It’s no big secret that the 2020 Braves will be going into the postseason featuring one of the weaker rotations in the entire field. With Cole Hamels and ace Mike Soroka done for the season, rookie Ian Anderson will be the second starter in a playoff game with only six major league starts to his name. Kyle Wright is an option, especially after his last three outings and Bryse Wilson may potentially be as well if he has another good start. Can these guys be trusted? We’ll have to watch and see, but it’s looking more likely that Atlanta uses an “opener” strategy that we’ve seen teams like the Tampa Bay Rays adopt.
So what does all of this have to do with a team from 13 years ago?
The 2007 Rockies
The 2007 Rockies had one of the most magical postseason runs ever seen in any sport. They were a meager 76-72 at the start of September — led by sluggers Todd Helton, Matt Holliday, and Troy Tulowitzki (one of my favorite players ever) — before their offense got blistering hot, leading to 14 wins in their last 15 regular-season games, just enough to claw into a Wild Card game that they won 9-8 in a thrilling 13-inning marathon. Colorado then swept both the Phillies and the Diamondbacks (who had won the NL West over them) to enter the World Series, winning 21 of their last 22 games. (Atlanta is obviously in a very different situation, given they’ve already claimed the division title and are mostly just playing for seeding).
Although it’s how Colorado made it to the Fall Classic that’s interesting. Pitching reigns supreme in the playoffs — it’s no big secret. There are very few examples of teams making it past the Championship Series without solid starters, and the Rox are the most glaring in recent memory:
Rockies regular season starters (2007)
- Jeff Francis – 4.22 ERA, 1.38 WHIP
- Ubaldo Jimenez – 4.28 ERA, 1.31 WHIP
- Aaron Cook – 4.12 ERA, 1.34 WHIP
- Josh Fogg – 4.94 ERA, 1.58 WHIP
- Jason Hirsh – 4.81 ERA, 1.34 WHIP
- Rodrigo Lopez – 4.42 ERA, 1.31 WHIP
All of these guys made at least 14 starts, and it was clear Ubaldo Jimenez was still a ways away from his breakout 2010 season. Jeff Francis was solid for a long time, but it’s obvious these pitchers suffered a bit from playing their home games at Coors Field. Their bats, however, did not.
Rockies top regular season hitters (2007)
- Todd Helton – .928 OPS, 17 HR
- Troy Tulowitzki – .838 OPS, 24 HR
- Garrett Adkins – .853 OPS, 25 HR
- Matt Holliday – 1.102 OPS, 36 HR
- Brad Hawpe – .926 OPS, 29 HR
Like the Braves, the Rockies had a very deep and balanced lineup. Their lowest OPS came from their catcher, Yorvit Torrealba, who posted a respectable .699. Besides him, only two hitters in their lineup had an OPS below .750. However, despite rostering an exciting offense all season, the strangest thing happened once Colorado actually reached the NLDS.
The pitching straight up dominated.
In September, Rockies’ starters were much better than they had been in previous months. In the playoffs, it’s as if they were possessed.
- Rockies pitchers in 2007 NLDS — 2.33 ERA in 27 IP, 1.04 WHIP, 26 K
- Rockies pitchers in 2007 NLCS — 1.89 ERA in 38 IP, 1.16 WHIP, 28 K
Jimenez and Francis were masterful in both series. Josh Fogg and Manny Corpas also tossed gems in the NLCS after a shaky NLDS. Their bats didn’t fall asleep either — the Rox collected 16 runs and five home runs in those three games versus the Phillies, along with 20 runs and eight homers in four games against the Diamondbacks. Sadly, the magic ran out after the pennant, and Colorado was swept by Boston in the 2007 World Series. The stats from that series illustrate exactly what went wrong.
Rockies pitchers in 2007 WS — 7.68 ERA in 34 IP, 1.34 WHIP, 20 K
Colorado gave up 29 earned runs — 14 more than they had allowed in the NLDS and NLCS combined. Boston beat them like a rented goat in Game 1, winning 13-1. Game 3 also inflated these numbers with a 10-5 Red Sox victory. In the other two games, Colorado only surrendered a combined six runs. However, their offense wasn’t there to back them up. Even though Mike Lowell won MVP, and Boston’s bats dominated, their pitching shut Colorado down.
Red Sox pitching (’07 World Series)
- Josh Beckett – 7 IP, 1 ER, 9 K, 1.00 WHIP
- Jon Lester – 5.2 IP, 0 ER, 3 K, 1.06 WHIP
- Curt Schilling – 5.1 IP, 1 ER, 4 K, 1.13 WHIP
- Daisuke Matsuzaka – 5.1 IP, 2 ER, 5 K, 1.13 WHIP
- Jonathan Papelbon – 4.1 IP, 0 ER, 3 K, 0.46 WHIP
Matt Holliday had an insane NLCS — his 1.145 OPS and two home runs earned him MVP honors. Boston held him to a .765 OPS and just one homer. Todd Helton was still in form, but Adkins, Tulo, and Hawpe all went silent.
So once again, what does this have to do with the Braves?
This is one of the best lineups, top to bottom, that Atlanta has ever seen. Sixty games or not, the team has multiple guys that can pop off every night. Adam Duvall has two three-homer games, Dansby Swanson has had his coming-out party, Travis d’Arnaud is one of the best-hitting catchers in baseball, Ozzie Albies is red hot, Ronald is of course Ronald, Austin Riley has been clutch with two outs and RISP, Nick Markakis is rock solid, and the team has two legitimate MVP candidates in Marcell Ozuna and Freddie Freeman. Every guy on this list has provided plenty of clutch hitting, and the Braves didn’t put up 29 runs against Miami by accident.
Colorado’s bats carried them when the pitching wasn’t there, but this Braves offense is head and shoulders above them. This postseason is going to be unlike any we’ve ever seen before. There are no days off, and keeping guys fresh will be difficult. Atlanta’s bullpen has been dominant, but somebody has to step up outside of Max Fried. Anderson may be a rookie, but he’s a great one. Soroka didn’t let the pressure get to him in the 2019 NLDS, and Anderson will have to do the same. The 2007 Rockies were an amazing team that will go down as one of the best offenses in baseball history, but they ran into a buzzsaw when they finally faced an elite pitching staff in that year’s Fall Classic.
We’ve seen the Braves’ offense carry poor pitching time and time again, but that isn’t going to cut it in the playoffs, and a pennant isn’t good enough. Atlanta’s pitching will have to be there every step of the way if this team is going to advance and win Atlanta’s first championship in 25 years.