The final weekend of the regular season is here and the Colorado Rockies (89-70, 1st place NL West) will host the Washington Nationals (81-78, 2nd place in NL East) for three games starting Friday night. One team has everything to play for, and the other is obligated by the rules of Major League Baseball to play. Folks, it all comes down to this.
The Playoff Picture
I’m not going to sugarcoat it for you: Things are pretty tight around the National League playoff picture right now. There are three games left to play and only three teams have clinched a postseason berth. What we do know is that either Chicago (93-66) or Milwaukee (92-67) will win the NL Central and await the winner of the Wild Card Game, the other will host said Wild Card game, and the Braves (89-70) will play the NL West champion.
We also know the Rockies currently hold a one game lead over the Dodgers (88-71) in the NL West and the Cardinals (87-72) are a game behind the Dodgers for the final Wild Card spot. Yes, despite getting swept by the Dodgers in what was the most important regular season series of the year (or in franchise history), they need some combination of wins and Dodgers losses that adds up to 3 in order to secure their first ever division title. Oh, and if the Rockies finish with a better record than the Braves this weekend, they’ll also take home field advantage into the NLDS.
I suppose that makes this weekend’s three-game tilt against Washington the most important of the season, if not the history of the franchise.
The thing about this year’s Rockies is that they are built on their pitching, which will sure to baffle any national pundits should the Rockies make the playoffs. They have the eighth best adjusted ERA (89 ERA-) and the ninth highest fWAR (14.7) among rotations in baseball. The Nationals, meanwhile, have a bit of a feast-or-famine rotation. They are eighth in baseball in fWAR (14.9) but just 14th in adjusted ERA (97 ERA-), but that’s because nearly half of that fWAR total goes to one Max Scherzer (7.3 fWAR).
And so the biggest question for this weekend is whether Max Scherzer, fresh off his 300th strikeout and 18th win of the season, will trot out for the season finale. Or will he opt to start his offseason a day early rather than risk an injury for a game that has no further implications for the Nationals? It’s possible we won’t know until Saturday. If he doesn’t make the start, then the Rockies will have an advantage in each of these games, depending on how much you trust Jon Gray’s last start (7 IP, 1 R/ER, 7 K) as an indication of future performance.
Friday (6:10 pm MT): Kyle Freeland vs. Joe Ross
Saturday (6:40 pm MT): Jon Gray vs. Stephen Strasburg
Sunday (1:10 pm MT): Tyler Anderson vs. TBA
Note the early start time on Friday due to the post-game fireworks. Get there early!
Keys to the series
It’s pretty simple for the Rockies at this point: a sweep secures the first NL West title in franchise history. A series win guarantees at least the second wild card and, pending the results of the Dodgers series, could also secure them a division title. In case you’re worried that the 73-86 Giants have nothing to play for, they adjusted their rotation so their three best starters would take the mound this weekend, including Madison Bumgarner tonight. Rivalries always have a reason.
As for what’s happening in Denver, it’s may come down to how much the Nationals are ready to get to the golf course on Monday. The Phillies were outscored 39-7 in four games against the Rockies, and at times they looked even worse than that. The Nationals, one of the supposed Super Teams going into the season, have had one of the most disappointing years in baseball. One could understand if they wanted to just play out the string, but surely Dodgers and Cardinals fans would prefer otherwise.
The two players to keep an eye on are the young outfielders for both teams. David Dahl has had an incredible homestand for the Rockies so far, going 8-for-19 with a triple and four home runs. In the other dugout is wunderkind 19-year-old Juan Soto, who is hitting .295/.405/.515 in 113 games for the Nats and may make it easier for them to say goodbye to Bryce Harper. Harper is playing his final three games for the Nationals before free agency this offseason.
The Rockies will play in front of sell-out crowds all weekend and everyone will be intently watching the out of town scoreboard the whole time. Fortunately for the Rockies, both the Dodgers and the Cardinals play afternoon games on Saturday, so there very well could be something to celebrate before Sunday.