The top five questions heading into the National League Championship Series between the Rockies and the Diamondbacks:
1. How hot are the Rockies?
We've never really seen a team this hot at this stage of the postseason: The Rockies have won 17 of their past 18 (including a three-game sweep of the Phillies in the NL Division Series). The 1960 Yankees won their last 15 games but lost in the World Series to the Pirates. The 1965 Dodgers finished the regular season with 14 wins in their last 15 games -- which is how the Rockies finished -- but then L.A. lost the first two games of the World Series to the Twins before rallying to win in seven games.
There is nothing to suggest that the Rockies will suddenly stop hitting, or suddenly realize where they are, and start playing tight. Manager Clint Hurdle, who said "we're not here to two-putt" before Game 1 of the NLDS, won't allow that to happen. Plus, their defense -- which set a major league record for the highest fielding percentage in a season -- is going to be as good as ever.
2. How good is D-backs starter Brandon Webb?
He is the best pitcher in this series and has been the best pitcher in the National League over the past two years. He is the one pitcher who is capable of dominating a game in this NLCS, as he did in Game 1 against the Cubs in the NLDS. His sinker is virtually unhittable, especially to right-handed hitters: They can't see it when it dive-bombs toward their feet. Entering this season, Webb was 7-4 with a 3.16 ERA lifetime against the Rockies, but they hit him hard this year. In 39 innings, he allowed 43 hits, walked 17 and had a 5.77 ERA. Arizona starter Livan Hernandez allowed only six runs to Colorado this season in 35 innings.
3. Which two young players will show the world how good they are?
We know how good Rockies left fielder Matt Holliday is, and we're beginning to understand how much Rockies shortstop Troy Tulowitzki means to that team. But there aren't many more talented young players in the game than Arizona shortstop Stephen Drew. "How did he hit that low [.233]?" asked one scout, who hadn't seen Drew much until the playoffs. "Down the stretch and against the Cubs, he played really, really well."
When Cubs manager Lou Piniella talked about the athleticism of the D-backs, especially on defense, he was talking about Drew and center fielder Chris Young. The Rockies have another exceptionally talented player in right fielder Brad Hawpe. "He hit 30 homers and drove in 100 runs this year, and no one knows who he is," one Dodger said. "He killed us." He hurt the Diamondbacks, driving in 18 runs in 18 games. Defensively, he is their best outfielder. "He has a cannon," said Rockies first baseman Todd Helton.
4. Who is Colorado's best starting pitcher?
Jeff Francis won 17 games this year and has more wins (30) than any left-hander in the National League the past two years. He has a really good idea what he's doing and is a master at adapting, which he showed in the NLDS by shutting down the Phillies, who had clobbered him in two starts during the regular season. But the starting pitcher to watch for the Rockies is Ubaldo Jimenez, who throws 100 mph and, according to one member of the Giants, is "the hardest throwing young pitcher in our league." Jimenez pitched six good innings in the clincher against the Phillies in the NLDS. And against the Diamondbacks this year, he pitched 13 innings, allowed four hits and four runs, and struck out 16.
5. Which team has the better bullpen?
Both are extremely hot. In the NLDS against the Cubs, the Arizona bullpen worked 8 1/3 innings, allowed five hits and no runs, walked two and struck out eight. The threesome of Brandon Lyon, Tony Pena and closer Jose Valverde take care of the final three innings about as well as any threesome in the league. Meanwhile, in the Rockies' sweep of the Phillies, their bullpen pitched 11 2/3 innings, allowed six hits and one earned run, and struck out 11. The threesome of LaTroy Hawkins, Brian Fuentes and closer Manny Corpas takes care of most games down the stretch, but there are more good arms in that 'pen, just as there are in Arizona's 'pen. Former manager Davey Johnson used to say that if a team has a bullpen and a bench, it can win down the stretch and in the postseason. Both of these teams appear to have both.
Prediction: Diamondbacks in seven.
Tim Kurkjian is a senior writer for ESPN The Magazine. His new book, "Is This a Great Game, Or What?", has been published by St. Martin's Press and is available in bookstores. Click here to order a copy.