NL Wild Card Game Preview

Tonight, I’m a little biased.  My Diamondbacks are back in the playoffs for the first time since 2011, and this postseason has the potential for a sleeper to make a run.  Arizona has what it takes: A top five rotation (Depending on the stat), a decent bullpen, and a lot of utility players.  Oh, and an offense that can be unstoppable while also really easy to strike out.

The Rockies also have a decent rotation, and like the Diamondbacks, it’s full of flukey, one-year wonders who’ve never pitched in the postseason.  Jon Gray, tonight’s starter, possesses the only sub-4.00 ERA in their rotation.  He’s been awesome this year, with a 136 ERA+ and a 3.18 FIP.  Those numbers actually underrate Gray.  ERA+ takes into account a pitcher’s ballpark.  Coors Field is the best hitter’s park in the league, which means Gray’s been even better than that number suggests.  I don’t usually refer to FIP, because it’s extremely flawed, but in defense of Gray it works well.  FIP isolates the pitcher’s responsibilities, meaning it accounts for home runs, walks, HBPs and strikeouts.  FIP’s usually average well above ERA’s, hanging around 4.00.  Gray’s though is well below that number (3.18), which once again, is extremely impressive considering his home park.

Chase Field will only help Gray tonight.  It could be a key factor since this will be his first postseason start.

The Diamondbacks don’t have to worry about postseason experience on the mound.    Zach Greinke was the Dodgers’ only consistent playoff pitcher before signing with Arizona.  Ever since hitting his prime, Greinke’s had 3 quality starts in October, with a bad game coming against the Mets in 2015.

The Rockies have some advantages against Greinke though.  Colorado hits the changeup only worse than the Yankees.  Greinke’s changeup whiffs the most guys excluding his slider, which Colorado will struggle to hit (They’re 21st in the league against that pitch).   If they can hold off their swings, Colorado’s World Series-caliber lineup will definitely get runs.

Arizona can rough up Gray.  Inexperience is the first key, and capitalizing on fastballs is the second.  Arizona saw, on average, the 7th fastest fastball in baseball this year at 93.8 MPH.  Gray’s fastball averaged 96 MPH though, considerably higher.  The Diamondbacks strike out a lot, but when they do make contact tonight, watch out.  It might go a ways.

I’d expect the starters to go a long ways, which can only help both teams as the bullpens are relatively weak compared to other playoff teams.  Arizona’s core is Archie Bradley, Fernando Rodney, Jorge De La Rosa and David Hernandez, a talented but mediocre group.  Bradley finally put his stuff together this season, tossing a 1.73 ERA.  He though has zero postseason experience, and is quite young at 24 years old.  Fernando Rodney hasn’t been terrible this season, but is subject to a blow-up at any moment, as he gives up hits at an astounding rate (6.5 hit per innings!).  I have a bad feeling about his postseason.  David Hernandez was a great pickup at the trade deadline; I think he can be key tonight and later on down the road.

The Rockies bullpen has a similar set up.  They have two dudes who you can really trust (Greg Holland and Jake McGee) and a lot of other non-elites.  It might be enough tonight, but it won’t get them far in the next series if they advance.  Scott Oberg and Mike Dunn haven’t been great, but Pat Neshek has pitched well, and probably has the most experience out of anyone on this whole staff.  Chris Rusin’s been good, but I’m not sure he’s the difference against a possibly firecracker-like Diamondbacks offense.

I think tonight is close.  I think the starters make it deep, and then someone’s bullpen blows it.  With Archie Bradley and David Hernandez, the Diamondbacks have more talent, but Holland’s not screwing things up, and McGee is a good set up man.  I’m much more nervous than I thought I’d be, but I trust Greinke over Gray or anyone on Colorado’s staff.

Prediction: Diamondbacks-4  Rockies-3