On Tuesday, Major League Baseball announced the schedule for the 2017 MLB playoffs. The National League Wild Card game, of particular import for Rockies fans considering the Dodgers' record-setting pace, is scheduled to be played Wednesday, October 4.
Heading into Friday’s slate of games, the Rockies had over an 85 percent chance of making the playoffs according to FanGraphs, Baseball Prospectus, and FiveThirtyEight; the team closest behind, the Cardinals, peaks at 44 percent, on the strength of their NL Central challenge. At this point, the odds are that the Rockies will be facing the Diamondbacks in the Wild Card Game, and the two teams will spend the next two months jostling for home field advantage.
Patrick Saunders and Nick Groke published a debate in the Denver Post about who should start said game against the Diamondbacks. Groke is leaning towards Jon Gray, while Saunders prefers Germán Márquez. They also mentioned the possibility that Bud Black could choose whichever pitcher is pitching the best come October. But with seemingly the entire month of September to set the rotation up the way they please, I doubt that will play too much of a factor. So let's examine the evidence: who should start that game, presented in ascending order of likelihood.
Antonio Senzatela, RHP
Antonio Senzatela is perhaps the least likely of this group, save for Tyler Chatwood, to start a winner-take-all game. He’s spent time in the Rockies bullpen already possibly due to the fact that his highest innings total in his professional career (154 innings) came in 2015 in High-A. While he may profile better there long term, the Rockies want to give him every chance to start and in order to do that they will have to guard his arm. He could, however, be a great first-guy-out from the bullpen should things an early pinch-hitter is needed.
Tyler Chatwood, RHP
There was a time, even earlier this season, when Tyler Chatwood was thought of as a road warrior, capable of defeating any foe as long as said foe wasn’t meeting him at Coors Field. As such, the logic went, he would be a perfect candidate to start a winner-take-all game on the road. That’s not really the case anymore, as the perpetual walk-heavy starts evolved to the point of near parody when he walked eight (8) Dodgers in 31⁄3 innings on June 24. In a winner-take-all game, walks are not your friend. Besides, he’s a Proven Closer (TM) now.
Tyler Anderson, LHP
Tyler Anderson has been on the disabled list since June 25 and isn’t expected back until the end of August, at the earliest. Knee surgeries will do that to you. Hopefully the surgery helps him find something in his delivery that was missing as he was putting up an ERA over 6.00. Of course, there may not be room enough for him in the rotation by the time he gets back, anyway.
Chad Bettis, RHP
Chad Bettis hasn’t made an appearance yet in 2017, as he has been recovering from chemo therapy to combat testicular cancer. This would make him a great sentimental pick to start the game; however, until we see what sort of pitcher 2017 Chad Bettis will be (he’s currently scheduled to make his season debut on Monday against the Braves), best to keep thinking of his chances of starting as primarily sentimental. The elder statesman of the rotation could jump up this list with a positive showing over the final two months of the regular season.
Kyle Freeland, LHP
Denver native Kyle Freeland starting the Rockies’ first playoff game this decade, especially at home, would be a phenomenal story. And it’s not a stretch to say he’d have earned it: he has the best ERA (3.71) in the rotation, which includes a 3.19 ERA at Coors, and the third-highest ground ball rate (55.8%) among all qualified starters. He’s out for the month of August, but that could work to his advantage by giving him an extended break in the lead up to the final playoff push. Ultimately, the thing working most against him is his over reliance on inducing weak contact, which could go sideways really quick if you have one game to win. That, and with only two lefties in Arizona’s lineup, it might be best to save him for the potential NLDS against the Dodgers.
Jeff Hoffman, RHP
We have seen flashes of Jeff Hoffman’s brilliance this year, evidence for why the Rockies nearly drafted him and later traded for him. We’ve also seen plenty of evidence for why he may not be quite ready for the big stage, including getting roughed up for nine runs in less than four innings against the Diamondbacks. That being said, he’s shown the strongest road numbers thus far among Rockies starters and, if this game is to be played in an
airplane hangar Chase Field, Bud Black just might turn to him.
Germán Márquez, RHP
If you didn’t realize Márquez was pitching this well in 2017, you would be (partially) forgiven. His splits between Coors and not-Coors are pretty close, which is impressive when they are as good as they are. He’s also enjoying a fantastic run of form (451⁄3 innings, 3.18 ERA, 47 strikeouts, and 13 walks over his last seven starts), though that could obviously change by September. Márquez has shown consistency, posting 10 quality starts (6 IP or more, 3 ER or fewer) in 2017, second only to Freeland’s 12 on the team. Really the only thing working against his candidacy is the existence of an ace already on the roster.
Jon Gray, RHP
It’s difficult to imagine a scenario in which Jon Gray doesn’t take the ball for a winner-take-all game for the Rockies. The third overall pick in 2013 MLB Draft, Gray has been the first through the wall of the current wave of elite Rockies pitching prospects; these other rookies may not be where they are were it not for the lessons Gray had to learn the hard way at Coors. And he’s found success. He deserves to start the biggest Rockies game in eight years.
He hasn’t quite found his footing yet this year as he recovers from injury, but he has displayed utter dominance at times in his young career. Really, you can chalk up his subpar numbers to one bad outing (July 14 against the Mets: 2 IP, 9 H, 8 R/ER, 3 BB, 1 K). Since then he has a 3.60 ERA with 25 strikeouts and four walks in 25 innings over four starts. It’s not unreasonable to expect that from him going forward.
★ ★ ★
What do you think? Who should start the NL Wild Card game for the Rockies? Does your answer change if it’s in Phoenix or Denver? How would you rank them? Let us know in the comments.
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