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NLDS Preview - Rockies vs. Phillies
by Asher B. Chancey, BaseballEvolution.com
October 3, 2007

The Philadelphia Phillies and Colorado Rockies face off in the first round of the playoffs, which means we all know what to expect – pitching duel! All kidding aside, this match-up features two of the premier offenses in the league, and the key to the series will be not stopping the offense, but trying to contain it.

Perhaps the most underrated element to the Colorado Rockies in 2007 was their defense. The Rockies set a major league record for team fielding percentage this season, and feature a top-notch defensive infield, which probably explains the fact that the Rockies were finally able to field a decent pitching staff to go with their always capable hitting this season.

The good news for the Phillies is that Adam Eaton was left off of the post-season roster. Eaton gave up 30 homeruns and posted a 6.29 ERA in just 161.2 innings this season. The Phillies pitching was horrendous as a whole this season, but Eaton was disproportionately bad, and having Eaton off the team makes them significantly better.

The matchups:

Catcher – Carlos Ruiz/Rod Barajas/Chris Coste vs. Yorvit Torrealba/Chris Iannetta

Neither team gets much here, but Ruiz is the best overall player of the five. The Phillies will be carrying three pitchers in the post-season, which gives them minimally better versatility.

Advantage - Toss-Up

First Base – Ryan Howard vs. Todd Helton

Helton is a better pure hitter and defender. Howard can wreck a game with a swing of the bat far better than Helton, but he could also go quiet for three straight games in a way Helton is unlikely to. The difference here – the Phillies need a big series from Howard, while the Rockies likely don’t need heroics from Helton.

Advantage – Toss-up

Second Base – Chase Utley vs. Kaz Matsui

Any offense that Matsui will provide will come in Colorado, while Utley might hit .500 in this series and I would yawn. Utley is the best second baseman in the game, and Matsui is merely a very good defensive contributor.

Advantage – Phillies

Third Base – Greg Dobbs/Abraham Nunez vs. Garrett Atkins

The Phillies have a very nice Frankenstein’s monster at third, with Greg Dobbs providing offense in innings one through six, and then Nunez coming in out of the bullpen (so to speak) to close games with his defense in innings seven through nine. The big question will be whether the Rockies will have to wait until returning to Colorado to get offense out of Atkins. At home this season, Atkins was a superior offensive third baseman. On the road, his OPS was lower than Dobbs'.

Advantage – Rockies

Shortstop – Jimmy Rollins vs. Troy Tulowitski

Rollins is a front runner for NL Most Valuable Player, while Tulowitski is a front runner for NL Rookie of the Year. Rollins gives you great offense and solid defense, while Tulowitski gives you great defense and solid offense. Despite the conventional wisdom, neither Tulowitski nor Rollins is not nearly the offensive player people make either of them out to be. Tulowitski is the better defender, but Rollins has continually played big in the big games this season.

Advantage – Phillies

Left Field – Pat Burrell vs. Matt Holliday

You know what bothers me about Matt Holliday? He is completely a product of Coors Field. There is no way he is better than Pat Burrell, but everyone makes Holliday out to be an MVP candidate. I mean, if Burrell played at Coors Field, he would be so much better than Holliday. Just look at the numbers he put up for the Phillies this season, without the Coors Field advantage.

The above paragraph represented my feelings on Burrell vs. Holliday, until I actually checked the home/road splits of the two players. As it turns out, Burrell’s splits are even worse than Holliday's! Holliday put up a 1.157 OPS at home vs. just .860 on the road, but Burrell went 1.028/.795, while batting just .220 on the road. Neither player is a good defender, but Burrell is actually terrible.

For what its worth:

Burrell, 2007, at Coors Field - .421/.560/.789/1.349
Holliday, 2007, at Citizens Bank Park - .250/.344/.821/1.165

Advantage – Rockies

Centerfield – Aaron Rowand vs. Ryan Spilborghs

Rowand had a career year at the plate and remains one of the best defensive centerfielders in the game. Spilsborghs is a lackluster defensive player and an underrated but not terribly great hitter.

Advantage – Phillies

Right Field – Brad Hawpe vs. Jayson Werth/Shane Victorino

The Phillies are currently in a “too bad we can’t start four outfielders” position, which means that Victorino will be providing depth off the bench. Werth was one of the Phillies key contributors down the stretch, both with the bat and the glove. Hawpe is a Coors Field monster, with an OPS gap of almost .200 from home to road.

Fun Fact – Werth’s home OPS (.831) is the same as Hawpe’s road OPS, indicating that the two will be even at Citizens Bank Park.

Advantage – Rockies

Starting Pitchers – Cole Hamels, Kyle Kendrick, Jamie Moyer vs. Jeff Francis, Franklin Morales, Ubaldo Jimenez

This is where playing the one game playoff hurts the Rockies. Colorado will be forced to start Jeff Francis followed by two relatively inexperienced pitchers in Morales and Jimenez. Jimenez and Morales have each been rather good in their brief stints in the majors, but starting such inexperienced players in the playoffs is always risky.

The Rockies' inexperience is offset somewhat, however, by the Phillies pitchers. They will be relying on second year man Hamels and the rookie Kendrick before turning the ball over to Jamie Moyer in Game Three.

In the clash of offensive titans, one or two quality starts from either team could make all of the difference. For two teams who play in hitters parks, neither team will have the luxury of sheltering their starters with road starts.

Advantage – Toss-Up

Bullpen – J.C. Romero, Tom Gordon, Brett Myers vs. Manny Corpas, Jeremy Affeldt, Brian Fuentes

The Phillies bullpen turned water-tight in September after a terrible April through August. The Rockies bullpen was solid all year. It was nice of the Phillies bullpen to show up down the stretch, but this is not a dominant group.

Advantage – Rockies

Overall

Both of these teams are riding enormous waves of emotion and momentum into the post-season, which indicates that neither team really has the momentum advantage. Since this is the Colorado Rockies we are talking about, it is very difficult to see this team winning a five series in which its pitching rotation is not set and it does not have homefield advantage. In the end, this series will be all about damage control, and I like the Phillies chances against an emotionally drained team.

Prediction – Phillies over Rockies, 3-2




Questions? Concerns? Comments? Asher lives in Philadelphia, PA, and can be reached at asher@baseballevolution.com.

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