After a grueling final few days, the NL’s two top offensive teams open their division series on Wednesday afternoon at Philadelphia’s Citizens Bank Park.
The Rockies begin the series less than 48 hours after beating San Diego 9-8 in 13 innings in a one-game playoff Monday to determine the wild card. Fatigue might not matter to baseball’s hottest team, though, which is making its second postseason appearance and first since becoming the first wild-card representative in 1995.
“It’s been an incredible run from game 1 to game 163,” said Rockies manager Clint Hurdle, whose club won 14 of its final 15 games - mostly against NL West opponents - to reach the postseason after opening the season 17-25.
Philadelphia, meanwhile, expected to contend in the NL East, but started 4-11 and chased the New York Mets most of the season.
The Phillies overcame injuries to their pitching staff and went 13-4 down the stretch to overcome a seven-game deficit, while the Mets suffered one of the greatest late-season collapses in major league history. Philadelphia finally took over first place in game 160, but needed to beat Washington 6-1 on the final day of the regular season to clinch its first division title since 1993.
“No matter what the stakes are, we’re never going to quit,” Phillies center fielder Aaron Rowand said.
Philadelphia scored 892 runs to lead the NL for the second straight year, while Colorado was right behind with 860. The Rockies led the NL with a .280 batting average, while the Phillies ranked second behind Milwaukee with 213 home runs.
Colorado batted .327 as a team and hit 14 homers in going 4-3 against the Phillies this season, which included taking two of three at home in July and splitting a four-game September series in Philadelphia.
With each team boasting a strong offense in a hitter-friendly park, offense may dominate the series.
“I don’t think any ballpark is an issue about anything,” Phillies closer Brett Myers said. “Yeah, they’re hitter-friendly, so they say, but if you go out and think about that, you’re just going to choke.”
Holliday won both the NL batting (.340) and RBI (137) races and enters the playoffs hitting .407 (11-for-27) in his last seven games. He scored the controversial game-winning run Monday, when it appeared he never touched the plate as Colorado rallied from two runs down in the 13th.
“I was dazed,” said Holliday, who hit five homers against the Phillies in 2007.
His teammate Todd Helton will make the first playoff appearance of his stellar 11-year career. The first baseman is batting .444 (12-for-27) with two homers against the Phillies in 2007.
Rookie of the year candidate Troy Tulowitzki is hitting .423 (11-for-26) with two homers versus Philadelphia.
Rollins, meanwhile, made good on his bold preseason declaration that the Phillies were the team to beat in the East.
“That was a heavy burden to carry all year long,” Rollins said. “I’m glad it’s off my shoulders.”
Rollins hit .296 with 30 homers, 94 RBIs and 41 stolen bases in 2007. He also hit .344 (11-for-32) with two homers against Colorado.
Ryan Howard, last season’s NL MVP, hit just .241 with two homers and struck out 13 times in 29 at-bats against Colorado this season, but enters on a roll after homering in each of his final four games of 2007, giving him 47 for the year.
Both clubs will send their aces to the mound for Game 1.
Colorado’s Jeff Francis, who posted a career-high 17 wins with only nine losses, will take the ball for the Rockies. The left-hander had a 4.22 in 34 starts overall, but struggled in two against Philadelphia, going 0-1 with a 15.12 ERA.
“The two games I faced them, I didn’t execute well,” Francis told the Rockies’ official Web site. “It might be a big scoring game, but I’m confident our offense can back us up and take a little of the pressure off me.”
Though Colorado outscored its opponents 102-51 over its final 15 games, the Rockies could be in for a challenge against Philadelphia’s Cole Hamels.
The second-year starter went 15-5 with a 3.39 ERA in 28 starts this season, and is 1-0 with a 2.25 ERA in his last three since coming off the disabled last month due to a mild elbow sprain.
The 23-year-old left-hander, who was 8-2 in 12 starts at home, has never faced the Rockies.
“For me to succeed, and obviously keep my pitch count down, I have to get some outs and keep them off balance,” Hamels told the Phillies’ official Web site.
The series continues with Game 2 on Thursday afternoon in Philadelphia.