The National League's top two power teams square off in the Division Series when the Phillies and Rockies cross bats in the postseason for the second time in three years. But it'll be starting pitching that will dictate who advances.
Both teams bring strong starting pitching to the table in the NLDS, and they'll both need it against the lineups they'll be facing.Led by Aaron Cook and Ubaldo Jimenez, the Rockies became the first NL team since the Marlins in 2006 to boast five starters with 10 or more wins, and with a 4.22 ERA -- 4.13 by the starters -- the Rockies set new club standards in that department. The Phillies, meanwhile, saw their ace Cole Hamels struggle to find a groove, but they gained another lefty ace in Cliff Lee and head in with right-hander Joe Blanton coming off a solid season. With a bullpen that ranked ninth in the NL in ERA but still managed the most saves in the league, the starters getting deep into games will be key. The Phillies held a 4-2 edge in the regular season, winning two of three in each of team's home series. Their last meeting, a series won when J.A. Happ threw a four-hit shutout followed by Lee's impressive home debut for the Phillies, was two months ago, at the beginning of August. One might say both teams have gone through a lot since then, but the Rockies have the edge there, having really caught fire down the stretch under the leadership of manager Jim Tracy, who replaced Clint Hurdle in late May. Much has changed since the Rockies swept in the 2007 NLDS, but much has stayed the same, too.
Phillies: Their dominance of National League offensive categories was staggering. They had the most homers, runs per game, RBIs, total bases and slugging percentage. Ryan Howard became just the fourth player in MLB history (joining Babe Ruth, Ken Griffey Jr. and Sammy Sosa) to have four consecutive 40 HR/130 RBI seasons. With Raul Ibanez, Jayson Werth and Chase Utley also surpassing 30 homers, the Phillies certainly have leaned on the long ball. But they also ranked second in the league in steals with the Majors' highest success rate. With Jimmy Rollins and Shane Victorino bringing the speed, there is some balance to the power, even if the Phillies aren't going to overwhelm by getting on base.
Rockies: While they did just fine in terms of quantity, the Rockies thrived on the quality of their hits during the regular season. Ryan Spilborghs and Chris Iannetta provided two of the most memorable of the Rockies' eight walk-off wins, among 17 games won in their last at-bat. But the quantity has been solid as well, with Troy Tulowitzki becoming only the sixth NL shortstop to surpass 30 homers in a season, and Todd Helton rediscovering his hitting stroke in a big way after the one blip of a season in his career. It's been a different hero every night down the stretch, though, and the Rockies have plenty of candidates throughout their lineup, and into their bench.
Colorado's Franklin Morales vs. Philadelphia's Ryan Howard. If the situation arises, and if it does you can be assured it will be a big situation, the upper-90s fastball balanced with a good breaking ball Morales brings could be an intriguing matchup with Howard's power. Morales was shifted into a relief role and filled in as closer while Huston Street was disabled, and the 2007 postseason starter is in a lefty setup role heading into this October. Howard is 0-for-3 with two strikeouts vs. Morales, including one K in one AB this year.
Philadelphia's Ryan Madson vs. Colorado's Troy Tulowitzki. Whether it's in a setup or closer situation, these two high-powered right-handers could deliver some fireworks. Tulowitzki, who actually hit for a better average vs. right-handed pitching than vs. lefties this season, struck out in his one meeting with Madson this season in a seven-pitch at-bat that saw Madson use both his high-90s fastball and his mid-80s changeup effectively. It's a powerful possibility for whatever late inning or innings Madson works.
Phillies: The bullpen. Well, duh. But, of course, coming into this season this was viewed as a strength, what with Brad Lidge being perfect in '08 and all. The struggles have been well documented, so all eyes will be on every relief outing.
Rockies: The bullpen. Sounds simple, and maybe it is. But this is where the Rockies can be vulnerable, too, with closer Huston Street coming off a biceps tendon injury and a few "interesting" games late in the season. Especially in these ballparks, it's likely relief will have something to say about the outcome.
The Phillies will win if... they bring the power at home, which means Howard can light the fuse for another explosive October run. It doesn't have to be all on Howard, but getting some runs on the board both for the starters and to keep the pressure off the bullpen will be crucial. They need to separate.The Rockies will win if ... they can gain a split in Philadelphia and give themselves a chance to take the series at Coors Field, where they were 51-30 this year and where they posted 14 of their 17 last at-bat wins.
John Schlegel is a national reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.