Last Updated: 2018-10-03
How far can adrenaline carry a team in the Major League Baseball playoffs? We may find out because no team is in a worse spot entering the Division Series than the Colorado Rockies. Monday’s Game 163 against the Los Angeles Dodgers was to decide the NL West. Tuesday’s instant classic was a 13-inning affair to decide the NL Wild Card. Colorado won the one that mattered the most because it was a win or go home scenario.
The Milwaukee Brewers avoided that extra game by locking up the NL Central on Monday night at Wrigley Field with a win over the Chicago Cubs. The two teams responsible for keeping the Cubs, who had the best record in the NL just five days ago at time of writing, out of the NLDS now square off for a best-of-five test of wills.
At time of writing, no line had been posted for the series, as neither team has announced its starting rotation plans. We know that the Brewers are going to be very creative with their plans. Despite my love affair with what Milwaukee is doing from a contact management standpoint with its starters, this is clearly the weakest rotation of any playoff team. Wade Miley lines up on regular rest for Game 1 and could very well get the ball, but the Rockies batting order sets up well for a right-handed opener on Thursday night like Corbin Burnes or Freddy Peralta.
Give the Rockies credit for getting to this point, but that emotional gas tank has to be on empty. Colorado was in a dogfight for the division for the entire month of September and good chunk of the season. The Rockies actually won eight straight over the last week and a half of September and still needed Game 163 and then the Wild Card Game. This is a team that has gone through a lot.
The Brewers have as well, especially the emotion of forcing Game 163 and then winning Game 163, but they had a playoff berth in the bag beforehand and didn’t have to play that extra-inning pressure cooker Wild Card Game. They’ve had time to settle in and plan. The Rockies have not had that luxury.
Here is the schedule for the Rockies vs. Brewers NLDS series:
Game 1: Thursday October 4 @ MIL; Senzatela vs. Wholestaff; 5:07 p.m. ET
Game 2: Friday October 5 @ MIL; Anderson(?) vs. Chacin; 4:15 p.m. ET
Game 3: Sunday October 7 @ COL; TBD vs. Marquez; 4:37 p.m. ET
Game 4: Monday October 8 @ COL; TBD vs. Freeland; TBD*
Game 5: Wednesday October 10 @ MIL; TBD vs. TBD; TBD*
We can reasonably assume that’s how the Rockies will set it up, so Marquez and Freeland both go on full rest and go at home, as they are the two safest options. Jon Gray will work into the mix somehow.
The Brewers have a bunch of options. They can utilize openers, as they already have, with Dan Jennings pitching one-third of an inning to face Matt Carpenter. Freddy Peralta is a legit weapon that held right-handed batters to a .110/.209/.188 slash and a .185 wOBA. Jhoulys Chacin also shut down righties. Zach Davies and Chase Anderson could factor in. It turns out Chacin will get the Game 2 start, which likely means Gio Gonzalez in Coors Field at some point.
You can see why it’s taking a while to post odds for this series.
We know that the Rockies get penalized for Coors Field in the advanced metrics. Any metric that is park-adjusted is going to throw cold water on what Colorado has achieved. The Coors Field Effect also works the opposite way on the road, where hitters are seeing different movement on breaking balls and fastballs with a normalized environment. One of the numerous reasons why Coors Field is good for hitters is that the thin air provides less resistance on the ball. That creates less movement.
Also, obviously, fly balls travel farther with less resistance. Controls do need to be put in place for the offensive environment at Coors Field, for better or worse. Despite this advantageous run environment, the Rockies managed just under 5.5 runs per game at home. As you would expect, they were much worse on the road with 4.09 runs per game. Colorado is here because of its pitching and not its offense, which is kind of a crazy thing to say with everything that we know about Rockies baseball through the years.
Even with that great hitting environment at home, the Rockies ranked 21 in wOBA, which is not adjusted for park factor at Fangraphs. In the park-adjusted wRC+ metric, the Rockies posted an 87, which means that they were 13 percent below league average. Even with hitter-friendly conditions for 81 of 163 games, Colorado ranked fifth in SLG and sixth in batting average.
The Brewers weren’t a great offensive team either, but these are both teams that had much better second halves than first halves. Milwaukee did finish fourth in home runs, which, if you’ll recall from my Indians/Astros preview, is a big deal. The Brewers hit 218. The Rockies hit 210, but, again, Coors Field factor. That will factor into this series to be sure.
Milwaukee’s offense was seven percent above league average in the second half. With a lesser hitting environment, not that Miller Park is a bad one, the Brewers were +10 in batting average, +11 in OBP, and +14 in SLG over the Rockies after the All-Star Break. The Rockies were 27th in wOBA away from home and posted a 78 wRC+, which was the second-worst mark in the league. Milwaukee was 10th in wOBA and just a shade under league average per wRC+.
There really isn’t much that Colorado can do about the home/road splits and they may not even matter in a small sample size like this. But, they are there and they are a better offensive team at home, just like every team in baseball would be at Coors Field for 81 games a season.
The Rockies made their hay against lefties, as they posted a .342 wOBA. That was second to the Astros. Even with Coors Field, however, Colorado was 14th in wOBA at .317 and the second-worst offense in the league by wRC+ against righties. The Brewers, meanwhile, were league average against righties.
The Brewers offense has better balance and doesn’t have that Coors Field Effect to worry about. Milwaukee was also much more aggressive on the basepaths with 124 steals to Colorado’s 95. To be fair, running at Coors Field doesn’t make much sense because running into potential outs is definitely –EV in that type of offensive environment. Neither one of these teams are really here because of their offenses, so this isn’t a big advantage, but I do have to give the nod to Milwaukee.
This is where it becomes all kinds of fun. The fact that the Rockies had to burn both German Marquez and Kyle Freeland to get to this point is problematic. Because of that, Colorado will only be able to use its top two starters twice. If there was one distinct advantage that the Rockies had over the Brewers, it was in that department. The Rockies rotation is better because Freeland and Marquez are better than anything that the Brewers can run out there. With those two only able to make one start apiece, and no earlier than Game 3 in all likelihood, the Rockies are behind the proverbial eight-ball.
After Jhoulys Chacin, Milwaukee’s highest upside starters, at least at this point in time, are probably Wade Miley and Gio Gonzalez. That is the good split for the Rockies, so we’ll have to see how the Brewers deploy those two assets. Chacin will start Game 2 after a Johnny Wholestaff bullpen day in Game 1. I’m guessing we see a right-handed opener, Wade Miley to follow the opener, and then who knows after that. It could also be Freddy Peralta as the opener and then Miley or Jennings or somebody else. My head is spinning already and I love it. I expected the Brewers to be unconventional and it seems like that is exactly how this series is going to play out.
We’ve got two of the best relievers in all of baseball in this series in Adam Ottavino and Josh Hader. Jeremy Jeffress and Wade Davis are quite good, too. Scott Oberg and Corey Knebel are also quite good. We’ve got two solid bullpens here. Milwaukee’s bullpen runs a little bit deeper than Colorado’s as far as I’m concerned, but the Rockies certainly have a top-notch unit as well.
Relative to my other previews, this one is a little bit lighter on statistics. This is a really unique series and a unique set of circumstances. These teams are similar in a lot of ways. Both teams have put an emphasis on command and contact management. With the addition of Gio Gonzalez, the Brewers have four pitchers in the top 43 and five in the top 67 in average exit velocity against minimum 200 batted ball events. The Rockies have two in Kyle Freeland and Tyler Anderson, but it has been a point of emphasis for them as well.
A better example is hard-hit rate, which is percentage of batted balls with an exit velocity of 95+ mph. The Brewers have two guys in the top 10, Brent Suter and Wade Miley, and three in the top 20. The Rockies have two in the top 25. Suter, unfortunately, had Tommy John surgery, but this is to illustrate the point that the Brewers have really driven this point home via sequencing and pitch location.
There would not be an advantage if the Rockies could run out one or both of Marquez and Freeland twice in this series, but because they can’t, Milwaukee gets a slight edge. Josh Hader is the great equalizer in every potential series for the Brewers and he is going to be a legitimate multi-inning weapon at multiple points in this series. He’s a true game-changer. By comparison, as much as I like Adam Ottavino, only 10 of his 75 appearances were multi-inning. He was shaky in that role in the Wild Card Game.
Again, this is a slight edge, but the Rockies had one clear-cut advantage in this series and it has been counterfeited to some degree by playing Game 163 and a Wild Card Game, in which Kyle Freeland was already forced to pitch on short rest. I can’t see him doing it again in Game 2 and I can’t see Marquez pushed into a short rest start on Friday.
Something worth keeping in mind for this series is that Milwaukee’s Triple-A affiliate for the last four seasons has been the Colorado Springs Sky Sox. They have plenty of internal data on pitching and hitting in altitude based on the location of their top affiliate. That will help with the planning of this series. It will help the team from a fitness standpoint and a sleep standpoint. Going to Coors Field is generally a detriment for teams, but I don’t think it will be nearly as hurtful for the Brewers.
Once again, defense isn’t intangible, but it goes under this heading anyway. The Brewers were +89 defensive runs saved this season and were sixth in UZR/150. The Rockies were -14 defensive runs saved and 13th in UZR/150. On the infield, the Rockies are excellent. In the outfield, the Rockies are not. Interestingly, the outfield is where the Brewers excelled defensively, as they led the league in defensive runs saved and UZR/150. Colorado was 27th and 22nd, respectively, in those categories.
It is worth noting that these two teams ranked fourth and fifth in GB% during the season, so they killed a lot of worms. That seems like an ill-advised plan of attack for a Rockies team that plays at altitude, but it is what it is.
I mentioned this in the open, but I can’t help but mention it again. I think Colorado is in a really tough spot here. They’re going to play two afternoon games in Milwaukee, the first of which starts less than 40 hours after a champagne celebration at Wrigley Field and less than 72 hours before flying to Los Angeles to take on the Dodgers in Game 163. It is the playoffs and we would expect supercharged athletes to be able to overcome, but as this series wears on, how much does the fatigue factor hurt the Rockies? Do the bats slow down a bit through the zone? Do the extra 9.2 innings logged by the bullpen become a hindrance?
Pick: Milwaukee in 4
My guess for how this series shakes out is that Milwaukee jumps ahead 2-0 and has three cracks at advancing. Certainly the best hope for the Rockies is to get to those Marquez and Freeland starts in one piece. Even then, the margin for error will be non-existent and somebody else will have to start Game 5 on the road.
With no series price, it’s hard to say how much to press this one. I do think the Brewers have the upper hand and are also the better team, for whatever that’s worth. This is going to be a strange series, as the Rockies do things in a more conventional way than the Brewers, who had no qualms about playing infielders out of position and are going to run out a bullpen game in Game 1.
I’m expecting the Brewers to advance on the strength of a better bullpen, a more balanced lineup, and a much better situation.
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