Game 1 starts at 12:37 p.m. Wednesday in Philadelphia
Game 2 at 12:37 p.m. Thursday in Philadelphia
Game 3 at 7:37 p.m. Saturday in Denver
All games televised on TBS
DENVER — The similarities to Colorado’s magical run in 2007 are eerie.
A poor start followed by a big recovery. Troy Tulowitzki with a strong finishing kick. Dramatic game-winning home runs. Playing the Philadelphia Phillies in the National League Divisional Series.
There’s a lot to compare between 2007 and 2009, but heading into Wednesday’s Game 1 in Philadelphia, the Colorado Rockies are much different than the one that reached the World Series two years ago.
“This is a different team, this a different atmosphere; 2007, that’s gone,” outfielder Ryan Spilborghs said. “That’s not even a thought in this clubhouse anymore. This is a totally different animal.”
The Rockies rode an incredible streak two years ago, winning 14 of their last 15 to make the playoffs.
They didn’t need a September surge this year. By the end of July they had erased a 20-32 start and were leading the wild-card race. They jockeyed with San Francisco until early September, when they took control with a 9-1 homestand and held on.
“We knew we had a good team. There’s no doubt about it,” said Tulowitzki, who led the team with 32 home runs, a career high. “Every team goes through a struggle in a season. Ours was early. We overcame it and we’ve played great since then.”
The biggest reason for Colorado’s 92-70 record, a franchise best, is pitching. The Rockies have five starters with 10 wins or more, led by lefty Jorge De La Rosa’s 16. Ubaldo Jimenez has been the ace, all-star Jason Marquis was strong early before sliding in the second half and Jason Hammel was a solid No. 5 starter, winning 10 games.
Tuesday the Rockies announced De La Rosa was left off the NLDS roster with a groin injury suffered in his final start Saturday against Los Angeles. De La Rosa has been Colorado’s most consistent starter. Since starting the season 0-6 he went 16-3 over the last four months.
With De La Rosa out, it puts more pressure on Jimenez and Aaron Cook, who has bounced back nicely after suffering a right shoulder strain in late August. Cook needed only 85 pitches over eight innings to win the playoff-clinching game last Thursday.
“If there was any question in our mind whether he’s ready or not to pitch in the postseason, we got our answer,” manager Jim Tracy said.
The bullpen has been lights out for Tracy, who went 74-42 after he took over as manager when Clint Hurdle was fired on May 29. Colorado is 83-1 when leading after eight innings, and they have a shutdown closer in Huston Street, who is 35-for-37 in save opportunities.
That may hold the key to beating the defending world champions. The Phillies boast one of the better hitting lineups in baseball, and they have three top-line starters in Cliff Lee, Cole Hamels and J.A. Happ. Where they’re weak is in the bullpen. Former Cherry Creek star Brad Lidge, who was perfect in save opportunities last year, has blown 11 this year. Ryan Madson has blown six saves.
“We’re very encouraged by what we have to offer from a bullpen standpoint,” Tracy said. “If we can get to the back end of the game with a lead, we’re in a pretty good place. We’re solid down there.”
The front office did a masterful job adding pieces to this team. Things looked bleak when Matt Holliday was traded to Oakland, but for the slugger the Rockies received Street and Carlos Gonzalez, who has strengthened the top of Colorado’s lineup.
During the season general manager Dan O’Dowd traded for relievers Rafael Betancourt and Joe Beimel and signed Jason Giambi, who has delivered clutch pinch-hits down the stretch.
“This is exactly what I envisioned,” Giambi said. “This is what keeps you coming back playing the game year after year.”
Few are giving the Rockies a chance to upset the Phillies, but that’s OK with them. Two years ago they weren’t expected to do much and they swept two series on their way to the World Series.
The memories of that magical run are fresh on the mind of many of these Rockies.
“I’ve never forgotten ’07 and it’s great to get to experience it again,” Tulowitzki said. “It never gets old.”