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10/07/07 12:00 PM ET

Rockies ready for division-rival D-backs

Young, exciting clubs have mutual respect entering NLCS

DENVER -- Brian Fuentes savored the Rockies' opportunity to face the Diamondbacks in the National League Championship Series, which starts Thursday at Chase Field.

"They're a great team," said Fuentes, whose perfect eighth inning earned him a decision Saturday night as the Rockies completed a three-game sweep of the Phillies in the NL Division Series, 2-1. "Everybody's been waiting for them to fall on their faces, and they push through.

"They're arguably the best team in the National League. Record-wise, they are. But we've been getting the same thing. No one's expecting us to be where we are right now. It's going to be two very good ballclubs going at it."

The Rockies enter the NLCS having won all but one of their last 18 games, including the regular-season rally that put them into the postseason. All it did was put them back in front of a familiar opponent.

The Rockies won the regular-season series, 10-8, marking the third time since the D-backs' expansion season of 1998 that has happened. Half the games were one- or two-run decisions.

The teams met to open the season at Coors Field, with the Diamondbacks winning the opener and the Rockies taking the next two. They met in the final scheduled regular-season series at Coors, with the Rockies taking two of three. It was enough to give Colorado the opportunity to play, and win, a tiebreaker with San Diego for the NL Wild Card.

Probable Game 1 starter Jeff Francis, who went 17-8 in the regular season and beat the Phillies in the first game of the NLDS, also is beginning to look forward to the meeting.

Francis is 7-2 with a 3.54 ERA in 14 career starts against the Diamondbacks. But in the last meeting, he yielded four runs and seven hits and absorbed a 4-2 loss to the D-backs and their ace, Brandon Webb, at Coors Field.

"They know us well, and we know them well," Francis said. "It should be well-played, and it should be more than the guaranteed four games.

"I'll be thinking about it a lot, I know that."

The Rockies dominated a series against the Phillies, who were considered to be their mirror image in terms of style of play, with aggressive offenses and all-hands-on-deck pitching staffs.

The Rockies and D-backs are similar in their construction. Colorado general manager Dan O'Dowd worked with Arizona GM Josh Byrnes with the Indians, and he brought Byrnes with him as his assistant to Denver before the 2000 season.

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After serving as assistant GM with the World Series champion Red Sox in 2004 and staying through '05, Byrnes took over the D-backs. Now the teams that will play in the NLCS both will field young squads populated mostly by products of their farm systems.

But they're surprises. Many prognostications had the Padres or Dodgers, teams with more veterans, battling for the NL West crown.

"To be honest, I'm not going to lie, I didn't expect this," catcher Yorvit Torrealba said. "I knew we really had a chance to make it to the playoffs. [The Diamondbacks] were playing great, but the Dodgers were right there and San Diego was right there.

"I didn't know who we'd be playing. But it is what it is. Here we are."

Thomas Harding is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.