NLCS preview Rockies vs Diamondbacks

NLCS preview Rockies vs Diamondbacks

NLCS preview Rockies vs Diamondbacks
Covers.com

The best in the West will collide when division rivals Colorado and Arizona meet in the best-of-seven National League Championship Series.

The Rockies took 10 of the 18 regular season games against the Diamondbacks, hitting .280 versus the Arizona staff. In their most recent run-in, Colorado took two of three at home in the closing days of the regular season.

The NLCS is set to start Thursday at Arizona’s Chase Field. The hometown D-Backs will likely send ace Brandon Webb to the hill to counter Rockies left-hander Jeff Francis.

ARIZONA DIAMONDBACKS

Why they’ll win: Arizona’s strength will always be its pitching, yet the Diamondbacks were able to generate some surprising numbers at the plate in their NLDS against one of the better pitching staffs in the bigs.

Over the three playoff games with Chicago, Arizona batted .266 (better than the Red Sox’s two-game average) and totaled 16 runs including six home runs. Shortstop Stephen Drew is hitting .500 (7-for-14) in the postseason, with two round-trippers, while Chris Young and Eric Byrnes add some uncharacteristic power to the D-Backs order.

The run support is allowing Arizona’s pitchers to throw stress-free for the first time after a season of nail-biters. The staff held the Cubs’ power hitters in check, keeping a collective 2.00 ERA during the NLDS with 27 strikeouts. Seventeen of those K’s came from starters Brandon Webb and Doug Davis, who’ll likely start both games in Arizona this week.

The Diamondbacks bullpen has been perfect in the late innings recently with a solid three-inning mix of Tony Pena, Brandon Lyon and closer Jose Valverde. Valverde has been untouchable with six strikeouts in three innings of postseason work.

Why they’ll lose: The Diamondbacks were able to do enough damage at the plate to get past the on-again, off-again Chicago offense. Arizona now faces one of the majors’ most potent run-scoring teams.

Arizona was outscored by the Rockies 86-72 over their 18 divisional meetings this season, with Colorado winning 10 of those games. The Desert Snakes will need runners on base when they go yard instead of settling for solo home runs if they’re to match the Rockies output.

It won’t be easy with Colorado pitching the way it is. Rockies pitchers tallied 26 strikeouts against the Phillies in three games – bad news for a D-Backs offense that whiffed 35 times during their division series. The Rox arms are also backed up by the best defense in big league history.

COLORADO ROCKIES

Why they’ll win: It wasn’t only the offense that got the job done for the well-rounded Rockies this postseason.

Colorado came into this series known for its powerful attack. Its hitters batted .298 and averaged over six runs per game in the closing days of the season. The Rockies toned down the power in the NLDS, producing runs by any means necessary.

Colorado had 12 extra-base hits during the three games against Philadelphia, getting great production at the plate from some unlikely sources. Second baseman Kazuo Matsui, catcher Yorvit Torrealba and pinch-hit heroes Seth Smith and Jeff Baker all stepped up in October.

The Rox starters have also performed well, especially rookie hurler Ubaldo Jimenez, who was stellar in Saturday’s Game 3. His coming-out party, as well as solid efforts from Jeff Francis, long reliever Josh Fogg and the one-two punch of Brian Fuentes and Manny Corpus, kept the NL’s best bats dumbfounded for the entire series.

Why they’ll lose: Despite winning the season series, Colorado will have to strike when the iron is hot against the Diamondbacks’ stingy defense – even if it means going against what got it there in the first place.

As bad as the Cubs played against Arizona this past week, Chicago manager Lou Piniella did have the right idea by staying aggressive on the base paths with a lot of hit-and-run situations. The Rockies will have to do the same thing but, unlike the Cubs, hit with runners in scoring position and avoid the multiple double plays that did Chicago in.

This style of baseball isn’t natural for Colorado, which isn’t known for stealing bases and playing small ball. The Rox managed only 100 stolen bases in the regular season and didn’t swipe a single bag in the NLDS.

Pick: Diamondbacks in seven games

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Re: NLCS preview Rockies vs Diamondbacks

Rockies, Diamondbacks see similarities
October 7, 2007

Associated Press

PHOENIX (AP) -- When the Arizona Diamondbacks look across the field at the Colorado Rockies this week, they may feel as if they're looking into a mirror.

The teams took similar routes to an unlikely destination -- the NL championship series.

"We're going to have our hands full with Arizona, a tough team," Rockies outfielder Jeff Baker said. "We know them. They know us."

Start with their records: Arizona won the NL West with a league-best 90-72. The Rockies, who had to defeat San Diego in a one-game playoff to earn a wild card berth, finished 90-73.

Both clubs have built from within, and they've done it relatively cheaply. The Rockies entered the season with a payroll of $54.4 million, $2.4 million more than the Diamondbacks. Only four clubs had lower payrolls.

Instead of spending on free agents, both organizations committed to building through the draft. Two of their finest products can be found at shortstop -- Colorado's Troy Tulowitzki, drafted in the first round two years ago, and Arizona's Stephen Drew, picked in the first round a year earlier.

Game 1 on Thursday night will pit dazzling starting pitchers Brandon Webb of Arizona and Jeff Francis of Colorado. Both are homegrown.

"It speaks to the good old-fashioned values of baseball: scouting and player development and building from within and being patient and taking chances and things working out," Colorado manager Clint Hurdle said after the Rockies wrapped up a three-game sweep of the Philadelphia Phillies in their NL playoff series.

Inexperience can prove costly. But for the Diamondbacks and the Rockies, what they don't know hasn't hurt them.

"With this team, everybody calls us young, but I think it's the most exciting team I've been on," said Drew, the younger brother of Boston's J.D. Drew.

The playoffs have been sweet for two teams that have struggled in recent years.

Colorado, which lost 94 games in 2004 and 95 in 2005, posted its first winning record since 2000. The Diamondbacks went 51-111 three years ago, and this year they broke a streak of three consecutive losing seasons, longest in the franchise's 10 years.

Both started slowly this year; the Diamondbacks were 47-43 at the All-Star break, third in the NL West, 31/2 games behind San Diego. Colorado was 44-44 and in fourth place, 51/2 games out.

"Everybody has been waiting for them to fall on their faces, but they're a good team," Colorado reliever Brian Fuentes said of the Diamondbacks. "No one projected us to be where we are, so it's going to be two very good ball clubs going at it."

Instead of quitting, both teams kept playing hard. That's a credit to Hurdle and Arizona manager Bob Melvin, as well as the desire of younger players to stick in the major leagues.

"It's a team," said Arizona left fielder Eric Byrnes, one of the Diamondbacks' few veterans. "It's as much of a team as you'll find in professional sports today.

"You have 25 guys pulling for each other," Byrnes said. "I've never heard one guy complain all year. We have guys who are ready to win. We've already exceeded expectation so far and we're going to continue to do so."

The Diamondbacks and Rockies have shown a penchant for hot streaks. The Diamondbacks won 17 of 20 in July and August, taking over first place.

The Rockies have won 17 of their last 18, the hottest streak in their 15-year history.

The only pitcher to defeat the Rockies in that stretch? Webb, who beat Francis 4-2 on Sept. 28 in Denver.

Said Colorado outfielder Brad Hawpe, "I looked at the date the other day and I don't even know what the date is now. Things are flying by now."

The Diamondbacks and Rockies met four times in spring training -- their camps are a few miles apart in Tucson -- and 18 in the regular season, with the Rockies winning the season series 10-8.

"From both sides, there's going to be no surprises," Hurdle said. "It's going to be who plays the best, and that's what baseball should be about."

The similarities between Arizona and Colorado have showed in the playoffs. Arizona outscored the Chicago Cubs 16-6 in a three-game sweep of their series. The Rockies swept the Phillies by a combined score of 16-8.

In both series, the Diamondbacks and Rockies got timely hitting while shutting down their opponents' top batters.

Against Colorado, Philadelphia's Ryan Howard and Jimmy Rollins went a combined 5-for-23 (.217) with 2 homers and 5 RBIs.

The Diamondbacks limited Cubs sluggers Alfonso Soriano, Derrek Lee and Aramis Ramirez to a combined 9-for-36 (.250) with no home runs or RBIs.

"A lot of people, they're not giving credit to those guys because they're young and they don't have the big names on their team," Soriano said of Arizona's pitchers. "But they play the game good. You have to give them a lot of credit."

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Re: NLCS preview Rockies vs Diamondbacks

NLCS preview
VegasInsider.com 

Alright, so the month of October has been somewhat of a surprise in Major League Baseball. The Phillies will have to wait for another go-around next season, the Cubs dry spell of a run to the World Championship continues and the Yankees capped off 2007 with making Cleveland’s starter Paul Byrd looking like a perennial All-Star.

We now move into the AL and NL Championship series.

Two clubs with a slew of up-and-coming stars will begin to play a pair of games in the desert starting on Thursday. Arizona has the home field advantage and will put the ball in the hands of last year’s Cy Young award winning starter Brandon Webb (1-0, 1.29 ERA in the playoffs). Colorado will try to offset the Diamondbacks’ batting order when starting hurler Jeff Francis (1-0, 3.00 ERA) toes the slab. Gametime is set to begin at 8:30 p.m. EDT, while most books have opened Arizona as a $1.22 home favorite. A total of 7 ½ runs has been set.

Arizona: Sweeping the Chicago Cubs right off their feet in three games, Arizona outscored the Cubbies 16-6. Starters Brandon Webb, Doug Davis and Livan Hernandez combined to produce a 3-0 record accompanied with a low 3.05 ERA. Even better was the production set forth by the Diamondback bullpen. Four relievers, including closer Jose Valverde worked for an impressive 0.00 ERA, while giving up five hits in a total of 8.1 innings.

While all this statistical information was great news for Arizona in the NLDS, what can we expect when Colorado comes to town on Thursday?

With 8-10 record against the Rockies this season, Webb was toppled for a 1-3 performance with a bloated 5.77 ERA. Overall, the complete pitching staff was touched for a 4.20 ERA.

The batters box didn’t perform that much better during the regular season against Colorado. In those 18 total games, the Diamondbacks could hear crickets chirping when its lineup was strangled for a .248 BA, with 3.9 runs batted in.

Left fielder Eric Byrnes and first baseman Tony Clark where the big producers this season against the Rockies, batting for a combined .282 BA, while racking up 27 RBIs.

Arizona will enter this series with a 51-24 record in their last 75 games as a favorite, and are 24-11 performance in its last 35 games versus a starter with a WHIP greater than 1.30.

One key for the Diamondbacks in this series will be having the starters keeping the game close. The bullpen is rock solid with Juan Cruz, Tony Pena, Brandon Lyon and closer Valverde keeping offences out of action.

The weakest part of Arizona’s play lies with the bats at the plate. This is a lineup who strikes out like their swinging at flies and there’s absolutely no patients inside the box. If there’s any chance for the D-Backs to jump on top of Colorado, it has to be in speed around the base path (Colorado catcher Yorvit Torrealba threw out runners for a horrible 19.7-percent).

Looking past starter Webb is a tough proposition to digest, especially with the offense that Colorado brings to the diamond. If slingers Davis and Hernandez can give the bullpen a chance to support the rest of the team then Arizona might be able to stretch this championship series to the limits.

Expected Starters: Brandon Webb Game 1, Doug Davis Game 2, Livan Hernandez Game 3, N/A Game 4, N/A Game 5, N/A Game 6, N/A Game 7

Colorado: There’s no questioning that the Rockies are the dominant hitting team in this matchup. They ranked top five during the regular season in batting average, runs per game and on base plus slugging percentage. Players like Matt Holiday, Brad Hawpe and Garrett Atkins combined for 364 RBIs during the regular season.

But there’s a down side to every positive and the Rockies aren’t void of this statement.

On the road this year, Colorado’s bats have been less effective then when playing at Coors Field. Compared to a .298 BA, .480 slugging percentage and a .372 on base percentage at home, the Rockies have registered a .261 BA, .480 slugging percentage and a .372 on base percentage when designated as the visiting team.

The numbers on the mound are almost identical when playing games either at home or on the road. At Coors Field during the regular season, Colorado’s pitching brass worked for a 4.34 ERA, while giving up 82 homeruns in 82 games. With the visiting jerseys on, the Rockies posted similar numbers; a 4.29 ERA, giving up 82 long balls with 6.2 strikeouts per nine innings (5.6 whiffs per nine innings).

In the sweep against Philadelphia in the NLDS, starter Jeff Francis was very efficient, hurling six innings with eight strikeouts two base on balls. Francis surrendered four hits and two earned runs in his only appearance.

As a team, the Rockies truly shutdown the Phillies with a 2.33 ERA and a low 1.04 WHIP. Closer Manny Corpas did his job in all three games, pitching 3.1 innings, while surrendering just two hits. Corpas racked up three saves in all three appearances.

The formula for success within the Rockies dugout will be timely hitting backed up by pitching that can hold runs off the score board. Easier said then done.

Defensively, second baseman Augie Ojeda will be filling in for Orlando Hudson, who under went season ending surgery in September for a torn ligament in his left thumb. Hudson left 2007 behind with a solid .294 BA with 63 RBIs. That’s a thump in the lineup to watch out for in this series.

Another player to watch out for who’s been flying under the radar is centerfielder Ryan Spilborghs. A second year right handed batter out of Cal-Santa Barbara has been a great surprise for the Rockies. Hitting .299 with 51 RBIs during the regular season, Spilborghs is just another weapon that Colorado posses as a sleeping factor. Against lefty pitchers this year, Spilborghs has hit for a blinding .356 BA.

Expected Starters: Jeff Francis Game 1, Ubaldo Jimenez Game 2, Franklin Morales Game 3, N/A Game 4, N/A Game 5, N/A Game 6, N/A Game 7

Prediction: I’m favoring Colorado’s pitching staff over Arizona (with exception to middle relief and the overall play of Diamondbacks closer Jose Valverde), especially within the starting rotation.

The hitting advantage also goes to the Rockies with power mixed in with contact hitting. It’s in the numbers; Colorado’s seasonal batting numbers are just that much better then the Diamondbacks.

Home field advantage does play a major roll in this series, but as you can tell so far in this prediction, I’m leaning on Colorado. If the Rockies can get ahead of Arizona’s starting hurlers (which looks very possible) then expect Colorado to be flying a mile high.

Colorado in seven games.

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Re: NLCS preview Rockies vs Diamondbacks

NLCS Preview - Colorado Rockies vs. Arizona Diamondbacks
October 9th, 2007

(Sports Network) - A pair of National League West rivals will square off for the right to represent the Senior Circuit at the World Series when the Arizona Diamondbacks and Colorado Rockies hook up in the National League Championship Series with the best-of-seven set starting Thursday at Chase Field.

Although, if you had told most people at the beginning of the season that this division would have two teams battling for the NL Pennant, the smart money would have been on the San Diego Padres and Los Angeles Dodgers squaring off.

But, it is the upstart Diamondbacks and the red-hot Rockies, who enter this series having won 17 of their last 18 games. However, Colorado's lone loss in that span came at the hands of the NL West-champion Diamondbacks.

Colorado carried its strong play down the stretch into the NLDS against Philadelphia, as the wild card Rockies swept the Phillies in three games to win their first-ever postseason series.

Surprisingly, it was Colorado's pitching staff that got them through the first round, as they held Philadelphia's potent offense to just a .172 batting average.

The Rockies also got a lift from second baseman Kaz Matsui, who hit .417 in the NLDS with a grand slam and six RBI, five of which came in Game 2.

Arizona, meanwhile, also swept its way through the NLDS, beating the Chicago Cubs in three straight to reach this round for only the second time in team history. The first, of course, came in 2001 when the D'Backs defeated the Atlanta Braves in five games on their way to their only World Series title.

Arizona is paced by reigning NL Cy Young Award winner Brandon Webb and an incredible bullpen, but it was their young lineup that led the way in the NLDS. Dynamic center fielder Chris Young had a pair of home runs, while Stephen Drew hit .500 with two homers and four RBI in the three games.

These teams are obviously no stranger to one another. Colorado won the season series, 10-8, while outscoring Arizona, 86-72. However, 12 of the games were decided by two runs or less, with each team winning six.

LINEUP

Most observers felt that the Diamondbacks' lineup was probably a year or so away entering the 2007 season. They grew up in a hurry, though, and shined brightest against the Cubs.

In addition to the youngsters named above, former top overall pick Justin Upton had a productive series, hitting .600 in his two games.

It wasn't just the neophytes helping out either, as second baseman Augie Ojeda, filling in for the injured Orlando Hudson, hit .444. High-energy outfielder Eric Byrnes did his part too, going 2-for-5 in the clinching game on Saturday with a home run.

Arizona should have a field day on the basepaths, as Rockies catcher Yorvit Torrealba threw runners out at a horrible 19.7-percent clip. The backstop was one of the few Rockies who hit in the NLDS, though, batting .500 with three RBI in the sweep.

Colorado is paced by its MVP candidate Matt Holliday, who belted 36 home runs and led the league with a .340 average and 137 RBI. Holliday, though, struggled against the Phillies despite a pair of home runs, hitting just .231.

First baseman Todd Helton waited 1,578 games to get into the postseason. Hopefully he is a little better in this series than he was in the previous one, which saw him get just one hit in 12 at-bats.

A lifetime .320 hitter, Helton figures to improve this series, as he has traditionally played pretty well against the Diamondbacks. In 160 games against them, Helton is hitting .327 with a 29 homers, 103 RBI and 116 runs scored.

Slick fielding rookie shortstop Troy Tulowitzki also came up small in the NLDS, hitting just .167. Tulowitzki, though, is worth his wait in gold in the field, where he maybe the best in the league at his position.

The Colorado outfield could get a boost this series, as speedy leadoff man Willy Taveras is expected back. Taveras missed the series with Philadelphia with a strained right quadriceps.

EDGE: ROCKIES

STARTING PITCHING

The Diamondbacks could have a decided advantage in this series thanks to the fact that Webb could pitch three times. He is slated to go in Game 1, but could then return on short rest in Game 4 before starting a potential seventh game on full rest.

The 28-year-old right-hander was 1-3 with a 5.77 ERA against Colorado this year. He has not pitched since last Wednesday and the long layoff could affect his devastating sinker.

Webb, who was 18-10 with a 3.01 ERA this season, was superb in his NLDS start, as he held the Cubs to a run and four hits over seven innings to get the win.

Left-hander Doug Davis will likely get the ball in Game 2, as he did against the Cubs. Davis got the win there, holding Chicago to four runs and five hits in 5 2/3 frames.

Colorado was just 20-24 against lefties this season.

Micah Owings, who did not pitch in the NLDS, and Livan Hernandez round out the rotation. Hernandez, who got the win in Arizona's clinching victory at Wrigley, is experienced in the postseason and will try to duplicate his 1997 stats when he went 4-0 in the playoffs to win both the NLCS and World Series MVP Awards, as the Florida Marlins captured a World Series title.

When you think of the Colorado Rockies, their pitching staff is usually not the first thing that comes to mind, but left-hander Jeff Francis could be on his way to changing that.

Francis, a 17-game winner this season, was brilliant in his first-ever postseason start against the Phillies in Game 1 of the NLDS, holding them to a pair of runs and four hits in six innings. He also recorded eight strikeouts in the win.

The 26-year-old lefty is 7-2 lifetime against the D'Backs with a 3.54 ERA in 14 starts.

After Francis, though, it gets a little shaky with the likes of Josh Fogg, Ubaldo Jimenez and Franklin Morales. Although, the Rockies got some tremendous starting pitching in the first round, the team will be more than happy to welcome back injured starters Jason Hirsh and Aaron Cook for this series.

Cook, the team's Opening Day starter, has the best shot at returning for this matchup and was 8-7 with a 4.12 ERA before being shelved in early August with a strained right oblique.

Hirsh, meanwhile, has also been out since early August with a fractured right fibula.

EDGE: DIAMONDBACKS

BULLPEN

Diamondbacks closer Jose Valverde recorded an NL-best best 47 saves this season and is the backbone of their bullpen. A big key to this series will be how "Papa Grande" handles Colorado's potent lineup. Todd Helton (6-for-9) has had success off of him and so has Holliday (2-for-4).

Right-handers Brandon Lyon, Tony Pena and Juan Cruz are as good of a front end of a bullpen as there is in the league. They run into problems, though, if they are called into duty too early. Doug Slaten will handle the lefties in Colorado's lineup.

Colorado, meanwhile, relies on Manny Corpas to get it home. Corpas replaced Brian Fuentes as the team's closer midway during the season and posted 19 saves and a 2.08 ERA in a team-high 78 appearances this year.

Corpas was excellent against the Phillies, recording the save in all three games. He should be solid again this series, as the Diamondbacks are just 3- for-36 lifetime against them.

Fuentes was also phenomenal against the Phils, tossing 2 1/3 scoreless innings and earned the win in the clincher.

EDGE: DIAMONDBACKS

MANAGERS

Arizona skipper Bob Melvin, believed to be the frontrunner for the NL Manager of the Year award, has been the main man in Arizona since 2004 and is in the playoffs for the first time with the D'backs after his team won their fourth division title with a record of 90-72. The mellow Melvin did a great job with the majority of young players he had to manage and has been complimented on his calm demeanor.

If Melvin does indeed win the NL Manager of the Year award, Rockies skipper Clint Hurdle will likely finish not far behind.

For the first time since taking over in 2002, Hurdle finished above .500. He entered this year with just a 352-436 in five years with the Rockies, but guided the club to a 90-73 mark this season for Colorado's best winning percentage since 1995.

EDGE: DIAMONDBACKS

BENCH

Tony Clark will start some at first base, but is more useful to Arizona as a big switch-hitting bat off the bench late in games. He had four home runs and 13 RBI in just 31 at-bats against the Rockies this season.

Alberto Callaspo and Jeff Salazar could also be used in late-inning situations.

Jamey Carroll can play second, short and third base off the bench for Colorado, but hit just .225 on the year. Carroll, though, hit .368 in 12 games against Arizona and had a .500 on-base-percentage in those contests.

Jeff Baker can pinch hit from the right side and play first and right field. Cory Sullivan and Ryan Spilborghs will see some time in the outfield too, if Taveras cannot go.

EDGE: ROCKIES

PROGNOSIS

There is a chance that Webb could throw three times in this series and that alone should be enough to give the Diamondbacks the edge. The long layoff, while it got the Rockies healthy, has to be looked at a disadvantage for Colorado. The Rox were so hot, there is no way they wanted to sit for five days. Arizona's starters are not great, other than Webb, but they will be better than Colorado's here. I just can't see the Rockies pitching the way they did in the NLDS.

Prediction: DIAMONDBACKS IN SIX

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Re: NLCS preview Rockies vs Diamondbacks

Keys to winning the 2007 NLCS
October 9th, 2007

(Sports Network) - A pair of National League West rivals will square off for the right to represent the Senior Circuit at the World Series when the Arizona Diamondbacks and Colorado Rockies hook up in the National League Championship Series starting Thursday at Chase Field.

Although, if you had told most people at the beginning of the season that this division would have two teams battling for the NL Pennant, the smart money would have been on the San Diego Padres and Los Angeles Dodgers squaring off.

But, it is the upstart Diamondbacks and the red-hot Rockies, who enter this series having won 17 of their last 18 games. However, Colorado's lone loss in that span came at the hands of the NL West-champion Diamondbacks.

Colorado carried its strong play down the stretch into the NLDS against Philadelphia, as the Rockies swept the Phillies in three games to win their first-ever postseason series.

Surprisingly, it was Colorado's pitching staff that got them through the first round, as they held Philadelphia's potent offense to just a .172 batting average.

Arizona, meanwhile, also swept its way through the NLDS, beating the Chicago Cubs in three straight to reach this round for only the second time in team history. The first, of course, came in 2001 when the D'Backs defeated the Atlanta Braves in five games on their way to their only World Series title.

These teams are obviously no stranger to one another. Colorado won the season series, 10-8, while outscoring Arizona, 86-72. However, 12 of the games were decided by two runs or less, with each team winning six.

As an introduction to this NLCS matchup, let's take a look at the keys to winning the series for both clubs:

ARIZONA DIAMONDBACKS

1. BRANDON WEBB

There are not many better pitchers in baseball than the National League's reigning Cy Young Award winner. Webb could get three starts this series and if he does you have to like the D'Backs' chances.

He is slated to go in Game 1, but could then return on short rest in Game 4 before starting a potential seventh game on full rest.

The 28-year-old right-hander was 1-3 with a 5.77 ERA against Colorado this year. He has not pitched since last Wednesday and the long layoff could affect his devastating sinker.

Webb, who was 18-10 with a 3.01 ERA this season, was superb in his NLDS start, as he held the Cubs to a run and four hits over seven innings to get the win.

2. BULLPEN

Diamondbacks closer Jose Valverde recorded an NL-best best 47 saves this season and is the backbone of the Arizona bullpen. A big key to this series will be how "Papa Grande" handles Colorado's potent lineup. Todd Helton (6- for-9) has had success off of him and so has Matt Holliday (2-for-4).

Right-handers Brandon Lyon, Tony Pena and Juan Cruz are as good of a front end of a bullpen as there is in the league. They run into problems, though, if they are called into duty too early.

3. YOUNGSTERS

Everyone knew Arizona's time was coming. Few, though, expected the Diamondbacks to get so good, so soon.

Dynamic center fielder Chris Young had a pair of home runs in the NLDS, while Stephen Drew hit .500 with two homers and four RBI in the three-game sweep. Former first overall pick Justin Upton also had a big series against the Cubs, hitting .600 in his two games.

How the youngsters respond under the even brighter lights of the NLCS stage will go a long way in determining the outcome of this matchup.

COLORADO ROCKIES

1. MATT HOLLIDAY/TODD HELTON

Matt Holliday and Todd Helton powered the Rockies' high octane offense all season. However, both struggled in the NLDS, despite Holliday hitting a pair of home runs.

Holliday, who is a leading NL MVP candidate, belted 36 home runs and led the league with a .340 average and 137 RBI. However, he hit just .231 in the Phillies series.

Helton, meanwhile, waited 1,578 games to get into the postseason. Hopefully he is a little better in this series than he was in the previous one, which saw him get just one hit in 12 at-bats.

A lifetime .320 hitter, Helton figures to improve in this series, as he has traditionally played pretty well against the Diamondbacks. In 160 games against them, Helton is hitting .327 with a 29 homers, 103 RBI and 116 runs scored.

Both will have to be better if Colorado plans on advancing to its first World Series.

2. GETTING SOME INJURED PLAYERS BACK

While the long layoff will likely ruin Colorado's momentum, it could serve a better purpose as some its injured players get a much-needed few extra days of rest. Thanks to the nearly week break, the Rockies should have outfielder Willy Taveras back for this series. The speedy outfielder was sidelined for the NLDS with a strained oblique.

More importantly, though, starters Aaron Cook and Jason Hirsh could also return.

Cook, the team's Opening Day starter, has the best shot at returning for this matchup and was 8-7 with a 4.12 ERA before being shelved in early August with a strained right oblique.

Hirsh, meanwhile, has also been out since early August with a fractured right fibula.

Having Cook back will alleviate some of the pressure on young Jeff Francis.

3. JEFF FRANCIS

When you think of the Colorado Rockies, their pitching staff is usually not the first thing that comes to mind, but left-hander Jeff Francis could be on his way to changing that.

Francis, a 17-game winner this season, was brilliant in his first-ever postseason start against the Phillies in Game 1 of the NLDS, holding them to a pair of runs and four hits in six innings. He also recorded eight strikeouts in the win.

The 26-year-old lefty is 7-2 lifetime against the D'Backs with a 3.54 ERA in 14 starts.

After Francis, though, it gets a little shaky with the likes of Josh Fogg, Ubaldo Jimenez and Franklin Morales.

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Re: NLCS preview Rockies vs Diamondbacks

Melvin sticking with same rotation in NLCS
By ASSOCIATED PRESS

PHOENIX -- Arizona manager Bob Melvin will stick with the same rotation in the NL championship series that he used - or planned to use - in the Diamondbacks' division series against the Chicago Cubs.

After ace Brandon Webb goes in Game 1 against Colorado on Thursday night, Arizona will start lefty Doug Davis in Game 2 Friday.

Right-hander Livan Hernandez will be the Game 3 starter on Sunday night, followed by rookie right-hander Micah Owings in Game 4 on Monday.

Owings did not pitch in the division series because Arizona swept in three games. He pitched in an instructional league game in Tucson on Tuesday.

Melvin said he is not inclined to use Webb on three days' rest for Game 4. That would give his best pitcher an extra day off before Game 5 on Oct. 17 in Denver.

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