Rockies not to be underestimated
Depth against power may decide rematch of 2007 NLDS
DENVER -- The Rockies spent this season building versatility with their lineup and pitching staff, and they'll need it in the National League Division Series against the defending World Series champion Phillies. It'll be a rematch of 2007, when the NL Wild Card Rockies swept the Phillies en route to a World Series appearance.
The Phillies present plenty of challenges with their strong lineup, with Chase Utley, Ryan Howard and Raul Ibanez providing left-handed run production, and Jimmy Rollins and Shane Victorino productive as switch-hitters. A starting rotation dominated by left-handers also taxes Colorado.
But it's just possible that the tribulations that faced the Rockies over the course of the season, even during the 18-28 start that led them to replace Clint Hurdle as manager with Jim Tracy, could pay off for them in the best-of-five series.
When the season began, Garrett Atkins was the third baseman and Ryan Spilborghs was the center fielder. Both are right-handed hitters. But left-handed power hitter Ian Stewart supplanted Atkins at third. Spilborghs lost starts and playing time when switch-hitting Dexter Fowler and left-handed-hitting Carlos Gonzalez and Seth Smith emerged.
However, in late-season games against the Brewers and the Dodgers, Tracy began using Atkins and Spilborghs in the starting lineup, partly with an eye toward a series with the Phillies.
Atkins has struggled all season (.228), but went 3-for-10 with a home run, a double and four RBIs in a series at Citizens Bank Park this season. Spilborghs is hitting .244, after bringing a career .297 average into the season, but is hitting .348 (8-for-23) against Philadelphia this season.
The necessity to adjust the lineup has led to depth. The Phillies will have to contend with Stewart, whose 25 home runs rank second on the team to shortstop Troy Tulowitzki's 31, and Smith, who has a .397 average as a pinch-hitter. Late addition Jason Giambi, who joined the team on Sept. 1, also is an imposing pinch-hitter from the left side.
The Rockies have five starters in double figures in wins, but the bullpen strength they've developed could be a big part of the NLDS.
Right-hander closer Huston Street is the only reliever who has been with the team all season, but it took nearly the whole season to set up the bullpen that gets him the ball.
Rookie right-hander Matt Daley, a non-drafted free agent several seasons back, emerged as a seventh-inning option to protect leads. Although Franklin Morales, a former starter, has had a couple of dicey outings near the end of the season, the Rockies believe they've found a lefty power arm.
Late-season pickups will loom big in the playoffs. Right-hander Rafael Betancourt, obtained in a trade with the Indians, has a 1.78 ERA with the Rockies. Left-hander Joe Beimel, who came in a trade with the Nationals, will be asked to handle some of the tough left-handed bats.
In the past week, the Rockies have found a reliever in right-hander Jose Contreras, who came in an Aug. 31 trade with the White Sox. He has given up one run in 5 1/3 innings since going to the bullpen.
Thomas Harding is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.