The Colorado Rockies and Philadelphia Phillies are both off to terrific starts this season. While the Phillies were the "sexy" pick by the national media, the Rockies were a team that many felt had the potential to make the postseason.
The first 16 games of this season have many Rockie fans thinking much bigger than just an early exit from the postseason. They have raced to the best record in the National League thus far, and they have done so without Ubaldo Jimenez, a top-10 pitching talent in Major League Baseball, period.
The Rockies starting rotation went without a loss in their first nine games. Very impressive. Will the return of the Rockies ace boost an already solid starting rotation, or will the other starters take the foot off the gas pedal with their workhorse back in the mix?
We will find out in the coming weeks. Jimenez finally returned to the mound on Tuesday. He has been on the DL since injuring his thumb on Opening Day.
Baseball fans know how electric Jimenez's arm is, but are they worried about facing the Rockies in a potential NLCS matchup?
We may be looking at a small sample size here, but the Phillies have shown through their first 16 games that they are the class of the NL East (sorry Atlanta, but who's your daddy?). If they were to meet Colorado in a seven-game series, how would their four aces match up against the surprising Rockies, who have posted a solid 3.70 team ERA thus far?
If Jimenez can resemble anything close to the dominating pitcher he was before the All-Star break of last season (15-1, 2.20 ERA, three complete games, one no-hitter), are the Rockies a legitimate contender for the National League crown?
Does his 100-mph fastball match up to the surgical-like precision of the Doctor? Halladay showed last season that the bright lights of the postseason (or a pulled groin for that matter) will not stop him from embarrassing hitters and making Phillies Nation smile.
Colorado's young guns have pitched great through 16 games, but can the Rockies counter Lee, Oswalt or Hamels (oh my!) even with a healthy Jimenez taking the ball twice (possibly three times) in a seven-game series?
Everyone knows that baseball is a brutal 162-game grind and a team can lose a key player or pitcher at any time. Let's just say everyone stays healthy, and here are potential pitching matchups if the two teams square off in the NLCS this season.
The national media has fallen in love with this Rockies team and for good reason, but here is an early reality check for the "Rocky Mountain State." Cheer, cheer for the Red Wings.
This is all assuming Esmil Rogers continues to struggle in Coors Field and the Rockies go with the veteran Hammel.
Why Cole Hamels Will Win
What other team in MLB (history?) can boast a former NLCS and World Series MVP as its fourth starter? Hamels has shown in the early stages of his career that he can be a dominant pitcher in the biggest of stages.
He has shown up this year in what he admits is the best shape of his life. His fastball has consistently been in the mid-90's and his cut fastball has turned into a legitimate "out" pitch against right-handed batters. His changeup is still as good as there is in baseball.
He has similar numbers through his first six seasons to Rockies ace Ubaldo Jimenez, and he is the number four starter for the Phillies. He is 61-46 with a 3.55 ERA.
Phillies fans should feel lucky that they have a pitcher that is the caliber of King Cole pitching against an opposition's number four.
They won the World Series in 2008 with Hamels opposing everyone's ace.
Why Jason Hammel will Win
Jason Hammel is the type of pitcher who can keep the Rockies in the game. The Rockies' potent offense can succeed (check out the record) with a pitcher who gives up three to four runs in a game. Hammel has allowed four, two and three runs in three starts this season.
Hammel has posted double-digit wins each of the past two seasons and should be able to do the same in 2011 with Troy-A-Palooza and Co. scoring runs the way they have.
The big right-hander (6'6", 215) is an innings eater (Joe Blanton without the weight) that the Rockies can rely on to give them six innings. He may not have the dominating stuff a Cole Hamels does, but he is no slouch either. His ERA has been consistently in the four range the past three years.
The Rockies will need to score some runs for Jason Hammel to win.
Huge edge to Cole Hamels and the Phillies in this pitching matchup. The Rockies and their fans can only hope that Jason Hammel keeps them in the game long enough for their potent lineup to score some runs.
Cole Hamels, meanwhile, has the talent, experience and potential to completely dominate (shut down if you prefer) an opposing lineup every time he steps on the mound.
Why Oswalt Will Win
Oswalt's resume is comparable to any of the other aces on the Phillies. His numbers certainly boast the resume of the "Four Horsemen."
That resume includes 10 top-five finishes in Cy Young award voting, three actual Cy Young awards, 13 All-Star selections, six 20-win seasons, three postseason MVP awards and a 20-8 postseason record.
Oswalt owns a .643 career winning percentage, which ranks fifth among active pitchers in MLB. He has won his share of big games, and he has done it for a long time.
Roy Oswalt is a legitimate ace who gets to pitch third in the Phillies rotation. He has shown throughout his career that when the stage is brightest, he thrives. The lights have been shining bright on Oswalt since he was gift-wrapped by Philly's old friend Ed Wade last summer.
He revved up his game last season when he was traded and was the Phillies' best pitcher down the stretch. He went 7-1 with a 1.74 ERA in 13 games with the Phillies. Clearly, pitching for a contender and in front of the Philly faithful brought Roy's game to another level.
While his regular season record is an insane 152-83 (3.17 ERA), he is 5-1 in seven postseason starts.
Why Chacin Will Win
Chacin is 3-0 in three starts this season with an ERA of 1.64. He tossed his first complete-game shutout and is blossoming early on in 2011.
What may be most impressive with Chacin is how "sick" he has been at Coors Field this year.
He has yet to surrender a run at Coors Field through his first two starts in Denver and has only allowed 13 total hits while striking out 11 during that stretch.
Chacin has been known to get wild at times, but he hasn't allowed more than two walks in any one game. Has the 23-year-old gotten his act together to the point where he makes his first All-Star game?
In 21 starts last season, Chacin posted an impressive ERA of 3.28.
Chacin has no postseason experience. While we have seen many pitchers perform outstanding in their postseason openers (Doctober anyone?), does Chacin have the mental makeup to beat one of the games most successful pitchers of the last 10 years? How about in a crucial Game 3? A Game 7?
Chacin has been terrific thus far, but will he fall from this cloud he has been riding early on in 2011? The edge has to weigh heavily on the side of Roy Oswalt. He has been terrific throughout his career and even more dominant since joining the Phillies.
Oswalt has the experience and pedigree advantage over Chacin in this matchup.
Why Lee Will Win
I may be called a homer for saying this, but some of the most "phanatical" fans in America felt cheated when the Phillies brass stated: "We needed to replenish the farm system," and traded Cliff Lee to Seattle.
It is not often in sports when a franchise admits its mistakes (i.e Philadelphia Eagles) but credit has to be given to the Phillies ownership for breaking their own rule (no more than three years for a pitcher) and going all-in this season. They righted a wrong and brought back the player who the fans loved the most, the player who never should have left in the first place.
There are only a few pitchers in Major League Baseball who could legitimately argue pitching before Cliff Lee in a playoff game.
Whether it was the non-chalant no-look catch of a pop-up, the behind-the-back snag of a line drive, the utter dominance Lee displayed in the biggest of stages against sports' most storied franchise or all of the above, he has forever endeared himself into the hearts of Philadelphians.
Of all the accomplishments Lee has earned throughout his 10-year career, he was so sought after in free agency because of his brilliance in the postseason.
"Have fun with a 37-year-old pitcher that you are overpaying for. We didn't want him anyway." It is still hilarious to hear Yankees fans say this when they so wanted Lee just a few months earlier. Their team offered more years and more money to obtain Cliff Lee, and Lee chose to come home to Philadelphia.
This will go down as one of the greatest love stories in Philadelphia history. If he is able to bring another World Series down Broad Street, Philadelphia will fall in love all over again.
Why De La Rosa Will Win
Jorge De La Rosa went 16-9 in 2009 and is 2-0 with a 3.18 ERA thus far in 2011. He has 14 K's in just 17 IP. He has always been a reliable pitcher for Colorado, but he has certainly stepped up his game in the absence of Ubaldo Jimenez.
De La Rosa is a tricky left-hander who makes lefty hitters very uncomfortable. He is yet to surrender an earned run against a left-handed hitter this season. He has shown a tendency to get wild at times, but he still seems to pitch well at hitter-friendly Coors Field.
The 30-year-old has shown that he can pitch extremely well against the left-handed heavy Phillies, and the Phightin's will not have Jayson Werth in any foreseeable postseasons.
There seems to be a power outage in Philadelphia right now, and if De La Rosa can continue to dominate left-handers, the Phillies could be in real trouble in this matchup.
Quite simply, Cliff Lee in a postseason matchup is going to get the nod nine times out of 10.
De La Rosa has never posted an ERA under 4.00 (except for right now) during his eight-year career. It's safe to say the former Cy Young winner Cliff Lee has the advantage in this tale of the tape.
Why Doc will win:
Doc Halladay is known throughout baseball by many as "the best pitcher in baseball." He is in the prime of his career at age 33, and the 6'6, 230 pd. right-hander will not be intimidated by any situation.
The one question remaining about Halladay was, "How would Doc respond to the pressures of post-season baseball?"
Halladay threw only the second no-hitter in postseason history in his first career playoff start. He pulled his groin in the second inning of Game 5 of the NLCS and proceeded to out-pitch Tim Lincecum and lead the Phillies to victory.
Halladay is an amazing 171-86 over his illustrious career, and those numbers will certainly continue to improve. He has posted an ERA under 3.00 the past three years. and his already stellar numbers from Toronto have done nothing but improve since he chose to come to Philly.
In two seasons with the Phiightin's, Halladay is 23-10 with a 2.34 ERA, 241 K's in 272 innings, and the NL Cy Young.
He also pitched a perfect game and the aforementioned no-hitter, but that doesn't matter. Carlos Ruiz's wife had a baby boy (ironically named Carlos Ruiz) exactly nine months to the day of Halladay's perfect game, now that's the kind of stuff that peaks interest. Sex sells (i.e Philly Phanatic anyone?)
In all seriousness, is there anyone else in baseball that you would rather go to battle for your team than Roy Halladay?
Why U-Ball will win:
This is Jimenez's sixth season and his numbers are pretty similar to Halladay's first six seasons in the majors. Ubaldo already has a no-hitter (first in Colorado history) to his resume and one of the most dominating starts to a baseball season in MLB history.
On any given day, Jimenez has the potential to be un-hittable. Any baseball mind will tell you that he has as good as pure "stuff" as anyone in baseball. His fastball is consistently around 95 mph and he even can crank it up to around 100, while also being able to locate. He also has a change-up, curve, and slider that he has shown to be more comfortable with each year in the league.
He still throws his fastball more than 70% of the time, but can you blame the guy for throwing a mid to high 90's pitch that moves more than 7 out of every 10 pitches? I certainly didn't think so. \
In the postseason, Jimenez has yet to win a game in four starts. In fact, he is 0-2 with a 3.54 ERA. Not a terrible ERA, but he has not shown up as the un-hittable Jimenez that Rockies fans become accustomed too.
As mentioned earlier, you'd have to be crazy to pick any other pitcher in baseball to go out and win you a big game. Jimenez may have the best "stuff" in baseball (King Felix may have something to say about that) but Halladay is the complete package of intelligence, athleticism, work-ethic, hunger and experience.
Philly Nation would and should feel pretty confident with a potential one, four, seven match-up between Halladay and Jimenez.
Sorry Ubaldo fans even if Jimenez can return to form, the nod has to go to the Doctor and Philadelphia in a seven game series. Not only is he a complete pitcher, but he wants to win a championship.
Really, really badly.