DENVER -- On March 24, the Rockies players knew what you know now. They are good. When they talked of reaching the playoffs with a straight face during spring training, rolled eyes followed. It was not about the present but their past. The Rockies last reached the postseason in 2009, last played in meaningful games in September of 2010. This year's players insisted they were different, third baseman Nolan Arenado stressing it to me during my few days in Scottsdale.
"We would say we had a chance in the past, and might not really believe it," Arenado said. "We believe it now."
Arenado proved right. The Rockies, with a few fistfuls of Tums nearby, rocketed off to a fabulous start, and tied a knot and held on over the final four months. But baseball has shown it doesn't discriminate against records in the playoffs. Get under the velvet rope, and anything can happen in the dance.
The Rockies enter Wednesday's wild card playoff game against the Arizona Diamondbacks as an underdog. This, however, is a winnable game. Here are my 7 keys to a Rockies' victory:
1) 100 Shades of Gray
For the Rockies to triumph, starter Jon Gray must work deep into the game. I don't see Colorado pulling off the upset with Gray working less than seven innings. He put the Rock in Rocktober with his cascading hair and relaxed demeanor. Gray is ready. He owns a 4-0 record with a 2.10 ERA over his last five starts. Everything centers on his curveball and slider tonight. The Diamondbacks were 7-for-44 against those pitches this season. Paul Goldschmidt is 0-for-11 against Gray lifetime. If Gray commands the breaking pitches, bring on the Dodgers.
2) Attack Zack
Zack Greinke is better than Gray. His resume says as much. That said, Greinke is vulnerable. He has allowed seven home runs in nine playoff games, including three last season. Carlos Gonzalez (five), Trevor Story (four) and Mark Reynolds (four) own 13 home runs off the right-hander. One click can make all the difference.
3) Nolan be Nolan
Nolan Arenado has shown a knack for blossoming in the spotlight. He has held his own against Greinke with seven extra-base hits in 47 at-bats. Arenado lives for this pressure. I would be surprised if he doesn't embrace it and play well.
4) CarGo Show
Carlos Gonzalez salvaged the worst season of his career with a terrific September. He blasted six home runs with 12 RBIs last month. And his exit velocity showed the type of contact representative of his stellar career. Does he have one big swing left?
4) Contain J.D. Martinez
J.D. Martinez quietly became one of the best trade acquisitions ever. He hit 29 home runs in 62 games with Arizona. Martinez has two hits vs. Gray, both homers. If the Rockies pen enters early, the lefties might want to walk Martinez. He has batted .376 vs. lefties with a .464 on-base percentage and 23 extra-base hits in 93 at-bats.
5) Lay off low stuff
Greinke lives off low outs. He regularly produces weak contact on pitches at the bottom of the zone. Other than D.J. LeMahieu, and perhaps Charlie Blackmon, the Rockies need to pass on these pitches and get Greinke to elevate.
6) Take the crowd out
A fast start could do wonders. The Rockies are comfortable playing at Chase Field. And the combover dome is not known for rowdy crowds. Take an early lead, and let the air out of the balloon.
7) Rodney is not a lock
Fernando Rodney is a roller-coaster ride. He has an amazing changeup. But his lack of command creates traffic. I believe if Arizona makes a deep run in the playoffs, Archie Bradley will end up closing. The Rockies could show why Rodney is not the guy by ambushing him Wednesday night.