DENVER -- The Rockies are right back where they were two years ago -- in the National League Division Series, facing a favored Phillies team. While it's hard to argue with the last result, the Rockies believe they are better now than then.
Last time worked out. The Rockies swept the Phillies and D-backs to complete a remarkable 21-of-22 hot streak, before being swept by the Red Sox in the World Series. With the Rockies entering as a Wild Card again, they'll once again have to win without home-field advantage.
Still, the supposition that the Rockies are better this time than last is worth examining.
Interestingly, the Rockies enter this postseason minus two key players on the 2007 run. Left-handed pitcher Jeff Francis, who won 17 regular-season games and both starts in the NL playoffs, missed the entire season after shoulder surgery, and left fielder Matt Holliday was traded this past winter. The Rockies and Holliday, of course, could be reunited if it's a Rockies-Cardinals NL Championship Series.
The immediate difference is in the experience of the starting rotation. Three of the four likely starters for this year's NLDS -- Ubaldo Jimenez, Aaron Cook and Jason Marquis -- enter with postseason experience. Two of the starters last time, Jimenez and left-hander Franklin Morales, weren't even in the Majors until August.
Jimenez threw well in 2007 (0-1, 2.25 ERA) before wildness got the best of him in the World Series. Cook returned from an oblique strain to throw easily the Rockies' best start in the World Series (six innings, three runs, six hits) in Game 4. The biggest difference is Marquis, who has made 10 postseason appearances, including three starts, one in the Fall Classic.
The other postseason starter is up in the air. Left-hander Jorge De La Rosa (16-9, 4.38 ERA) left his last start with soreness in his left groin. That could mean righty Jason Hammel (10-8, 4.38) would step into the rotation. Hammel was part of the Rays' run to the playoffs last year, but did not participate in the postseason.
The rotation will likely have a veteran safety net. Right-hander Jose Contreras, who helped the White Sox to the 2005 World Series title, came over in a trade with Chicago in late August, and has pitched well in relief.
Been there, done that
Sixteen members of the Rockies' 25-man roster have played in the postseason.
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The Rockies believe they have a well-constructed bullpen, with Huston Street as closer and Rafael Betancourt as the primary setup man. However, the last bullpen was outstanding, with veteran righty LaTroy Hawkins, former closer Brian Fuentes and then-sensation Manuel Corpas as closer.
The biggest question is whether the offense will be as good without the feared bat of Holliday in the lineup. Holliday won the NLCS Most Valuable Player Award in 2007.
But over the course of the season, the Rockies posted the best record in club history without Holliday. The key reason was the surge from June on from shortstop Troy Tulowitzki (.297, 32 HRs, 92 RBIs). An emotional leader who takes struggles as challenges, Tulowitkzi will challenge himself to do better than the 7-for-41 (.171) postseason of 2007.
First baseman Todd Helton (.325, 15 HRs, 86 RBIs) is more of a threat because he's healthier -- even in 2007, the back issues that led to surgery last year were present. Right fielder Brad Hawpe, who has struggled much of the second half, had a respectable postseason last time (.282, one homer, two RBIs). Catcher Yorvit Torrealba, who went 5-for-10 against the Phillies in the '07 NLDS, has emerged as a bottom-of-the-order run producer.
This team, however, will go into the postseason depending on two players who weren't on the last postseason roster -- third baseman Ian Stewart and second baseman Clint Barmes -- as well as two outfielders who were still prospects at that time in Carlos Gonzalez and rookie Dexter Fowler.
Last time in the playoffs, left-handed-hitting Seth Smith didn't see his first Major League action until the middle of September, but went 3-for-6 as a pinch-hitter. Now Smith has hit whether he has been in the lineup or come off the bench.
And the Rockies have a feared bat in lefty-swinging Jason Giambi, who has hit .350 since joining the club in September and enters the NLDS with 42 postseason games, during which he has hit .289 with seven home runs and 18 RBIs.
Outside of the numbers, which can be read any way, the Rockies believe they are more prepared this time because of the disappointment of how their last postseason trip ended.
"I think we're a little bit more mature this year," Rockies general manager Dan O'Dowd said. "I think we have a little better understanding that this is a nice journey we're on, but it's not the end of the journey. We've got some more steps that we want to take."
Thomas Harding is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.