The Arizona Diamondbacks and Colorado Rockies have spent the 2017 season staring up at the Los Angeles Dodgers. They will now fight for the right to face the division champions in Wednesday's National League Wild Card Game.
Colorado and Arizona have not reached the postseason since 2009 and 2011, respectively. While both will snap that drought, one's return will abruptly end after the winner-take-all showdown. The victor advances to a National League Division Series best-of-five against the Dodgers, who have set a franchise high in wins (104) since moving from Brooklyn.
Arizona confirmed that Zack Greinke will make the start at Chase Field. Colorado manager Bud Black announced, per MLB.com's Thomas Harding, that he will counter with Jon Gray. The burgeoning 25-year-old ace led the starting staff in ERA (3.67), WHIP (1.30) and WAR (3.2).
As ABC15 Sports' Shane Dale noted, the Dodgers can't celebrate either outcome:
Let's break down the upcoming one-game playoff bout between two NL West foes.
Matchup: Colorado Rockies at Arizona Diamondbacks
Date: Wednesday, Oct. 4
Time: 8 p.m. ET
Preview and Prediction
By all accounts, the Diamondbacks are the superior squad. They finished 2017 with six more victories, and that does not properly contextualize the true distance between the host and visitor.
The D-Backs accrued a plus-153 scoring margin, the best mark of any NL wild-card squad since introducing the extra slot. The Rockies registered a plus-70 scoring margin.
Their major advantage: pitching. Behind a 3.20 ERA in 202.1 innings from Greinke, Arizona ranked third in team ERA behind the Cleveland Indians and Dodgers. Following a disappointing first season fresh off signing a six-year, $206.5 million contract, the 33-year-old righty recorded a 2.87 ERA at his hitting-friendly home park.
Per AZCentral.com's Nick Piecoro, Diamondbacks manager Torey Lovullo said there was "no mystery" to who would start the high-stakes matchup.
"He's been everything that we needed all year long," Lovullo said of Greinke. "I don't think that's going to change in one game. I know he's going to be ready for Wednesday."
A rolling Gray could nevertheless erase that edge with a few strong innings. He has a 2.44 ERA since Aug. 1 and has not yielded more than three runs in a start since July 19.
Despite wielding a lower ERA at Coors Field (3.13) than on the road (4.06), he also has 71 strikeouts and a 3.05 fielding independent pitching (FIP) in 64.1 innings away from Colorado's high-altitude park.
In each of his two starts at Chase Field this season, Gray allowed two runs with 10 strikeouts. Greinke also relinquished two runs over seven frames in each of his last home outings against Colorado. Although both clubs are more known for piling up runs at stadiums conducive to offense, this matchup could prove a low-scoring affair.
Yet despite Gray's improvements, Black should have a quick hook. Per Baseball Reference, he posted a 2.44 ERA and .540 opposing OPS in innings one, two and three. During the fourth-to-sixth frames, he surrendered a 5.48 ERA and .922 OPS.
Either he wears down, or hitters figure him out after one look. Opponents batted .344/.396/.526 in their second plate appearance against Gray. The Rockies could turn to Tyler Chatwood, who has a career 3.31 ERA away from Coors Field, before transitioning to high-leverage relievers Jake McGee, Pat Neshek and Greg Holland.
Greinke, who authored a 2.38 ERA in six postseason starts for the Dodgers, has earned a longer leash. Yet Lovullo should not push his ace too deep into the contest, especially with Archie Bradley waiting.
The former starter took a shining to the bullpen, from which he notched a 1.73 ERA and 79 strikeouts in 73 innings. Originally prepped for the rotation, the 25-year-old righty should be capable of working two or three innings.
Allowing five runs over his last three outings could derail that confidence, but Arizona should not lose hope in its relief ace after two subpar games.
Of course, let's not forget all the offensive star power on display. Paul Goldschmidt, Charlie Blackmon and Nolan Arenado all warrant MVP discussion in a wide-open race. Some may even make the case for J.D. Martinez, who powered Arizona to the finish line with 29 home runs in 62 games since getting traded from the Detroit Tigers.
Martinez ended 2017 with 45 homers despite a foot injury delaying his debut to May 12. ESPN Stats & Info pedaled back to Barry Bonds' record-setting 73-homer season to find a comparable power surge:
He's not the game's only hot hitter. Carlos Gonzalez rebounded from a dreadful start to hit .377/.484/.766 with six home runs in September, and Colorado's left-handed outfielder gets the platoon advantage. Shortstop Trevor Story also caught fire with six September blasts.
Nobody can prescribe a high level of confidence when predicting any individual baseball game. The Dodgers went 11-8 against the 64-98 San Francisco Giants, so the better team does not always win.
Then again, it seems silly to pick against the better team with the rationale of "You can't predict baseball." Look for Greinke and Bradley to curtail Colorado's offense while the red-hot Martinez keeps raking.
Given their deep rotation and elite right-handed sluggers, the Diamondbacks would also be a credible pick to upset the Dodgers in the NLDS.
Prediction: Diamondbacks 6, Rockies 4
Note: All advanced stats courtesy of FanGraphs unless otherwise noted.