Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Rox roll to first flag

All four teams in the National League had a storybook entry into the playoffs this season. Take the Chicago Cubs, for example, who were 8 1/2 games out of first place after June 23. The Brewers' mid-season collapse, however, helped the Cubs pick up 6 1/2 games in the standings over 26 games in June and July and get to level ground with Milwaukee by August 1.

The Philadelphia Phillies had an even harder route to their division crown. With just 17 games to go, the Mets had a 7 game lead in the division and were already printing the playoff tickets. Winning 13 of the final 17, however, gave the Phillies a chance to win the division and the Mets struggled in the final two weeks of the season and the Mets were out.

How about the Diamondbacks? A team filled with rookies, a team with Eric Brynes as the third hitter and Doug Davis as the second starter won 90 games despite being outscored by 20 runs throughout the course of the season. The Diamondbacks took the division lead on July 28 and kept that division lead for every day except one after that, en route to a surprising playoff berth.

No playoff berth, however, was more surprising than the path that the Rockies took. After losing to Logan Kensing on September 15, the Rockies caught fire. Once again, proving the point that it doesn't matter who the best team in the playoffs is, just who the hottest team is, the Rockies rattled off 14 wins in the season's final 15 games before winning their first seven postseason matchups.

N. L. Wild Card Standings on September 15

1. San Diego Padres (80-67)
T2. Los Angeles Dodgers (79-69)
T2. Philadelphia Phillies (79-69)
4. Colorado Rockies (76-72)

Everyone had counted out the Rockies, even after they won their 11th straight game. Besides, they were still down by 2 games to San Diego with 3 left. But, the Diamondbacks rolled over after taking the first game of the season finale and the Padres lost the final two games of the season, thanks to Hoffman's struggles and the Rockies were able to force a one-game playoff.

Trevor Hoffman had a chance to nail down the final playoff spot in game 161. However, with two outs in the ninth inning, Tony Gwynn delivered the game-tying RBI triple to extend the game, which eventually ended with the Brewers winning. Then, in the tiebreaker, the Padres appeared to have the advantage. Even though the game was at Coors Field, the pitching matchup was laughably in San Diego's favor; 19-6 Jake Peavy vs. 10-9 Josh Fogg.

That didn't matter to the Rockies, just like it didn't matter that they were overmatched on paper against the Phillies and Diamondbacks. It also didn't matter that the Rockies were down by two runs in the 13th against Trevor Hoffman. This was their year and no one's was going to get in their way.

It seems like Hoffman pitched everyone into the playoffs except his own team. His save against the Brewers on September 28 sealed the deal for the Cubs and his blown save on September 29 put the Diamondbacks in while keeping the Rockies alive. On October 1, his blown save ended the Padres' season and let the Rockies continue on their glorious run.

The Rockies dominated the post-season, just breezing through NL's so-called best. Against the Phillies, the Rockies blew out Philadelphia in Game 2, while showing they can win the close ones in games 1 & 3. Against Arizona, pitching dominated for the Rockies, despite the fact that all of the games were either in Phoenix or Denver, as the West champions only scored 5 times in the first 36 innings of the game (even we scored 6 times against Arizona in 3 games).

The Rockies seem to be overmatched against both Boston and Cleveland, but don't tell them that. If the route that the Rockies took to win their first ever National League pennant isn't a sign that this was meant to be their year, I don't know what is.

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