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NL Wild Card Game Preview: The Wild Card is unfair to the Rockies and Diamondbacks

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It’s a shame we only get one game between these two great teams.

San Francisco Giants v Arizona Diamondbacks Photo by Jennifer Stewart/Getty Images

It’s not fair that one of these teams has to go home early. The Rockies and Diamondbacks have been two of the most exciting teams in baseball this season. They raced out ahead of the Los Angeles Dodgers in April and May, with the Rockies staying in first place as late as June 20. The D’Backs only spent eight days in first, but were consistently one of the better teams in baseball all season long; according to pythagorean win expectancy, Arizona was a 96-win team.

But thanks to MLB’s playoff structure, one of these teams will fall victim to the Wild Card monster. This isn’t an indictment of the format — I’m generally in favor of Baseball Thunderdome and the madness it provides — but it is unfortunate that these two great teams only get one game to showcase their talents simply because they happen to be geographically close(ish) to the rich kids on the block.

It’s especially disappointing considering how overlooked both of these teams have gone throughout the year. I imagine there are some fans surprised to see that the D’Backs won 93 games this year, let alone that they did so in such dominant fashion. Or that both teams are carried by their pitching staffs, not dinger-happy offenses.

Most of all, I’m disappointed that a national audience only gets to see all this star power on the field at one time. From Paul Goldschmidt to Nolan Arenado, Charlie Blackmon to Jake Lamb — and, yes, Zack Greinke to Jon Gray — these teams deserve a full series. This game should be fun.

Colorado Rockies (87-75) at Arizona Diamondbacks (93-69)

Time/Place: 8:00 p.m., Chase Field
SB Nation sites: Purple Row and AZ Snakepit
Media: TBS, ESPN Radio
Pitching Matchup: RHP Jon Gray (10-4, 3.67 ERA) vs. RHP Zack Greinke (17-7, 3.20 ERA)

NL Wild Card Game Pitching Matchup

Pitcher IP K% BB% FIP fWAR
Pitcher IP K% BB% FIP fWAR
Gray 110.1 24.3 6.5 3.18 3.2
Greinke 202.1 26.8 5.6 3.31 5.1

I’m not sure how concerned Diamondbacks fans were about Zack Greinke after a subpar 2016 season — you should write about this team more, national media — but he emphatically silenced any doubters this year. Greinke more than returned to form, posting a 149 ERA+ in 202 13 innings. It was the third-best season of his career in both versions of WAR, trailing only his 2009 Cy Young season and a dominant 2015 campaign. Thanks to a 12.4 percent swinging strike rate, he produced a 26.8 percent strikeout rate and 21.2 K-BB%, all career bests.

In other words, he’s really good.

Gray also improved from 2016 to 2017, but it’s not quite as apparent at first glance. Sure, his ERA lowered from 4.61 to 3.67, but advanced metrics already liked Gray quite a bit more than his 2016 ERA suggested. He posted a 3.60 FIP last season, but lowered that to 3.18 this year. Ditto his Deserved Run Average (DRA), which went from 3.95 to 3.67. His FIP-based WAR totals dipped slightly due to a drop in innings, but he maintained a solid K-BB% while still holding opponents to a home run rate well below league average. Opponents also made less hard contact against him, and he induced ground balls at a solid 48 percent clip.

Key matchup: Bud Black vs. Torey Lovullo

While the Twins put an early scare into the Yankees on Tuesday, New York ultimately did what everyone expected: lean on their strong bullpen to preserve a lead and beat an inferior opponent. This game is not so one-sided. Sure, the D’Backs have a nine-game advantage in pythag that grows further in third-order win percentage, but Arizona’s bullpen isn’t the same juggernaut that New York’s is. They finished the year with a 3.95 FIP, practically identical to Colorado’s 3.94. The Rockies squeezed an extra 2.0 fWAR out of their pen, but the two units were roughly the same.

More importantly, they were decidedly average throughout most of the second half. This puts a lot of pressure on either manager to use their best pieces at the right time. Will Black pull Gray early if he struggles, like Joe Girardi did with Luis Severino on Tuesday? Will Greinke stay in a batter or two too long just because he’s a more established ace? Neither manager has ever been to the postseason*, and their decisions will loom large.

*Lovullo was John Farrell’s bench coach when the Boston Red Sox won the 2013 World Series.

Pick to click: J.D. Martinez

It has to be, isn’t it? Not only are we biased towards Julio Daniel for the monster numbers and great moments he delivered while playing for the Tigers, but he has been superhuman in a Diamondbacks uniform. He is hitting .302/.366/.741 with 29 home runs in 62 games since the trade, an incredible 76-homer pace over a full season. His numbers at Chase Field are downright stupid, with a 1.339 OPS and 16 homers in 30 games. Gray might have a slight advantage over most pitchers due to favorable splits — right-handed power pitchers have the best chance of getting him out — but Martinez has proven time and again that it only takes one swing to change a game.

Prediction

Greinke quiets Colorado’s offense and the D’Backs move on.