The Rockies have gone from leading the NL West with two games left to playing in the National League Wild Card Game. For the second straight year they’ll go on the road, this time against the Chicago Cubs, to try to extend their season to the NLDS against the Brewers on Thursday.
Time: 8 p.m. ET (6:00 p.m. MT)
Location: Wrigley Field, Chicago, Illinois
TV: ESPN, ESPN2 StatCast Broadcast
Streaming: WatchESPN; YouTubeTV (subscription required)
Radio: KOA 850 AM/94.1 FM; KNDV 1150 AM (Spanish) (in Colorado), stream on MLB At Bat app
How they got here
The Rockies finished the regular season tied with the Dodgers for the NL West lead, forcing a tiebreaker game on Monday. They lost in excruciating fashion (but what fashion wouldn’t be excruciating, really?), relegating them to the Wild Card 2 spot.
The Cubs had a five game division lead on September 2, but a 16-12 stretch coupled with a 20-7 run from the Brewers forced a tie for the NL Central in the last two games of the season. The Cubs lost their own tiebreaker game on Monday, 3-1, at home, but, by virtue of their 95-67 record, get to host Tuesday’s Wild Card Game.
So both teams will have to pick themselves up after coming tantalizingly close to division titles in order to extend their season. While the Cubs are dealing with the bigger disappointment, they have been in Chicago since September 20 (their final road series of the season was against the Chicago White Sox), whereas the Rockies have to travel to their third city in three time zones in three days.
The Starting Pitchers
The Rockies announced on Monday that Kyle Freeland would start the NL Wild Card Game. Kyle last started on Friday against the Washington Nationals at Coors Field, going six innings while allowing just two runs on 11 hits with a walk and four strikeouts. That means Freeland will get the ball on three-days rest instead of the usual four. But when your hometown, homegrown pitcher went 17-7 with a 2.85 ERA over 202 1⁄3 innings and just might finish with a top five finish in the Cy Young race, that’s the player you want on the mound to extend your season, even if it is his first playoff start.
The Cubs will counter with veteran lefty Jon Lester. Lesters’ last outing came September 27 — six shutout innings with three hits, four walks, and three strikeouts against the Pirates. On the season he’s 18-6 with a 3.32 ERA over 181 2⁄3 innings. The stat to know for Lester this year for Rockies fans is his xwOBA (explained here) is .354, which is right there with Alex Cobb, Adam Plutko, and Nick Kingham.
Remarkably, this will be Lester’s 22nd postseason start and 10th with the Cubs. Overall he’s 9-7 with 2.55 ERA in 148 innings over 25 games. The last time he pitched in a Wild Card Game was in 2014 with the Oakland Athletics, leading 7-3 going into the bottom of the eighth inning against the Royals. Lester gave up three runs and the Royals went on to win the game in 12 innings.
The Rockies and Cubs went 3-3 against each other this season, each scoring 33 runs in six games. The Cubs won the April series in Denver 2-1, outscoring the Rockies 27-17. Two weeks later they met in Chicago, where the Rockies won the series 2-1 while outscoring the Cubbies 16-6.
Freeland last faced the Cubs on April 30 in Chicago, going seven innings while allowing three runs on six hits with one walk and four strikeouts. Lester happened to be the opposing pitcher that day and gave up two unearned runs on five hits, three walks, and five strikeouts over 5 2⁄3 innings. The Cubs went on to win that game 3-2 to drop Freeland to 1-4 on the season.
Needless to say, both teams have changed dramatically over the last five months, even if much of the personnel remains the same.
As soon as full lineups are released this post will be updated, but expect a repeat of the Rockies lineup from Monday, with adjustments made for a lefty hurler on the mound. Chris Iannetta will likely replace Tony Wolters at the catcher position and perhaps Matt Holliday will take over Carlos Gonzalez’s spot in the lineup. The Cubs are anticipated to remove left fielder Kyle Schwarber from the lineup and replace him with David Bote, shifting Kris Bryant from third base to left.
Who has the advantage? Consider: the Rockies non-pitchers have an 88 wRC+ against right-handed pitchers, but a 107 wRC+ against left-handed pitchers. The Cubs, meanwhile, have a 108 wRC+ and 106 wRC+ respectively. In other words, the Rockies are a bad offense that suddenly becomes good against lefties, while the Cubs have a good offense that becomes less good against lefties.
As a friendly reminder: both teams will be limited to a 25-man roster for this series, which should be announced sometime Tuesday, so don’t expect a wide flurry of subs and an endless parade of relievers.
The Rockies have leaned on their bullpen far less this year (517 innings to the Cubs’ 584 1⁄3 innings), but they have been equally valuable (3.9 fWAR for each squad). And while the Rockies have a far higher bullpen ERA (4.63 ERA to Cubs’ 3.34 ERA), the Rockies have generated more strikeouts (9.14 K/9 to 8.66 K/9) and fewer walks (3.78 BB/9 to 4.20 BB.9).
It doesn’t help that manager Joe Maddon will be without Brandon Morrow (1.26 ERA; 60-day DL), and potentially without either Steve Cishek (2.18 ERA; worked three straight days) or Pedro Strop (2.26 ERA; hamstring). Meanwhile, the Rockies core of Adam Ottavino, Seunghwan Oh, Scott Oberg, and Wade Davis have thrown a combined 12 pitches since Saturday and should all be available.
Every Rockies and Cubs fan will sit with their stomachs in knots until their team gets a lead/falls behind and will only grow more anxious from there. Should be fun.
Update, 2:25 pm MT:
Both teams have released their lineups for tonight’s game.