10/07/2007 10:00 AM ET
NLCS matchup is sign of things to come
Diamondbacks, Rockies find success via homegrown talent
Baseball's new direction will be on display in the National League Championship Series -- both in the Arizona Diamondbacks and the Colorado Rockies.
The new era of the game is not about spending more money than everybody else to land the most prominent free agents. It is about being homegrown and hand sewn.
The D-backs and the Rockies both just punched their NLCS tickets with stunning Division Series sweeps of older, more expensive, perhaps more recognizable teams, the Chicago Cubs and the Philadelphia Phillies.
How did they do this? They did it in a way that is both time-honored and newly regaining favor; they scouted astutely, they developed talent diligently and they depended on young but immensely talented players to carry the load.
Both teams may have been considered underdogs going into the postseason, but if you watched, you understood that this was a truly flimsy designation. These clubs were not only runaway winners, they were completely deserving runaway winners.
The contrast was perhaps more distinct between the D-backs and the Cubs, because the Cubs are a team built primarily around a free-agent spending spree. But this wasn't about payroll size. It was about talent and teamwork, heart and cohesion. The young Rockies and the even younger Diamondbacks may not have the most name recognition, and they definitely don't have the biggest payrolls. But in the National League as we speak, they have the most quality.
The series between Arizona and Chicago was like a coming-out party for shortstop Stephen Drew and center fielder Chris Young. Drew hit .500 and fielded spectacularly. Young had home runs at two critical junctures. They are both 24, but they both played with an uncanny maturity.
The Rockies had made more of a dent in the national baseball consciousness in the regular season, especially by the way they finished it. Including the postseason, they have won 17 out of 18 games, and they are the hottest team on the planet, for all we know the hottest team in the galaxy.
Outfielder Matt Holliday, 27, has numbers that indicate that he should be the National League MVP. Shortstop Troy Tulowitzki, still a few days short of 23, was once considered a long shot for Rookie of the Year. No more. His offensive numbers are not as gaudy as those of Milwaukee's Ryan Braun. But very much unlike Braun, Tulowitzki is already an accomplished defensive player. The tremendous late run by the Rockies lifted both of these candidacies, but both of these players have plenty of individual merit.
There are talented young individuals all over the place on these two clubs, but what they add up to collectively is even more impressive.
Both of these teams have the basics in hand. They can pitch. They can catch. They can do the small but necessary things to manufacture runs. They may be young, but they don't have immature games.
Look at the pitching. The D-backs held a dangerous Cubs attack to six runs over three games. The Rockies held a truly imposing Philadelphia lineup to eight runs. This is how you win in the postseason in the classic sense -- with quality pitching defeating even the best hitting.
Two ballplayers well outside the young mold deserve particular mention. At first base, Colorado's Todd Helton has been a mainstay of this franchise and has deserved to reach this level for a long time. At first base for Arizona, Tony Clark does not play as prominent a role as Helton, but his veteran leadership has been the glue for this team.
In all, this ought to be a very compelling matchup. The Diamondbacks had the NL's best regular-season record, being the only team in the league to win 90 games (the Rockies also won 90, but needed the one-game Wild Card tiebreaker with San Diego get there). But in the season series between the two teams, the Rockies held a 10-8 edge, and they have had over the past three weeks an almost unbeatable quality to their work.
Beyond even that, there is the notion that these are new-era baseball teams, built around young players, but built around the traditional virtues of scouting, player development and organizational strength. This is a showcase for the way it can be done.
In an era of increased competitive balance, these two clubs have made both the young and the traditional work. They will give this Championship Series excitement and energy. But they will also demonstrate a path to victory that is becoming the most viable route to success in the contemporary game.
People will say that Diamondbacks vs. Rockies at this level is unexpected. It is only unexpected if you haven't noticed the quality of these two teams. They're here on merit, which should never be a surprise.
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