The Rockies and Brewers have one thing in common, which is to say that they each stormed into Wrigley Field in a one-game playoff situation and vanquished the mighty Cubs.
Their reward? One another, in the National League Division Series beginning today at Miller Park. While the Brewers won five of seven games between the two this year, none of that really matters now. Those games were months ago. The rosters are different. The stakes are different -- and the Brewers may have baseball's hottest player.
:: NLDS schedule and results ::
Remember, though: These aren't your older sibling's Rockies, the baseball-mashing sluggers who could never find another arm. This group can really pitch. Their offense isn't threatening. It's not what you expect. It's what they have. Will it be enough to topple the Brewers? Let's break it down, position by position.
We start with a position that's not terribly strong for either side, as both the Rockies and Brewers were in the bottom 10 in the Majors in catching value. Interestingly, Milwaukee has actually been going with 38-year-old Erik Kratz, who has a career line of just .211/.258/.363, though he does rate highly in framing metrics. Of course, Colorado has a strong framer themselves in Tony Wolters, and starter Chris Iannetta (.224/.345/.385) is closer to a league average hitter than Kratz is.
Small advantage: Rockies
Jesus Aguilar had a breakout season for Milwaukee, hitting .274/.352/.539 with 35 homers, and what was most impressive was his lack of meaningful platoon splits. (He slugged .550 against lefties, and .535 against righties, though with a lower on-base percentage.) Ian Desmond hit just .236/.307/.422 along with baseball's highest ground ball rate and has been worth -1.5 Wins Above Replacement in his two years with Colorado. Consider this an enormous edge for Milwaukee.
Huge advantage: Brewers
Travis Shaw had never even played second base before July 28; while he's handled himself adequately there, it's clear that DJ LeMahieu is the superior defender. Then again, Shaw's offensive edge is clear -- he slugged .480 to LeMahieu's .428, and holds a 24-point on-base percentage edge -- and the Brewers can call upon Jonathan Schoop for platoon or defensive purposes.
Let's give credit where its due, in that Orlando Arcia's four-hit game in the NL Central tiebreaker couldn't have come at a better time, but it's going to take more than that to forget that his .236/.268/.307 season was legitimately one of the weakest lines of any player in baseball. Meanwhile, Trevor Story (.291/.348/.567) put up a season that got him some MVP discussion, adding 110 points of slugging while also cutting his strikeout rate by 9 points from last year. He's a strong defender, too.
Big advantage: Rockies
Nolan Arenado (.297/.374/.561, with 38 home runs) is a superstar on both sides of the ball, and concerns that he might be limited by a shoulder injury that contributed to a disappointing August were somewhat alleviated when he came back to slug .564 in September. The Brewers added Mike Moustakas at the deadline, and he's doing the same thing for Milwaukee (.256/.326/.441) that he always does, which is to pair a slightly above-average bat with average-ish defense. Nothing wrong with that, but it's still an easy Colorado edge here.
Big advantage: Rockies
Finally healthy, David Dahl (.273/.325/.534) has added some badly-needed offense to the Colorado lineup, and the return of Matthew Holliday has worked out well so far, especially against lefties. Once you adjust for ballparks, Ryan Braun's .254/.313/.469 is about as valuable as Dahl's, each five to 10 percent better than league average, so this is essentially a dead heat. We'll give Braun a small edge just because of how good he was in September, when he led all of Major League baseball with a 62.5 percent hard-hit rate.
Small advantage: Brewers
Lorenzo Cain's return to Milwaukee was a smashing success, as he hit .308/.395/.417 with 10 homers, 30 steals, and his usual elite defensive work. Ironically, last winter we recommended that Colorado sign Cain and move Charlie Blackmon to a corner, upgrading two spots. They didn't, and Blackmon had a good-not-great .291/.358/.502 season that was a step back from his elite-level 2017 campaign, especially on defense. He did turn it on in September, hitting .357/.421/.625, but Cain's all-around game takes the day here.
It almost doesn't matter who Colorado has here, because Christian Yelich (.326/.402/.598, with 36 home runs and 22 steals) is almost certainly going to with the National League Most Valuable Player award, and so the edge here is his by default. Neither Carlos Gonzalez (.276/.329/.467, a slightly below-average line once adjusted) nor Gerardo Parra (.284/.342/.372, about 20 percent below average) have had terribly impressive seasons, anyway.
Big advantage: Brewers
Surely, the baseball world knows about Kyle Freeland by now, especially after his outstanding performance on three days' rest in the National League Wild Card game. But it's not just him, because German Marquez broke out in a big way too, putting up a 2.24 ERA with 110 strikeouts against only 16 walks in his final dozen starts. (Only Jacob deGrom had a higher Wins Above Replacement mark in the second half.) Though Tyler Anderson and Jon Gray have been inconsistent, this has been a legitimately strong rotation, one of the better ones in the National League.
The Brewers managed to dig up some solid performances from veterans Jhoulys Chacin and Wade Miley, but they never did manage to replace injured ace Jimmy Nelson. It's been a fine rotation. Colorado's is better.
Big advantage: Rockies
This is a good reminder not to worry about full-season stats here, because you might look at Colorado's relatively unimpressive marks and think they aren't that strong. Then again, who really cares what Mike Dunn (9.00 ERA) and Bryan Shaw (5.93 ERA) did? They won't be on the roster, and the quartet of Adam Ottavino, Scott Oberg, Wade Davis, and Seunghwan Oh have been legitimately good.
Of course, the Brewers have Josh Hader. They have Corey Knebel, who struck out 33 hitters against five walks in 16 scoreless outings following a brief August demotion. They have young Corbin Burnes and Brandon Woodruff, who combined for a 3.14 ERA and a 25 percent strikeout rate, and they have Jeremy Jeffress, who had a 1.29 ERA all year.
There's a reason Milwaukee is here without a standout rotation. Colorado's bullpen is better than you think, but this is the strength of the Brewers.
While the Rockies have a considerable edge in the rotation, Milwaukee's offense is much deeper, and they have a stronger bullpen too. Brewers in 5.