Five questions about Rockies-Phillies
Of all the intriguing matchups in this postseason, this might be the most intriguing. The defending world champions, the Phillies, take on the National League's hottest team, the Rockies. It is a rematch of the Division Series in 2007, which the Rockies swept. There will be no sweeps here. This is too close. There are too many elements in play for both teams.
Here are five questions:
1. Who will close for the Phillies?
Brad Lidge was 0-8 with 11 blown saves in the regular season, the most by any pitcher since 2006. He has 31 saves, but his ERA (7.21) is, by far, the highest of any pitcher since 1969 with at least 30 saves in a season, and the highest by anyone with 15 saves. Normally, such a terrible season would keep such a pitcher off the playoff roster, but the Phillies don't have a reliable replacement. So, they are likely to enter the postseason with a mix-and-match scenario in mind for the ninth inning. If, say, a good left-handed hitter is leading off the ninth inning, it's possible that J.A. Happ or Scott Eyre will start the inning, then Lidge might be summoned to get the final two right-handed hitters. Or Ryan Madson might be brought in. Or Brett Myers, if he's healthy enough. Lidge is not out of the picture as a closer, but he's not entirely in it. It's one of those only-in-baseball scenarios: How can a guy do a job almost as well as anyone has done it one year, and the next year, he does it almost as poorly as anyone?
2. What is the Rockies' best rotation for this series?
The Rockies are the only team in baseball with five 10-game winners in their rotation, which means they have multiple options even though they have no true ace. Aaron Cook has experience and is the most rested to pitch Game 1. Ubaldo Jimenez has the best stuff. Jason Marquis, a 15-game winner, is the first player in major league history to make the playoffs in each of his first 10 seasons, playing for at least four different teams. And then there is Jorge De La Rosa. He is the first pitcher since 1900 to win 16 games in a season after having been 0-6 on May 31 or later. But he strained a groin muscle on Saturday night. Maybe a series against the Phillies would be a good time to rest it. De La Rosa has pitched 19 1/3 innings against the Phils in his career, and in that time has allowed 21 earned runs.
3. How do the Phillies line up their rotation?
Cliff Lee is scheduled to pitch Game 1, but is he the right choice for that assignment? Lee has had two very good seasons back-to-back, but he has never pitched in the playoffs, and his ERA since Aug. 26 is 6.13. Cole Hamels is the reigning World Series MVP and was brilliant in last year's postseason, but he has not been the same Hamels this year. Yet his ERA since Aug. 26 is 2.81. Joe Blanton likely will start Game 3, but is he the right choice? Happ is scheduled to pitch out of the bullpen, but his pitching line against Colorado this year reads like this: 11 2/3 innings, five hits, no earned runs, two walks and 11 strikeouts. And then there's Pedro Martinez, who hasn't been as sharp in his past two starts, but his ERA since Aug. 26 is 2.93. If Martinez isn't in the rotation, it is unlikely that he'll be a huge help in the bullpen because it might take him too long to get loose.
4. Which home-field advantage is more important?
The Rockies went 51-30 at Coors Field, the sixth best record in the major leagues. The "Rocktober'' thing they have going in Denver is very impressive, and very loud. Visiting players who go to Coors say they're exhausted after games, and feel the effects of playing there for days after. But, the Phillies have the best road record (48-33) in the major leagues this season. And then there is Citizens Bank Park. The Phils are 45-36 at home, and that place really rocks, especially now with the fans waving white towels. Remember, the Phillies did not lose a home game in the playoffs last year.
5. What is the Jim Tracy factor?
He was fired by the Dodgers despite doing some very good things there, then was fired by the Pirates because they were terrible, through no fault of his. He took over a Rockies team that was in deep, deep trouble, turned everything around and made the playoffs. He became the first manager in major league history to take over a team in-season that was 10 games under .500, then went to 20 games over .500. Is there a Jack McKeon factor working here?
PREDICTION: PHILLIES IN FIVE
Tim Kurkjian is a senior writer for ESPN The Magazine. His book "Is This a Great Game, or What?" was published by St. Martin's Press and is available in paperback. Click here to order a copy.
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