Tag Archives: MLB 2017

Yankees find life as C.C. Sabathia turns back the clock

Sabathia gem helps cut Yankees ALCS deficit in half

The New York Yankees were in desperate shape entering Game Three of the 2017 American League Championship Series.

The Yanks trailed the Houston Astros by two games to none in the best-of-seven series. A loss back home in the Bronx would put them in an almost impossible 3-0 hole.

Manager Joe Girardi handed the ball to 37-year old, 17-year veteran C.C. Sabathia for the pivotal starting assignment on the mound.

Sabathia delivered, and then some. He would shut out the tough Houston lineup for six innings over which he threw 99 pitches. The big lefty surrendered just three hits, walked four, and struck out five batters in what he described as a “smoke and mirrors” performance per MLB.com’s Bryan Hoch.

Despite his age, there is no one his team would have wanted more in that position. Per Hoch, Sabathia is now 10-0 with a 1.69 ERA in 13 starts following a Yankees loss during the 2017 regular season and postseason.

“Obviously you want to go out and have a good performance in the playoffs and give us a chance to get back in the series. Hopefully we did that tonight. We can come out tomorrow, swing the bats and score some more runs.” ~ Sabathia, per Hoch

Swing the bats they did last night as well. The Bronx Bombers came out bombing early and often against Houston starter Charlie Morton. The veteran right-hander yielded seven earned runs on six hits and two walks over just 3.2 innings of work.

Todd Frazier got it started in the bottom of the second inning. The former Little League World Series hero reached out and poked a three-run homer just over the right field wall. That blast got the offense rolling in what would become an eventual 8-1 Yankees victory.

For all of the offensive fireworks that followed, including yet another prodigious home run from mammoth rookie Aaron Judge, it was the work of Sabathia in keeping Houston’s own potent offense in check that would make the biggest difference.

With the left-hander taking the hill against his club, Houston skipper A.J. Hinch loaded his lineup with right-handed hitters. Hinch had Evan Gattis and Cameron Maybin take the places of Brian McCann and Carlos Beltran. He also moved shortstop Alex Bregman up into the two-hole in the batting order.

None of it mattered in the end. Maybin delivered a hit, but it was one of only four that the Houston order would generate on the night against Sabathia and a trio of Yankees relievers.

He comes up big for us when we need him,’’ said outfielder Brett Gardner per Mark Herrmann for Newsday. “He’s a big-game pitcher. He might not have the velocity that he used to have, but he’s a better pitcher and has better command than he’s had. He knows what he’s doing out there. We’re lucky to have him on our side.”

SABATHIA’S BIG LEAGUE HISTORY

Sabathia was the first round pick of the Cleveland Indians all the way back in the 1998 MLB Draft at 20th overall. Just three years later he was in Cleveland, winning 17 games as a 20-year old and finishing as the AL Rookie of the Year runner-up to a legend named Ichiro Suzuki.

In parts of eight seasons with the Tribe, Sabathia amassed a 106-71 record. He was the 2007 American League Cy Young Award winner, as well as a three-time AL All-Star.


With Sabathia headed for free agency, the Indians dealt him to the Milwaukee Brewers at the 2008 trade deadline. He went 11-2 for the Brew Crew, helping them to the playoffs, and then entered free agency.


Entering his age 28 season, an ace-caliber starting pitcher, Sabathia was one of the most coveted free agents on the market. He received a huge nine-year, $202 million dollar contract from the Yankees. That deal expires following this season.




With the Yankees, Sabathia has added on another 120 victories to his personal career win column. He also has three more AL All-Star Game nods, has finished in the top four of the AL Cy Young voting three times, and helped lead New York to their last World Series championship in 2009.

GEM CUTS YANKS DEFICIT IN HALF


We wanted him on the mound tonight,” Girardi said per Peter Botte of the New York Daily News. “We thought we had the right guy on the mound. Six innings, just an outstanding effort. Couldn’t ask for anything more.

Adam Warren followed Sabathia, tossing a pair of shutout innings. The only Houston offense was generated off Dellin Betances in the top of the 9th inning, but Tommy Kahnle came in to shut the Astros down and close out the victory.

The turn-back-the-clock Sabathia win cuts the Yankees deficit to 2-1 now, with the next two games slated for Tuesday and Wednesday. Those will once again take place in the postseason hotbed of Yankee Stadium.

On Tuesday for a late afternoon 5pm EDT start, Girardi will send Sonny Gray to the mound. Hinch will go with Lance McCullers in Game Four. Both managers will be hoping for a performance as clutch as the one delivered by Sabathia on Monday night.

Red October: Justin Turner beats the champs

Turner’s walkoff homer wins NLCS Game Two for Dodgers

The drama of October postseason baseball continued to unfold in a big way in Sunday night’s Game Two of the 2017 National League Championship Series.

The host Los Angeles Dodgers held a 1-0 lead in the best-of-seven NLCS. Now they were battling the defending World Series champion Chicago Cubs into the bottom of the 9th inning with the two teams tied at 1-1 on the Dodger Stadium scoreboard.
There is an old sports axiom that states “if you want to be the champ, you gotta beat the champ.” That is exactly the task in front of this latest version of what has become a perennially disappointing Dodgers ball club.
The Dodgers have not won a World Series championship in nearly 30 years. Not since a gimpy Kirk Gibson caused Vin Scully to disbelieve what he had just seen in October of 1988. Not since Orel Hershiser was acing it on the mound, rather then commenting on aces from the broadcast booth.
Ten times since, Los Angeles has advanced to the postseason. Ten times they and their fans have gone home disappointed. Six times the team didn’t even advance past the NLDS.
The disappointment has been particularly difficult in recent years. The Dodgers have now captured five consecutive NL West crowns. But their regular season successes have ended in postseason failure each of the previous four years.
The Dodgers organization and fans wear those recent years and even decades of disillusionment like an albatross around their collective necks.
So as the game rolled on still tied, the specter of a tough loss haunted their thoughts. If the Cubs pulled it out, the series would be tied at a game apiece with the next three scheduled for Wrigley Field in Chicago.

BOTTOM OF THE NINTH OPENS
The mercurial Yasiel Puig led off the bottom of the 9th by drawing a walk from Cubs lefty reliever Brian Duensing. The Cuban native known as ‘The Wild Horse’ was then bunted to second on a sacrifice from pinch-hitter Charlie Culberson. When yet another pinch-hitter, Kyle Farmer, struck out swinging, there were two outs.
Farmer had pinch-hit for Dodgers closer Kenley Jansen, who had struck out two while throwing just 13 pitches in the top of the 9th inning. The big lights-out righty from Curacao was now out of the game, a boon to the Chicago hitters.
Joe Maddon, the Cubs respected skipper, strode to the mound and took the ball from Duensing’s hand. He motioned out to his bullpen, calling in right-hander John Lackey to face a pair of right-handed hitting Dodgers bats.
Lackey is normally a starting pitcher. This was the second season in Chicago of his now 15-year career, and 59 of his 60 appearances in a Cubs uniform have come in a starting assignment.
But here in the postseason, Lackey has become the odd-man out of the rotation. In fact, Maddon had just used him out of the pen the previous day in Game One, with Lackey tossing 27 pitches over 1.2 innings of work.
Chris Taylor was the first of the Dodgers right-handers that the 38-year old would face. The two battled to a full count, and then Lackey buried a fastball low into the dirt for ball four.
Now there were runners at first and second with two outs. Striding to the plate was Dodgers third baseman Justin Turner.
WHO IS JUSTIN TURNER?
Turner has hair as fire-engine red as there has been in the game in some time, perhaps since the early days of ‘Le Grande Orange‘ himself, Montreal Expos and New York Mets icon Rusty Staub. Not only the coloring makes him distinctive, but Turner also wears his hair long and wild, and he highlights the look with a long, full, red beard.
A local kid from Long Beach, California, Turner will turn 33 years old late next month. He played at Mayfair High School in Lakewood, less than an hour south of Los Angeles. Turner then became a seventh round selection of the Cincinnati Reds in the 2006 MLB Draft out of Cal-State Fullerton.
Over the next eight years, Turner bounced from Cincy to Baltimore to the New York Mets. Only once, in the Big Apple in 2011, did he see more than 100 games. He registered a career high of 51 RBI and 49 runs scored that year, and in 2013 he hit seven home runs for the Mets, also a career high.
As spring training was approaching for the 2014 season, Turner signed for $1 million as a low-cost free agent with the Dodgers. In a utility infield role, Turner played 59 games at third base, 15 at shortstop, and 14 at second base. He hit for a fantastic .340 average with a .404 on-base percentage as well.
The following year he became the full-time starter at the hot corner for the Dodgers, and set career highs with 16 homers, 60 RBI, and 55 runs scored. He also continued to hit for average with a .294 mark. And then he changed his offensive game.
A year ago, Turner began selling out a bit more for power. Though his average dipped to a still-respectable .275, he crushed 27 homers, drove in 90 runs, and became a force in the middle of the lineup. He finished 9th in the 2016 NL MVP voting following the big season.
This year, Turner has been able to find a happy medium, making him an even more dangerous and valuable all-around hitter. He slashed .322/.415/.530 with 21 home runs, 32 doubles, and 71 RBI. All that production while missing nearly a full month to injury from mid-May to mid-June.
RED OCTOBER IN DODGER BLUE
This was the setup as Turner stepped into the batter’s box to face Lackey. Two outs in the bottom of the ninth, one out away from tense extra innings. The winning run out at second base with speed in Puig. The veteran hitter and pitcher set for their confrontation.
With the game-winning run at second base, Lackey buried a first-pitch cutter in the dirt to fall behind. For his second offering to Turner, he tried to come over the strike zone with a four-seam fastball. Either Lackey was hoping that Turner would take a strike, or he simply made a mistake, or both.
Lackey’s four-seamer broke right over the center of the plate, coming down the pike at 92 miles per hour. Turner wasn’t taking. He put a perfect swing on the ball, driving it high and deep to center field. Lackey turned and looked up immediately, praying that the actual trajectory of the ball wouldn’t be what his veteran senses told him. 
Center fielder Leonys Martin, who came in as a defensive substitute in a double-switch with Lackey, was playing shallow, hoping to cut off a single and keep Puig at third or throw him out at the plate. He broke back and ran full tilt to the wall, knowing this was bad. The only chance the Cubs had now was if somehow Martin could run this one down.
Martin hadn’t even reached the warning track before he knew the effort was futile. He pulled up, hands outstretched as they touched the wall. The ball sailed an easy 10-15 feet over that wall, into the waiting glove of joyous Dodgers fan Keith Hupp.

Turner put out both arms, both index fingers extended in celebration as he rounded first base. The Dodger Stadium crowd was roaring the whole way, and Turner was mobbed by his delirious teammates as he reached home plate.
WEIGHT OFF LA – FOR NOW
The three-run walkoff home run gave Los Angeles a 4-1 victory, and put them ahead by two games to none as the series now heads to Chicago.
Just as importantly, the blast gave the Dodgers some mental and emotional breathing room. They still need to win two more games. But the task just went from doubtful to something more than hopeful. 
Los Angeles will now take the field in Chicago buoyed by that Turner long ball. The man with the flowing red hair and beard had turned would could have been a Dodger blue nightmare into his own red October dream.

Nationals can prove nothing today – they must win two straight

Dusty Baker’s Nationals need two wins (photo: Chicago Tribune)

The Washington Nationals are on the brink of postseason elimination. Stop me if you’ve heard this story before.

This year’s version of the Nats will take the field on Wednesday afternoon at Wrigley Field in Chicago trailing the host Cubs by 2-1 in a best-of-five NLDS.

Whether they are willing to admit it or not, the Nationals will face another opponent today as well. That opponent lives inside their own heads and hearts.

This 2017 MLB postseason marks the fourth time in the last six years that Washington has participated in the National League Division Series. They have been eliminated in each of the previous three opportunities.

Winning today will not take the pressure off the Nats. Forcing a Game Five back at Nationals Park on Friday would not prove a thing. For the Nationals to show that this year’s team is different from those previous playoff clubs, they must win two straight.

At the start of this series against the defending World Series champions, Nationals manager Dusty Baker was quoted by Todd Dybas for The Washington Times on prior October failures.

“I don’t think about what you haven’t done. You think about what you can control, which is the power of now. We’re in it now. I’ve been through a number of these where there a lot of unlikely heroes. Guys that should be heroes aren’t and guys you don’t count on being heroes are. It’s hero time. Guys are born and made during this time.”

Baker has indeed “been through it”, as both a player and manager. This is his second year with the Nats, so the second time he has taken them this far. He skippered the Cincinnati Reds to the playoffs twice, the Cubs once, and the San Francisco Giants three times, including a tough seven-game loss in the 2002 World Series.

In last year’s NLDS, his Nationals team held a 2-1 lead on the Los Angeles Dodgers. In Game Four, the Dodgers tied things up with a 6-5 victory. The unlikely Joe Blanton entered to strike out Anthony Rendon with runners on 1st and 3rd and two outs after the Nats had rallied to tie at 5-5.

Then in the decisive Game Five, it was another 2008 Phillies World Series player who became the unlikely hero. This time it was Carlos Ruiz, whose pinch-hit RBI single put LA on top 2-1 in the top of the 7th inning. The Dodgers went on to a 4-3 victory, eliminating the Nationals.

This year, down 1-0 in games to the Cubs and facing a 3-1 deficit in Game Two with one out in the bottom of the 8th inning, Baker witnessed that “hero time” that he had been calling for at the start. It came in the form of lightening bolts from two more likely sources.

First, Bryce Harper delivered a mammoth game-tying two-run homer. Three batters later, Ryan Zimmerman crushed a go-ahead three-run home run to center field. Four outs from a 2-0 series deficit, the Nationals had their heroes, and had tied the series.

Unfortunately, those offensive heroics did not carry over to Game Three. Washington was held to just three hits by Jose Quintana and three Chicago relievers, eking out a 2-1 victory on Anthony Rizzo’s two-out RBI single in the bottom of the 8th inning.

The Cubs have not blown out the Nationals. What their pitching has done, aside from a four batter sequence in that Game Two 8th inning, is completely shut down the Washington lineup.

Trying to stay alive in Game Four, the Nationals will have to find a way to score against Cubs ace Jake Arrieta and a talented Cubs bullpen now rested thanks to Tuesday’s rainout. Baker will send Stephen Strasburg out to start, trying to keep his team’s season alive.

Strasburg was reported to be ill and unavailable had the game been played as originally scheduled. The one-day delay was apparently enough for him to recover sufficiently to at least give it the old college try for as long as he can remain effective, and then turn it over to the pen.

The franchise has played in Washington as the Nationals since 2005. Prior to that, there were 36 seasons as the Montreal Expos. In all that time north of the border, there was just one playoff series, a 3-2 loss to the Dodgers in the 1982 NLCS.

The Nationals still have the talent and firepower to win back-to-back games from the Cubs and capture this series. Now, that is exactly what they must do. Win two straight, or as with all four previous postseason teams over the franchise’ 48 previous years, they will fail to win a playoff series, and will go home disappointed.

MLB awards: my 2017 IBWAA ballot

IBWAA members submitted 2017 MLB Awards ballots

With the four Major League Baseball Division Series each heading towards their climactic moments, this marks a good time to take a quick look back at the regular season.

As a lifetime member of the IBWAA (Internet Baseball Writers Association of America), the end of each MLB regular season means that my awards ballot is due.

The IBWAA asks each of its members to vote on five categories in both the National and American Leagues. Those five are the MVP and Cy Young, as well as each league’s top reliever, rookie, and manager.

As with the vast majority of voters in the IBWAA, my own selections were certainly based on performance. However, also as with every other voter, subjectivity comes in to play.

There are almost always multiple individuals deserving of awards consideration. That was most definitely the case this season. I found this past 2017 MLB season to be one of the toughest ever for which to fill out an awards ballot.

For the MVP Award, I always consider that middle word carefully: valuable. In addition to tremendous statistical seasons, I want my Most “Valuable” Player to have provided his team invaluable performances defensively and at clutch moments, as well as providing leadership.

For me, when two players each have great statistical seasons, but one of those players is with a winning/contending club, the contender is going to finish ahead on my ballot most times.

Hit 50 home runs, or win 25 games on the mound, for a 4th place team that finishes a dozen or more games out of the playoffs? To me, your losing team could have done that without your “valuable” performance.

I don’t ignore great statistical performances from players on losing ball clubs. You’re just not going to get my first place MVP vote in the vast majority of seasons.

The IBWAA asks each voter to rank their top ten finishers in each MVP race, the top five finishers for the Cy Young Award, and the top three in each of the other categories.

The IBWAA will announce the winners in November. Follow the IBWAA Twitter feed for awards results, as well as regularly for great baseball writing by our members.

With all that said, here is the ballot that I submitted for the 2017 MLB Awards.

————————————————————————————–

National League Most Valuable Player

  1. Anthony Rendon
  2. Charlie Blackmon
  3. Paul Goldschmidt
  4. Giancarlo Stanton
  5. Cody Bellinger
  6. Nolan Arenado
  7. Joey Votto
  8. Kris Bryant
  9. Bryce Harper
  10. Corey Seager
American League Most Valuable Player
  1. Francisco Lindor
  2. Jose Altuve
  3. Jose Ramirez
  4. Aaron Judge
  5. Mookie Betts
  6. Mike Trout
  7. George Springer
  8. Byron Buxton
  9. Josh Donaldson
  10. Eric Hosmer
National League Cy Young Award
  1. Max Scherzer
  2. Stephen Strasburg
  3. Zack Greinke
  4. Clayton Kershaw
  5. Jimmy Nelson
American League Cy Young Award
  1. Chris Sale
  2. Corey Kluber
  3. Luis Severino
  4. Carlos Carrasco
  5. Chris Archer
National League Rookie of the Year
  1. Cody Bellinger
  2. Rhys Hoskins
  3. Luis Castillo
American League Rookie of the Year
  1. Aaron Judge
  2. Andrew Benintendi
  3. Matt Olson
National League Top Reliever
  1. Kenley Jansen
  2. Corey Knebel
  3. Wade Davis
American League Top Reliever
  1. Craig Kimbrel
  2. Cody Allen
  3. Alex Colome
NL Manager of the Year
  1. Torey Lovullo
  2. Dusty Baker
  3. Dave Roberts
AL Manager of the Year
  1. Paul Molitor
  2. Terry Francona
  3. A.J. Hinch

Why the Diamondbacks / Rockies will win the NL Wildcard game

NL West rivals will meet in the NL Wildcard Game

The New York Yankees defeated the Minnesota Twins by an 8-4 final score in Tuesday night’s AL Wildcard Game.

I called it 7-4, Yankees, in yesterday’s AL Wildcard preview and prediction piece. Now it’s time to take a look at the National League matchup.

Wednesday night will find the NL Wildcard Game taking place at Chase Field in Phoenix, Arizona. There the Arizona Diamondbacks will host the NL West Division rival Colorado Rockies.

The winner of this win-or-go-home matchup will move on to face yet another division rival. That would be the Los Angeles Dodgers, who will host the NLDS opener beginning on Friday.

Arizona has a first-year big league manager in Torey Lovullo. The 52-year old played 303 games in Major League Baseball, mostly as a utility infielder, spread across eight seasons between 1988 and 1999.

Lovullo did have extensive minor league experience. He registered more than 5,000 plate appearances over a dozen minor league seasons from 1987-99. He then wrapped up his playing career overseas in the Japanese Central League in the 2000 season.

Following his retirement, Lovullo was hired as a minor league coach by the Cleveland Indians. He would rise during the 2000’s to become one of the most successful managers in the minors, becoming a frequent big league managerial candidate and interviewee.

Following stints as bench coach under John Farrell with both the Toronto Blue Jays and Boston Red Sox, Lovullo finally received his own chance to manage a big league club when hired to guide the Dbacks last November.

The Rockies are skippered by 60-year old Bud Black, a successful starting pitcher over 16 MLB seasons. Black compiled a 121-116 record over 398 games, including 296 starts. In all, the lefty tossed more than 2,000 innings with a career 3.84 ERA between 1981 and 1995.

Black’s best season came in 1984, when he went 17-12 in 257 innings over 35 starts for the Kansas City Royals. He notably surrendered both Reggie Jackson’s 500th and Mike Piazza’s first big league home runs, and was the starting pitcher for the Royals in the infamous George Brett ‘Pine Tar Incident‘ game.

Black became a pitching coach under Mike Scioscia following his retirement, and in that role was a member of the 2002 Anaheim Angels team that won the World Series.

In 2007, Black became manager of the San Diego Padres. Over nine seasons he compiled a 649-713 record. His 2010 Padres club finished 90-72 and in 2nd place in the NL West. He was fired as the Padres floundered early in the 2015 season. Black was then hired to manage the Rockies last November, just three days after Lovullo took the same job in Arizona.

So each club enters this game with a manager who just wrapped their first season guiding their club. The Dbacks finished 93-69 under Lovullo, tied for the fifth-best record in the game. The Rockies went 87-75 under Black, clinching their postseason berth on the final weekend.

Arizona was an expansion franchise that began play in 1998. The Diamondbacks have been to the postseason five times in their history, and won the 2001 World Series. This is the club’s first playoff game since the 2011 season.

The Rockies were also an expansion franchise, beginning play back in 1993. They have been to the postseason just three times, and were swept by the Boston Red Sox in their only World Series appearance in 2007. Earlier that October, Colorado had swept Arizona out of the NLCS in the only postseason meeting between the two clubs prior to this Wildcard Game.

WHY THE DBACKS WILL WIN
These are two high-scoring teams who match up fairly even in the offensive aspects of the game. But it is on the mound where the Diamondbacks enjoy a clear advantage.
The Arizona pitching staff compiled the third-best ERA (3.66) in all of Major League Baseball this season. The Dbacks arms tied for sixth in Batting Average Against (.240), and were sixth in strikeouts. The staff allowed the third-lowest home run total in the big leagues.
Drawing the starting pitching assignment for this Wildcard Game will be their ace, Zack Greinke. Turning 34 years old later this month, Greinke went 17-7 this year, allowing 172 hits over 202.1 innings across 32 starts. He had a fine 215/45 K:BB ratio, a 1.072 WHIP, and a 149 ERA+ mark.
Since this is an “all hands on deck” situation, Lovullo could turn to any of his remaining starting pitchers. Most likely that would mean lefty Robbie Ray or right-handers Taijuan Walker and Zack Godley.
In addition to those strong starters, Lovullo has a variety of effective options among his normal relief corps. Those include righties J.J. Hoover and Jimmie Sherfy, and lefties Jorge De La Rosa and Andrew Chafin.
When it comes down to the late innings, a pair of right-handers at opposite ends of the career spectrum can shut things down. 25-year old Archie Bradley is a converted starter who has been lights-out in the bullpen. 40-year old Fernando Rodney saved 39 games and is a 3x All-Star.
Offensively, Arizona was 8th in Runs, 7th in OPS and Steals, and 6th in Total Bases. They can hit, run, and score with any team.
That offense is led by perennial MVP candidate first baseman Paul Goldschmidt. The 30-year old slashed .297/.404/.563 this season with 36 homers, 73 extra-base hits, 120 RBI, 117 runs scored, and 18 steals.
Lefty-swinging third baseman Jake Lamb turns 27 years old next week. He had strong final numbers of 30 home runs and 105 RBI, but hit just .204 after June. Center fielder A.J. Pollock’s return after missing most of last season has been huge. He leads the club with 20 stolen bases, and had 53 extra-base hits in just 466 plate appearances.
While Lovullo’s lineup has a variety of weapons beyond that handful, a late-season addition has proven to be the single most dominant over the last couple of months.
30-year old right fielder J.D. Martinez was obtained from the Detroit Tigers prior to the trade deadline. All he did after the trade was slash .302/.366/.741 with 29 homers and 65 RBI over just 257 plate appearances in 62 games. 
When I first came, I really wasn’t doing that well,” said Martinez in an interview with Marly Rivera for ESPN. “I was struggling. I felt like I was trying to be someone that I wasn’t; trying to do a lot more. And the guys were like nothing, they were like, ‘Dude let’s go,’ every day picking me up, picking the whole team up. I felt a part of the team very quickly here.
If Greinke dominates for five or more innings, great. If not, Lovullo can become a Brian Kenny disciple and go “bullpenning”, as Girardi did with the Yankees last night. Dominating pitching, some big hits from Goldschmidt, Martinez, Pollock and company, and the Dbacks advance.

WHY THE ROCKIES WILL WIN

The Rockies offense got to the Dbacks strong pitching for five or more runs on seven occasions this season. They won five of those games. It’s my opinion that this will be the biggest single key for Colorado if they are going to win tonight – score at least five or six times.

The Colorado offense is equipped with the talent to score on anyone. The Rockies were third in Runs scored, second in Hits, and fifth in OPS this season in all of Major League Baseball.

Black’s attack is led by MVP candidate third baseman Nolan Arenado. The 26-year old is one of the best young players in the game. He has been an NL All-Star each of the last three years, and has won a Gold Glove in each of his four previous big league seasons.

This year, Arenado slashed .309/.373/.586 with 37 homers, 87 extra-base hits, 130 RBI, and 100 runs scored. Not just a Coors Field product, his numbers hold up on the road as well.

The Rox also have another legit NL MVP candidate in center fielder Charlie Blackmon. The 31-year old was an NL All-Star for the second time this year. He slashed .331/.399/.601, tying for the NL batting title. The long-bearded Blackmon bombed 37 homers, had 86 extra-base hits, drove in 104 runs, scored an NL-high 137 times, and stole 14 bases.

34-year old first baseman Mark Reynolds banged 30 home runs, reaching that 30-homer plateau for the first time in six years. He also provided 97 RBI. Shortstop Trevor Story added 24 homers and 82 RBI.

The Rockies’ second baseman, DJ LeMahieu, is one of the most underrated players in the game. The 29-year old made the NL All-Star team for the second time in three years this summer. He hit .310 with a .374 OBP and scored 95 runs.

Veteran catcher Jonathan Lucroy came over from the Texas Rangers in a trade deadline deal, adding yet another solid offensive weapon to the mix. Lucroy hit .310 with a .429 OBP in 46 games following the deal.

On the mound, Black is sending out 25-year old right-hander Jon Gray to start the Wildcard Game. Gray was the Rockies first round pick at third overall in the 2013 MLB Amateur Draft.

I have a lot of positive emotions coming in here, and it leads me to think it’s going to be a lot of fun,” said Gray per Patrick Saunders at The Denver Post. “I don’t think it’s going to be a tight game for me. I don’t think I’m going to be feeling that nervous. I’m just going to go out there and control what I can. The results are the results. But the effort is going to be 100 percent for me.

Gray was sidelined by a stress fracture in his foot from mid-April through nearly all of June. He returned to go 10-4 over the final three months of the season, striking out 103 batters over 98 innings in that period. Should Gray falter at some point, Black would likely turn to a mix of his starters and regular relief corps.

Black’s top righty options on the mound would likely be German Marquez, Antonio Senzatela, Adam Ottavino, and Pat Neshek. From the left side it would mean Kyle Freeland, Chris Rusin, Jake McGee, Tyler Anderson, and Mike Dunn are the best bets to see action.

The regular closer is Greg Holland, a 31-year old right-hander who was one of baseball’s biggest comeback stories this season. He saved 41 games, allowing just 40 hits over 57.1 innings with a 70/26 K:BB ratio. It all added up to an NL All-Star season for Holland, who missed all of last season following Tommy John surgery.

The Rockies recipe for victory is to have their bats come out hot, putting pressure on the Dbacks offense to match them. Arizona is very capable of that, so I would see a Colorado win coming only via out-scoring the Dbacks in a high-scoring affair in which both pitching staffs are battered around the ballpark, with perhaps Holland finally shutting the home team down to secure the win.

THE MATCHUP AND PREDICTION

As NL West Division rivals, these two clubs are extremely familiar with one another. They met 19 times during the regular season, with Arizona taking 11 of the head-to-head matchups. 

Only the Dodgers had a better record at home than the Dbacks 52-29 record at Chase Field. However, the Rockies battled them to a 5-5 split of their 10 games in the desert this season.

We’ve spent a lot of hours breaking it all down,” Arizona GM Mike Hazen said on Tuesday per MLB.com’s Steve Gilbert. “But in the end, once 5:08 p.m. (WDT) hits tomorrow, it’s about executing. It’s about going out and playing a good brand of baseball that we have all year. It’s about going out there, making our pitches, making them work on their side of it. And that’s all there is to it it’s a baseball game. The more relaxed and freer we’re going to play tomorrow, the better chance we have for good results.

The forecast high is for 98 degrees today in Phoenix, and so the roof will be closed this evening, making this an indoor playoff game.

Greinke made five starts this year against Colorado. He allowed just 30 hits over 34.1 innings in those starts with an incredible 37/2 K:BB ratio. He won the last three of those outings, including a pair of dominant starts at home.

Gray made just three starts against Arizona, but two of those came in September. In those two more relevant outings he allowed 12 hits over 12 innings with a strong 16/3 K:BB ratio. On September 12, Gray struck out 10 Dbacks hitters over seven strong innings, leading the Rockies to a 4-2 win at Chase Field.

While that recent outstanding outing by Gray provides some hope for the Rockies faithful, I don’t see a repeat happening tonight. I do, however, see the 14-year veteran Greinke posting up a big game. He and the Dbacks bullpen should shut Colorado down enough for the bats to open it up at some point. I’m calling it 9-4 in favor of the Diamondbacks, who advance to Dodger Stadium on Friday.