Quite fittingly this baseball season came down to not one but two game 163s. Both the National League Central and West divisions needed bonus baseball to decide a winner. As many predicted to start the season the Los Angeles Dodgers won the West. However, in the Central the Chicago Cubs failed to shut the door and the Milwaukee Brewers bolted through it. That leaves the Cubs facing the Colorado Rockies in the NL Wildcard game on Tuesday night.
So who will progress to the divisional round? Will the Cubs get the opportunity for revenge on the Brewers? Or can the Rockies continue their incredible season?
Colorado Rockies (Kyle Freeland) @ Chicago Cubs (Jon Lester)
Logic would say it is hard to see past the Cubs in this game. They are 51-33 at home and they are loaded with talent at seemingly every position. If you told me at the start of the year to pick either Freeland or Lester for a one-game shootout I would have selected Lester.
However, Freeland has actually been better than Lester this year. Freeland has a 2.85 ERA compared to Lester’s 3.32 ERA. There is not much in it but Freeland surprisingly takes the crown. Strikeouts wise they are also pretty equal. A potential issue for the Cubs is that Lester has actually been worse at home this season. In 97 innings he has a 3.71 ERA and is striking out just 6.8 batters per nine. Surprisingly for a Colorado pitcher, Freeland has actually been worse on the road than at home, with a 3.23 ERA and 7.2 strikeouts per nine. The pitcher numbers are titled slightly towards Freeland but Lester has been here and done it before and that may well count for a lot.
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Offensively they have slightly different styles. The Cubs rank 22nd in home runs this year so they have looked to get guys on base and win games that way. They have Javier Baez, Anthony Rizzo, Kyle Schwarber and Kris Bryant in their lineup so if needed they can go for power but that has not been the way it has worked for them this season. The Rockies on the other hand are ranked 8th in home runs and 5th in slugging. Playing in Colorado helps that but this is a team with a ton of power in it.
This Rockies lineup is also extremely hot right now. According to Roster Resource, six of their projected starters rank among the top-50 MLB hitters in the last seven days. Oh and the other two are top-100. On the other side the Cubs have two players inside the top-50, one more inside the top-100 and three outside of the top-200.
My feeling here is that experience wins out. The Cubs have a ton of veteran players and a good manager. They have a lot of post season experience. They have also been in these do-or-die games before, winning the World Series in a game seven situation. All of that should give them the edge in crunch time. Combine all of that with playing at home and it is hard to look beyond the Cubs.
However, the fun story here is the Colorado Rockies winning. They will need to get after Lester early and try and jump out to a lead but they have the lineup and hot hitters who can do that. My head is going for Chicago but the form book and my heart is firmly planted with the Rockies tonight.