If you feel a gust of wind along the Front Range today, chances are it’s Denver letting out a collective breath after the Colorado Rockies prevailed in a tense, 13-inning National League Wild Card Game on Tuesday. The 2–1 victory over the Chicago Cubs propels Colorado to its first playoff series since 2009, where they meet the Milwaukee Brewers—a red-hot team that surprised the baseball world by finishing with the best record in the National League. If you missed Tuesday’s heart-stopping action or need something smart to say during an upcoming Rockies watch party, read on.
Takeaways from the Wild Card Game
The Rockies’ extraordinary resilience in the Wild Card game should give fans a measure of optimism heading into the National League Division Series. Their ability to stay composed in the brain-scrambling confines of Wrigley Field suggests a mental toughness not seen by past Rockies teams—which fizzled during their most recent playoff appearances in 2009 and 2017. (As a reminder, going into last night, the Rockies were 1-8 in their last 9 playoff games.)
Just how clutch were the Rockies pitchers last night? The answer begins with Kyle Freeland, who imprinted his name in Rockies lore by limiting the Cubs to four hits in 6-plus scoreless innings. Later in the game, Chicago had four straight innings when they needed just a single run to eliminate the Rockies. Yet Colorado’s relief pitchers delivered five dazzling, scoreless frames from the ninth inning on to keep the Cubs in check.
As for the offense, despite the fact that they went only 1-for-10 with runners in scoring position and left 11 men on base, Colorado scrapped together enough quality at-bats to put itself in a position to win. Certainly, a victory like this can propel a Wild Card team to a World Series berth, as the Rockies did in 2007, or to a championship, like the 2014 San Francisco Giants.
The downside of such a dramatic victory, as ESPN noted well during its broadcast, is that the Rockies are surely drained. When they start their series with the Brewers on Thursday, Colorado will have had only one day off since Sept. 20. After the adrenaline rush of the Wild Card game dies down, there’s bound to be fatigue.
Perhaps that fatigue will be more prevalent for the position players than the pitchers. Thankfully, the Rockies survived Tuesday’s 13-inning marathon without using up more than one starting pitcher. The Cubs, who used all three of their best starters, would have been severely depleted if they had advanced.
Hard Times on the Road
Despite the thrilling victory, some analysts doubt the Rockies will fare very well against a Brewers team that boasts a loaded lineup and one key asset: home field advantage. Simply put, the Rockies’ offense sputters away from Coors Field, where they won’t play until game three of this best-of-five series.
Despite the Rockies’ fairly equal win-loss splits at home and on the road this season (47-34 at home; 44-38 away), Colorado scored 110 fewer runs on the road while hitting a dismal .225. The struggle even continued during their white-hot end to the season, as they scored two runs or fewer in seven of their final 10 road games.
Their recent high-pressure contests at Dodger Stadium (in Monday’s NL West tiebreaker loss) and Wrigley Field (in Tuesday’s NL Wild Card win) further bore out that trend, as they mustered only 4 combined runs over 22 innings. Granted, the Rockies did patch together 11 hits against the Cubs—and did enough to earn a season-saving victory.
Players to Watch in the NLDS
Josh Hader, Brewers relief pitcher: The lefty is perhaps most famous for insensitive tweets unearthed earlier this year, and that’s just where the intrigue begins with this 24-year-old phenom. Hader has been a key part of a formidable Brewers bullpen, and looked to be at the top of his game while recording a six-out save against the Cubs on Monday. His 6-3 frame and deceptive arm angle will make the final innings of any game tough on the Rockies.
Trevor Story, Rockies shortstop: After how he played in the second half of the season, and particularly the past few games, Story is arguably the one Rockies starter that fans would want at the plate in a clutch situation. His ability not only to consistently hit hard, but also to make plays on defense (as he did with a full-extension diving catch to potentially save a run in the seventh inning on Tuesday), can singlehandedly help keep the Rockies in games.
Christian Yelich, Brewers outfielder: A late-season surge at the plate pushed Yelich to the forefront of National League MVP Award conversation. Part of the key to playoff success is staying hot, and if Yelich continues his success, there’s perhaps no one else in the National League who could do more damage to the Rockies’ playoff hopes.
Wade Davis, Rockies closer: Davis proved invaluable to the Rockies all season, notching the most saves in the entire National League. However, Davis had some abysmal stretches during the year—such as a mid-June stretch with seven runs allowed in 3.1 innings—that will certainly make some Rockies fans nervous during the NLDS.