This year’s Wild Card game in the National League pits two teams from the NL West who are familiar with each other as the Diamondbacks, who finished the regular season 93-69, host the 87-75 Rockies, who are making their first postseason appearance since 2009. The Rockies are giving SP Jon Gray (10-4, 3.67 ERA) the start and SP Zack Greinke (17-7, 3.20 ERA) gets the start for the home team in the winner-takes-all game.
The Rockies went 41-40 on the road this season, and the Diamondbacks were 52-29 at Chase Field.
Greinke has the distinct experience advantage over Gray, including in the playoffs; this is his 10th career start in the postseason so he knows what it’s like to pitch on a big stage like this. Greinke is 3-3 with a 3.55 ERA in the playoffs. Gray, on the other hand, is getting his first taste of postseason action. In his 20 starts this season, Gray recorded 112 strikeouts in 110.1 innings to go along with his 3.67 ERA. He has gone 13 straight starts without allowing more than three earned runs and only exceeded that number three times in 2017. Greinke struck out 215 batters in 202.1 innings over 32 starts in his second season with the Diamondbacks. Other than allowing eight earned runs in his penultimate start of the regular season, Greinke has also put up good numbers over the last several weeks. Both pitchers have put up good numbers this season, but I like Greinke in this game more because of his extended history of success in the majors, including in his nine previous postseason starts.
The Diamondbacks have a better bullpen, with their 3.78 ERA ranking as the fifth best in the majors this season with the Rockies’ relievers posting a 4.40 ERA that was 20th in MLB. Rockies RP Greg Holland recorded 41 saves this season, but put up a subpar 3.61 ERA in the process, which tied him with RP Jake McGee for the best ERA among the team’s main relievers. Holland recorded 70 strikeouts in 57.1 innings. Serving as closer for the Diamondbacks is veteran RP Fernando Rodney, who posted a pedestrian 4.23 ERA while saving 39 games. He did strike out 65 batters over 55.1 innings. The star of Arizona’s bullpen is RP Archie Bradley, who had 1.73 ERA and 79 strikeouts in 73 innings over the course of 63 appearances. Relying on Rodney to save the game is worrisome, but I think Bradley is the best reliever on either team and could be called upon to pitch more than an inning if needed. He could be an X-factor in the game.
On the offensive side of things, the Rockies’ .273 batting average was the second best in the majors while the Diamondbacks were just below league average at .253. The Diamondbacks have more power, though, racking up 218 home runs compared to the Rockies’ 192. A big factor in Arizona’s home run total was the July trade for OF J.D. Martinez, who knocked 29 balls out of the park after joining the team on July 19. He also hit .302 in the 62 games he played with the Diamondbacks. Diamondbacks 1B Paul Goldschmidt added 36 home runs and a .297 average for the team. The Rockies had three players who reached or surpassed 30 home runs — 3B Nolan Arenado and OF Charlie Blackmon each hit 37 and 1B Mark Reynolds got 30, with another 24 from SS Trevor Story, who had a disappointing season after a monster rookie year in 2016. I think the Rockies offense is more evenly spread out and less top-heavy than the Diamondbacks so I’ll give Colorado the advantage here, with the caveat that Martinez and Goldschmidt are each capable of hitting multiple home runs in the game.
Advantage: Rockies (barely)
The Rockies have the advantage on defense, with their 77 errors ranking as the third fewest in the majors. The Diamondbacks were in the bottom 10 with 105 errors.
I think Greinke will be able to outduel Gray and give the Diamondbacks the victory at home, earning them their first NLDS appearance since 2011. My biggest concern is having Rodney come in late in the game if it’s a close score, but he’s a veteran and I think he’ll be able to get the job done if called upon.
Whoever wins advances to the National League Division Series to play the NL West champion Dodgers. The other NLDS is already known and will pit the NL East champion Nationals holding home-field advantage in the series with the Cubs, who are looking to defend their World Series championship after winning the NL Central this season. Both National League series begin on Friday.