Date: Wednesday (TBS, 8;08 pm ET)
Where: Chase Field, Phoenix
Projected starters: Zack Greinke, Diamondbacks vs. Jon Gray Rockies
The starters: The Diamondbacks’ Zack Greinke is coming off a bounce-back season that saw him tie for the league lead with 17 wins and finish sixth in ERA at 3.20. He’ll be making his 10th postseason start and will be pitching at Chase Field, where he went 13-1 with a 2.87 ERA this year.
But this is by no means a mismatch. Even though the Rockies’ Jon Gray will be making his first-ever playoff appearance, he won both his decisions and logged a 2.77 ERA in Phoenix, striking out 20 and walking just one in 13 innings over his two starts. In his last five appearances of the year, Gray went 4-0 with a 2.10 ERA, so he comes in as a hot pitcher.
Offensive matters: As usual, the Coors Field-aided Rockies led the NL in runs scored, with an average of 5.09 a game. But the disparity wasn’t as big as in the past, with the Chicago Cubs right on their tail (5.07) and the Diamondbacks also close at 5.01. And surprisingly, the Rockies did not finish in the league’s top half in home runs. They do have two strong MVP candidates in Nolan Arenado and Charlie Blackmon, both of whom went deep 37 times, so they don’t lack for firepower.
Arizona got a major boost from the July acquisition of J.D. Martinez, who belted 29 homers in 62 games after joining the club. He became the Diamondbacks’ most dangerous hitter, especially in light of Paul Goldschmidt’s late-season slump (.171 average, three homers from Sept. 1 on).
Bench mob: Rockies manager Bud Black will have to decide whether to start Ian Desmond and where. Signed as a first baseman, Desmond had an injury-shortened, up-and-down season and may give way to Mark Reynolds (30 homers, 97 RBI) at first and Gerardo Parra in left field. If so, Desmond would be a valuable reserve who could impact the game with his bat or legs. He led the club with 15 steals.
For the Diamondbacks, veterans Daniel Descalso – a utilityman who played in 130 games – and Gregor Blanco bring plenty of postseason experience and the savvy to deal with the October pressure.
In the end: Greinke has a history of handling Arenado and Blackmon – neither has ever homered against him in a combined 102 plate appearances. But right fielder Carlos Gonzalez has had a field day against the former Cy Young Award winner, reaching him for five homers and a 1.140 on-base plus slugging percentage in 42 at-bats. In addition, shortstop Trevor Story has four homers off Greinke in 24 at-bats. If the Rockies strike early, they could gain the confidence to pull an upset against an opponent they know well (the clubs share a spring training complex). But the Diamondbacks, who won the season series 11-8, fared better late in the season and will be playing at home, with the roof closed. This one could go either way.