NLCS Game 1 Preview - Francis vs. Webb

On September 28th, Brandon Webb and Jeff Francis squared off in Coors Field. Webb would emerge victorious, securing a playoff spot for the Arizona Diamondbacks and making the Colorado Rockies longshots for the postseason. The two aces are set for a Chase Field rematch in Game 1 of the NLCS.

That Arizona Diamondbacks victory was the only time in the  Colorado Rockies' past 18 contests that they have lost a game.  This time, Brandon Webb has an extra advantage playing in front of a home crowd, but the Rockies have an extra weapon on offense to utilize against the D-Backs' ace.

The Starters:

Brandon Webb is 8-7 with a 3.89 lifetime ERA against the Rockies, including 1-3 with a 5.77 mark this year.  He will pitch on seven days of rest.  Lifetime, he is 7-2 with a 2.46 ERA on six or more days of rest, but 0-1 with a 4.82 mark in three such instances this season.

Left handed batters have an OPS 200 points better than right-handers do over Webb's career, as they limit the effectiveness of Webb's devastating curveball.  The Rockies will send four against Webb in this opening game of the NLCS, keeping left handed-hitting Seth Smith, who has just eight major league at bats, handy off the bench.

"They've got a couple of guys that match up pretty well against me," Webb said the day before his start.  "A couple of left-handers that are low-ball hitters.  They're pretty patient at the plate and very selective of the pitches that they swing at."

The Rockies also have enough speed in their lineup to leg out some singles against this extreme ground ball artist.  Even if they do not get a good swing against him, they have a chance to reach base.  The Diamondbacks have a good defensive catcher in Chris Snyder to control the Colorado running game, and the Rockies are not likely to hit a homer with runners on base against Webb.

The key for Webb will be to get out of jams, as he's not going to hold this potent Rockies offense to just one or two baserunners.  But there are enough hitters in the Rockies' lineup that Webb can handle for him to be able to pick and choose his battles in tough spots.  Expect a couple of intentional passes from Webb, either to create a more favorable matchup or to set up an inning-ending double play.

Jeff Francis has set a career high in innings pitched this year, and makes his second start of the postseason to begin the NLCS.  Those worried about a long layoff hurting the Rockies' incredible momentum might want to stop and think how beneficial some rest might be to a young team that has been running on fumes since their extra-inning one-game playoff against the Padres to get into the postseason.

"I think it's a good time of year to have a few extra days off," Francis said. "The guys that play every day, gives them a chance to rest up and heal up some things that may be bugging them or whatever. It's been a long year."

For Francis' part, however, he is 3-6 with a 7.06 ERA lifetime on six or more days of rest, including 1-1 with an 8.44 ERA this season.  This has been a seven-day layoff between starts for him.

Francis is susceptible to right-handed hitting, as it limits the use of his curveball, but the Diamondbacks' young hitters may still struggle against the unique pitch.  When they do reach base, do not expect much of a running game on the Diamondbacks' side.  Runners have only stolen 51 bases from Francis in his career, while being caught 22 times and picked off on 13 occasions.

One odd thing about Francis - he is one of the few pitchers that actually prefers pitching in Colorado.  He is 26-13 lifetime there with a 4.36 ERA, but just a .500 pitcher (19-19 4.97) on the road.

Diamondbacks Lineup (official) - career vs. Francis:

Chris Young (CF) - .125/.222/.125 - 9 PA
Stephen Drew (SS) - .333/.400/.333 - 10 PA
Eric Byrnes (LF) - .190/.190/.286- 21 PA
Conor Jackson (1B) - .304/.385 /.870  - 26 PA
Mark Reynolds (3B) - .667/.667/.833 - 6 PA
Chris Snyder (C) - .238/.385/.381 - 26 PA
Justin Upton (RF) - .333  .333  .333 - 3 PA
Augie Ojeda (2B) -  .000  .333  .000 - 3 PA
Brandon Webb (SP) - .000/.000/.000 - 5 PA

Utility man Robby Hammock has singled, doubled, and homered in seven career at bats against Jeff Francis.  Though Hammock was on the NLDS roster and did not play, expect him to be the first pinch hitter off the bench if Francis pitches deep into the ballgame.

These career numbers are lower than one might expect from a team that has dominated southpaws all year.  The only real dangerous spot in the Diamondbacks' lineup for Francis is the Jackson/Reynolds duo in the middle.  It will be paramount for one of the guys at the top of the order to reach base and make Francis either face Jackson with one man on or Reynolds with two.   

Perhaps the best that the bottom of the order can hope to do is to work long counts against Francis by fouling off his backdoor curveball.  Clint Hurdle has not let his young ace throw 120 pitches all year, and should go to his talented bullpen before that point here, knowing that he will likely need another game from Francis this series and possibly two more starts if the Rockies advance.  The Rockies' bullpen is no picnic, but there's a chance that the Diamondbacks could catch someone on a bad day.  

Rockies Lineup (probable)- career vs. Webb:

Willy Taveras (CF) - .412/.444/.412 - 18 PA
Troy Tulowitzki (SS) - .200/.333/.267 - 18 PA
Matt Holliday (LF) - .244/.273/.341 44 - PA
Todd Helton (1B) - .300/.470/.540 - 66 PA
Garrett Atkins (3B) - .172/.200/.207 - 30 PA
Brad Hawpe (RF) - .342/.422/.763 - 45 PA
Kazuhiso Matsui (2B) - .423/.483/.577 - 29 PA
Yorvit Torrealba (C) - .190/.227/.238  .465 - 23 PA
Jeff Fancis (SP) - .333/.333/.333 - 4 PA

Willy Taveras made the Rockies' NLCS roster despite missing a month of action with a strained right quadriceps.  His career against Brandon Webb was no doubt an important factor in Clint Hurdle's decision to trust in the health of his speedy center fielder.  Alternative center field options Corey Sullivan and Ryan Spilborghs are a combined 4-for-19 with a homer and a double against Webb.

Taveras is in fact the only player in the Rockies' projected lineup not to have faced Webb on that famous September 28th start in which he held the Rockies to two runs in seven innings.  Matsui, Holliday, Atkins, and Hawpe each had two hits that day, but none were able to homer off the stingy sinkerballer in Coors Field.  Reason dictates that they also won't be able to homer off Webb in Chase Field, then, despite some of these impressive career totals against him in the past.

Much will depend on how well Taveras can run with his gimpy quad muscle.  The Rockies may not be able to homer off of Webb, but it generally only takes one hit to score a healthy Taveras once he reaches base.  Given their respective career numbers off of Webb, Hurdle may move Matsui into the #2 spot and really put pressure on Webb at the top of the order. 

Final Word:

That September 28th matchup was the biggest game either Webb or Francis had pitched in their careers at that point.  They have each since won a playoff game convincingly since then, but there isn't much question that Webb is the superior pitcher at this point.  Confidence could be a factor with Webb knowing that he could beat Francis in Coors, so why not be able to do so at home?  The Diamondbacks also hit lefties well and neither Francis nor the Colorado offense performs well on the road.

Prediction: Diamondbacks 5, Rockies 3

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