These two NL West teams seem destined to face each other in the one-game crapshoot known as the wildcard game. The Rockies were division leaders as recently as Jun 20, then lost eight straight to drop down to third where they’ve remained since (aside from a few brief forays into second place, the last on Aug 20). The D-Backs haven’t led since Jun 1 and have mostly held down second place since then. This three game set is the final series between these two, with Arizona holding a 9-6 season edge going in. More after the jump.
Game 1 at Chase Field matched Diamonback ace Zack Greinke against rookie Kyle Freeland for the Rox. This game was a see-saw affair with the home side striking first with a singleton in the second on Greinke’s two-out bases-loaded single, beating out a swinging bunt down the first base line. The Rockies tied it up when DJ LeMahieu cashed Jonathan Lucroy, who had led off the third frame with a triple. Arizona retook the lead on an Adam Rosales sac fly in the fourth but Colorado again tied it with a pair of doubles in the sixth, the scoring shot courtesy of Nolan Arenado. The score remained tied into the eighth when Arenado untied things with a three run blast off Jake Barrett; first year D-Back manager Torey Lovullo may have made one move too many as Barrett was the third pitcher into the game in as many batters, the first two having been retired in order. The D-Backs made it close with a pair in the bottom of the frame, then got the tying and winning runs into scoring position in the 9th before Rockie closer Greg Holland escaped with his league-leading 40th save of the season. Final score: Rockies 5, D-Backs 4
Freeland has been a very pleasant surprise for Colorado, logging a 125 ERA+ through 28 starts, currently the best ERA+ by a Rockie rookie with 25+ starts, eclipsing the 120 mark by Armando Reynoso in Colorado’s maiden 1993 season. The last 17 NL rookies with 25 starts and ERA+ higher than 120 (going back to Fernando Valenzuela in 1981) have all finished no worse than 8th in RoY voting, including 6 RoY award winners; will be interesting to see how Freeland does. Freeland has gone 6+ innings in 16 of his 28 starts, but only three of those have come since July 9 when he flirted with a no-hitter against the White Sox, throwing 126 pitches before Melky Cabrera broke up the no-no with one out in the 9th.
For the second year in a row, Jonathan Lucroy was traded at the deadline to a playoff-contending team. Quiz (this one is really tough): since 1913, what is the only in-season trade involving catchers for two teams that both made the post-season? Hint: one of those catchers played in that year’s post-season against the team for which he played most of his career (but not the team he was traded from)
Game 2 pitted Jon Gray, another promising young arm for the Rockies, against Taijuan Walker for the home side. As was the case the night before, this match went back and forth with singleton runs by the D-Backs in the second and third frames sandwiching a two-run blast by Rockie right-fielder Carlos Gonzalez. The score would remain tied into the 7th when Gonzalez struck again, going yard with a man on off D-Back reliever David Hernandez. Gray went seven innings before handing off to the Colorado bullpen who held serve the rest of the way; Chris Rusin collected the save this night, spelling Holland who had worked in three of the four previous games. Final score: Rockies 4, D-Backs 2
Carlos Gonzalez’s 0.468 WPA was his best since 2015, and 8th best of his career. This was a franchise record third game in Gonzalez’s career with a pair of multi-run home runs both giving the Rockies the lead. Though this has been an off year for Gonzalez, he has quietly put together a nice career in Colorado; in his 9th season as a Rockie, Gonzalez reached 200 home runs this season, moving past Dante Bichette to rank fourth in franchise history, and passed Troy Tulowitzki to rank fifth in Hits and RBI.
With Freeland and Gray, Colorado has a pair of age 25-and-under pitchers on track to record 20 starts and (currently) 120 ERA+; this would be the second such team in Rockie history, and just the sixth with even one such hurler. Taijuan Walker, still only 24, is putting all the pieces together this year (25 starts, 144 ERA+), fulfilling the promise the Mariners saw when drafting him in the first round in 2010; I’m sure Seattle swallowed hard before trading Walker after last season, but that deal has worked well for both clubs with the M’s acquiring two solid everyday players (Mitch Haniger, Jean Segura) who have kept Seattle in the hunt in a season that has seen their pitching staff decimated by injuries.
Game 3 matched D-Back southpaw Patrick Corbin against another impressive Colorado rookie, 22 year-old German Marquez. Arizona was buzzing from the first frame, scoring and leaving men on base in each of the first five innings. Marquez lasted only into the fourth and did well to surrender just 4 runs from an 11 hit D-Back barrage. The game was probably no longer in doubt but J.D. Martinez made sure with a 3-run blast in the seventh. Final score: D-Backs 8, Rockies 2
This was the 33rd start (but the first this season) by a Rockie allowing 10+ hits in less than four innings, but only the eighth to happen on the road. Martinez’s home run was his 22nd since joining the D-Backs, going deep at a Ruthian clip of once every 9.1 PA. For the season Martinez stands at 38 home runs, tying his career high; if he gets to 40 and maintains his current OPS above 1.000, he would join Mark McGwire (1997) as the only players to record those totals in a season playing for two teams.
This was Corbin’s 30th start and 26th decision of the season, both tops in the NL. With 14 wins this season, Corbin has moved past Brian Anderson into second place for career wins by D-Back southpaws; however, it’s a distant second, still another 14 win season away from getting halfway to HOFer Randy Johnson.