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la russa's decision is expected any day now, and when it comes down there'll be a lot to discuss. so i think i'll sneak in a few thoughts today about the nlcs.

of the 60 people who submitted pre-playoff predictions last monday, only 12 correctly called this matchup, or 3 fewer than we'd expect by random chance. nobody predicted a pair of sweeps. of those 12 people, 8 of them picked the rockies to beat the diamondbacks the nlcs --- Hugo (in 6 games), WiscCard (6), Hardcore Legand (6), abstl (5), Zubin (6), the red baron (6), redbirds6 (7), and acham8206 (6). these 4 guys picked the dbacks: jomfa (dbacks in 6), sdesserman (6), stlcardinalsfang (6), Trayton in Seattle (6).

the dbacks and rockies have the two best records in the league --- 90-72 for arizona, 90-73 for colorado; the rockies won the head-to-head matchup 10-8 and outscored arizona 86-72 in those games, for whatever that's worth. their pitching staffs are ostensibly not great --- dbacks were 4th in the league in era, the rockies 8th --- but that's misleading, because both staffs had to pitch in extreme hitters parks. zubin pointed out last week that the rockies posted a 110 era+ as a team, the 4th-best figure in the league; the dbacks led the league in this category at 114. so the series features the league's two winningest teams, and (arguably) two of the four best pitching staffs. strong matchup.

they're also both very young teams and largely homegrown. colorado's oldest starter is 33, and 6 of the 8 are 28 or younger; arizona has only 1 starter over age 30 (eric byrnes, who's 31). both teams drafted and developed 5 of their 8 everyday players; the rockies self-generated 3 of their postseason starting pitchers, the dbacks 2; both teams produced their closers in-house. it's the rockies' first nlcs ever, the diamondbacks' second; good chance we'll be seeing one or both of them back here before too long. toss in the dodgers' strong crop of prospects, and it looks as if the nl west is gonna be one hell of a division for the next few years.

the rockies' season has featured two tremendous hot streaks --- their current one, a 17-1 run that began on september 16; and a 20-7 run that lasted from may 22 through june 21. the latter spurt corrected an 18-27 start and seemed to establish the rockies as contenders, although they were still only 4th in the strong nl west. but a deflating 8-game losing streak immediately ensued --- an extremely deceptive streak, in that the rocks led 4 of those games heading into the opposing team's final at-bat. basically, they lost 8 in a row because brian fuentes had a bad week. a few days later, on july 4, fuentes got placed on the dl, and setup man manny corpas was promoted to closer; corpas posted a 1.46 era the rest of the way. a couple weeks later, on july 19, they promoted ubaldo jimenez to the rotation; he replaced the disabled jason hirsh, who'd come over in the jason jennings trade. jimenez got rocked in two starts early on, leaving him with a 6.57 era; but in his last 10 starts he posted a 3.30 era and a .207 opponent average. at about the time jimenez got hot, the rockies promoted franklin morales to the rotation, replacing opening-day starter and theoretical staff ace aaron cook (who also went to the dl). morales began the year at double A and had only reached triple A a couple weeks earlier, making only 3 starts at that level before the rockies recalled him. he walked 13 men in 17 innings at triple A, but in the big leagues he threw strikes (just over 3 walks a game) and kept the ball in the park --- 2 hr in 39.1 innings. threw strikes, kept it in the park . . . . pitching is really not very complicated.

corpas, jimenez, and morales are all 24 or younger; they turned the rockies' season around. from the day corpas saved his first game (july 7) through the end of the year, the rockies --- coors field or no --- allowed the fewest runs in the national league.

colorado's defense deserves mention here as well. the rockies committed only 68 errors this year, setting an all-time record for team fielding percentage; they also turned the most double plays in the league (178) and finished 2d (to the cubs) in defensive efficiency ratio. when you don't give away free baserunners, and wipe a lot of them off via the twin-killing and overall good range afield, that can make your pitchers look awfully good. and it might well explain why both morales and jimenez had drastically better control at the major-league level than they ever displayed in the minors --- they had confidence in the defense. helton, holliday, and tulowitzki all rank among the best defenders in baseball at their positions, both per uzr and enhanced zone rating. garrett atkins and brad hawpe rate as very bad defenders, however.

the diamondbacks, it's well known, are a strongly anomalous team, having been outscored by their opponents 712-732 on the season. the Hardball Times' chris jaffe argues that the run differential is misleading, although his colleague sal baxamusa begs to differ. one thing all parties would agree on: the diamondbacks can't score runs. they finished 14th in the league in scoring and dead last in park-adjusted ops+. also dead last in batting average and on-base percentage. they did finish middle of the pack in homers, dead even with the rockies (171 apiece), but their inability to get on base doesn't bode well. they won't get any help from the colorado staff, which yielded the 3d-fewest walks in the league. nor do the individual matchups offer any encouragement: three of the colorado playoff starters --- fogg, jimenez, and jeff francis --- posted a combined 2.73 era vs the dbacks in 9 starts this year, yielding just 3 hr in 56 innings. all 3 pitchers had era's under 3.00 vs arizona. manny corpas had a 1.64 era vs them in 11 innings; brian fuentes (now the setup man) held the dbacks scoreless in 9.2 innings.

now turn that question around. brandon webb, doug davis, and livan hernandez combined for a 3.66 era against colorado in 14 starts, but that doesn't tell the story. webb was atrocious vs colorado --- a 5.77 era in 6 starts, with a 1-3 record. but livan hernandez was magnificent, with a 1.54 era in 5 starts. these are ridiculously small sample sizes, so you can't read a whole lot into them. a more telling indicator is that webb has a career 4.24 era, 1.500ish whip at coors field, where he will probably pitch game 5; livan hernandez has a lifetime era of 6.78 there.

the dbacks do have one young starting pitcher to counter the rockies' duo of morales and jimenez --- micah owings, who was one of the dbacks' best pitchers down the stretch. in his last 10 starts he put up a 3.03 era and a .195 opponent average, with a 3.5 to 1 k/bb ratio. and he was a better hitter than rick ankiel --- 1.032 ops (in 60 at-bats), vs slick rick's .863. maybe the cardinals should trade for this guy and ruin him as a pitcher --- voila! another outfielder.

relax, people; just kidding.

on paper --- and we know what that's worth, after the cards' run last season --- the rockies seem to have a strong upper hand: their pitchers are as good as arizona's, and their hitters are much better. i haven't even looked at the offenses because there'd be no point; the rockies scored nearly a run a game more than the dbacks, and that's all you or i need to know. another way to look at this: while the dbacks were outscored by 20 runs this year, the rockies outscored their foes by 102 runs. so per run differential, the rockies are 120 runs better than arizona --- which makes this an even more lopside matchup than last year's cards-mets nlcs, where the mets (+103) were 87 runs better than the cards (+16). in my forecast last week, i had the rockies facing the cubs in this round, with the cubs advancing; given the current matchup, i'll take the rockies to move on. make it 6 games.

a final note: of the 12 people listed above who picked the rockies and dbacks for the nlcs, 9 also picked the red sox over the angels and therefore have a chance to go 4 for 4 in the lds round. three of them need the yankees to come back and win: jomfa, Zubin, and the red baron. the rest are hoping the indians can hang on: WiscCard, abstl, stlcardinalsfang, redbird6, Trayton in Seattle, and acham8206.