Today's game against San Francisco was extremely enjoyable to take in. In fact, I'm calling it my second favorite game of the season so far (behind the one I saw in person against the Mets). Since I'm fond of lists to convey my thoughts, behold: 5 Things I LOVED About My Rockies Today.
1. Good Pitching. Really, Really Good Pitching
It's doubtful that anyone will ever point to the Rockies' pitching staff and say, now there's something to be afraid of. I mean no disrespect when I say that, it's just the truth. Ubaldo Jimenez is the only pitcher with any kind of league-wide profile, analysts only ever talk about our offense when describing our chances against this or that team, and, let's face it, they all still pitch at Coors. I learned long ago not to expect anyone to overlook that fact. But here's what's so exciting about the Rockies' pitchers, this season in particular: they are just really, really good. When the starters are on, all five can win games handily. The bullpen has been extra solid this year, perhaps more so than in any other year at this point in the season. With the exception of Franklin Morales, there really isn't one guy there that I wouldn't give the ball to with great confidence, any day of the week.
Specifically, Jorge De La Rosa is so wonderful. While Jhoulys Chacin came by his third win in a flashier fashion last week against the Cubs, De La Rosa is also 3-0, and his ERA stands firmly at 3.00. That's GOOD. I don't see De La Rosa ever pitching a complete game shut-out or a no-hitter, but we don't need him to do that. We just need him to use all his pitches, hit his locations, and prevent runs from scoring. He did that today. The Giants jumped ahead in the 1st inning as they have in every game in this series, but DLR held them to one run, scored by Aaron Rowand on a Buster Posey single. Unlike his counterparts Jimenez and Esmil Rogers, he did not give up one home run in this game. And after that first inning, he was nearly perfect. He allowed just 4 hits and 2 walks, and only one other run scored, in the 6th. Freddy Sanchez scored that run, after singling and advancing to 2nd on a balk and 3rd on a fly out. I personally remain unconvinced that De La Rosa actually balked, so really that run shouldn't have scored. I only blame him for the first one, and holding the Giants to such a small number of runs after what they did on Monday and Tuesday is a real achievement.
To say nothing of the 8th- and 9th-inning guys. Rafael Betancourt (who also balked once, oddly enough) gave up a single following 2 strikeouts, but then got Aubrey Huff to ground out. And Huston Street, who is always so much more fun to watch when he comes in with an enormous lead, had a 1-2-3 inning. We may not have the Phillies 1-4 starters or the Padres' bullpen, but you know what? I think I'd rather have ours in the end.
2. Defense At Just the Right Moment
Guys on the opposing team need to stop tagging and running when Dexter Fowler is catching fly balls in center. His aim is terrific. Only once today did a runner manage to go from 2nd to 3rd after Fowler caught the ball. He's a sleeper, too: you won't see him on any 10-best center fielder lists, and that's probably right since his offensive numbers are pretty average. It was hard not to notice him striking out four times today. But watch out if he's got the ball in his glove. You're better off staying where you are.
And I probably don't have to tell you that Troy Tulowitzki made some spectacular outs from infield ground balls. That's nothing new. Johnny Herrera dived on a ground ball or two to keep them from becoming base hits. Todd Helton scooped away at first base. Everyone did his job today.
3. No Fear of Cain
Matt Cain is a force to be reckoned with no matter who you are. We all saw the Giants' starters killing it down the stretch and in the play-offs last season. And during the last couple weeks of the season, when the Rockies had lost hope, along with the ability to put the bat on the ball, Cain nearly no-hit them. It was embarrassing, since we'd been gunning for a play-off spot less than a week before that. This was our first time facing Cain since that sad day, and I'm pleased to say that we came, we saw, and we conquered. There was no intimidation, no hesitation. Even when the Giants went up 1-0 in the 1st and the Rockies went down 1-2-3 in the same inning, they plugged along. You could tell that they were not willing to concede the sweep. They were going to fight for it. By the bottom of the 2nd, they were attacking the ball like they were born for it. One of today's less noted stats is the 9 swinging strikeouts the Rockies racked up. Yes, that is an indication of the Giants' pitchers' terrific stuff. But, it also tells us that there was no timidity today. These guys were more afraid of missing an opportunity than they were of swinging and missing. So they swung and missed, and sometimes they swung and hit. That's all you can ask.
4. Clutch Hits
Since that awful 0-for-12 with runners in scoring position debacle against Chicago last weekend, the Rockies have steadily improved their situational hitting with each game. Obviously some days will be better than others, but right now we're having a string of good days. Last night it didn't pay off because of some rough pitching and not enough hits/base runners, but today the pitching was good and the hits were plentiful, and everybody made the most of those opportunities. Tulo did line out with the bases loaded in the 2nd, but he smacked that ball as hard or harder than he did with any hit he had today, and it was just dumb luck that Aaron Rowand was right there. The Rockies did strand six total base runners, but they were 5-for-12 with runners in scoring position, a very respectable number. If they can send home half their base runners all season long, that will be good enough for me. The Giants were 1-for-8. This game was still more about the big inning then one hopes it generally will be, but as long as the runs are scoring, you won't see me complaining about how.
5. Wiggy. Spilly.
Two men on the Rockies bench really needed a hit tonight. Despite occasionally coming through with a clutch hit, Ty Wigginton still hadn't exactly hit his stride with the Rockies. And now that Ian Stewart is down in Triple-A, we really need Wiggy to step up. Some days Jose Lopez will man third base, but it's likely to be Wiggy's job most of the time. So we need him to start hitting like an everyday third basemen. And that's what he did today. He's been waiting for his first home run with the Rockies, and so have we. Well, the wait is over. With runners on the corners today and nobody out in the 2nd, Wiggy landed a ball over the center field wall that I knew was gone the second it came off his bat. He laid so much power on that thing it would have left the yard anywhere. To top if off, it was his 1,000th career hit. So congrats Wiggy, and many thanks for using your 1,000th to put the Rockies up by 3 runs! He also contributed a run with a ground out in the 5th that scored Tulo from 3rd. A 4-RBI day is not too shabby, and that's what Wiggy had.
A guy who needed a hit even more was Ryan Spilborghs. We all love Spilly. How could you not, with a nickname like that? And he's one of the most boisterous players we've ever had. He loves playing baseball. I'll never forget his walk-off grand slam near the end of the 2009 play-off run. Spilly will always be like a little kid on the sandlot. So when he's not hitting, I feel sad. He deserves to hit. He loves the game and I want him to be able to play it. His sub-.200 average was not what I had in mind. Well, it's still below .200, but what a spectacular pinch hit he had today! Seth Smith and Jose Morales were on base after singles. There were two outs. It was the perfect time for another 2011 Spilly flame-out, but instead he smacked the ball into center field and over the fence. That was the most satisfying moment of the game for me. I've been rooting for him to have a big hit all season, and this was the first one that felt big. Welcome back, Spilly. We'd like to see you again, perhaps Friday in Miami.
What's not to like, you say? Well, there's still the little matter of dropping this series to the Giants, which I wish we hadn't. But not every series this year will be a win. We've still got two in-division series wins under our belts. I really believe Jimenez is back after his rusty 1st inning yesterday, and so Rogers and Hammel are the only pitchers I don't completely trust to get the job done. If we win 3 out of 5 games, we win the division. Period. The Giants sit three games back. Let's keep them there.