NL Wildcard Game Preview

Colorado Rockies at Chicago Cubs

The Colorado Rockies entered the 2018 NL Wildcard Game with a pretty large disadvantage.  Losing a tough game to division rival LA in the afternoon and having to jump on a plan and go half way around the country to face one of the best playoff pitchers of the last ten year in Jon Lester.  Not only are they facing Lester but they are facing a team that has found themselves in the NLCS the last three years.  Let’s look compare and pick the NL Wildcard Game.

Starting Pitcher- Advantage Cubs or maybe not.

Jon Lester stands out when you compare the two lefties, but is his experience really enough.  Lester has faced the Rockies hitters an astonishing 138 times in his career. The most being veteran Matt Holliday who has crushed Lester to a .467 career batting average.  I don’t know if Bud Black has the confidence to start the veteran in this do or die game but if he did it would make sense when looking at the numbers.  Playing Holiday would most likely mean red hot youngster David Dahl would be taking a seat.  If Holiday does get the start it would not be long before he is replaced for defense or base running.

Rockies starter Kyle Freeland has had a breakout season, the 25 year old lefty went 18-8 with a 2.85ERA.  Quietly establishing himself as a go to starter for Bud Black.  Surprsingly Freeland actually has better numbers at Coors Field then he does on the road sporting a prolific 2.40ERA in the historically hitter friendly park.  Freeland was no slouch on the road either posting just 3.23ERA.  Freeland’s most intriguing stat line is just giving up 6 homers in 103 innings on the road.  Against a powerful Cubs lineup he will need to make sure and limit the damage that can come in bunches.  Kris Bryant has the best numbers against Freeland but the sample size is to small to overreact.

I like the matchup of Freeland vs the Cubs lefties but you can’t ignore the experience of the veteran Lester.  Slight advantage in starting pitching to the Cubbies.  Very slight.

Batting Order- Advantage Rockies

Colorado has pop and speed from 1-7 in their order.  Tony Wolters (assuming he starts) may also quietly have an advantage over Lester, going 2-4 with a walk in 5 career AB’s versus the veteran.  Nolan Arenado is a better hitter the Javy Baez and the Rockies have multiple threats to deal with including a surging Trevor Story and an always dangerous Charlie Blackmon.  I think it is the potential of the bench bats like Gerardo Parra and Matt Holliday that set the Rockies a part from the Cubbies.

The Cubs are no slouches.  Kris Bryant, Javy Baez and Anthony Rizzo are as good a middle of the order that you will have in the league but Baez can be inconsistent and over anxious at times. Bryant will be the key to this game, I can see him being in big spots and coming through against Freeland.  Albert Almora will also play a big factor if he gets the start.

Both lineup are potent but with the lefty on the mound I am giving a slight edge to the Rockies.  Their depth is just a little better, I can also see them trying to take advantage of Lester on the base paths.

Bullpen- Advantage, who knows.

The Rockies spent money in the off season trying to rebuild a bullpen that was not good to say the least.  Wade Davis and Bryan Shaw have not lived up to the money they were paid but they still have the experience in a big game atmosphere to be effective.  With all hands on deck for an elimination game I would not be surprised to see Jon Gray and Adam Ottavino very early in this game.

The Cubs have made it work with their bullpen despite injuries to Pedro Strop and Brandin Morrow.  With the season on the line we could see a quick trigger from Joe Maddon.  Steve Cishek and Justin Wilson will be assets that an be targeted at any point of the game.

Both of these teams have their issues in the bullpen but I have to lean to the Rockies in this situation.  Wade Davis has been bad this year, but he is the most sure thing in a closing roll that either team has.  So advantage Rockies.

Who will win?

This game is tough.  Everything points to the Cubs winning.  They are better rested, have the more proven starter and a veteran lineup.  So, I am going to go with the Rockies.  Colorado will make life hell for Lester on the basepaths and force mistakes.  Joe Maddon is the best hope for Chicago.  His history of making the right decisions in a pinch will make it a great game.

Rockies upset Cubs 6-3.

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