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Wild, Wild, Wild Card: National League Preview

Wild, Wild, Wild Card: National League Preview


Estimated Reading Time: 12 Minutes

I see you, American League! What a game last night, huh?? I know everyone out there is belly-aching about how long the game was between the Twins and Yankees, but they don’t know a good thing when they see it. We got everything last night! A leadoff dong, a Judge dong, great defensive plays, great pitching (i.e.-David Robertson), and basically no runs from the 5th inning on. What more could you ask for? It was fun, exciting, and even though I hate the concept of the one game playoff, I enjoyed myself thoroughly last night.

That being said, it’s the National League’s turn when the Arizona Diamondbacks host the Colorado Rockies. Two teams with dynamic offenses squaring off in one of the best hitters’ parks in the league in a winner-take-all game. What’s not to be excited about? If you thought last night was fun, then just wait.

So let’s jump right in. Tonight, we get a matchup of two underdog teams who reversed their fortunes in a big way from a year ago. Most expected improvement from both sides in 2017, but I don’t think anyone thought either would spend a good portion of the year as one of the top 5 in the National League. Last year, both teams missed the playoffs even though it was a big step forward for the 2016 Rockies as they continued to build a talented young roster around budding superstars Nolan Arenado and Charlie Blackmon. For the Diamondbacks, it was a literal complete turnaround as they went from 69-93 in 2016 to 93-69 this season. This past offseason, the Snakes totally cleaned house in front office, hired Torey Lovullo to manage and gave the new guys a stocked cupboard to work with out of the gate. Looks like that’s working out pretty well in Phoenix.

With all that being said, let’s take a deeper dive into our two contestants heading into the NL Wild Card game this evening.

THE COLORADO ROCKIES

First up, we have the visiting Colorado Rockies, who are definitely no stranger to Chase Field and their division rival Diamondbacks. The Rockies have been slowly building up their pieces the last few years around ‘homegrown’ talent like Nolan Arenado and Charlie Blackmon. After a promising 75 wins a season ago, Colorado finally broke through with just their 4th postseason berth in franchise history. Their 87 wins were not only the 3rd most ever regular season wins for a Rockies team, but it was good enough for their first postseason trip since 2009. Not to mention, this is their first winning season in 7 years. A lot to be happy about in Denver. It’s been a slow and steady climb for the boys of the Mile High city, but they finally got over the hump this year.

We’ve already mentioned homegrown talent, and as baseball fans, we know how important that is to sustained success in building a winning franchise. As we delve into the lineup, I’d like to point out that the Rockies have the most players on their playoff roster that were originally drafted by their team. That’s not easy to do, but the front office deserves a lot of credit for building this team up. We know names like Arenado and Blackmon, but they’ve also drafted solid pitching pieces like Jonathan Gray, Tyler Anderson and Kyle Freeland who all had an impact in 2017. Who says the Rockies can’t cultivate pitching?!

One of their homegrown guys, Charlie Blackmon, serves as their leadoff hitter, and he’s coming off literally one of the greatest seasons ever from the 1 spot. This past season, he won the batting title with a .331 average, led the majors with 137 runs, 213 hits, and 14 triples, AND he clobbered the 3rd most homeruns all time (37-his career best BTW) for a leadoff hitter. Oh, and if that’s not enough, he set the MLB record for RBI (104) in the leadoff spot as well. He slashed .331/.399/.601 and is most certainly one of the top 5 candidates for the NL MVP. Did I mention he was in the top 10 for putouts by a centerfielder this year and is #1 in assists for the position as well? He literally does it all, folks.

Behind Blackmon, we get the defending NL batting champ and 2017 All Star, DJ LeMahieu. He’s got a slick glove, and he slashed .310/.374/.409 this year with a nice 95 R/8 HR/64 RBI/6 SB line to go with it. Even though 2017 wasn’t as good as his career-best 2016, this was a fine season indeed for the second baseman. In the three hole, we get the up-and-down bat of Carlos Gonzalez. When he’s 100%, he’s a dynamo. Unfortunately, he’s (cliché warning) on the wrong side of 30, and it is definitely showing. After back-to-back solid offensive seasons, CarGo regressed this year in power with just 14 HR, 57 RBI and a .262 average. Though his best is behind him, he’s known to get screaming hot at the drop of a hat, so opponents beware.

Next, we have Nolan Arenado. It’s not fair the Rockies get to put him in the same lineup as Blackmon. He raked this season (100 R/37 HR/130 RBI) to the tune of an eye-popping .309/.373/.586 triple slash, led the league in doubles with 43, eclipsed the 130 RBI mark for the 3rd consecutive season, and looks like a lock to win his 5th straight Gold Glove. He’s a perennial MVP candidate, and there aren’t many in the game who can do what he does consistently. Behind him, Gerardo Parra checks in as yet another guy who hit .300 for the Rockies this year. He’s the true definition of a role player hitting in the middle of a dynamic lineup, and even though no part of his game is elite, he does a lot of things really well. What a guy!

In the 6 spot, we get 2016 wunderkind, Trevor Story. Those of us in the fantasy community had a hunch the batting average was coming down, and Story proved us right with a paltry .239 this year. However, he was able to join the 378 major leaguers who eclipsed the 20 HR mark in 2017. He did lead the National League in strikeouts, but he forms an excellent double play tandem with LeMahieu, and that has to count for something, right?! Next, we have free agent acquisition Ian Desmond. He had a fine season in Texas in 2016 and rode that all the way to the bank in Coors this year. However, injuries have meant Desmond was not able to make the big splash the Rockies faithful were hoping for. He only appeared in 95 games, and with a -1.2 WAR on the year, there isn’t much to show for it.

And speaking of the Rangers, Jonathan Lucroy came over from Texas for literally peanuts at the trade deadline after falling absolutely flat with his new club to start 2017. He is coming off 3 All Star seasons in the last 4 years in Milwaukee where he made his name, but that all looks like a distant memory as he has struggled at both stops in the 2017 season. Though the bottom half of the lineup struggled in 2017, Lucroy, Desmond and Story all finished with strong Septembers, which is exactly what you want heading into the playoffs.

Though he is not listed as a starter on RosterResource.com, I would be remiss to not mention the season that free agent acquisition Mark Reynolds had in 2017. The elder journeyman known for posting averages below the Mendoza Line came screaming into Coors this year with a great 30 HR, 97 RBI, 82 R season. I’ll bet that eased the pain of the lackluster season we got from Ian Desmond. It will be interesting to see if they finagle Reynolds into the lineup against the excellent arm of Zack Greinke tonight.

Taking the mound for the Rockies will be former 1st round pick, Jonathan Gray. He’s another one of the homegrown talents for the Rox, and he is living, breathing proof that pitching prospects CAN make it in Colorado. After a 10-10 record in 2016 with a 4.61 ERA, the youngster took a big step forward with a 10-4 record, 3.67 ERA, 1.29 WHIP, and 112 Ks in 110 1/3 IP. He also trimmed almost a full point off his HR/9 rate, which is very difficult to do when you play your home games at Coors. Interestingly enough, he pitched better at home than on the road. You may have noticed this is a road game in another launching pad, but in both his outings at Arizona this season, he only gave up 2 earned runs on 7 hits and recorded 10 Ks. Literally the same stat line in both. And he won both games. He’s no stranger to the Diamondbacks, he’s pitched well against them, and if he can go deep, the Rockies have free agent acquisition Greg Holland waiting in the bullpen. Holland’s 41 saves were the best in the National League this year. Not bad for a guy coming off Tommy John surgery.

ARIZONA DIAMONDBACKS

Now that we’ve “rocked out,” let’s head to the desert and talk about the Arizona Diamondbacks. Much like the Rockies, this team has the benefit of playing in a park that inflates their offensive stats. And much like their wild card counterparts, they have been building a winner slowly but surely over the last few years. Unlike the Rockies though, the reversal in fortunes was far more dramatic for Arizona as they went from 69 wins a year ago to 2nd place in the NL West with an astounding 93 wins. They aren’t quite the Twins in terms of turnaround, but this ain’t bad.

The Diamondbacks front office was totally overhauled in the offseason, and after they brought in a brain trust that came up through the Red Sox system (hey…they win), the ship seems to have been righted in Arizona. They self-admittedly have a lot to work with, but it’s impressive nonetheless. Though they have less homegrown talent than Colorado, the current and previous regimes have made multiple shrewd moves over the years that built this winner including the acquisitions of Zack Greinke, Taijuan Walker, Robbie Ray, JD Martinez, Ketel Marte, Patrick Corbin, Brandon Drury, and Zack Godley. Just to name a few. Also, credit goes out to whoever decided to pull the trigger on moving flame-thrower Archie Bradley to the bullpen.

As we focus in on the lineup, we start with David Peralta. Though he’s no Charlie Blackmon (because who else is), Peralta had a mighty fine season after spending most of 2016 injured. Peralta (.293/.352/.444) is the kind of high OBP hitter you need when you’ve got the firepower of Goldy and JD Martinez behind you. In the 2nd spot, Ketel Marte checks in with his .260/.345/.395 triple slash. He was part of the blockbuster trade that brought himself and Taijuan Walker here in exchange for Jean Segura. Unfortunately, Marte struggled to stay healthy this year, and though his stats have failed to jump off the page to this point, he’s very raw and has tons of potential beyond 2017.

Then we get to the boss, Paul Goldschmidt. He posted yet another incredible year as one the best players in the Major Leagues with 117 R/36 HR/120 RBI/18 SB and a .297/.404/.563 triple slash. Only Joey Votto in Cincinnati posts the kind of gaudy OBP numbers that Goldy does year in and year out. He’s the rock of this lineup, he can change the game with one swing of the bat, and he’s obviously crucial to the success of the Snakes in the postseason.

AND IF THAT WASN’T ENOUGH….The Diamondbacks made a huge splash before the deadline in acquiring Detroit’s favorite son, J.D. Martinez, for literally peanuts. Though he’s just a rental player for the Diamondbacks until the off-season, Martinez absolutely raked in his new digs to the tune of 29 HRs and 65 RBI in just 62 games out west with a .302/.366/.741 triple slash. Those are absurd numbers. Including his Detroit dongs, he clobbered 45 homeruns this season. Want to pitch around Goldy? Go ahead.

For some reason, Daniel Descalso hits behind these two, and I literally wrote ‘meh’ in my notes. Moving on. Jake Lamb is another homegrown player for the D’backs at the #6 spot, and after a breakout 29 HR season in 2016, he followed that up with his second straight All Star season (89 R/30 HR/105 RBI) this year. He set a career high in homeruns, and he is one of three guys for Arizona who eclipsed the 30 HR plateau. In the 7 hole, we have the massive upside bat of AJ Pollock. He’s also come through the D’backs organization, and had it not been for a nasty injury last season, he would be talked about as an annual 20/20 threat. He only played in 112 games this year, but when he’s on the field, he’s a playmaker. He hits, he steals, he flashes the leather, and he’s a big boost for the back of this lineup…if he can stay healthy.

Finally, we have Chris Iannetta who is listed as the starting catcher, but this has been a committee situation with Chris Herrmann and Jeff Mathis for a good part of the year. Iannetta did hit 17 HRs in his sporadic playing time though.

As we shift to the mound, we zero in on a clear-cut Cy Young candidate in Zack Greinke, who should make life difficult for the Rockies hitters tonight. He’s coming off a bounce-back year in his second season with the Diamondbacks, and he looked like the Dodgers’ Greinke once again in 2017. He posted a 17-7/3.20 ERA/1.07 WHIP/215 K in 202 1/3 IP line, and he was able to stay healthy all year and make 32 starts. That includes the 2.87 ERA he put up at home at the hitters’ haven that is Chase Field. He has faced the Rockies 5 times this year with three of those outings coming at home. In those home outings, he won 2, received a no-decision in one, and was able to strike out a total of 22 batters across the 3 outings.

If we are lucky enough to get to watch the Diamondbacks closer come into the game, then we will be blessed with the antics of Fernando Rodney. He’s insane, his hat will be cocked to the side, he’ll do some kind of weird archer thing if they win, and he’ll wear that 4+ ERA like a badge of courage. Rodney is an oddity, but he’s fascinating to watch. He’s not a good closer by any stretch of the imagination, and yet, he saved an impressive 39 games this year. I don’t get it, but I’ll be damned if he’s not one of my favorites to watch.

THE GAME

Jonathan Gray vs. Zack Greinke. Goldy and JD vs. Blackmon and Arenado. Two unexpected turnarounds. A hitters park where the two starters have defied logic by pitching well in their respective launching pads. Winner-take-all. Tons of storylines heading into tonight. Pick your favorite. I thought last night would be the pitcher’s duel and tonight would provide the fireworks, but maybe the script will be flipped. These are two incredibly stacked lineups that score at will who will have to take their best shot against guys who know how to pitch in thin air. It’s going to be really fun.

Personally, I think the Rockies are deeper on the offensive side of things, but their pitching cannot hold a candle to the Diamondbacks who have a definite edge there. I love Archie Bradley coming out the pen, and with options like Corbin and possibly Godley at their disposal, I think it could be very difficult for the Rockies to string together runs tonight. Even though the Rockies have what might be the strongest offense in the National League with 2 of the top 5 MVP candidates hitting towards the top, I think the Diamondbacks are just too deep pitching wise for the upset here. It’s a hitter’s league right now, but I think this one has all the makings of a surprise pitcher’s duel. I haven’t seen many people picking the Rockies tonight, and I will not buck that trend.

Final Prediction: Diamondbacks 5 Rockies 4

Give me a follow @JakeBridges03 on Twitter!

Jake is an NYC based actor who loves to put off daily responsibilities by writing and researching about all things fantasy baseball and college football. He is a life long Auburn Tigers fan, and yes, he does have the same SEC bias as ESPN. Most days, he can be found reminiscing about the 1990s Braves teams or complaining about their rebuild. Auburn 26 Alabama 14. #WDE

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