Sunday, May 8, 2011

Walk Off This Way

Rockies 2, Giants 3

Walk-offs are super fun when you are the home team. There's really nothing more thrilling than going into the bottom of the 9th, or the 10th, or what have you, either tied or behind, and then scoring the winning run. The Rockies have had their share of dramatic walk-off wins, and have finished the last three games that way. But they've been the visiting team.

These games have been a bit on the heartbreaking side, because our starting pitchers have done so well, and our hitting has been good but just not good enough. In each game we can point to some early opportunities that were missed. In each game, runners have reached 3rd and haven't scored. And in each game, our rock solid bullpen has proven that they have weak spots, too.

One thing to keep in mind is that this is generally how the Colorado Rockies play in the spring. They're slow to start, and they seem to take months to get certain rhythms going. Those first couple weeks of April looked at first like they might have been a turning point, but really, I think we just got lucky. I expect that now May and June are going to look a lot more like May and June of 2010. The only guy on the team performing with any kind of consistency during those months was Ubaldo Jimenez. This year, we have three pitchers who are turning out one solid start after another. And we have hitters like Troy Tulowitzki, who has been on-and-off but is still off to his strongest start ever. We're probably going to go back to losing road trips and winning maybe 3 out of 5 at home. And we're going to remain very much in contention. The Giants have pulled within two games, but we still lead the National League West. It's okay if we don't lead the division all season long. Last year, the Padres led it almost the entire time and then broke their fans' hearts on the very last day. This year, they aren't even pretending to be relevant. I would rather my team be consistently good rather than sporadically great. Of course, to even get to a point where they could be called consistently good, they're going to have to improve on last week's performance.

Esmil Rogers was scratched from his start at the last minute and put on the 15-day disabled list. He was replaced by Clayton Mortensen, so good in his two relief appearances in April (8 scoreless innings). And Mortensen proved that those appearances were no fluke. A lot more pressure comes with a start, but he handled it beautifully. He has some great off-speed pitches and he used all of them very well. In 6 innings he allowed 4 hits and 2 runs, only 1 of them earned. His ERA is now 0.64. He did walk 4 batters, but he prevented all but one from scoring. It was a great outing. So good that I wouldn't mind seeing Rogers sent down to Triple-A for a while to give Mortensen a chance to build on his momentum. Better yet, let's send Rogers to the bullpen and Felipe Paulino to Triple-A. Or to the moon.

Felipe Paulino is the new Franklin Morales in terms of being the pitcher every Rockies fan loves to hate. And the argument for that is reasonably strong: he's lost three games in relief already this season, and his ERA is 7.59. Last night he didn't even get credit for 1/3 of an inning as he was unable to record an out. There's a general cry of outrage that goes up every time he's called out of the bullpen. It would have made a lot more sense to put in Huston Street in the 9th last night. Yes, he's the closer and there was no game to close yet since the score was tied at 2, but I believe Street could have shut the Giants down and given the Rockies an opportunity in the 10th, with Giants closer Brian Wilson having already pitched a full inning. Instead, Paulino gave up singles to the only 2 batters he faced, and then was replaced by Morales. Morales threw a pitch so wild it was practically baring its teeth at the fans, and that put both runners in scoring position, still with no outs. The Giants had two chances to produce a deep enough fly ball to bring Aaron Rowand home, and Mike Fontentot only needed one.

Beyond the bullpen woes, the offense is making me kind of crazy. They actually did come up with some clutch hits last night, and it's not as though they were blown away by the Giants. But it just wasn't quite enough, and that's really the biggest difference between the April Rockies and the May Rockies. Last month, they nearly always had just enough offense to get the win, and this month they've nearly always had not quite enough. To be fair, Madison Bumgarner did turn in a great start for the Giants. He has a nasty sidearm delivery that proved very effective against the Rangers in the World Series. He's also a lefty, which is the only explanation I can think of for why Jim Tracy started Ryan Spilborghs instead of Seth Smith. It does not explain why he started Alfredo Amezaga instead of Jonathan Herrera. But Smith and Herrera did come in as pinch-hitters later in the game and produced nothing, so it's really a moot point.

The Rockies did a decent job of reaching base in last night's game, with 8 total hits and 4 walks on the night. But they also did some really stupid things, including grounding into 3 double plays. In the top of the 4th, Dexter Fowler tried to steal 2nd but got a terrible jump and was out by a long shot. And then in the 7th, Todd Helton came up with the bases loaded and nobody out. He did what he does so well and smacked a single to left that scored 2 runs and sent Tulo to 3rd. And then Jose Lopez hit a little dribbler and Tulo ran for home, where he was, of course, tagged. If I see one more Rockie break for home on an infield ground ball when there is no force play, I'm going to scream. That's elementary baserunning, and it has happened no less than four times during this road trip. Infuriating. And then Helton came up again in the 8th with the bases loaded and 2 out, and hit a comebacker to the mound. Even the Toddfather can't come through in the clutch every time.

The Rockies should have won this game, and they should have won Friday's too. The Giants are manufacturing runs at about the same rate as we are right now, so they're no great threat. To lose by one run on the road 3 times in a row shows that we are capable of better. They need to win today, but whether they do or not, they need to get back to Coors tomorrow and use their home surroundings to start fixing some of these mechanical problems. Deep breath, though. It's still very early in the season. They're still showing a lot of promise. There's plenty of time for the magic to happen.


  1. These losses to the Giants hurt twice as much because of all the talking we did in the offseason about how we were a better team than SF and could have been world champs. Division games are always hard to lose, but these early series have been rough. I know it's a long season, but I would like to see the Rox close some of these out

  2. You're right, there's a substantial head game in play with the Giants. The really frustrating part is that we are a better team. They have one wickedly good starter and a lights-out closer, but top to bottom our pitching is comparable or better. And no one would dispute whose offense is better. So it's very disheartening to see the Rockies cracking under the pressure. Champions Shmampions - they're totally beatable!

    Thanks for commenting :)