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West's best to compete for NL crown

West's best to compete for NL crown

The Rockies' only loss in their last 18 games was to Brandon Webb and the Diamondbacks, and there's your expected matchup when an improbable National League Championship Series begins on Thursday in Arizona.

"It may be a long time before we look back and really understand what's happened," Rockies outfielder Brad Hawpe said.

Get ready for something completely different.

This will be a shining moment for the NL West, a division maligned by many just a year ago. Arizona will have home-field advantage by virtue of winning that division, and Colorado will come in as the hottest Wild Card you ever saw in Major League Baseball.

TBS will broadcast the best-of-seven series, on the heels of its coverage of all four Division Series. FOX, meanwhile, will broadcast the American League Championship Series between teams still to be determined. In subsequent years, the two broadcasters will alternate LCS rounds. FOX will televise the World Series as usual.

Honestly. Did you ever imagine Arizona vs. Colorado? Maybe this is what MLB had in mind when it expanded into Denver in 1993 and then Phoenix in 1998 -- filling a gaping hole on the baseball map. These are markets that share the Mountain Time Zone for half the year (Denver changes and Phoenix doesn't), and now they are markets that share a dream of reaching the 103rd World Series.

This year's NLCS schedule also might look a little different. This time there will be an extra off-day squeezed in, which could come in handy if a blast of early winter shows up around the Rockies. Thursday's and Friday's games are at Chase Field, Saturday is a travel day, then Sunday, Oct. 14, is Game 3 and Monday, Oct. 15, is Game 4. Traditionally, games 3-5 are on consecutive days, but if there is no four-game sweep, then this time there will be an extra off-day on that Tuesday, followed by Game 5 the next day.

This will be the first year that two West clubs have met in an NLCS. Both of this year's NLCS representatives are coming off remarkably easy sweeps that were clinched on Saturday night -- Arizona over the Cubs and the Rockies over the Phillies. The only real difference is that the D-Backs won their first two NLDS games at home and then clinched at Wrigley Field, whereas the Rockies won their first two games on hostile turf and then celebrated at home.

Both teams are likely to have their aces ready, with Webb probable for the D-Backs and Jeff Francis for the Rockies. The big question is whether Arizona -- or anyone -- can stop baseball's hottest team. Only Webb has been able to do that lately.

Flash back to Sept. 28. Arizona was finishing its regular season in Colorado, and that is the series that finally determined that the D-Backs would be division champs. On that night when everyone in the land was scoreboard-watching, Webb and Francis came in as 17-game winners. The former was dominant while the latter allowed four earned runs. Webb held the Rockies to a run in the third and one in the seventh, ending the club's 11-game winning streak. But Colorado never lost after that, taking the last two games of the series, beating San Diego in that unforgettable 13-inning tiebreaker victory on Monday and then sweeping the NL East champs.

"That's a solid club right there," D-backs first baseman Conor Jackson said. "I think we matchup pretty well with them though. Gosh, we've seen them about 100 times this year it seems like between Spring Training and the regular season. It's not like we don't know what we're going to get."

By virtue of those two victories on the final weekend of the regular season, Colorado won the season series, 10-8.

"We couldn't be more familiar with a team," D-backs GM Josh Byrnes, himself a former assistant GM in Colorado. "I don't know if that's good or bad."

It will be the D-Backs' second trip to the NLCS. They had home-field advantage in 2001, when they beat the Braves in five before going on to win that classic seven-game World Series against the Yankees. If the Yankees can hold up their end of the bargain, a rematch of that Fall Classic is still a possibility. Indeed, this year there could be a Nov. 1 Game 7, and the only other time the World Series went to November was in 2001.

"I hope we continue to fly under the radar," D-backs manager Bob Melvin said. "That's fine with me." It will be the first NLCS for the Rockies, whose only previous postseason experience was in 1995, the first year of the added Division Series round, when they lost to the Braves in four.

This is the first time that any West team has reached the NLCS since the Giants did so in 2002. St. Louis participated in the last three and four of the last five.

Mark Newman is enterprise editor for MLB.com. MLB.com reporters Thomas Harding and Steve Gilbert contibuted. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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