Sarah's Take: D-backs defying expectations

Sarah's Take: D-backs defying expectations

The National League Wild Card Game between the Arizona Diamondbacks and the Colorado Rockies was a hard-fought contest. Neither team was expected to be in this position when 2017 began. After all, they had dismal records in 2016. The D-backs prevailed, 11-8.

In most Wild Card Games, pitching tells the story, but not in this one. Jon Gray of the Rockies lasted only 1 1/3 innings, and Zack Greinke lasted only 3 2/3 innings. The Rockies never led in this game, but showed the necessary determination to come back from any deficit.

This was the first time since 2009 that the Rockies competed in the postseason. Instead of using another starter like the D-backs did, when the D-backs chased the 25-year-old Gray in the second inning, manager Bud Black elected to use a series of relievers. Until the late innings, the Rockies' bullpen held Arizona scoreless. The crushing blow for Colorado came from an unlikely source. For the first time in postseason history, a reliever had a triple. Archie Bradley, a terrific eighth-inning setup man for Arizona, drove in two runs with his first career triple in the seventh. Although Bradley allowed solo homers to Nolan Arenado and Trevor Story in the eighth inning making the game close, the Rockies never recovered from his unexpected triple.

For the first time since 2011, the D-backs had won a playoff game. In 2016, many knowledgeable baseball people believed the D-backs would be a factor in the NL West after the front office spent the entire offseason upgrading the starting rotation. However, the 2016 season was disastrous for the D-backs, as they lost 93 games. Instead of getting a new group of players, the D-backs changed their front office and on-field coaching staff in hopes of bringing a winning attitude to Arizona again.

Besides having a healthy A.J. Pollock, who contributed greatly to both the offense and defense in 2017, the D-backs' pitching was vastly improved. When Greinke had difficulty in the third inning, manager Torey Lovullo didn't hesitate to go to the bullpen and use Robbie Ray, arguably the club's most consistent starter in 2017.

Coming into the game, the D-backs were heavily favored. After all, they had a veteran NL Cy Young Award winner on the mound, plus home-field advantage. Though Paul Goldschmidt struggled in September, he blasted a three-run homer in the first inning. The D-backs never looked shaken, even when the Rockies threatened to take the lead. Although not many people thought the D-backs would overcome the stigma of having a 93-loss season the previous year to make the playoffs, early in 2017, Lovullo instilled the necessary confidence in the D-backs to earn a playoff berth. During most seasons, a team with 93 wins would win the division, but the D-backs had the misfortune of being in the same division as the Los Angeles Dodgers, whose 104-win season was the best in the Major Leagues in '17.

The D-backs will face the Dodgers Friday night to begin the NL Division Series. Although Lovullo made the correct decision when he brought in Ray to pitch in the Wild Card Game, it left him at a disadvantage to the Dodgers. The Dodgers are well-rested and will have Clayton Kershaw on the mound at Dodger Stadium.

Throughout the year, the D-backs have played the Dodgers tough. In the past two series (at the end of August and at the beginning of September), the D-backs won all six games. Whereas the Dodgers had a better record than the D-backs, they don't have as potent a lineup as Arizona, especially since the D-backs acquired J.D. Martinez near the non-waiver Trade Deadline.

On paper, the Dodgers appear to have the advantage over the D-backs, but baseball games aren't won on paper. The D-backs played well in September, while the Dodgers struggled with their offensive production and bullpen. If the Dodgers can't either score or protect a lead in the late innings, the D-backs should win the NLDS. However, if the D-backs' 40-year-old closer, Fernando Rodney, continues to have a mental block when he faces the Dodgers, the Dodgers will advance to the NLCS.

Sarah D. Morris can be reached at sarahmorris27@gmail.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.