Monday, June 27, 2011

The Machine Malfunctions

Rockies 3, Cubs 7

It's hard not to speculate what might have happened if this game had been played on its originally scheduled date, April 27th. After the Rockies took two games from the Cubs at Wrigley Field, the third game was postponed in anticipation of a rainstorm that never came. It reminded me of that one time in high school when a predicted snowstorm caused classes to be cancelled, and the eventual half-inch that fell didn't start till around 8 p.m. that night. Except this cancellation had much less satisfying consequences.

One thing that would have been the same no matter what is the Rockies' battery. Jhoulys Chacin was scheduled to pitch in Chicago in April, and it just happened to be his turn again today. Chacin has been nothing short of stellar this season; in fact, I think he wins first-half MVP honors for the Rockies. However, as the Root Sports and 850 KOA announcers are wont to remind us, he is 23 years old. He is still developing. That means sometimes there will be growing pains. Like today.

The main issue regarding Chacin's age, as I see it, is that he has a hard time holding it together when he realizes he doesn't have his best stuff. Every pitcher knows that feeling, but veterans also know how to both compensate for it and disguise it. Chacin doesn't. He was all over the place today, and was visibly frustrated. Jim Tracy left him in as long as possible, but eventually had to give him the hook after 5 innings. In those innings, Chacin surrendered 6 runs on 9 hits. There actually should have been quite a few more runs than that, but Chacin was also the recipient of some good defense and some dumb luck. I'd like to give him credit for handling the baserunners but I just don't think he did. The more men reached, the more he lost control of his pitch location. His worst offense was in the 4th inning, when he gave up a double and back-to-back walks. The first walk was to Cubs' pitcher Matt Garza, and Chacin didn't throw a single strike to him. Garza is not a good hitting pitcher, so Chacin's failure to throw it down the middle was not strategic. He just couldn't get it there. After the second walk, a wild pitch scored a run. It was just a mess from start to finish.

I don't think there's any reason to panic though. While this was Chacin's toughest outing so far and the first time in his career he's given up three home runs, he has struggled in the past. I actually prefer his path to Ubaldo Jimenez's. Ubaldo was too good too fast in 2010, and it's been a long climb since then to even become okay again. Chacin is a little up and down, but he always comes back up, and he never falls too far. He'll get 'em next time.

Of course, the Rockies' offense was pretty much dominated by Garza. Carlos Gonzalez hit two solo home runs, but everybody else looked incompetent. Besides Cargo's homers, there were four hits, all singles, and that's it. The really frustrating thing was how the Rox failed to capitalize on the Cubs' poor defense. Jonathan Herrera displayed some good heads-up baserunning and managed to get from 1st to home on a wild pitch, a throwing error, and an RBI single from Todd Helton. But another official error and two unofficial ones (pop ups that should have been caught and weren't) resulted in no runs. They just couldn't get it done today.

It's frustrating because April was so good, and we started this series in April, so it would have been nice to finish it the way we started it. However, now it's June, and in all honesty the Rockies are revealing themselves to be less than the sum of their parts. It's too late in the season for Tracy to keep saying, "There's still a lot of baseball left to play." Not really, Jim. If hovering around .500 for the rest of the season is the goal, then keep it up, but expect to be lying on a beach somewhere in October while the teams who did what they had to do are still playing.

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