Pitching, not hitting, could decide Phils-Rockies
AP Sports Writer
PHILADELPHIA – All those big boppers and two hitter-friendly ballparks sure make the Phillies-Rockies series look like a slugfest.
Not so fast.
When Colorado swept Philadelphia in the 2007 NL division series, the teams combined for only 24 runs in three games. Now, each club boasts even stronger pitching.
The Phillies have two former Cy Young Award winners and last year’s World Series and NLCS MVP on their staff. The Rockies were the only team in the majors to have all five starters reach double-digit wins.
“I look at our starting pitching as very good,” Phillies manager Charlie Manuel said. “I think it’s as good as any team in the National League, and I think that our starting pitching will play up big in this series.”
The defending World Series champions are sending reigning AL Cy Young Award winner Cliff Lee (14-13, 3.22 ERA with Indians and Phillies) to the mound for Game 1 on Wednesday. Ubaldo Jimenez (15-12, 3.47) gets the start for Colorado.
Both pitchers are quite aware the ball travels well at Citizens Bank Park, and they’re facing plenty of hitters who can drive them out. Neither Lee nor Jimenez will be intimidated.
“I think it’s pretty well noted that it’s a hitter’s ballpark,” Lee said. “It still doesn’t mean you can’t throw right-handers in and you can’t come in on lefties because you’re scared they’re going to hit a home run. Obviously, you get in certain situations where you might not want to come in on a guy. But for the most part, I’m going to pitch the way I pitch, regardless.”
Pitching at Coors Field prepares Jimenez for just about anything, so he shouldn’t have trouble blocking it out of his mind.
“The first thing is I’m not going to be thinking about the park because it’s a hitter’s park, anybody can hit them out,” Jimenez said. “The only thing I can do is try to look at my fastball and try to throw everything down so they can hit groundballs.”
Lee has faced the Rockies only once in his career, beating them 3-1 on Aug. 6. He allowed one run and six hits, striking out nine in seven innings.
Jimenez held the Phillies to one run in 6 1-3 innings in the clincher of the ’07 series, but is 0-1 with an 8.10 ERA in two regular-season starts against them.
“Anybody in that lineup can hurt you,” Jimenez said. “It’s a tough lineup, a really tough lineup. It’s a big challenge. But there’s nothing you can do. The only thing, I’m going to go out there and just pitch my game, try to win.”
Cole Hamels, who was dominant during Philadelphia’s postseason run last October, faces Aaron Cook in Game 2. Jason Hammel got the nod over All-Star Jason Marquis to pitch Game 3 for Colorado while the Phillies haven’t decided. They can use three-time Cy Young Award winner Pedro Martinez, Joe Blanton or J.A. Happ.
The Rockies have the bullpen edge because closer Huston Street was 35 for 37 in save chances. Brad Lidge had 11 blown saves for the Phillies after going 48 for 48 last year. Manuel hasn’t committed to using Lidge or Ryan Madson or even Blanton or Happ in the closer’s role.
“I’ll answer that when we get there,” he said. “Whoever you see walking out there.”
While they certainly have quality pitchers who are capable of shutting good lineups down, both teams are mostly known for their hitting. And they can hit anywhere in any size parks.
The Phillies led the NL with 820 runs and 224 homers. The Rockies were second in both categories with 804 runs and 190 homers. By the way, both teams had middle-of-the-pack staff ERAs. Philadelphia was sixth at 4.16 and Colorado was eighth at 4.22.
All-Stars Ryan Howard, Chase Utley, Jayson Werth, Raul Ibanez and Shane Victorino lead the Phillies’ lineup, which also includes 2007 NL MVP Jimmy Rollins.
Troy Tulowitzki, Todd Helton, Brad Hawpe and Clint Barmes anchor a balanced Colorado attack.
“Every team that’s in the playoffs right now, every lineup is full of unbelievable hitters,” Lee said. “There’s not much room for error with these types of lineups and you’ve got to work ahead and you’ve got to stay out of the heart of the plate.”
The Phillies and wild card-winning Rockies took different paths to get here. Philadelphia (93-69) cruised to its third straight NL East title, leading the division since May 30.
Colorado rebounded from an awful start and finished a franchise-best 92-70, including 74-42 after Jim Tracy replaced Clint Hurdle as manager on May 29.
In ’07, the Rockies came in riding the momentum from a 14-1 run. The Phillies were just thrilled to make it after overcoming a seven-game deficit with 17 remaining and surpassing the New York Mets on the final day of the regular season.
“They basically walked right through us,” Victorino said. “They were playing so well. There was not a team in the National League that could stop them.”
Philadelphia is trying to be the first NL to repeat since the Cincinnati Reds won consecutive World Series in 1975-96.
“The taste is still in our mouths and we want to taste it again,” Madson said.