Thursday, October 11, 2007

Three Questions about the NLCS

There is no way the National League Championship Series is going to be a sweep like the Division Series’ were! Just one step away from playing for a World Championship how you can not be excited about the NLCS is beyond me. Russ Oates from Purple Row Jim McLennan of AZ Snake Pit fame agreed to answer a few questions about the series and pick the winner.

1. To me it looks like the key matchup in this series is Colorado's hitting vs. Arizona's pitching. Am I right and who has the advantage?

Russ: I think you're underselling the Rockies pitching staff with that assessment. Jeff Francis, while not a true ace and more likely straddling the line between a #2 and a #3 pitcher, can match any performance Webb'll put up. Even if Ubaldo Jimenez and Franklin Morales falter, the Rockies have a middle relief pen (Buchholz, Speier, Affeldt) that can keep them in the game until the bats produce something. If Aaron Cook returns for the LCS, that will provide a huge boost to this staff and Josh Fogg can move into the pen. Fogg is unflappable and coming out of the bullpen wouldn't hurt him at all. Still, the Rockies' bats are what will win this series for them. If the middle of the order (Helton, Atkins, Hawpe) shows up with more force than they did against Philly, things will click. It may be too much to ask Kaz Matsui for another grand slam and Yorvit Torrealba to tie for the team-lead in hits like the past series.

Jim: Well, the key match-up in any series will always be one team's hitting vs. the other's pitching! Perhaps we can narrow that down a bit: Colorado's hitting vs. Brandon Webb. Arizona's ace struggled against the Rockies early on in the season, with an ERA over six in his first five starts facing them. However, his last outing was much better – in part because he walked fewer hitters. If Webb can repeat that level of performance, the Rockies will find Arizona hard to beat – especially as Melvin has the option of pitching Webb in Game Four on short rest, then again in Game Seven on normal rest.

2. You can take one player off of your opponents roster, who do you take?

Russ: Even though the Rockies handled him quite well in his six starts, Brandon Webb dominated the Rockies in his last outing, resulting in the only loss the Rockies have had in the past 18 games. If the Rockies didn't have to face him, the series would be much easier for the team. But then, the Rockies have yet to take the easy route this season.

Jim: Can I just eliminate anyone whose name begins with H? Hawpe...Helton...I think Tulowitzski has a silent H in there too, somewhere? But overall, I'd have to go with Matt Holliday. This season, he has been the horse, without whom the Rockies would have been languishing outside the playoffs - truly the "Most Valuable Player". While his stats are significantly lower outside of Coors Field, he's a monster there, and capable of hurting an opponent a dozen different ways.

3. The Diamondbacks won the division but the Rockies won the season series between the two 10-8. Is there a mental advantage for either team in this series?
Russ: I'd give a slight mental advantage to the Rockies. Both teams just came off sweeps and both are playing in an underdog role of sorts. But the Rockies are winners in 17 of their past 18 games with an iron will to win. The 10-8 season series advantage to the Rockies isn't much of an advantage; it's basically a wash taken by itself. In conjunction with the records the Rockies had against their other NL West opponents, it was the first time the Rockies had a winning record against every NL West opponent.

Jim: Not really. Two-third of those contests were in the first fifty games of the season, and both sides have improved significantly since then. And while the Rockies took the last two games of the year, that was against the Diamondbacks' B-squad, as we had already clinched a playoff spot: you won't see Yusmeiro Petit starting any games this series, that's for sure! The main advantage to the D-backs comes from the home advantage that went with the best record in the National League: they're 50-31 at Chase, while the Rockies are 51-31 at Coors [including the one-game playoff]. With those kinds of records, having an extra game in Phoenix could be crucial.

4. Give us a series prediction.

Russ: Rockies in six and Todd Helton plays the hero.

Jim: Whoever wins the first game will have a crucial advantage the series. I don't think a sweep is in the cards: six or seven games is more likely than four or five. Really, I'm much less confident here than in the Division Series, but think the Diamondbacks still have enough edge to pull this out. Arizona in seven.
Follow the Rockies and Diamondbacks through the National League Championship Series with complete analysis and opinions from Purple Row and AZ Snake Pit.