Every once in a while, it's worth taking a moment to appreciate just how bizarre of a division the N.L. West actually is. Not only have all five teams made the playoffs since 2006--something no other division in baseball can say--but it also seems like every year there is a team or two from the N.L. West that comes out of nowhere while a preseason favorite struggles. To wit, here are the division races from the past five years:
2007: Most people (I believe) expect the Dodgers to win the division. However, the race eventually comes down to a poorly-regarded Diamondbacks team that got outscored and a Rockies team that was only four games over .500 on September 15.
2008: Fresh off their division win, the Diamondbacks set sky-high expectations for themselves by winning about 30 of their first 32 games, but eventually lose to a mediocre Dodgers team that wound up with a suddenly-motivated Manny Ramirez.
2009: The Dodgers win the division fairly easily. No real surprises here.
2010: The Padres stage a miracle season, but are eventually upstaged by a Giants team that brought a whole bunch of over-the-hill veterans together, only to see them all start hitting at the same time.
2011: Those same Giants are back, but more injured and offensively-challenged than ever, and they are in danger of losing the division to a Diamondbacks team that lost 97 games the season before.
If the Diamondbacks end up switching leagues in the offseason, I won't miss the Dodgers, Giants, Rockies or Padres, but I'll miss the N.L. West like crazy.
I bring all this up because the Rockies and Diamondbacks essentially traded places this season. While the D-Backs came out of nowhere to challenge for the division title, the Rockies are coming dangerously close to a lost season despite offseason predictions that they would win 90 games. What seemed to be a solid team with a great core of position players is currently languishing at 63-70, in third place in a very winnable division. There has been injuries, poor management, terrible individual performances, and bad Pythag luck, all of which has added up to a perfect storm that has sunk a promising young team.
Oh well, this being the N.L. West, they'll probably win 100 games next season before losing to the Dee Gordon-led Dodgers in a one-game playoff.
What the Stats Say (According to Fangraphs):
The Rockies' offense has perked up a bit in August, as they have .792 OPS over the past 29 days. Obviously, Coors Field has an effect on those numbers, but they've still been noticeably better on offense in August than they have been in any other month. One thing the Rockies' offense does particularly well is take walks, as their BB% is 9.2%, tied for second-most in the majors.
As for the pitching, well, the top two pitchers in their rotation were supposed to be Ubaldo Jimenez and Jorge de la Rosa. When you consider that de la Rosa is out for the season with a torn UCL and Jimenez pitches for the Indians now after a mid-season trade, you get a pretty clear idea of what sort of season it has been in Denver. The remaining rotation has put together an ERA of 4.50, which is tied for sixth-highest in MLB.
2. , LF
4. , C
Chris Young, CF
Aaron Hill, 2B
Dexter Fowler has no power, and has never posted an OPS+ above 100, but he has an OBP of .359 this year, and has plenty of speed on the base paths, so it seems somewhat natural to bat him lead-off. I'm sure I learned earlier this season that Mark Ellis was on the Rockies, but it completely slipped my mind since then. Apparently, the Rockies traded for Ellis to fill the glaring hole at second base, and he's responded by giving them 193 PAs with an unmemorable 86 OPS+.
There are plenty of people worth blaming for this debacle of a 2011 season for the Rockies, but the middle of the order hitters aren't among them. Carlos Gonzalez hasn't quite lived up to his 2010 performance, where he hit .336/.376/.598 and contended for the Triple Crown, but his .896 OPS is still nothing to sneeze at. Troy Tulowitzki was generally regarded as one of the top position players before this season, though it seems like the hubbub surrounding him has subsided somewhat. Thus, it might be surprising that he is actually posting the highest OPS+ of his career, albeit by a very small margin, in 2011 as his score of 137 leads the team. Todd Helton continues to be Todd Helton, even at age 37, as he has posted an OPS+ of 123 in 2011.
Did...did anyone else know that Kevin Kouzmanoff was on the Rockies? I feel like this is something that should have been mentioned at some point. He came over on waivers and has had all of 14 PAs for the team, but he should be an improvement over the platoon of Ty Wigginton and Ian Stewart's corpse that has been chugging horribly along at third base for most of the season.
Insightful Commentary: Hudson came within an out of a complete-game shutout against the Nationals, but it was simply not meant to be. His final line, 8.2 innings with 2 runs, was still impressive, but it undersold his overall performance. He struck out six and walked none during the start, and according to WPA, it was his best start of the season.
Alex White was one of the main prizes of the Ubaldo Jimenez trade, along with Drew Pomeranz, and he will be making his second start for his new club against the D-Backs. He had very solid numbers in the minor leagues, but projects as more of a mid-rotation starter than a true ace. One thing to keep an eye on his control, which was a problem in the minors in 2010, but has gotten significantly better in 2011. It has proved his undoing in a couple of early season games in the majors, however.
Insightful Commentary: About two batters into Wade Miley's last start, I was seriously considering calling the D-Backs bullpen myself in the hopes that they would get someone up. But despite allowing 9 baserunners in six innings, Miley pitched a scoreless game and earned his first major-league Win. He's not going to be able to succeed indefinitely with a K:BB of 4:4, but he somehow made it work last time out, to his credit. I'd love to see that BB/9 of 5.4 go down soon, though.
Aaron Cook is 32 and has suffered through a number of injuries in the past few years. Thus, it shouldn't really be surprising that he isn't very good right now. But what I guess I had forgotten was how effective he was earlier in his career. He had an ERA+ above 100 every year between 2004 and 2010, despite having a dismal career strikeout rate of 3.75 per nine innings while playing at Coors Field. He's an extreme groundball pitcher, though, which tends to go over well at Coors.
Insightful Commentary: I'm really not one to complain about awards. Justin Upton probably won't win MVP, Ian Kennedy probably won't win the Cy Young, and I'm completely okay with both of those things. But Josh Collmenter should be getting some Rookie of the Year consideration, and I'm going to stand on a pedestal to say it. He leads NL rookie starters in ERA, and is second only to Craig Kimbrel in fWAR among all NL rookies in fWAR. Kimbrel has been awesome, but there are legitimate reasons not to give the award to a closer. I'm not saying Collmenter is a no-brainer pick for ROY, but he deserves to be mentioned more than he is.
Esmil Rogers has been in and out of the Rockies' rotation this season, with injuries and ineffectiveness plaguing him the whole way. He probably isn't as bad as his ERA indicates, as his BABIP this year is .367. Still, he should probably stop walking so many batters, as his 4.84 BB/9 can cause a lot of problems when balls are dropping in for hits.
Final Verdict: The Diamondbacks are at home, and they're hot, and you can make a fairly compelling argument that they have the pitching advantage in every single game in this series. I don't think I've predicted a sweep all season, but if I were going to, this would the series to do it. It seems like a shame to mess with karma now, so I'll say Diamondbacks two games to one.
Head over to our friends at Purple Row to get the Rockies' review of the series.