The Colorado Rockies and Philadelphia Phillies are very similar. They were the top two power clubs in the National League. The Rockies had four players with at least 20 homers (Troy Tulowitzki, Ian Stewart, Clint Barmes, and Brad Hawpe) and the Phillies have four players with at least 30 homers (Ryan Howard, Jayson Werth, Raul Ibanez, and Chase Utley). They both have strong starting pitching.
The Phillies have been carried by Cole Hamels, Joe Blanton, JA Happ, and late season additions Cliff Lee and Pedro Martinez. The Rockies have been carried by Aaron Cook, Ubaldo Jimenez, Jason Marquis, Jorge De La Rosa, and Jason Hammel.
The Rockies don’t have any big names in their rotations, but these five get the job done and keep the high-powered Rockies offense in the game. The rotation has five guys with 10 or more wins. Both teams have World Series experience. In 2007, the Rockies and Phillies faced off in the NLDS and the Rockies swept on their way to the World Series.
Last year, the Phillies won it all. This year, the Phillies hope to redeem themselves on their way to repeating. During the season, the Phillies held a 4-2 edge, winning 2 out of 3 home and away. Both Lee and Happ dominated at home for the Phillies.
The Phillies were 2nd in the league in steals with the Majors’ highest success rate, led by Jimmy Rollins, Shane Victorino, and Werth. However, their on-base percentages are not good. The Rockies had 8 walk-off hits and won 17 games in their final at-bat. They have a different hero every night and do not rely on one single player to dominate or produce.
A key matchup late in the game would be: Rockies lefty reliever Franklin Morales vs. Phillies lefty slugger Ryan Howard. Morales has a power fastball with a good breaking ball and Howard is relied on so heavily in the lefty-dominated Phillies lineup. Howard is 0-for-3 with 2 Ks in his career against Morales.
*Veteran leadership: Todd Helton and Jason Giambi provide leadership to the young guys on an everyday basis. Helton has been in Colorado for his entire career and is a consummate professional. Giambi, who struggled in his return to Oakland, came over in a late season deal and has been rejuvenated as a pinch-hitter in Colorado.
*Closers: The Rockies have two choices when it comes down to closing out games. Both Huston Street and Morales are capable of finishing the deal. Street, who came over in the off-season deal for Matt Holliday, has been great (35 saves, 2 blown saves). Morales, who took over as closer when Street was on the DL, also has been lights out. The Rockies are 83-1 when leading after 8 innings.
*Speed & versatility: The Rockies have speed with centerfielder Dexter Fowler leading off and a combination of Carlos Gonzalez, Ryan Spilborghs, and Seth Smith in left field. If the speed gets on in front of sluggers Helton, Hawpe, and Tulowitzki, the Phillies could be in trouble. They have about 5 guys who can get the job done in the outfield (Hawpe, Fowler, Gonzalez, Smith, & Spilborghs), along with 2 third baseman (Garrett Akins & Ian Stewart) and 2 catchers (Chris Iannetta & Yorvit Torrealba). Any one of these guys can be a difference maker in a game.
*Power: As I mentioned above, the Rockies have sluggers. With the series being played in hitter and homer friendly parks (Citizens Bank Park & Coors Field), this series could be a slugfest.
*Inconsistencies on offense: The Rockies offense has been up and down all year. They scored a ton of runs against the Brewers in the last week of the season, but followed that up by only scoring 7 runs in three games against the Dodgers.
*Inabilities to hit left-handed pitching: This has led to Phillies manager Charlie Manuel contemplating starting 3 straight lefties against the Rockies (Lee, Hamels, and Happ). Helton has the highest average against lefties (.311), with the nest best average being Tulowitzki’s .269. The Rockies lineup can be as lefty heavy as the Phillies.
*The rotation: I mentioned above that the Rockies rotation has been one of its strongest parts. It has also been a question mark. Cook has only made 2 starts since coming off of the DL. He says he feels good and the 2 starts showed how dominant he can be. There has been talk about Marquis again not making the playoff roster because of his second-half struggles.
Jimenez has been a workhorse, but how will the bright lights and pressure of pitching in Philly affect him? De La Rosa was injured in his last start and his health is up in the air. He won 16 games, but may have been the most inconsistent of them all. The latest news has him NOT on the NLDS roster due to that groin injury
Rockies Key Players:
*Seth Smith: From the left side of the plate, Smith has been clutch since coming up late in 2007. He has a .472 pinch-hitting batting average. 30 of his 54 RBIs this season have come in the 7th inning or later.
*Ryan Spilborghs: From the right side of the plate, Spilborghs has a .347 batting average in 2009 against the Phillies.
*Defense: The Phillies defense has the second fewest errors in MLB. With Jimmy Rollins and Chase Utley up the middle in the infield, Shane Victorino (1 error) in center, and Carlos Ruiz (3 errors) behind the plate, the middle of the playing field is covered. Ryan Howard has worked hard at his defense and Pedro Feliz is a magnet at third.
Raul Ibanez (2 errors) and Jayson Werth are solid, with Werth having an outstanding arm (11 outfield assists). The Phillies will not hurt themselves by putting extra men on base by committing errors.
*The rotation (1-4): Manager Charlie Manuel hasn’t decided on the rotation yet, but he has named Cliff Lee and Cole Hamels as Game one and two starters respectively. If Manuel decides to take advantage of the Rockies inability to hit lefties, JA Happ would be the logical choice for Game three. If not, Joe Blanton, who has been a workhorse all year, would start Game three (or possibly Game four). Pedro Martinez, a late season acquisition who has been great when healthy, is also an option. As of late though, the rotation has struggled, especially Lee and Hamels.
*Offense: As I mentioned, the Phillies have sluggers and can put up huge offensive numbers. However, they tend to live and die by the homerun ball. If they can be consistent, it could be a slugfest.
*Experience: Except for Ibanez in the starting lineup, the rest of the Phillies were a part of the World Series winning team. The experience of playing in the pressure-packed atmosphere should help in calming any nerves.
Phillies Weaknesses:*Bullpen: This is their biggest glaring weakness. The questions include: Who will close? Who is healthy? Who is the lefty? Who makes the roster? Manuel had auditions all weekend in Philly to see what he had and what each pitcher had to offer. Both Ryan Madson and Brad Lidge are probably the 2 choices to close games, though neither has been “lights out”. Madson had 10 saves, with 6 blown saves, and Lidge, who didn’t blow a save all of 2008, blew 11 saves with an ERA over 7. The Phillies are 79-10 when leading after 8 innings.
*Pedro’s health (and everyone else’s): Pedro could be a huge asset if healthy. He has tons of playoff experience and could either start, be the long reliever, or maybe even close.
*The bull’s eye: The Phillies won the World Series last year and everyone all year wanted a piece of them. This postseason will be no different. Will the Phillies falter under the pressure of trying to repeat or will they succeed?
Phillies Key Player:
*Carlos Ruiz: Ruiz is the rock behind the Phillies pitching staff. Last year, Ruiz got hot offensively during the playoffs. He could put extra pressure on the Rockies pitching staff if he can hit in the number 8 hole. His defense behind the plate can be game-changing, especially when Lidge comes in burying the slider into the ground.