How the West will be won: Rockies, Dodgers meet for title
DENVER (AP) — The Colorado Rockies were swept two weeks ago in Los Angeles, and their NL West title hopes looked all but finished.
Well, look who's back.
The Rockies have a chance to end the Dodgers' five-year reign as division champions in a tiebreaker game Monday in Los Angeles. Colorado has never celebrated an NL West crown in franchise history.
"At this point, I think everybody understands the magnitude of the game," said Rockies slugger Matt Holliday, whose team trails the season series 12-7. "Take a deep breath and go out there and try to execute and just do what you can do."
The winner hosts Atlanta in a best-of-five Division Series starting Thursday; the loser is on the road for the NL wild-card game Tuesday against the loser of Monday's Brewers-Cubs NL Central tiebreaker.
Not many saw this sort of scenario shaping up when the Dodgers won three straight over Colorado on Sept. 17-19. But the Rockies won nine times in 10 games to force a game 163, part of the first season in major league history with a pair of tiebreakers.
"We put ourselves in a good position," Rockies third baseman Nolan Arenado said. "After we got swept by the Dodgers, it seemed everybody was thinking the Dodgers are going to lock it up. It's crazy how the tides turn and how baseball works."
Both teams are coming off blowouts. The Rockies pounded Washington 12-0 on Sunday and Los Angeles routed San Francisco 15-0. Dodgers manager Dave Roberts subbed many of his starters to get them rest and also use some of his reserves so they got some at-bats before Monday.
"It's a game where obviously it's not do-or-die, but I think that it's a must-win game," said Roberts, whose team lost to Houston in Game 7 of the World Series last season. "To win the game and get a couple days off, to host the Division Series is very important."
The Dodgers fell out of the division lead with a loss Wednesday at Arizona before taking all three from the injury-plagued Giants to close out the final weekend of the regular season. A sixth straight division title by the Dodgers would be the third-longest streak since divisions started in 1969 behind Atlanta's 14 consecutive from 1991-2005 and nine in a row by the Yankees from 1998-2006.
"All the teams in the playoffs are really good. We'd rather not win the wild card and win the division," Dodgers outfielder Matt Kemp said. "That's what we've got our eye on right now."
Walker Buehler (7-5, 2.76 ERA) gets the start for the Dodgers and getting scratched from Sunday's outing. The Rockies will counter with German Marquez (14-10, 3.76 ERA), who struck out eight straight to begin his last start.
"It's two of the best young starting pitchers in the big leagues pitching in this type of game," Rockies manager Bud Black said. "It's great."
Colorado was missing shortstop Trevor Story for most of the Dodgers series after he hurt his elbow in the opener. He ended up missing five games.
"We've got our good lineup back," Arenado said.
And Arenado has rediscovered his swing. He homered twice Sunday to take over the NL lead with 37. He's looking forward to getting booed when his name is announced at Dodger Stadium.
"That's when you know you've done something," Arenado said.
Monday marks the 11-year anniversary of Colorado's 9-8, 13-inning win over San Diego in a tiebreaker for the wild card, back when there was one wild card per league. There was some controversy over whether Holliday actually touched home plate with a hand when running home on Jamey Carroll's game-ending sacrifice fly against Trevor Hoffman. Black was in charge of the Padres then and kiddingly contends Holliday never hit home plate.
"Luckily for Buddy," Holliday cracked, "he's got me on his side this year."
AP Baseball Writer Janie McCauley in San Francisco contributed to this report.