The Giants, many experts said late in spring training, would be a playoff team in 2017, and the Rockies and Diamondbacks would not. Yet, the Giants lost 98 games, finishing 40 games behind the Dodgers in the West, and the Diamondbacks and Rockies made the playoffs. Now they will play each other in the National League wild-card game at Chase Field, where the Diamondbacks went 52-29 this season, the second-best home record in the game. It is Colorado's first trip to the postseason since 2009, and Arizona's first trip since 2010.
Here are five questions:
Which team has the advantage in starting pitching?
Zack Greinke went 17-7 with a 3.20 ERA this season, and was 13-1 with a 2.87 ERA at home. In the five games he started against the Rockies, he posted a 3.41 ERA with two walks and 37 strikeouts in 34⅓ innings. This will be Greinke's 10th postseason start, and he has a career 3.55 ERA in the playoffs. He has pitched well in pressure games and seems to even enjoy them.
The Rockies will start their best pitcher, Jon Gray, who won 10 games (2-0 at Chase Field) with a 3.67 ERA this season; in 18 innings against the Diamondbacks, he had 26 strikeouts and four walks. The Rockies led the NL in runs and the D-backs were fourth, but with Greinke and Gray on the mound, this could be a low-scoring game.
Which team has the advantage at closer?
The Rockies' Greg Holland had a very good September after posting a 13.50 ERA in a horrendous August, the only month this season in which he had an ERA over 2.25. Holland has postseason experience (one run allowed, seven saves in 11 innings in 2014 for the Royals), and he has a lot of help in that Rockies bullpen, including workhorse left-hander Chris Rusin (85 innings, 2.65 ERA).
The Diamondbacks have Fernando Rodney, who's 40 years old with 300 career saves and three years of postseason experience. He had a 5.58 ERA in the first half of the season and a 2.55 ERA in the second half. Rodney also has lots of help in the bullpen, led by Archie Bradley, who posted a 1.73 ERA and 79 strikeouts in 73 innings. The only NL team with a lower bullpen ERA than the D-backs was the Dodgers.
Who is better right now than J.D. Martinez?
Martinez has been amazing since he was acquired by the Diamondbacks in mid-July: 62 games, 29 home runs, 65 RBIs, .741 slugging percentage and an OPS of 1.107. He hit 16 homers in September (including four in one game against the Dodgers), tying Ralph Kiner in 1949 for the most homers in September in NL history. Martinez is the first player in major league history to finish with 45 homers in a season of fewer than 120 games. He is one of five players in history to hit 40-plus homers in a season that was split between two teams. Hall of Famer Rod Carew recently said the best hitter in the game right now is J.D. Martinez.
His power, especially to right-center, has been breathtaking. He was acquired in part to combat all the left-handers in the Dodgers' rotation. He has crushed left-handers and right-handers. With Martinez and Paul Goldschmidt leading the way, the Nos. 1-5 hitters in this Arizona lineup are about as good as there is.
What is the Nolan Arenado-Charlie Blackmon factor?
They are two of the best players in the game, they are both MVP candidates, and they are playing in the postseason for the first time. Third baseman Arenado has driven in 130 runs in each of the past three seasons and will surely win his fifth straight Gold Glove. Center fielder Blackmon set a major league record for RBIs out of the leadoff spot, and led the NL in hitting, runs scored, triples and total bases while compiling an OPS of 1.000.
Everyone in the game knows how good these guys are, and how dominant they have been this season. Now the casual fan gets to see how fun they are to watch in the wild-card game, and perhaps beyond.
What does the season series tell us?
The Diamondbacks won 11 of their 19 games against the Rockies, averaging 5.6 runs per game. Arizona is 52-29 at home (only the Dodgers were better at home this season), and the Rockies were 41-40 on the road. Having played each other so often this year, there should be no surprises, but in a one-game playoff with a Game 7 feel, anything could happen. We can't wait for this one.
Prediction: Diamondbacks in one.