The Wild Card sucks. Despite having the third-best record in the NL, we have to play a one-game playoff to advance to the next round, courtesy of having the Dodgers in our division. And unfortunately in baseball, the odds of winning a single game don't get much better than ~50-60%, regardless of how good you are.
For instance, the moneyline for this game right now is AZ -174. This translates into a roughly 62% chance that Vegas is putting on AZ to win this game. That's actually a tad bit higher than I would expected, but it should show the impact of a one-game Wild Card: there is a very decent chance that we don't advance despite being a better team.
Luckily, there are a few things that we can do to maximize our chances of winning. They may be small in magnitude, but everything we can do helps.
Pitch Greinke two times through the order then pull him
Since we no longer have a long season to worry with (and a day off before our first potential NLDS game), we can afford to be more aggressive in how we use our pitchers. In this regard, we shouldn't be looking to pitch Greinke as long as possible. Pitchers naturally get worse as they face batters for the second, third, and fourth times through the order, and Greinke is no exception:
Greinke Time Through Order 2017
|Time Through Order||K/9||BB/9||HR/9||FIP||wOBA|
|Time Through Order||K/9||BB/9||HR/9||FIP||wOBA|
Greinke shows a pretty dramatic drop in efficiency by the third time through the order. The first and second times through he's pitching like an ace, but his numbers really take a dive, especially his strikeout and home run rates. He's managed to get by with a .306 wOBA, and I assign some of that skill to being as good and as smart as Greinke is, but 4.68 FIP is a significant drop in performance.
Greinke could pitch a gem through the first two turns of the lineup. But in a game where every run matters for continuing our season, we need to be exceptionally quick on the hook by his 19th batter. Even if you think Greinke is going to keep pitching well, we have several options that can replace him at equal or better performance and much less risk, including a few names you might not expect...
Use Godley, Corbin and/or Ray as middle relief
It's kind of a double-edged sword, with Ray slated to start game 1 of the NLDS, but that game doesn't matter if we don't make it. Ray is best pitcher after Greinke (and really, our best pitcher period) so we shouldn't be opposed to using him if the game truly needed it.
That being said, we could easily use Godley or Corbin and save Ray without costing much. In a smaller relief role, Godley or Corbin should be able to pitch with extra velocity and command, heightening their already superior stuff. They are likely to outperform anyone else in our bullpen, save Bradley, and get multiple innings in the process. There is enough time between now and game 3 to allow us to flex one of our starters into a middle relief role and eat up more innings with a dominant starting pitcher instead of turning to weaker bullpen pitchers.
In an ideal world, Greinke gets us through 5, Corbin or Godley get us through 7, Bradley gets the 8th, and Rodney gets the 9th.
Use Bradley in the highest leverage situation
This is one of those really annoying traditions still left in baseball ("closer" only pitching the ninth being another example) that we need to shy away from in a playoff situation. If we find ourselves in a high leverage situation, no matter the inning (yes, even the first few innings), Bradley is who we should turn to. As a reliever, Bradley has been one of the most dominant pitchers in baseball, with his 38 ERA- ranking 7th-best among all MLB pitchers (starters and relievers included). There is frankly no one suited to get us out of a jam more than Archie and we need to use this resource as such. The beauty of Archie is that we can get 2-3 innings out of him if we absolutely need to. So even if we bring him in early to escape a jam, we can still use him to eat a few more innings as well.
Aside from Rodney, the rest of the bullpen should be focused heavily on matchup and platoon advantages. We shouldn't hesitate to make as many pitching changes as needed and use every single matchup to our advantage. We can neutralize Carlos Gonzalez with JDLR or Chafin; Arenado and Reynolds can be neturalized with several righties from our bullpen. Blackmon is the only Rockies player without a significant platoon split (135 wRC+ vs LHP, 145 wRC+ vs RHP) and we should be using our bullpen, if needed, to take advantage of this matchups.
In low leverage situations, stick to Greinke or our middle relief; in higher leverage situations, use Bradley and then platoon-advantaged relievers.
Start Chris Iannetta
I know we just reactived Mathis and he has been Greinke's prime catcher, but if we want to win this game, our best chance is going to be with Iannetta behind the plate and not Mathis.
We're facing RHP Jon Grey. On the season, Iannetta has a wOBA that is almost 100 points higher than Mathis (.349 and 109 wRC+ vs .251 and 44 wRC+). The offensive black hole that is Mathis just doesn't make up for his slight edge in defense (-2 DRS for Iannetta, +1 for Mathis) and in pitch framing. Furthermore, Iannetta gives us a key lefty-smashing bat for the Rockies (McGee, Rusin, Dunn).
Pinch Hit for Lamb against lefty relievers unless you need a homer
If we're trying to play for a single game victory, then the platoon matching needs to happen on the offensive side, too. And in this regard, no one is more suspectible to platoons than Jake Lamb is, specifically against left-handed relievers.
The good news is that the Rockies are starting Jon Gray, a righty, so Jake Lamb will have the platoon advantage to start the game. The bad news is that the Rockies have several good left-handed relievers that can really neutralize Lamb in a key moment late in the game. Thus, we would look to pinch-hit for him with a righty.
But this should not be treated as a blanket rule. If we need a home run to tie the game or take the lead, then Jake Lamb is probably our best bet against a left-handed reliever. But aside from that, a platoon option will be the better play. Unfortunately, our bench is likely to be lefty-heavy, assuming we start Drury (Herrmann, Hazelbaker, Descalso) and Rosales just isn't a good hitter, period. So we don't have great options to replace Lamb with, either. But if we're looking to get a baserunner, then Descalso or Hazelbaker are going to be better bets than Lamb.
Play well and get lucky
And at the end of the day, we have to play well and hope we don't get too unlucky if we want to win this game. We can do certain things to help maximize our chances, and there are plenty of other small things we can do that I didn't identify, but it's still going to be close to a coin flip and certainly nerve-wracking. I am fairly confident in our chances at home with Greinke but I will surely be on the edge of my seat as I watch the game tomorrow.