Phillies, Rockies Could Be Series To Watch

Richie Ashburn used to say "Harry, get the married men off the field," when things would heat up in a wild game. Well, somewhere, Whitey stands at the ready to deliver the line once again as the Phillies and Rockies meet.

Between them, the Phillies and Rockies scored over 1700 runs. Between them, the Phillies and Rockies allowed almost 1600 runs. Neither team fits the adage that pitching is what gets you to the post-season and neither is shy about how they got to where they are. See the ball, hit the ball; that's how both teams live.

In the seven games that the Rockies and Phillies played against each other this season, they scored 83 runs (the Phillies were outscored 46-47). Both teams are helped somewhat by the fact that they play in offensive friendly ballparks, but there is no denying that both teams also pack plenty of raw power and offense onto their roster.

Perhaps the catalyst for the offense on both teams can be embodied in one player. The two players - Matt Holliday and Jimmy Rollins - are likely going to be one and two in the MVP voting once the ballots are all counted. For the Phillies, Rollins is the spark at the top of the lineup and has made himself into the type of player who can take over a ball game as he did Sunday when the Phillies clinched the division title. Since MVP balloting is already said and done, the series won't influence the vote, but it would have been an interesting tie-breaking opportunity. Holliday picked up two-thirds of the Triple Crown this season winning both the RBI title and Batting title and launched 36 home runs as well.

There is some pitching to be found. Game One will matchup the two aces, Cole Hamels and Jeff Francis. Francis (17-9, 4.22) threw 215 innings this season and at just age 26, stepped into his own this season as the ace of the Rockies staff. Hamels (15-5, 3.39) is three years younger and is a more dominant type pitcher who has overcome a minor league career plagued by injuries and overcome a minor injury this season, to lead the Phillies pitching staff.

Aaron Cook (8-7, 4.12) also blossomed this season and helped the Rockies pitching staff, but the bad news for Colorado is that he went on the DL in August and wasn't able to help them down the stretch.

While both teams are known for their offense, the Rockies starting pitchers actually had an ERA (4.58) lower than the National League average of 4.65. Phillies starters posted a 4.91 ERA on the season. The same sort of story is true when it comes to the relievers. Phillies relievers had an ERA (4.41) of over the league average of 4.06 while the Rockies relievers finished under the league average with an ERA of 3.85.

While the Colorado pitching staff has put up respectable numbers, don't ignore the fact that the Phillies averaged over five runs per game against the Rockies head-to-head this season.

Signs of Spring

Of the eight teams in the post-season, only the Phillies had a losing record (11-18) in Spring Training. The Rockies finished the Spring with a 13-12 record, while the Cubs were 17-13 and the Arizona Diamondbacks finished their Cactus League schedule with a National League best 20-12 mark.

In the American League, the Angels finished 19-14, Boston was 15-12, Cleveland 16-14 and the Yankees were 14-13.

Behind Enemy Lines

After a season-ending spurt that seemed hard to match, the Rockies came up with a finish in the wild-card tiebreaker that was even better: They fell behind the San Diego Padres 8-6 in the top of the 13th inning Monday night and still won.

All it took was a three-run rally in the bottom of the 13th against all-time save leader Trevor Hoffman, who managed to get only one out - the game-ending out. Kazuo Matsui double. Troy Tulowitzki double, RBI. Matt Holliday triple, game-tying RBI. Todd Helton intentional walk. Jamey Carroll game-winning sacrifice fly on a shallow flyball to right that gave Holliday just enough room to make his head-first dive into the plate.

The Rockies' second post-season appearance in history - they also were the wild card in 1995 - begins on Wednesday afternoon against the Philadelphia Phillies at Citizens Bank Park in Game 1 of the best-of-five NL Division Series. "You can't draw it up any better than that," said manager Clint Hurdle. "You don't think that someone drawing this up doesn't have a sense of drama ... a sense of humor?"

Right now it's a sense of satisfaction that the Rockies have, although they insist they don't have a false sense of security. They had to go that extra day and those extra innings to claim the NL wild card, but all that does is open the door for the more sought-after goal -- the World Series. "We're in the hunt, and that's a first step," said Hurdle. "I've been to the World Series and lost (with Kansas City in 1980), and it's no fun. We need to dig in and move to the next step."

There were more than a few moments on Monday night when the sellout crowd of 48,404 had to wonder if the Rockies were going to fall just short of that first step.

Jorge Julio, the ninth of 10 Rockies pitchers, came on in the top of the 13th and two batters later had the Rockies in a two-run hole by giving up a Scott Hairston home run after walking Brian Giles.

Disappointment, however, was quickly drowned out at the expense of Hoffman.

"One thing this team never does is quit, and we showed that again," said Tulowitzki.

This is a team that was nine games below .500 in mid-May but steadily climbed back, undaunted by an eight-game losing streak in which closer Brian Fuentes blew four saves in seven games, then put on the biggest stretch-run rally in baseball history.

Ignited by a franchise-record 11-game winning streak in the final two weeks of the season, the Rockies bounced back from a Friday night loss to Arizona to beat the Diamondbacks on Saturday and Sunday, while the Padres were blowing back-to-back leads in Milwaukee, and force the one-game, win-or-go-home showdown.

And then came Monday night, a game that lasted one inning longer than the Los Angeles Dodgers' 6-5, 12-inning win over the Milwaukee Braves in 1959, a best-of-three playoff the Dodgers swept. Gil Hodges scored the game-ending run in the 12th inning on shortstop Felix Mantilla's error.

  • LHPs Jeff Francis and Franklin Morales are in line to start the first two games of the NL Division Series at Philadelphia on Wednesday and Thursday. RHPs Ubaldo Jimenez and Josh Fogg would be rested for Games 3 and 4 at Coors Field on Saturday and Sunday.
  • The Rockies set a major league record for highest fielding percentage in a single season, .98925. The Rockies committed only four errors in the final 15 games, 14 of which they won.
  • LF Matt Holliday was 2-for-6 and drove in two runs, including the game-tying run in the 13th with a triple, to become the fifth player in 59 years to lead the NL in average and RBI. He hit .3396226 to beat out Chipper Jones, who hit .3372319. He drove in 137 runs, one more than Ryan Howard of Philadelphia.
  • OF Seth Smith, a September call-up, had a pinch-hit triple in the sixth and scored on Kazuo Matsui's sacrifice fly. The former backup quarterback at Mississippi was 5-for-7, and all five hits were in pinch-hit situations.
  • 1B Todd Helton no longer will be on the list of players who never appeared in a post-season game. Two of the top three on the active list are about to have their status eliminated. Jeff Cirillo, the leader at 1,617 games, is with Arizona, which opens the NL Division Series against the Cubs on Wednesday, and Helton is third at 1,577. Damion Easley of the Mets will be the new active leader at 1,593.
  • BY THE NUMBERS: 3.89 ERA for Rockies pitching staff since the All-Star break going into Saturday, lowest in the NL.

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