Rox, D-backs ready to resume rivalry
NL West teams kick off 18-game head-to-head battle Friday
PHOENIX -- The newest and most underrated rivalry in Major League Baseball takes center stage again this weekend at Coors Field as the defending National League champion Rockies open their home season with a three-game series against the D-backs, the team that edged them by a half-game to win the NL West title in 2007.Yankees-Red Sox it's not. Nor is it remotely even Dodgers-Giants-ish. Not yet, anyway. "It very well could be," Colorado skipper Clint Hurdle said. "But you can't manipulate rivalries, or create them on your own. It just doesn't work that way. We had enough circumstances last year that might make it seem like things are headed in that direction, but I think there is a mutual respect that goes along with it." The last matchup between the two teams was this past October in the NL Championship Series when the then red-hot Rox swept the D-backs right out of the postseason. The Red Sox returned the favor a little more than a week later by running the table against Colorado in the World Series. On Friday night, Arizona right-hander Micah Owings is slated to start against left-hander Mark Redman in the return to Coors of a Rockies squad that last October played into its first World Series. They did so on the strength of one of the hottest season-ending streaks in baseball history -- 14 out of 15 to clinch the NL's Wild Card berth in the bottom of the 13th of Game 163 over the Padres, and 21 out of 22 through the first two rounds of the playoffs. This weekend there will be the ring ceremony and the NL pennant will be unfurled. Those are the accouterments of what the D-backs are longing to accomplish this season. The teams will then do it all over again next weekend at Chase Field. And when the six games are concluded, fans may be able to get a sense of where the race might be heading this season in the NL West. "There are a lot of similarities to the teams," D-backs manager Bob Melvin said. "Their younger guys are probably a little bit farther along with their development at the big league level, yet we had as much success last year. There are a lot of similarities in the group, and I would suspect that after what happened last year there would be more competition, rivalry, whatever you want to call it." Similarities abound. Both teams have young ace starting pitchers: Right-hander Brandon Webb for the D-backs, the 2006 NL Cy Young Award winner, vs. left-hander Jeff Francis for the Rox, who has to be considered high on the list of potential 2008 Cy Young candidates. Young stud shortstops in Stephen Drew for the D-backs and Troy Tulowitzki for the Rox. A pair of guys who can go get it in center field in Chris Young for the D-backs and Willy Taveras for the Rox. Veteran presence in left fielder Eric Byrnes for Arizona and first baseman Todd Helton for Colorado. The two teams are expansion era cronies. The Rockies' history dates back to 1993 and the D-backs to 1998. A decade later the clubs were finally competitive in the same season. Just to prove the point, the D-backs, at 93-76, hold a decided edge in the all-time regular-season series between the two teams. But the Rockies prevailed 10-8 last season and were 14-8 if the NLCS is included. The two teams played at Coors on the final weekend of the regular season, when the D-backs clinched at least the Wild Card on Friday night, the division title before even taking the field on Saturday, and the Rockies clinched a berth in the Wild Card playoff game on Sunday. Isn't this what rivalries are really all about? "I think there's definitely a rivalry there," Byrnes said. "You could sense it even before we met them in the Championship Series. The Dodgers have always had the Padres and the Dodgers have always had the Giants, and even Giants-Padres, there's something about that intrastate thing. We've always been the stepchildren, both of us. We were left on the outside, and all it took was for the two of us to get good in the same year to create a rivalry. And I think it's a bona fide rivalry now. I think it will be one as long as the teams continue to play good baseball."
|"I think it's a bona fide rivalry now."|
|-- Eric Byrnes|
Barry M. Bloom is a national reporter for MLB.com. MLB.com reporters Thomas Harding and Steve Gilbert contributed to this story. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.