position, batting .255 in that situation. The Rockies were slightly better, hitting .259, just below the league’s average.
The Phillies and Rockies have very similar offenses. The lineups are almost identical to the ones that were seen two years ago, with the biggest difference being in left field. Matt Holliday is now with the St. Louis Cardinals and Pat Burrell has moved on to the Tampa Bay Rays.
The Phillies star-studded offense leads off with Jimmy Rollins. Rollins has come a long way since being benched in late June because of a career worst 0-for-28 slump. During the second half of the season, the former MVP batted .272 with 14 home runs. Rollins’ shadow, Shane Victorino, was the team’s leading hitter. Nobody can forget Victorino’s heroics in last year’s NLDS when he homered against C.C Sabathia.
The meat of the order is capable of doing a lot of damage. Chase Utley is currently in a 0-for-15 slump and batted .204 in September, but he is always a major offensive threat. Ryan Howard was tied with Milwaukee’s Prince Fielder for the most runs batted in the major leagues with 141. Jayson Werth finished a RBI short of reaching 100 for the season. He had a career high .879 on-base plus slugging percentage. Raul Ibanez had a monster first half, but struggled when he returned from a groin injury.
Pedro Feliz and Carlos Ruiz sit at the bottom of the order, but they are each capable of starting rallies and coming up clutch. Feliz has been arguably the team’s most clutch hitter, leading the team with a .325 average with runners on base.
The bench has been one of the Phillies Achilles’ heels. Matt Stairs’ home run against the Los Angeles Dodgers in the 2008 National League Championship will never be forgotten, but the big hacker is hitting .194. Like the NLCS blast, Stairs’ home run against the Rockies this season will always be remembered. The game-winning shot was Harry Kalas’ last home run call before tragically passing away in April.
An average under the Mendoza line isn’t strange for a Phillies bench player. Eric Bruntlett, a career .231 hitter, was left of the roster after Miguel Cairo made a strong push during the final weeks of the season. Ben Francisco, who was acquired with Cliff Lee, has been a reliable bat off the bench. Greg Dobbs set a Phillies record last season for the most pinch hits, but he has been plagued with injuries this season. Paul Bako has done a fine job as the backup catcher after Chris Coste was let go.
The Rockies will have to look out for the Phillies on the basepaths. They’ve had a healthy mix of speed and power throughout the season. They are second in the National League with 119 steals.
The Rockies lineup doesn’t feature as many big names, but they still have a potent offense. The Rockies start at the top with speed. Dexter Fowler and Carlos Gonzalez have spent time leading off for the Rockies. Fowler stole 27 bases this season, and Gonzalez batted .284 in 89 games. The outfield also includes Seth Smith. Smith batted .293 with 15 home runs and a .889 OPS.
The middle of the lineup features a possible future Hall of Famer, Todd Helton. Helton hit .325 this year, very close to his career average of .328. The 36-year old doesn’t hit the long ball like he used to. In 2001, he hit a career high 49. This year, he hit 15 home runs, ten below his career average. The Rockies lineup also includes Troy Tulowitzski. Tulo may be known for his defense and strong arm, but he can also rake. Tulo started the year slowly, batting .200 in April. Like Rollins, the shortstop turned his season around. He finished the season with a .297 average, 32 home runs and a .930 OPS. Following Tulo is one of the game’s most underrated hitters, Brad Hawpe. Hawpe batted .285 with a .519 slugging percentage. Hawpe finished the season with ten runs batted in during his final ten games.
Second baseman Clint Barmes slugged 23 home runs this season. Ian Stewart and Garrett Atkins have been sharing time at third base. Atkins, Chase Utley’s UCLA teammate, disappointed many with a .226 average and nine home runs this season. Ian Stewart’s average is not much better sitting at .228, however he smacked 28 home runs. Backstop Chris Iannetta has the same average, but he is still a dangerous hitter. It’s notable that he has a .804 OPS.
The platoons in the outfield and at third base make their bench deeper. The bench includes Ryan Spilborghs, who the Phillies almost acquired at the trade deadline. Yorvit Torreabla is the backup catcher, and the Rockies added Jason Giambi from the Oakland A’s. Giambi provides a left handed bat off the bench, much like Stairs for the Phillies.
The Phillies batted .302 with nine home runs in six games against the Rockies this season. Four of those home runs came at Coors Field. The Rockies cumulative lineup batted .251 with six homers against the Phillies this season.
The first game of the series will open in Philadelphia, and head to Colorado for game three. The Phillies seek redemption after the Rockies swept them in 2007. When these two teams meet, slugfests are anticipated. It wouldn’t be a shock to see a couple of them in this best of five series.