- The Washington Times - Monday, October 8, 2007

PHOENIX (AP) — When the Arizona Diamondbacks look across the field at the Colorado Rockies this week, they may feel as if they’re looking into a mirror.

The teams took similar routes to an unlikely destination — the National League Championship Series.

“We’re going to have our hands full with Arizona, a tough team,” Rockies outfielder Jeff Baker said. “We know them. They know us.”

Start with their records: Arizona won the NL West with a league-best 90-72. The Rockies, who had to defeat San Diego in a one-game playoff to earn a wild-card berth, finished 90-73.

Both teams have built from within, and they have done it relatively cheaply. The Rockies entered the season with a payroll of $54.4 million, $2.4 million more than the Diamondbacks. Only four teams had lower payrolls.

Instead of spending on free agents, both organizations committed to building through the draft. Two of their finest products can be found at shortstop — Colorado’s Troy Tulowitzki, drafted in the first round two years ago, and Arizona’s Stephen Drew, picked in the first round a year earlier.

Game 1 on Thursday night will pit starters Brandon Webb of Arizona and Jeff Francis of Colorado. Both are homegrown.

“It speaks to the good old-fashioned values of baseball: scouting and player development and building from within and being patient and taking chances and things working out,” Colorado manager Clint Hurdle said after the Rockies wrapped up a three-game sweep of the Philadelphia Phillies in their NL playoff series.

Inexperience can prove costly. But for the Diamondbacks and the Rockies, what they don’t know hasn’t hurt them.

“With this team, everybody calls us young, but I think it’s the most exciting team I’ve been on,” said Drew, the younger brother of Boston’s J.D. Drew.

The playoffs have been sweet for two teams that have struggled in recent years.

Colorado, which lost 94 games in 2004 and 95 in 2005, posted its first winning record since 2000. The Diamondbacks went 51-111 three years ago, and this year they broke a streak of three consecutive losing seasons, longest in the franchise’s 10 years.

Both started slowly this year; the Diamondbacks were 47-43 at the All-Star break, third in the NL West, 3½ games behind San Diego. Colorado was 44-44 and in fourth place, 5½ games out.

“Everybody has been waiting for them to fall on their faces, but they’re a good team,” Colorado reliever Brian Fuentes said of the Diamondbacks. “No one projected us to be where we are, so it’s going to be two very good ball clubs going at it.”

Instead of quitting, both teams kept playing hard. That’s a credit to Hurdle and Arizona manager Bob Melvin, as well as the desire of younger players to stick in the major leagues.

“It’s a team,” said Arizona left fielder Eric Byrnes, one of the Diamondbacks’ few veterans. “It’s as much of a team as you’ll find in professional sports today.”


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