Colorado Rockies (92-70) 2nd place, NL West (Wild Card winner) vs Philadelphia Phillies (93-69) 1st place, NL East:
Keys for the Rockies: keep the scores down; get into the Phillies bullpen; ride Troy Tulowitzki.
The Rockies are going to be without Jorge De La Rosa for the first round with a groin problem. Ubaldo Jimenez and Aaron Cook are scheduled to start the first two games of the series which could turn out to be a blessing in disguise for the Rockies. Jimenez has dominating power stuff and Cook is the type of ground ball pitcher who will keep the Phillies in the park.
The Rockies have a good hitting team (they were second in the National League in runs scored this year----behind the Phillies), but they can't get into a slugfest with the Phillies. It's important for the Rockies to keep the scores low and/or close into the late innings and either be leading or within one or two runs by the ninth inning. The Phillies still don't have the faintest clue as to who they're going to use as their closer; Brad Lidge is a disaster; Ryan Madson has been up-and-down; and any of the other pitchers they could use are a flip of the coin. In a tight game the Rockies are going to have the advantage late.
Troy Tulowitzki carried the Rockies from the time Clint Hurdle was fired all the way through the end of the season. Just as it was in 2007, Tulowitzki is the glue of the Rockies and as he goes, so does the rest of the club; if he has a good series, the Rockies will have a good series; if not, they won't.
Keys for the Phillies: get a lead large enough to hand over to the bullpen; ride the starting pitchers deep.
After their World Series win in 2008, the Phillies are battle-tested. Cliff Lee is starting the opening game of the NLDS; Lee has never appeared in a post-season game and didn't pitch particularly well down the stretch after a blazing start in the National League when he was traded to the Phillies. The Phillies must get solid performances from their starting pitching to have a chance or they're going to have to bash their way through the Rockies. Cole Hamels is starting game two and he had an up-and-down year. If the two lefties don't pitch well, the Phillies are going to be in trouble and fast.
Jimmy Rollins had a poor offensive year, but he rises to the big occasions. Ryan Howard and Chase Utley are a devastating combination and Jayson Werth had his career year with 36 homers. Raul Ibanez slumped for the entire second half. They're all going to need to hit for the Phillies to b accumulate comfortable leads going into the late innings. As much as they still insist they're willing to trust Brad Lidge, no one in the Phillies organization nor the entire city of Philadelphia are going to be comfortable if he's pitching in any situation other than a mop-up role. If the Phillies have a one or two run lead in the eighth inning, it will be fascinating how they work their precarious situation.
What will happen:
I have deep concerns about the Phillies pitching from top-to-bottom. Lee and Hamels have not pitched well and the bullpen is like throwing a dart at a dartboard with eyes closed. Who knows what's going to happen late in the games if the Phillies are leading? The Rockies have a pitching advantage in both the starting rotation and the bullpen. Jimenez has power, dominating stuff that will keep the Phillies bashers in the park; Cook should keep the ball in the park in Philly. I think the Phillies starters are going to get batted around pretty good at home.
There will be at least one game out of the first two that comes down to whether the Phillies bullpen can get the job done and I have no confidence whatsoever in anyone they intend to use in the ninth inning. It would take courage beyond belief to trust Lidge in the ninth inning of the first game with a 1,2 or 3 run lead and I can't imagine manager Charlie Manuel doing it.
The Rockies are going to score off the Phillies pitching; I believe that the Rockies staff will be able to handle the Phillies lineup well enough to keep the games close and allow their club to take advantage of the Phillies bullpen issues. Tulowitzki will have a big series. The Rockies have been playing with a lot of luck since Jim Tracy took over and there's something that plainly and simply doesn't feel right about the Phillies. They're too righty heavy and won't score enough to deal with their own shaky pitching.
The Rockies ride will continue as they end the Phillies title reign in the first round.
PREDICTION: ROCKIES IN FOUR.