The Colorado Rockies will play a crucial series against the Los Angeles Dodgers at Coors Field this weekend. They have as good a chance to win the division this year as we could ever hope for, making this series as big as it gets for a regular season set. Coors Field should be buzzing, so let’s get into the series preview.
The Rockies enter Friday night’s game with a 1.5 game lead over the Dodgers (and 2.5 games ahead of the Arizona Diamondbacks). Besides putting some distance between themselves and the Dodgers in the standings, the Rockies also have a chance to swing their playoff odds in the right direction.
As of Friday, FanGraphs has the Dodgers at a 77.2% to make the playoffs with the Rockies at 49.7%. The Dodgers have a 62.8% chance to win the division versus the Rockies at 29.3%. To look at another projection system, FiveThirtyEight has the odds for the Dodgers to make the playoffs at 58% and the Rockies at 55%, and the Dodgers at 44% to win the division versus 41% for the Rockies.
The pitching match-ups
You might call Friday night a battle of aces, depending on your lukewarm take in the ultimately boring debate about whether or not Jon Gray is an ace. Gray will face Dodgers’ ace Clayton Kershaw, adding to the excitement around the series opener on Friday night.
If that’s not enough for you, Kyle Freeland will start Saturday night in front of what should be a full house at Coors against Walker Buehler. Freeland seems like he’s built for these moments, and he’ll get to prove it on Saturday.
Finally, it will be Tyler Anderson against Alex Wood. That final match-up feels much better since Anderson finally didn’t get housed in the first inning of his most recent start. He also seems like a guy who lives for big moments when he’s on his game, so let’s hope we see that Anderson on Sunday.
The key players
Start with the two MVP candidates for the Rockies, acknowledging that they enter this series on opposite ends of the spectrum. Trevor Story is on a tear and coming off a three-homer night. The Rockies need him to keep it up. What better way to build your MVP campaign than to come through against the division favorites in a huge series?
On the other hand, Nolan Arenado is in a pretty rough slump, and it would go a long way for the Rockies if he wanted to bounce back for these games. If we are going to mention guys who love big moments, we know Arenado has been that guy in his career so there is plenty of reason to think he’ll come through this weekend.
As for the rest of the Rockies lineup, look for a couple Matt Holliday starts with lefties on the mound for the Dodgers on Friday and Sunday. He’ll need to continue delivering quality at-bats in the middle of the lineup, with anything above and beyond that an immediate opportunity for a goosebumps moment this weekend.
The Rockies bullpen
What if I told you that you’ll probably see Scott Oberg in a high-leverage spot this weekend? Bud Black has been turning to the hard-throwing righty in big spots lately. He has mostly answered the call, so while Adam Ottavino is still probably the top setup option, don’t be surprised if Oberg continues to handle some of that work.
Yency Almonte - he does exist! And he looks good! Black used him like he trusted him against the Giants. In the weird and bumpy world of bullpens, Almonte could lengthen the Rockies unit in a meaningful way if he shows he can get big outs.
Finally, let’s tip our caps to the oft-scorned Wade Davis. Don’t look now, but the Rockies closer hasn’t given up a run since August 9th. More importantly, he has only issued two walks over that same period of time. Davis with good command is nasty, and we have seen that version of him consistently over the last month.
Other key Dodgers
Kenley Jansen was recently advised not to make the trip to Colorado after a heart episode last month in Denver. That’s scary for his wellbeing first and foremost, but it also makes it tougher for the Dodgers in their bullpen. The Rockies will most likely have to deal with Ryan Madson or a returning Ross Stripling in the Los Angeles closer role.
Even with a number of injuries this season, we know the Dodgers will have a tough lineup to deal with. Justin Turner is healthy and joins Manny Machado, Cody Bellinger, and Max Muncy-who-is-still-a-thing to make it plenty difficult for Rockies pitching.
If you think I’m going to predict series winners, get out of here. What I will predict, however, is that these will not be crazy high-scoring Coors Field games. There is dynamite pitching lined up on both sides, and I think the playoff intensity will come from the high-leverage at-bats in a series where runs are hard to come by.
If I’m right about that, it will mean the Rockies pitchers are doing well - especially the starters. And if the Rockies pitchers are doing well, I think they have a good chance to do what they have done for much of the season and carry their decidedly average offense to a key series win.