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A Rockies postseason history — under expanded playoffs

Colorado Rockies news and links for Tuesday, October 11, 2022

Now that we’ve seen the new-look “Wild Card Series” in action, it’s time to visualize our beloved Rockies in said situations.

If 2022 playoff expansion existed in 2007, there would be no sudden-death NL tiebreaker.

Matt Holliday touching home plate would have been the first act of a full series, instead of a historical turning point. The Rockies would have needed a series win over the San Diego Padres to persist into October, and some of the most iconic moments in Rockies history could have changed due to simple playoff realignment.

(It’s still miraculous those moments even did happen in 2007, lest we forget.)

For a franchise that has made it into the postseason only by way of wildcard berths, the postseason picture for the Rockies could look far different if current playoff expansion were in effect at team inception. If the current Wild Card Series format dated back to 1993, here is where the Rockies would land in each of their postseason berths:

2018: Rockies finish 91-72 (.521)

Actual Postseason Placement: NL Wild Card Game (W), NLDS (L; 0-3)
Placement Under 2022 Playoff Expansion: Three-game Wild Card Series @ CHC

While the 2018 NL Wild Card Game played in the Rockies’ favor, a postseason expansion would mean the Rockies would need another win in Chicago. In order to move on, Colorado would have needed more than a dominant Kyle Freeland start, a clutch hit by Tony Wolters, and a late-inning Scott Oberg save at Wrigley Field.

A series win would lead the Rockies to face the Brewers in a best-of-five NLDS, which ended up happening anyways, so nothing really changes here other than swapping a sudden-death playoff with a three-game play-in. If the 13-inning marathon of the 2018 NL Wild Card Game were the first game of a three-game set, both teams would deal with a severely-depleted pitching staff for the ensuing games.

2017: Rockies finish 87-75 (.537)

Actual Postseason Placement: NL Wild Card Game (L)
Placement Under 2022 Playoff Expansion: Three-game Wild Card Series @ ARI

It’s sweeter to view 2017 in expanded retrospect when compared to 2018. This particular season would mean the Rockies would get an extra crack at the Diamondbacks, perhaps neutralizing the sting of an Archie Bradley triple.

If the 2017 Wild Card Game were merely Game 1 of a three-game series, the Rockies could have sent Kyle Freeland to the mound for Game 2 on four days of rest (after a three-inning start).

The playoff outcome of 2017 forced the Rockies to reassess their relief pitching — which later prompted $106 million worth of bullpen moves in the ensuing offseason — but a deeper run in 2017 could have presented different priorities for the team to address. (If Freeland dominated in a hypothetical 2017 Game 2 like he would later in the 2018 Wild Card Game, is it crazy to think Wade Davis and Bryan Shaw may not have been pursued by the Rockies?)

2009: Rockies finish 92-70 (.568)

Actual Postseason Placement: NLDS (L; 1-3)
Placement Under 2022 Playoff Expansion: Three-game Wild Card Series vs. SF

The best team in Rockies history if looking only at regular-season win percentage, the 2009 Rockies fell in the NL divisional round to the Phillies. Holding the NL’s best wildcard record, the current postseason model would have paired the Rockies and Giants together in a three-game set at Coors Field.

Those Giants.

Close your eyes. Put yourself in part of the Gilded Age of Rockies Baseball:

August 24, 2009.

Had the Rockies and Giants squared off in a three-game wildcard series, this would have been San Francisco’s first trip back to Colorado since Ryan Spilborghs’ walk-off grand slam against them.

Colorado had the NL’s third-best record in 2009. The new-look postseason awards the top three seeds to divisional winners, but if seeding were based solely on record, the Rockies would have instead faced the Miami Florida Marlins in a three-versus-six wildcard series.

2007: Rockies finish 90-73 (.552)

Actual Postseason Placement: NL Tiebreaker (W), NLDS (W; 3-0), NLCS (W; 4-0), World Series (L; 0-4)
Placement Under 2022 Playoff Expansion: Three-game Wild Card Series vs. SD

Picture everything you know about the arguable greatest game in Rockies history, and see it as simply Game 1 of a three-game set.

Would it have been more electric?

Is that even possible?

Colorado and San Diego battled through 13 innings in the 2007 NL Tiebreaker game, and both teams would have bullpens running on fumes if they were forced to take the field the next day. This could have yielded some insane offensive production at Coors Field, but the toll of this series could have impacted the Rockies in the ensuing NLDS if they were to advance.

Colorado went 11-8 against San Diego in the 2009 regular season, so they would have owned home-field advantage for this hypothetical wildcard set.

1996: Rockies finish 83-79 (.512)

Actual Postseason Placement: N/A
Placement Under 2022 Playoff Expansion: Three-game Wild Card Series at STL

The Rockies didn’t make the postseason in 1996, but they would have under modern postseason alignment. Dennis Eckersley, Ozzie Smith, Ron Gant and the 1996 St. Louis Cardinals would stand in their way in a wildcard series; the Rockies went 8-4 against the Cardinals in the 1996 regular season, however.

Had the Rockies advanced to the NLDS, they would have faced the 96-66 Braves, stacked with starting pitchers John Smoltz, Tom Glavine and Greg Maddux.

1995: Rockies finish 77-67 (.535)

Actual Postseason Placement: NLDS (L; 1-3)
Placement Under 2022 Playoff Expansion: Three-game Wild Card Series vs. HOU

The Rockies squared off against the eventual World Champion Braves in 1995, but could have avoided them altogether (or at least until a potential NLCS). Colorado owned the fourth-best NL record in 1995, one game ahead of fifth-best Houston. Both would be paired together in a wildcard series under modern postseason seeding.

The Rockies would have likely needed to beat the Braves at some point anyways, but perhaps Colorado could have made a deeper run in 1995 if they didn’t meet until the NLCS.

In Review:

Under modern postseason format, 2017 and 2018 could have been nearly identical to what actually happened. Three games would have decided the Rockies’ fate instead of one.

The implications of this alone could have decided roster moves, pitching management and general franchise course through the latter stages of the Arenado Era.

2009 would have been wild. (Go watch the Spilborghs slam one more time.)

Rocktober 2007 could have kicked off with a three-day festival of baseball insanity at 20th and Blake, rather than a one-night-only special. The festival lasted the entire month, but it could have been much shorter if Trevor Hoffman got a chance to redeem himself.

1995 and 1996 could have pushed Larry Walker into the Hall of Fame far sooner.

★ ★ ★

Owner Dick Monfort declares Rockies’ four-year playoff drought “not acceptable” in letter to fans | The Denver Post ($)

From the desk of Dick Monfort: “It has now been four years since our last postseason appearance, and this is not acceptable.”

Also straight from the source: “Our road record was abysmal, our defense was not what we are accustomed to, our situational hitting was disappointing, and our pitching was inconsistent.”

Offseason perspective has already been unveiled by the Rockies’ owner, and with an apparent commitment to right the unacceptable, it may appear those aforementioned points are what Rockies fans can expect to be addressed. (Credit is deserved in pointing out actual facets of gameplay, instead of a vague statement of ‘unacceptable’ play.)

★ ★ ★

Arizona Fall League

Glendale Desert Dogs 8, Salt River Rafters 3

The Salt River Rafters have fallen to a tough 0-7 to begin the 2022 AFL slate; despite a valiant effort by Colorado’s Zac Veen in AFL Week 1, the losing woes have continued into Week 2.

Rockies hitters combined to go 2-for-8 on Monday at Salt River Fields. Veen went 1-for-2 out of the second spot in the order, collecting two walks, while the four-hitting Grant Lavigne went 1-for-3 with a walk and RBI. Warming Bernabel was the fifth hitter in the Rafters’ lineup, going 0-for-3 but collecting an RBI sacrifice fly. Two of the Rafters’ three RBI on the day came from Colorado hitters.

Blair Calvo pitched a late 1 13 innings, serving as the lone bright spot in the Rafters’ bullpen. Three other relievers allowed a combined eight earned runs in 2 23 innings, while Calvo held the Glendale Desert Dogs scoreless.

★ ★ ★

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