National League wild-card game preview

Colorado Rockies make first playoff appearance in eight years


Colorado Rockies outfielder Carlos Gonzalez hits at Chase Field, the home field of the Arizona Diamondbacks on April 4, 2016. Gonzalez’s resurgence is a key factor for the Rockies in the Wild Card game. U.S. Air Force Photo by Airman 1st Class Ridge Shan

When the Colorado Rockies take on the Arizona Diamondbacks on Oct. 4, it will be their first playoff game in nearly a decade.

In their first visit to the playoffs since 2009, the Rockies will face off against the Diamondbacks in a one-game wild card playoff at Chase Field in Phoenix. The last time the two teams met in the playoffs, the Rockies swept the National League Championship Series in 2007, capping their historic Rocktober run. Both teams turned around losing 2016 campaigns to earn spots among MLB’s best in October.

A year and a half after trading franchise icon Troy Tulowitzki, the Rockies have done nothing but improve. During general manager Jeff Bridich’s first season, the team won 68 games. They jumped to 76 in 2016 and 87 this year, the third best mark in franchise history. This year, they ended every day of the regular season in a playoff spot. The team will now look to replicate the magic of their first play-in game a decade ago, one that presumably encouraged MLB to incorporate the concept into the playoffs every year.

Both teams will follow their aces in the win-or-go-home matchup. While Arizona will send the $200 million man, Zack Greinke, to the mound the Rockies will counter with 25-year-old flamethrower Jon Gray.

Greinke rebounded from an abysmal 2016 to post a 3.20 ERA, averaging just over one baserunner per inning and striking out 9.6 hitters per nine innings. However, the decision to opt for Greinke isn’t without controversy, as his teammate Robbie Ray posted a sub-3.00 ERA and equally carried the weight of the franchise’s first competitive season since 2011. The team will back Greinke’s arm with a lineup anchored by perennial MVP candidate Paul Goldschmidt and two-time National League Player of the Week J.D. Martinez.

On the Rockies side, Gray looks to carry over his hot streak into the playoffs. Since the beginning of August, he has posted a sub-2.50 ERA in 11 starts. The last time he allowed more than three runs in a start was on July 19. In the 13 starts he’s made since then he’s dominated. He has begun to show that ace potential the Rockies took third overall in the 2013 draft. On Sept. 12, he pitched his third-best game of the season by game score, limiting the Diamondbacks to two runs in seven innings and striking out 12 at Chase Field. It was the last time he faced Arizona in the regular season.

Offensively, Rockies manager Bud Black will look to two other MVP candidates, Charlie Blackmon and Nolan Arenado, to tip the spear as they have done all season. But, a strong supporting cast could be the deciding factor in the decisive game. After a league-worst first half, longtime Rockie Carlos Gonzalez hit .314 after the All Star Break and improved his on-base percentage by nearly 100 points. Additionally, shortstop Trevor Story is hitting .333 through 24 at bats in his career against Greinke, including four home runs.

Arizona took the regular season series 11-8 against the Rockies. But, as Moises Alou, outfielder in the famous Steve Bartman incident so eloquently put it, “anything can happen in the playoffs, especially when you face good pitching.”

The NL wild-card game begins at 6 p.m. MDT with no obvious choice for a victor and a season’s worth of work on the line.

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