Saturday, April 30, 2011

Dear Bats, Wish You Were Here, Love Rockies Fans

Rockies 0, Pirates 3

I think the plate appearance that most perfectly captures last night's game is Carlos Gonzalez leading off the bottom of the 9th. We all know Cargo has been struggling, and when he came to the plate then he was 0-for-26. So it's no surprise that he was determined to get on base, however he had to do it, and try to contribute to his team. He laid down a pretty great-looking bunt on the third base side, and beat the throw to 1st. It felt like maybe the Rockies could get something going at that point. It was the first time they'd had their lead-off man on base all night, and Tulo was coming to the plate. Sure thing, right?

Well. Tulo reached base, but only because his ground ball was so expertly fielded by Pirates shortstop Ronny Cedeno for the out at 2nd. And then Todd Helton flied out and Ryan Spilborghs struck out swinging, so Cargo's base hit didn't actually advance a runner past 1st. At that point, though, we weren't expecting that, because the Rockies only got a runner in scoring position twice in the ballgame, and both times that runner never made it to 3rd base.

What's going on? Can anybody tell me? Seriously. I'll take just about any explanation that doesn't sound crazy at this point. The Rockies are not hitting, and it doesn't make any sense. Thanks to reliable pitching and mistakes by the opposing team, they've still been able to keep from going on a losing streak, but the team batting average is .236. That's good for 12th in the National League. If it doesn't change, there is most certainly a losing streak in our future.

The thing that's so puzzling is who is struggling and where. Troy Tulowitzki had 7 home runs in the first 12 games of the season, but he hasn't managed to hit one in the 11 games since. Not all of those games have been played at Coors Field, but some of them have. And yet Tulo has only homered in two games at Coors this season, way back on April 5th and 6th versus the Dodgers. Where's his boomstick? And there's Cargo, whom we've already discussed. Dexter Fowler and Todd Helton have both dropped below .300, and Ryan Spilborghs, Jose Lopez, and Chris Iannetta are still in the lowly .100's. The team as a whole has a 10-3 record on the road and a 6-5 record at home. What's. Going. On.

The thing I want to believe is that, because I know without a doubt that the offensive potential is still there, at some point the bats will come back and we'll be unstoppable. We're not playing great right now, but again, there's no losing streak. The pitching has been so good that, if these guys could just get some run support, the Rockies will take off. Last night, Jhoulys Chacin went 7 innings and gave up only 6 hits. Unfortunately, two of those his were solo home runs to Andrew McCutchen and Garrett Jones. Then he gave up a single to Pedro Alvarez followed by a triple to Ronny Cedeno in the 7th. So it wasn't a perfect performance, but no one can say it wasn't good. He threw 101 pitches, 69 for strikes, and struck out 8 Pirates. You can't argue with that.

Then Felipe Paulino, Franklin Morales, and Matt Belisle actually combined for a hitless 8th and 9th. If you'd asked me to pick three relievers I thought least likely to accomplish that, those are the ones I would've picked. So the fact that they managed that is reasonably impressive. Morales even struck out 2 of the 3 batters he faced.

I wish I had some words of hope to offer, but until we (and by we, I mean Jim Tracy and Carney Lansford) figure out what the heck's going on, we can't even be sure we'll beat the Pirates at Coors. That does not bode well for us playing the Giants at AT&T Park, the Phillies at Citizens Bank Park, or the Brewers at Miller Park, all of which we'll be doing in May. Tracy says he thinks Cargo just needs to get a couple of good hits and that will get him going. I'm sure he's right, but Cargo has to get those hits first. Our pitching can hold up their end of the bargain, but in the meantime, can the offense do enough to keep the Rockies alive?

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Blast From the Past

The Origins of Rockies Woman/The 163rd Game

Because of the rain-out at Wrigley last night, a scheduled off-day today, and a late game tomorrow night, you won't get another game write-up from me till Saturday morning. I don't want anybody to go bored so ... I'm recycling a very old blog post of mine. I've only been a regular baseball blogger since the start of this season, but that doesn't mean I'd never blogged about baseball before. I wrote about it for my other blog on October 2nd, 2007. You may recall that date as the day after the Rockies defeated the Padres in a one-game play-off to earn their second Wild Card. It was the most epic game in Colorado Rockies history. This post not only recaps it for you, it may provide an insight or two into why a girl in New York City might care this much about the Rockies in the first place. Enjoy.

(A little context - I was teaching middle school at the time. And the Tampa Bay Rays used to be called the Tampa Bay Devil Rays. )

ROCKtober - October 2, 2007

Ok, it happened - the very thing I have been waiting for for twelve years. Since I was my students' age, I have been waiting for this. You might say it's the consummation of my childhood. I was never any good at sports, but I'm one of those girls who should've been, because I'm fiercely competitive and girly only in the sense that I like to have my nails done and secretly wish to find a handsome prince and be ridden off into the sunset. But I was not bequeathed with athletic ability of any kind (unless you count the fact that I'm awesome at kickball), and so my championship run in any sport did not materialize. Somehow I became interested in major league baseball. I don't remember exactly how, because prior to the age of 10 I never thought about it once. My family didn't really have an MLB team, and my professional sports memories up to that time are limited to Sunday afternoon football games where my dad yelled at the TV and I was bored. But in 1993 the Rockies came to Colorado. I'm not sure how expansion works, but the bigwigs in baseball get together and say, we need some more teams. Let's make some. And then they do. Most recently it was the Arizona Diamondbacks and the Tampa Bay Devil Rays, maybe six or seven years ago. Before that, in 1993, it was the Florida Marlins and the Colorado Rockies. At first, my dad and my brother cared a lot more than I did. I remember hearing that they were pretty good and I remember Denver kind of exploding when they came. But that's it.

In 1994, there was a Major League Baseball strike. It had something to do with money (it always does) and it is the reason that most boys my age lost interest in baseball, so that I only have a few friends who are into it the way I am. For whatever reason, I became intrigued while the strike was going on. I remember asking my dad a lot of questions about why it was happening. I found myself, somehow, wanting to watch baseball. And there wasn't any baseball to watch.

The bigwigs worked out their differences, and the 1995 season started on schedule. That summer I was twelve, and I'm sure that I was out doing all the normal twelve-year-old girl summer things. That was the summer I met my best Colorado friend Brittany, so I know we were hanging out a lot. But I also watched baseball. I have clear memories of playing outside, getting really dirty, coming in at dusk and flipping on the TV to watch the Rockies play. And that season, as I started seventh grade, the Rockies started to get really good. 4 guys that season went 30-30 (home runs, stolen bases) - the Blake Street Bombers (because Coors Field is on Blake Street in Denver). Andres Galarraga, Vinny Castilla, Larry Walker, and, my all-time favorite, Dante Bichette. I can still hear the Coors Field announcer saying his name as he came to the plate. He had a whole routine that he did before each pitch, and I had that memorized (I don't anymore, though I do remember that he always lifted the bat above his head with both arms and then pulled it behind his back). I went to Gart Brothers to get his autograph once, and I still have that ball. I was like a little boy. Sometimes I'm not sure why I was so boy-like in my admiration for an athlete. But it doesn't really matter. I'm was all girl in all the important ways, and I loved baseball with all my heart.

Before long, the Rockies were the National League Wild Card team, a brand new play-off spot that meant they would have the opportunity to compete with the winners of each division, despite the fact that their record was slightly worse. It may or may not have been a fluke fueled by the strike, the Bombers, the THIN AIR (so says everyone). But it happened, and somehow it was magic. We lost in the division series to the Braves, who would go on to win the World Series. I rooted for the Braves that year. I think that was because my dad told me that you always root for the team that beat you because it makes you look better. Either way, six months later we found out we were moving to Atlanta. I didn't really know how to process that, so I took it out on baseball, cursed the Braves, and guess what? They haven't won a World Series since :)

Ok, so we all know the story. My family moved to Atlanta, everything changed, and the Rockies entered a 12-season slump. The Bombers moved on, one by one (though Castilla actually came back for a couple seasons). Galarraga stopped by Atlanta for a while, which was exciting, and Walker hung in with the Rockies for a long time, remaining their best player. Bichette all but fell off the map after the '95 season (when he finished second in the MVP race to Barry Larkin, whom I have never fully forgiven). I did what most teenagers do, which is to say I sort of fell inside myself for several years and didn't much care what was going on with anyone else, including the Rockies. I started to forget about baseball.

I remember vaguely caring about it again during the 2001 World Series. I was in New York City at the time, for the first time, and the Yankees were in Arizona playing for the championship. It was closer to home than it had been in a while. The following year the Angels, my favorite American League team for no discernible reason, played the Giants in the World Series and it was the most amazing Series I've seen before or since. The '02 Angels were such an incredible team, and the Series went to seven games, which you always want. As the Angels walked away with the win, I just remember thinking that I was back into baseball.

It's been sporadic since then - some years I've paid more attention than others, depending on the amount of attention I had to offer. This year has not been one where I've been extremely aware, but from time to time I've been keeping up. I watch SportsCenter at the gym, so when I started going a month ago suddenly I was abreast of all the things that had been blipping across my radar only vaguely. And something was starting to happen. Even if I had been paying close attention, I wouldn't have thought the Rockies had a prayer this year. No one else did. Coming into September, they needed to win a whole lot of games. And the Padres and the Mets needed to lose a whole lot of games. But somehow, all three of those things happened. I started paying very close attention, and suddenly we were posting W's night after night. 11 nights in a row, as a matter of fact. And the prayer looked like it might be answered. (I should say that I'm ambivalent about prayer in sports. If I pray to win, no doubt someone on the other side is praying to win, too, and then how on earth does God determine who gets the yes? It just doesn't seem like an appropriate thing to pray for. But I'd be lying if I said I wasn't praying at 12:15 a.m. today.)

So that brings me to last night. On Sunday, the Rockies won and the Padres lost, forcing a one-game play-off to determine who would occupy the wild card spot. The game would be played at Coors Field, which is always good news for the Rockies (for any and every reason BUT the thin air). But I was worried. Up till this point, the Rockies had not performed well in the clutch. They've always been a team with a lot of spirit and spark, plus a lot of hometown support, so you can always count on a those things to carry you a certain distance. Beyond that, however, it's a numbers game. And the numbers did not point in our favor. The Padres started Jake Peavy, who has the lowest ERA in the league and is more or less a lock for the Cy Young Award. Cy Young pitchers don't lose games as important as this one. The Rockies started Josh Fogg, who has been a strong starter, particularly lately. But he's not Jake Peavy. Still, we have a great offense who also happens to play the best defense in the major leagues, and we were carrying a lot of momentum from September into the game.

Things started out really well for the Rockies. Peavy was not pitching like he usually does. The bottom of the first produced a sacrifice fly and an infield single that scored Kaz Matsui and Troy Tulowitski (crossing our fingers that this guy will be Rookie of the Year), and just like that, we were on the board 2-0. I have a tendency to get really excited about early scores, although in baseball no lead is ever safe. Yorvit Torrealba, our beefy catcher, nailed one into left field in the bottom of the 2nd and, with the Padres still posting a big 0, things were looking very good.

Then Josh Fogg had a very bad 3rd inning. He loaded the bases and then Adrian Gonzalez jacked a grand slam - not what you want to see happen in game like this. And suddenly it was 4-3. Our early lead did not look so impressive anymore. Before the inning was over, Khalil Greene scored on a fielder's choice and we were down by 2. The game wasn't even 1/3 over.

Todd Helton, the Rockies' iron giant, stepped up to the plate in the 3rd and homered, cutting the deficit down to 1. I have so much respect for Helton because he came to Colorado in his early 20's, brand new to baseball, following in the footsteps of the Bombers and the mid-90's hey day. And he stayed, and stayed, and stayed. He's one of very few players, and certainly the only one talented enough to have received tempting offers from other clubs, to stick in this long. To me, he deserves this postseason more than anybody.

In the bottom of the 5th, with Peavy still pitching, Matt Holliday hit a single and Tulowitzki scored from second. Suddenly it was tied again. And this is one reason I love baseball. Just like that, it seems, it's anyone's game. Certainly reversals of fortune happen in all sports, but it's most exciting in baseball. The rally is not a myth. In other sports, once someone scores the game kind of starts over again. But in baseball, runs seem to spawn one another, and a 3-run lead can become a 3-run deficit in half an inning. So we were tied at 5, and Peavy's still pitching in the 6th (the Rockies were on their fourth pitcher by that point. All in all, ten guys took the mound for Colorado before the night was over). Seth Smith, a pinch hitter who's had something like eight at-bats this season and who will never forget this night as long as he lives, hit a triple, and then scored on Matsui's fly out. It's 6-5 Colorado.

And looked as if it might stay that way. It was the top of the 8th, and we had 4 outs standing between us and that play-off spot. Brian Giles lined one to deep left, and somehow Holliday let it go over his head. I'm still not sure how that happened. That's Holliday's sweet spot, and he's a good fielder. The ball followed a pretty predictable arc, and there really isn't any reason he shouldn't have caught it. But he didn't, and suddenly Greg Blum is scoring and it's 6-6 and our for sure win has slipped through our fingers.

By this point I'm frustrated. I've been a loyal fan, I've believed in my guys, and I'm wearing my 1995 play-off T-shirt in hopes that the ghosts of Bichette and Walker can find their way out onto the field and get us this win. (I should say that I now believe this shirt has magical powers, as I also wore it during our win Sunday, and I will wear it during every game till we've been eliminated or won it all. So I need to not do anything strenuous while wearing it or else it will get very disgusting.) But now we've lost our lead, and it's late in the game, and I'm tired, and a little mad that I might be staying up late for a disappointment. But these are my guys, and I do believe, so I keep watching.

And I sit through the bottom of the 8th. And the 9th. And the 10th. And the 11th. And the 12th. And I'm starting to wonder if this is going to be one of those 20-inning games that comes along from time to time and if I'm going to stay up till 2:30 a.m. and then watch us lose. I'm hoping not. But then it's the top of the 13th and Jorge Julio comes in to pitch. I haven't seen much of this guy, but he did not impress me Sunday, so I wasn't excited. He gave up a 2-run home run to Scott Hairston. That seemed like it had to be it, for two important reasons. One, we hadn't produced a run since the 6th inning. If we haven't been able to come up with a rally yet, why would one suddenly materialize? Two, the Padres were of course going to put Trevor Hoffman on the mound. They had been saving him for their lead. He is the ultimate closer. He's the all-time leader in saves (524), and he's so reliable I think the loss was a lock in everyone's mind.

But don't underestimate the Rockies. Especially the top of the order, which fortunately we had coming up. Matsui, our fantastic lead-off hitter, did his job and punched a double. Tulowitzki doubled and Matsui scored. Could it be? Were we rallying? With the great Trevor Hoffman pitching to us? Holliday tripled. It was too good to be true. Tulowitski scored standing up. The crowd was going wild. Todd Helton came to the plate. Hoffman pitched around him, which irritated me a little. Helton is the ultimate Rockie, like I said, and I wish he could've had a more pivotal part in the end of the game. But he homered earlier, and he's humble enough to know that it's not about him. Jamey Carroll, who'd replaced Garrett Atkins at third in the 8th inning and who was not spectacular, knocked a sacrifice fly to right. Did I mention there were no outs at this point? It's ok to fly out when there are no outs and there's a man on third. In fact, it is very very good. Holliday sailed home, and literally face planted into the dirt by the plate. He stuck his left hand out, and made contact with the catcher's foot. Most people are saying that the video makes it look like he didn't actually touch home. I tend to agree, but there's no clear shot, and there's also no replay in baseball. The umpire called him safe, and the Rockies are in the play-offs.

I wouldn't try to sell the above story as a movie script, because Hollywood would send it right back to me and tell me that it was unbelievable. Because it is. I still can't believe it. I wish the game hadn't ended at 12:30 because I would've been significantly less tired, and also I would've been able to scream out loud instead of silently (so as not to wake three sleeping roommates). There they were. The Rockies, celebrating at Coors Field, headed for the postseason. And me, in a New York City apartment, in my 1995 play-off T-shirt, and I'm twelve again, and all that matters is baseball, and that it's October and we're still playing games.

There's a poem in that. I think I'll call it "Consummation of My Childhood."

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Helton, Circa 2007

Rockies 4, Cubs 3

Those who have been unsatisfied with the Rockies offense, myself included, were nothing short of thrilled with last night's game. The score is a bit deceiving, since technically the Rox scored more runs on Monday. But they produced substantially more offense on Tuesday, and it was ABOUT TIME.

The interesting thing was that Jim Tracy did make some changes to the batting order for last night's game, among them stacking 4 hitters whose averages are below .200 in the 5-8 spots. I was concerned when I saw that because I thought that run production was going to have to fall entirely on the shoulders of the 1-4 guys, and while I hoped they were up to the task, lately they haven't been. Since those 5-8 spots are never the same from day to day, the biggest change was really Tracy's decision to bench Carlos Gonzalez and put Todd Helton in the 3-spot. I had no doubt that was a smart move, because Cargo has been struggling so mightily and I really believe his position in the lineup was a big part of the team's scoring troubles. In the end, though, I couldn't really gloat that much, because while Helton was awesome, it didn't have a whole lot to do with where he was batting.

Helton came to the plate with 2 outs in the 1st and hit a solo shot to right center. He would've done that just as easily batting 5th, but the great thing about him doing it 3rd was that he was able to do it in the 1st inning. If Cargo had been in that spot, the inning would've been over and the Rox wouldn't have gotten on the board till the 2nd. Troy Tulowitzki followed Helton's long ball with a single, but Jose Lopez couldn't keep the inning going.

In the bottom of the 1st, Jorge De La Rosa went to work. We're deep enough into the season now that I can say he is our most consistent starting pitcher by a MILE. It remains to be seen whether that will be the case by the end, but for now, I feel most confident when DLR takes the ball. The 1st was his only tough inning, and it looked like he was having a little trouble adjusting to the height of the pitcher's mound. He gave up 3 singles that scored a run. Then, an easy grounder to short was overrun by Tulo, and another run scored. But another grounder to 1st ended the inning, and that was the only earned run DLR gave up the whole game. His ERA is now 2.61, not too shabby after 4 starts.

Nobody managed much of anything in the 2nd, and then in the 3rd Dexter Fowler drew a lead-off walk. Small ball alert!! Two groundouts moved Dex to 3rd, setting him up perfectly to score on any kind of base hit by Tulo. And Tulo delivered with a double to deep right center. It was fitting because that second Cubs run was his fault and we needed him to get it back! DLR had settled in nicely by the bottom of the 3rd, and while he gave up 6 hits total over 7 innings, he spaced them out enough that they didn't cause any damage.

In the 4th, Ty Wigginton led off with a home run. Yes, Ty Wigginton! Let's not forget that his 3-run homer sparked the Rockies' offense last Wednesday against the Giants. But in between the two, he's been so silent that I thought maybe that was a fluke. I'd like Wiggy's average to be a little higher (although it did jump to .233 last night), but if it can't be, then I'll take those occasional big hits. The Rox went up 3-2.

Then ... wait for it ... Helton led off the 5th with a home run! Let's not miss the magnitude of Helton's accomplishment last night. He hasn't had a two-homer game since August 7, 2007. We all know what began shortly after that - the historic Rocktober run. After Helton's tough season in 2010, I worried that maybe retirement was near for him. But is he having a comeback this season or what! His batting average is .317, tied with Jonathan Herrera for second best on the team after Tulo. Retirement? Please. He's almost playing like his 2001 self again. And don't forget, the Cubs' James Russell is a lefty. Two home runs off a lefty in the same game? I'm speechless.

Wiggy hit a double later in the inning, but was stranded at 2nd. Meanwhile, DLR was making easy work of the Cubbies, sending them one by one back to the dugout. He even got pinch hitter Kosuke Fukudome, 5-for-5 on Monday, to ground out. DLR was done at the end of the 7th, but it was terrific outing: just the 1 earned run and 9 strikeouts! Rafael Betancourt took care of business in the 8th, and earned his 7th hold of the season. And then there was Huston Street. At this point I just wish I had a pacemaker nearby when Huston comes to the mound. He hasn't blown a save yet this season (he came close in New York, but was replaced before he could blow it all the way), but he almost always allows a runner into scoring position before he finishes the job. Because I know he can blow a save, I'm always white knuckling something until he records the final out. Last night was no different. The Rockies had a two-run lead and Street immediately cut that to one by giving up a lead-off home run to Alfonso Soriano. The thing I do love about him, though, is that he keeps his head even when he does give up runs, and he got the next three batters out to end the game and earn his Major League-leading 9th save.

It was just such a relief to see the bats come back last night. For the Rockies to have scored 3 of their 4 runs on home runs maybe says more about the wind blowing out of Wrigley than it does their actual abilities, but they did what had to be done. They outpaced their opponents and maintained a lead for their pitcher. I really do hope Cargo can fix what's wrong and be back soon, but in the meantime, I wouldn't mind having last night's batting order as the regular one, with the exception of replacing Ryan Spilborghs with Seth Smith.

Tonight Jhoulys Chacin tries to redeem himself after a tough start against the Marlins last weekend. The Rockies face Casey Coleman, who proved to be a challenge for them when they faced him at Coors earlier this month. Here's the really good news: the Giants won, but they remain 4 1/2 games behind us in the division. The Dodgers lost and are now 5 games back. The Padres lost, but they're so far back it wouldn't have mattered either way. And the Diamondbacks won, but they're still 5 1/2 back. And their win actually did us a favor: they beat the Phillies, so once again the Rockies have the best record in the majors.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

A Comedy of Errors

Rockies 5, Cubs 3

If Sunday's game was a productive loss, Monday's was an unproductive win. If I could figure out what's wrong with the Rockies' bats, I would march out to Wrigley today and tell Carney Lansford myself. Why can't these guys hit a home run? Or more than few singles? Thank goodness for small ball, because in previous seasons the Rockies acted like they'd never heard of it, and they'd be in the basement of the NL West without it right now.

The Rox should have lost this game 3-1, because 4 of their 5 runs were unearned. The Cubs' defense last night was sloppy at best, especially shortstop Starlin Castro, not normally known for 3-error games, much less 3-error innings. Luckily for the Rockies, their 2nd inning featured Castro at his most bumbling, dropping the ball, bobbling the ball, throwing the ball away. His errors allowed the Rockies to score 3 runs, which they needed because Esmil Rogers had allowed 3 in the bottom of the 1st. A single and 3 shouldda-been groundouts, and the game was tied.

Rogers was looking a lot like he did against San Francisco last Monday at first. He gave up a single and a home run to the first two batters he faced, and suddenly it seemed like we were going to get slaughtered again. Rogers would go on to give up a single, 2 walks, and a sacrifice fly to bring the Cubs' third run across the plate.

To Rogers's credit, he really seemed to relax after that. He only lasted 5 1/3 innings, and he gave up 5 more hits after the 1st, but he kept the Cubs from scoring again. I think it must have helped him a great deal to see that his own team was putting runs on the board and that it wasn't going to be a blow-out. His final full inning was even a 1-2-3. And you have to appreciate what Rogers brings to the plate. He's a great bunter and an even better runner (Jim Tracy often puts him in to pinch-run on days he isn't pitching). His first time at the plate he grounded out, but his second time, leading off the 5th, he laid down a perfect bunt down the 3rd base side and beat the throw. This was a key at-bat because the 5th inning was the one when the Rockies went ahead. Dexter Fowler walked, and there were two on and no out, instead of one on and no out as there would have been had Rogers had a typical pitcher's at-bat. Jonathan Herrera came to the plate and hit what would have been a sacrifice bunt to move the runners up, but pitcher Matt Garza's throw to 1st was way off. Herrera got to 2nd, Fowler to 3rd, and Rogers scored. It was the Cubs' fourth error and fourth unearned run of the game.

And now, a brief word about Carlos Gonzalez, who came to the plate after Herrera. I miss his big hits as much as anybody and, as I've said before, I think he should be shifted in the order until his bat comes back. But here's what I do love about him right now: he is not showing any of the signs of frustration that hitters of his caliber typically show while in a slump. He doesn't spike the bat or throw his helmet after a strikeout, he doesn't argue with umpires or dump Gatorade all over the dugout. He just comes to the ballpark every day and tries to do his job. I really respect that. It shows that he's a man of character and not just a good athlete. Another thing he's doing is trying to harness his capabilities right now and use them for the good of the team. A prime example was last night's 5th inning. There were 2 runners in scoring position and nobody out, which would have been a great time for an extra base hit. But it was also a good time for a chopper to 2nd that allowed the run to score. You can almost see Cargo thinking, hmm, I'm hitting a ton of infield ground balls right now. Why not just try to pull it a little so Dex has a good chance to score? Boom. RBI for Cargo. People, that is a good ballplayer. I, like everyone among the Rockies faithful, cannot wait to see opposing teams quaking in fear once the middle of the order has its mojo back. But you can't argue with their resourcefulness right now. If there's a way to get it done, they're getting it done.

Of course, the inning unfolded in a pretty sloppy fashion after that. If there is such a thing as offensive errors, the Rockies made two in the 5th. Troy Tulowitzki hit a ground ball right at Starlin Castro, who managed not to make an error and threw it to home. Herrera, inexplicably running on what was clearly going to be an easy out at any base, was tagged at the plate. Then Tulo either took too big of a lead at first or started running and changed his mind. Either way, he got caught in a rundown, and that was the end. With Herrera at 3rd and Helton at the plate, that run would have and should have scored, so hopefully we won't see too many more mistakes like that.

Matt Lindstrom replaced Rogers in the 6th inning with 2 on and 1 out. He quickly got a force out and a strikeout to end the frame and save the win for Rogers. After that, Lindstrom pitched the 7th, giving up just one hit, and he was followed by Rafael Betancourt and Huston Street, who also allowed one hit apiece. The Rockies were DOA offensively by that point, except for a 2-out triple in the 7th by Fowler that Herrera couldn't do anything with, so thank goodness for the strength of our bullpen right now. Street did make my heart pound, as he nearly always does, when he allowed a double to Jeff Baker with 1 out in the 9th. But he came through and recorded his 8th save.

The Rockies have 10 come-from-behind wins so far this season, which is best in baseball. It's the never-say-die attitude we're used to seeing from them in September, and the fact that we're seeing it from them in April can only mean good things for the rest of the year. While I still need to see the big bats come back at some point, the fact that we're able to win without them is reason to be very glad.

The only man the Rockies' pitchers couldn't seem to get out was Kosuke Fukudome, who went 5-for-5. The Rox only managed 4 hits, so he actually had a better night than everyone on our team put together. But all 5 hits were singles, and only once did anybody manage to drive him in. I hope they're all watching tape in the clubhouse as we speak, because you can bet tonight's game won't be so easily won. Cursed as the Cubs may seem at times, they're not a bad team, and there's not going to be 4 errors tonight. The good news is that we've got Jorge De La Rosa coming to the mound, and he's been our most consistent pitcher so far. If the offense can get even one tiny rally going, I like our chances.

P.S. Jered Weaver of the Angels is having a first half which so closely mirrors Ubaldo Jimenez from last season, it's scary. I'm thanking our lucky stars we don't have to face him this season.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

A Loss That Counts as a Win

Rockies 3, Marlins 6

I'm going to call today's game against the Marlins a productive loss. There are several reasons for this. First, I didn't think we stood a chance. Marlins' starting pitcher Josh Johnson is, I believe, the most terrifying pitcher in the National League, more so even than Tim Lincecum and Roy Halladay. I realize not everyone agrees with me on that point, but the man hardly even knows how to lose a game. He is like a dark wizard who casts the specter of the strikeout over the heart of every young man coming to the plate to face him. Lights out, almost always. So the fact that not only did we not lose in a landslide, we actually tied the game briefly, is impressive.

Then there was the Rockies' chosen starter, Ubaldo Jimenez. Our ace, for sure, but his two starts so far this season haven't been great. He was injured on opening day and still getting his rhythm back in his start against the Giants this past Monday. Even though he looked great as that game went on, I didn't really know what to expect out of him today. He definitely wasn't as much of a sure thing as Johnson typically is. But he was great. The old Ubaldo really is back, I'm confident of that now. His fastball was consistently in the upper 90's, and he struck out 7 and gave up just 1 hit over 5 innings. Unfortunately, that 1 hit was quite costly. Jimenez issued 5 free passes over the course of those innings (4 walks, 1 hit batsman), and 3 of those were back-to-back-to-back in the bottom of the 5th. He got a strikeout and a flyout to short left, so all he needed to do was get Omar Infante out some way - didn't matter how - and all those runners would be left on base. Instead, Jimenez gave up a triple to Infante. The worst time to give up a triple is with the bases loaded, obviously: all the runners score. The only thing less preferable would be a grand slam. I would even rather have seen Jimenez walk a run in and then get the next batter out. But he didn't. He made one real bad pitch out of 96, and it put the Marlins up 3-0.

But back to why this is still a productive loss. That was the only bad pitch. It's true that Jimenez had a little trouble finding the strike zone, but his biggest flaw is that he can get wild sometimes. The fact that that's what we saw him struggling with, not velocity, or movement, or getting guys to strike out, is a very positive sign. We saw the Jimenez who dominated the National League in the first half last season - a bit wild, yes, but generally brilliant. The odds of him giving up a 2-out, bases-clearing triple like that are pretty low. Next time, he won't. So next time, we win!

The third reason why this was productive to me is that our offense really came to play today. No one, including me, was surprised when the Rockies failed to get a hit until the 6th inning. But get it they did, and they didn't stop there. You'd think that Friday's one-hitter from Anibal Sanchez would be demoralizing enough to make the Rox feel like there's no way they could take Johnson. But I didn't see that. I saw them treat him like any other pitcher, one from whom they needed to procure runs one way or another. And they did so. In the 6th, Dexter Fowler doubled and so did Jonathan Herrera, scoring Fowler. I thought maybe we were going to have a big inning, because Carlos Gonzalez walked and that put runners at 1st and 3rd with Troy Tulowitzki up. But Tulo, normally reliable in such scenarios, grounded out to end the inning.

Still, the Rockies weren't done yet, and they weren't going to settle for trailing by 2 the rest of the game. Seth Smith delivered the team's third hit, a single, in the 7th, but nothing came of it. Then, in the 8th, Clay Hensley replaced Johnson on the mound, and that's when the field day began. Ty Wigginton and Fowler hit back-to-back singles, and a passed ball moved them both into scoring position. Cargo's sac fly scored Wigginton, and then Tulo came through with a double that scored Fowler. Suddenly it was tied, and I thought maybe we weren't going to lose after all! So major kudos to the offense for not conceding the loss from the start and for hanging in there all the way through. They even struck out fewer times against Johnson than the Marlins did against Jimenez: 6 K's rather than 7.

And now we come to the part that was not entirely pleasing. It's ironic, because over the course of this week I've been very frustrated with the offense and the starting pitchers, but the relief pitchers have been really solid. Even today, they started out that way. Clay Mortensen came in to relieve Jimenez in the 6th and pitched 2 perfect innings. He has yet to give up a run this season. He was fantastic, and then he was replaced by Matt Reynolds, who struck out his man. Jim Tracy wanted a righty to face Omar Infante, so Matt Belisle was called in. He gave up a single, a walk, and then a firecracker of a home run to Mike Stanton. Just like that, the game was no longer tied, and the Rockies were down by 3 in the 8th.

Despite this mistake, it felt good to be upset that the bullpen bore the loss because that meant that a) Jimenez didn't have to and b) we weren't losing from the first frame. It would have been nice to take this series, but Florida is playing good baseball this season, and these games weren't going to be gimmies. Also, I was so happy to see Ubaldo return to form, a great start by Jason Hammel yesterday, and the hitters' determination to plate runners that this doesn't really feel like a loss. It feels like the start of the rest of the season.

Gone Fishing

Rockies 3, Marlins 1

I know that armchair managers are not particularly well-regarded, especially by actual managers, but I have a suggestion for Jim Tracy nonetheless. Carlos Gonzalez needs to be moved from the 3-hole in the batting order. I adore Cargo and believe that his offensive production will return, but right now his presence in that position is actually causing the team significant harm. Too many times this season, he has cleared the bases or ended the inning with a ground out, bringing Troy Tulowitzki to the plate with the bases empty. One of Tulo's strengths is driving in runs, so this is a huge problem. The #4 batter is supposed to be the clean-up hitter, but if there's no one on base, there's nothing to clean up.

This is particularly upsetting in light of 1) how good a lead-off hitter Dexter Fowler has become and 2) how reliable Jonathan Herrera is. Fowler's patience that plate has increased dramatically and he's drawing a significant number of walks, which is terrific since what you want from your lead-off hitter is for him to get on base. With 14 already on the season, he's on pace for nearly double what he had in 2010. Herrera is hitting .327, second only to Tulo for team best, and is now almost Tulo-like in terms of the odds that he will get a hit or at least a productive out. Someone like Seth Smith, or even Todd Helton, who held the position until last season when Cargo replaced him, should have the 3-spot. If Tracy makes that change, the Rockies will score 2 more runs per game than they have been. Count on it.

So that's a bit of a digression, but it had to be said. And it is relevant to any discussion of last night's game against the Marlins, which the Rockies won, but no thanks to Cargo. The Rockies struck first, which didn't necessarily ease my mind since the same thing happened Friday. Still, it felt good to get a hit on the board and dispel those fears that maybe we would never hit the ball again. Walks to Fowler and Cargo were followed by an RBI single from Tulo that scored Fowler. Back-to-back fly outs from Helton and Smith stranded the runners and ended the inning. (In all, there were 8 runners left on base in the game, still too many for my taste).

In the 2nd, after an error and a couple of walks, Cargo popped out with the bases loaded (leaving Tulo to lead off in the 3rd with no one to drive in!). It wasn't until the top of the 6th that they managed to produce more than one base runner again. Back-to-back doubles from Helton and Smith gave us two runners in scoring position with nobody out. From there, the inning unfolded beautifully. The bottom of the order was coming up, so no one expected a bases-clearing extra-base hit or a home run. But the 7, 8, and 9 hitters did their jobs with perfection. Ty Wigginton hit a sacrifice fly to right that scored Helton and moved Smith to 3rd. Jose Morales was intentionally walked, and then Jason Hammel laid down an absolute gem of a bunt up the first base side that allowed Smith to score. Just like that, the Rockies were up 3-1. Smith was running on Hammel's bunt, so it was suicide squeeze, which Tracy didn't seem to like much last season. It's nice to see him using it, because when you've got a runner in scoring position, fewer than 2 outs, and a pitcher at the plate, it's almost a sure thing.

In the 7th, Herrera led off with a single, but then Cargo hit into a double play, once again leaving Tulo with no one on base. And Tulo got a base hit, so if Cargo had managed to get on, Herrera might have scored. Just saying ...

Javier Vazquez, who last year was the Franklin Morales of the Yankees' pitching staff, turned in a decent start for the Marlins. He threw a lot of balls and ultimately walked 5 batters. The Rockies weren't able to make use of all these walks except for in the 1st inning, but it's nice to see them waiting for pitches to hit. Vazquez threw 94 pitches altogether and was pulled after the 6th inning. Ryan Webb pitched the 7th, followed by Brian Sanches, who dominated the Rockies in the 8th and 9th.

Jason Hammel gave up the fewest runs of any Rockies starting pitcher this week, for which he is to be heartily commended. He's a good pitcher, but not super reliable, and when he comes to the mound there's always a distinct possibility that he'll depart in the 5th inning having given up 7 runs. Last night, he gave up just 1, and he didn't allow the Fish to score at all in the 1st, something none of his compadres accomplished this week. He had a little trouble finding the strike zone during some innings, but his breaking balls were effective and he still managed to strike out 4. He also went 6 2/3 innings, which is more than I thought we'd get out of him. He allowed 7 hits, but was able to keep the ball in the ballpark and limit the Marlins' run production. A double, a single, and a sac fly in the 3rd scored the only run for the Fish, but Hammel kept his head and got out of the inning without further damage. He worked himself out of jams with runners on the corners in the 4th and the 5th. Tracy replaced him in the 7th after he gave up a 2-out triple to Chris Coghlan, and then Matt Lindstrom came in to get the final out. Rafael Betancourt and Huston Street got the 1-2-3 8th and 9th innings we've come to expect from them, and that was the game. Street recorded his 7th save, which ties him with Mariano Rivera for most in the majors. Did anyone ever think Huston's name would turn up alongside Mo's?

A great game. No real complaints aside from the changes to the batting order that need to happen. Today would be a great day for those, too, since the Rockies face the nastiness that is Josh Johnson at Sun Life Stadium.

Friday, April 22, 2011

One-Hit Wonders

Rockies 1, Marlins 4

I'm going to start with the good news, because I don't know about you, but I need some cheering up. The Rockies bullpen was great tonight. Matt Belisle, Felipe Paulino, and Franklin Morales each pitched a scoreless inning, and Belisle and Morales didn't give up a hit. Paulino's inning was a little bit more about luck: he gave up 2 hits but managed to get out of it with some key ground outs and an interference call on Hanley Ramirez (I say again - WHY do people think he is a better baseball player than Tulo??). And the relievers combined for 5 strikeouts. I'd say that's not a bad day's work.

But unfortunately, that's the only good news I have for you. The Rockies just did not look like themselves tonight. I wasn't so worried when they dropped the first two games of their series against the Giants earlier in the week, because the Giants are really good, and they'll be tough opponents all season. But the Marlins? Not the worst team in baseball, but certainly not one we should struggle so much against. All I need to know is that this problem is fixable. What I can't stomach is the thought that the first couple weeks of the season were the exception, and now we're settling into the rule. We all know that can't possibly be true; this team has too many talented players. Still, I can't help but feel a tiny bit of fear ...

What went wrong tonight? So many things to choose from. For starters, our starter. Jhoulys Chacin, so spot-on against the Cubs last week, was pretty uneven. He gave up lead-off home runs in the 1st and the 3rd. And in the 2nd, he gave up a walk and a double, followed by two ground outs that scored both those base runners. One can only assume that he just lost it on those few pitches and missed his locations, because the rest of the time he wasn't bad at all. After he gave up that first home run, to Chris Coghlan, and a single to Omar Infante, he struck out the next three batters swinging. He allowed at least one hit in each of the 5 innings he pitched, but managed to strand the runners in the 4th and 5th. The defense had a hand in things, too; a run would have scored in the 4th if Chris Iannetta hadn't made the throw to second that prevented Emilio Bonifacio from stealing. In all, it was not a classic Chacin performance, but it wasn't a blowout. In most circumstances I'd have expected the offense to make up the difference.

But that they did not do. The Rockies were 1-for-27 tonight, which is spectacularly bad no matter who you are and no matter who you're playing. It was a little deceptive looking at the scoreboard; because of the one run the Rockies scored in the 1st, it didn't really occur to me until the 5th inning or so that the Rockies had yet to actually hit the ball. But that was the case, and then suddenly it was the middle of the 8th and they STILL hadn't gotten a hit. Why? Got me. Anibal Sanchez, the Marlins' pitcher, is no slouch, but he's not really a star either. He won 13 games last year but lost 12. His WHIP was 1.34, so over the course of the 9 innings he pitched, the Rockies should've gotten on base roughly 12 times. Instead, they did it 3 times, each one a walk. Maybe this would be less alarming, but during their first game against the Giants on Monday, it took the Rockies till the 7th to get a hit. Is this a pattern all of a sudden?

The night's offensive "hero," which isn't really saying much, was Dexter Fowler. He scored the Rockies' only run; he walked, moved to 2nd on a passed ball, moved to 3rd on a ground out, and scored on another ground out that was botched by a missed catch error. None of those things were hits. Dex did finally break up the no-hitter (thank goodness) with a single to right in the 9th. But then he got doubled off first when Jonathan Herrera hit a soft fly ball to left that looked like it was going to drop ... and was promptly caught by Scott Cousins. Even after the tag was made, Dex continued to stand on 2nd base, looking as though he didn't understand what had just happened.

Well, none of us did. All I can say about this game is, let's put it in the books and leave it there. I really hope this series isn't going to be another disappointment. We haven't even faced Josh Johnson yet.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Wiggy/Spilly Save the Day

Rockies 10, Giants 2

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.

Ubaldo, Take Two

Rockies 3, Giants 6

This is the first time I've had to write about back-to-back losses this season and I have to say, I don't like it. But truthfully, we've all been spoiled, so let's not dwell on the misfortunes of the past couple of days for too long.

Our dearly beloved ace, Ubaldo Jimenez, was back on the mound last night for another crack at 2011. I think we were all holding our breaths a little bit, to see if the problems on opening day really were due to his injury, or if he was back to being 2008 Ubaldo. And in the first inning, it seemed like maybe it was the latter. Jimenez hit the first batter he faced, Aaron Rowand, but Rowand crowds the plate so that wasn't too worrisome. The next batter, Freddy Sanchez, hit a single, and there were runners at the corners with nobody out. Then Aubrey Huff struck out, and I breathed a little easier. But then Buster Posey singled to score Rowand and Pablo Sandoval hit a 3-run blast, and I may have stopped breathing altogether for a moment.

People were starting to talk about how much Jimenez was looking like Esmil Rogers during Monday night's game. But one thing that was certain was that Jimenez was not going to lose his cool like Rogers did. If he was giving up runs, it was because he was still remembering how to pitch on a major league mound. Every pitcher needs a bit of time to do that when returning from rehab.

And sure enough, Jimenez was great for the rest of his outing. In innings 2-5 he gave up just 2 hits, and he struck out 6 overall. If you recall, he only managed to strike out one Diamondback on opening day. Other than in the first inning, he looked a lot like the Ubaldo that I remember, and that was very encouraging. I expect really good things for his next start, which should go better simply because he'll be facing the Cubs. He won't have a 15-1 first half, obviously, but he'll still be solid. That 7.36 ERA is reflective of the small number of innings he's pitched, not his true capabilities. Ubaldo is coming back, people. Believe it.

I didn't think that Jonathan Sanchez would be as tough for the Rockies to get to as Tim Lincecum was, but I was wrong. Monday night they managed 4 hits; last night, only 3. Two of those came via Dexter Fowler, who gets the blue ribbon for Clutch Player of the Week so far. Troy Tulowitzki is 0-for-7 in this series, and Carlos Gonzalez and Todd Helton have combined for three hits over the past two games. When the middle of the order isn't hitting, the top and bottom aren't going to be able to pick up the slack. Most disappointing is Ryan Spilborghs, who is generally reliable if unflashy, but has been struggling this season. He's hiting .167 and he struck out swinging twice yesterday, including once in the 7th with 2 out and 2 runners in scoring position. It looks like he's having a bit of trouble with his stance, like he's opening up his shoulders a little too early. Hopefully Carney Lansford can help him figure that out, because we all learned yesterday that no one, however beloved, is safe on the Coors Field bench. Offensively-challenged Ian Stewart was sent down to Colorado Springs to make room for Jimenez on the active roster and allow the Rockies to keep Clayton Mortensen.

The good thing is that the Rockies did more with runners on base yesterday than they have in recent games. They really blew a lot of opportunities against the Cubs last week, and only took the series because they had better pitching behind them. I saw more of an effort to move runners up and produce runs yesterday, which was encouraging. Despite one fewer hit than the night before, the run differential was 3 instead of 7. In the 5th, Ty Wigginton walked, and then ran on ball 4 to Chris Iannetta. Buster Posey shouldn't have thrown the ball because Wigginton was automatically awarded the base on Iannetta's walk. No one was covering 2nd and the ball skipped into center, so Wigginton went to 3rd. That allowed Seth Smith to hit a sacrifice fly and then Wiggy scored. That's how it should be done: patience at the plate, heads-up base running, and scoring the run however you can.

In the 7th, the Rockies loaded the bases on 2 walks and a single. There were 2 outs and Dexter Fowler came to the plate. After Sunday's game against Chicago, he's the one I would have wanted in such a situation, and he did not disappoint. He laced a double to right that scored 2 runs and cut the Giants' lead to 3. But then there was Spilly's strikeout, and the inning was over. The Rockies had to face The Beard, Brian Wilson, in the 9th, and he's one of the best closers in the game, so it was pretty much over by then.

Let's not forget about Jimenez's replacement, Franklin Morales. It's kind of the cool thing in Colorado to hate on Morales (I won't tell you some of the hashtags people use to refer to him on twitter because they are not family-friendly!). And I'm tempted to myself. He has great stuff, but he only uses it about half the time. The other half of the time he's giving up runs like that's what we're paying him for. He's supposed to be a long reliever, and in the past he's been our closer, but in my opinion he's never been especially reliable at either. Last night, he did not help his own case, giving up a walk to Darren Ford and then a home run to Aubrey Huff to give the Giants 6 runs on the night. Morales is actually pretty lucky that the Rockies failed to score again, because if they'd managed 4 runs and then lost because of that 2-run homer, he never would have heard the end of it.

Felipe Paulino, Matt Reynolds, and Matt Lindstrom kept the Giants hitless over the final two innings, and combined for 3 strikeouts. No complaints there. On another day in our next series against the Giants, this game will go a different way. Jimenez will come out firing from the beginning, and he will leave in the 7th having only given up a run or two. Tulo will be himself and drive in a couple of runs so the Rockies will be ahead. Morales can stay out of it completely, and Rafael Betancourt and Huston Street will do their thing and preserve the win. That's how it's supposed to go. Of course, as we know, the word "supposed" doesn't always mean much in major league baseball.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Feet of Clay

Rockies 1, Giants 8

A young man named Clayton Mortensen pitched 6 shut-out innings for the Rockies last night. He gave up just 2 hits. He was also the Rockies' third player to be called up from Triple-A since the beginning of the season and asked to pitch at the last minute. And he was brilliant.

Sadly, he was not the starting pitcher in this game versus the Giants. He came in in the 4th inning to clean up the mess that Esmil Rogers made. Rogers, who was stellar against the Pirates and okay against the Mets, was terrible against the Giants last night. He gave up 3 home runs in the first 2 innings, after owning the longest streak without giving up a home run among active pitchers. His velocity was there, but pitch after pitch was right where the hitter wanted it to be. In addition to those home runs, one of which was a 3-run homer, Rogers gave up 3 more runs on RBI singles and a sacrifice fly. Jim Tracy was wise to pull him after the 3rd. Rogers is still a very young pitcher, so let's chalk this one up as a learning experience and leave it behind.

The great news is Mortensen. Who can we send back to Colorado Springs so he can stay with us? The Giants are not an offensive powerhouse, but Mortensen's dominance of them was total. It's too soon to say whether he should actually take Rogers's spot in the rotation, but my guess is we should wait and let Esmil take the ball again. He's got the stuff, he just needs some more confidence and coaching. Mortensen needs to spend enough time in either the minors or the bullpen that when he does come to as a regular starter, he's really ready.

As far as the Rockies' offense goes, well, they were trying to get hits off Tim Lincecum, so they can be forgiven for their failure. The Giants have one of the toughest pitching staffs we'll face this season, perhaps surpassed only by the Phillies, so we aren't going to be a run-scoring machine against them. Last night, though, was particularly sad. Troy Tulowitzki was 0-for-3 with 2 strikeouts and Ryan Spilborghs was 0-for-4 with 2 strikeouts. Together, the Rockies managed only 4 hits, 3 off Lincecum, and the first didn't come till the 7th with a Carlos Gonzalez single. The only RBI hit was a Todd Helton double that scored Cargo. Throughout, I felt as though I was watching that game last September when the Giants' Matt Cain nearly no-hit the Rockies. In both cases, it felt like we were being slaughtered by a team with which, talent-wise, we were almost equally matched.

As I said in my write-up on Sunday's game, the key to this series will be th Rockies' offense. We need to be able to get to the Giants' pitchers. If Mortensen had started last night's game, chances are good we would have won it 1-0, or at least gone into extras tied 1-1. That's how it should have gone. Because Rogers was so shaky, we didn't get the chance to find out. Tonight we face Jonathan Sanchez, a good pitcher but not as good as Lincecum. He won 13 games with a 3.07 ERA last season, great stats for most pitchers, but we're starting a guy who won 19 games with a 2.88 ERA. Yes, Ubaldo Jimenez is back, and he will, I hope, save this series for us. If, now that he's healthy, he can pitch the way that we planned on him pitching on opening day, the Giants will have limited offensive production. The question is, can the Rockies' bats capitalize on that opportunity and take care of Sanchez? Answers will be revealed beginning with Jimenez's first pitch at 6:40 p.m.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

In the Big Inning ...

Rockies 9, Cubs 5

A spot starter named Alan Johnson was not the hero of today's game, but nor was he the villain. Johnson, called up from Colorado Springs because none of the Rockies' starting pitchers have had a full four days' rest, held off the Cubs well enough to allow the bullpen and the offense to finish the job. He pitched 4 innings and gave up 4 earned runs on 5 hits, but struck out 3 and came up with some big outs when they were needed. He did a great job keeping the ball on the ground, allowing just one extra-base hit and getting half his outs from ground balls. The bottom line is, Johnson had to be pretty nervous, getting called up at the last minute like he did and being tasked with winning this series for the Rox. He didn't win it, but he didn't lose it either.

Fortunately for him and for everyone, the Rockies' offense decided to turn up today. They still haven't had a great situational-hitting day in this series, but they did have the big innings that make those kinds of days unnecessary. They jumped on Cubs' starter Ryan Dempster early, almost as if they all sensed the need to protect their inexperienced starter and provide him with a big lead. Carlos Gonzalez found his bat for the first time, and proved to all Rockies fans just how much we've missed it. He went 4-for-5 with a couple of runs driven in. All non-pitchers in the lineup produced at least one hit today and, as has been shown in the past, that generally leads to a win for us.

Jim Tracy must have given everybody a pretty stern talking-to about the lack of hits with runners in scoring position, because that was not much of a problem today. Todd Helton still managed to end two separate innings with a couple of runners on, but for the most part hits were made when they needed to be made. In the 2nd, already down 1-0, Cargo hit a double to score Jonathan Herrera from 1st. A Helton single scored Cargo, and then Seth Smith hit a bomb to make the score 4-1.

It was looking like maybe Alan Johnson wouldn't have much to worry about, but it was 4-4 by the end of the 2nd, and then suddenly in the top of the 4th it was 5-4 Cubs. The Rockies did some of that "hitting with runners in scoring position" Tracy lectured them about in the bottom of the 4th, with back-to-back ground outs by Jose Lopez and Jose Morales scoring Seth Smith from 2nd. And then there were the 5th, 6th, and 7th innings, which weren't that long but seemed to take forever. Base runners kept materializing, but neither team could come up with the RBIs to score the runs.

And then, hallelujah! The bottom of the 8th. A Ryan Spilborghs single and Jose Lopez double put two runners in scoring position, but then Jose Morales and Ty Wigginton struck out. Suddenly the go-ahead run was 90 feet away, but there were 2 outs, and it was starting to feel like Saturday all over again. Please, Dex, get a big hit... covering my eyes with my hands because I can't bear to watch ... wait! What is Fowler doing on 2nd? And where are the other base runners? Did he actually hit a 2-run double? Finally, the offense is back! This key hit was followed by a Herrera single and a Cargo single that scored two more runs, to make the score 9-5. Back-to-back walks loaded the bases and then Spilly struck out to end the inning, but those were all the runs we needed. And let's not forget that Spilly started the rally with his lead-off hit.

The bullpen pitched great to hold the Cubs to their 5 runs. Matt Belisle went 2 full innings and gave up 3 hits, but in each case he got the outs he needed to keep the runs from scoring. Matt Reynolds and Rafael Betancourt (who got the win) kept the Cubs hitless in the 7th and 8th. And Huston Street, who struggled Thursday against the Mets and hadn't pitched since then, gave up a quick single but then had a 1-2-3 inning. Despite yesterday's loss, the series win goes to the Rockies, and they outscored the Cubs 17-13 this weekend.

Next up is the Giants, and this is a very important series. For one thing, they're the toughest team talent-wise that we'll play in April, so this will be a huge indicator of whether we're really playing well as we seem to be. For another, they're likely to be our biggest competition for the division throughout the season, and they're currently second place, 4 games off the pace. The good news there is that even if they sweep the Rockies, they'll still be second place. But I know I'd prefer it if the Rockies sweep them and push them back 7 games. The key will be offensive production, early and often. The Giants' strength is in their pitching, so if we can get to their pitchers quickly, we stand a fair chance. Their hitting is just okay, so if our pitchers do what we know they can, the series is more than winnable. I'm especially pumped for Ubaldo Jimenez's first non-injured start of the season, Tuesday against San Francisco's Jonathan Sanchez. Time for the real games to begin.

17 + 0-for-12 = LOSS

Rockies 3, Cubs 8

I noticed an interesting phenomenon in the twitter conversation that surrounded last night's Rockies-Cubs game, as well as in the reactions of the fans at Coors, as well as in myself. It was almost as if we all swaggered into this game with the expectation of a win and no doubt about it. During the current 7-game winning streak, it had begun to seem like a foregone conclusion that the Rockies would win. In 5 of those 7 games, the Rockies were behind at some point, and each time they came back. Even when the Cubs started hitting off starter Jason Hammel, I think we all sort of crossed our arms and said, "Just wait."

So when the Cubs' runs began to multiply, particularly after Hammel's departure and Felipe Paulino's arrival, and when it became clear that the Rockies intended to strand every single runner who reached 2nd base, a feeling of confusion set in. What was happening? Were these the best-in-baseball Colorado Rockies? Weren't they supposed to win every game for the rest of the season and finish 160-2? In myself I identified a feeling almost like entitlement: "Um, excuse me Chicago. You're not allowed to beat us. We're the best team in baseball."

Let's be serious though. It's only April, and there are many losses ahead. No doubt there are some more 7-game winning streaks ahead, and hopefully some more series sweeps and complete game shut-outs. We still have the best winning percentage we've ever had. We're still 3 games up in the division. There's a lot of baseball left to play, and we all knew the off night was coming. I think the sadness was at least partially due to the fact that we hadn't lost a 9-inning game yet, and the longer you go without that happening, the harder it is when it finally does. But psychoanalysis time is over. Up off the couch, Rockies fans. Let's look at what went well and what went wrong last night, and then dust ourselves off and get excited about today's rubber match.

The loss can be attributed to two simple things: 1. the Cubs got A LOT of hits and 2. the Rockies failed big time to move runners up. If either of those two things hadn't happened, we'd probably have won the game. That's encouraging in and of itself, because our pitching and hitting are good enough that 17 hits for our opponents and 0-for-12 with runners in scoring position for us are outliers.

Hammel was a little shaky from the start, and he never quite settled down. In the middle innings he seemed to have a bit more control, but it wasn't enough to ever completely shut the door on the Cubs' offense. In 6 innings, he gave up 7 hits, 2 of which were doubles, and 1 home run. He was throwing strikes, and got 5 punch-outs, but too many of his breaking balls were up, and the Cubs made contact at the wrong time. Still, all told, Hammel limited the damage done. Only 3 of the Cubs' 8 runs are credited to him. The defense also did a pretty great job backing him up. Dexter Fowler had a killer outfield assist that turned a fly out into a double play at 3rd, and Ian Stewart was right on top of the ball every time it came to him (if only he could get a hit here and there ...).

The real problems came when Paulino took over for Hammel. His ERA jumped from under 2 to 9.00 as a result of this game. The Cubs ate him for lunch. He came in in the top of the 7th and gave up 2 singles, a home run, and a double without recording one out. He got a ground out after that that moved Darwin Barney up to 3rd, and then gave up a single that scored Barney. He was then replaced by Franklin Morales. So Paulino pitched 1/3 of an inning and gave up 5 runs on 5 hits. Yeesh. Let's give him the day off today. Luckily, we can be pleased with the work of Morales and Matt Lindstrom to finish the game. In the final 2 2/3 innings, they combined for 5 hits but no runs, and they struck out 3. Both still have an ERA under 2.

Making sure to give credit where it's due, the Cubs' Casey Coleman had the Rockies number from the very beginning. I'll admit I didn't think we'd have too much trouble with him, given the fact that he's pretty young and inexperienced and we've knocked around much better pitchers this season (Clayton Kershaw comes to mind.) But Coleman went 5 2/3 and gave up just 4 hits and 1 run. He has a slow curve that threw the Rockies off-balance every time. And, as we already know, the real problems came when Rockies got on base and other Rockies could not move them up. Time after time, the man at the plate somehow got the least productive out possible, or the 3rd out, and the run didn't score. The one time an out actually made something happen was in the 2nd, when Troy Tulowitzki tripled and Seth Smith scored him with a sac fly. Tulowitzki's hit looked like it was going to be a home run, and the Cubs' Kosuke Fukudome tried to reach over the wall to get it, but ultimately it fell short of the fence and bounced off the heel of Fuk's glove. Luckily Tulo is not the type to gaze admiringly at his home runs as they go out of the park, so he was running, and that's how he got to 3rd in the first place. He was the lead-off hitter, so it would have been pretty pathetic for the Rockies not to get him home somehow.

However, they then proceeded to strand runners to the point that it seemed like they were trying to. In the 2nd AND the 4th, Hammel grounded out to end the inning with runners at 1st and 2nd. Tulo flied out in the 3rd with a runner on 1st. Seth Smith grounded out to end the 5th with runners on the corners. Todd Helton flied out to end the 6th with a runner on 2nd. Smith lined out in the 7th with runners on 1st and 2nd. Jason Giambi struck out in the 8th with runners on 1st and 2nd. And Stewart grounded out in the 9th with a runner on 1st. That's EVERY inning but the 1st with runners left on base. Wow. The only one who seemed able to take advantage of a runner was Chris Iannetta, who hit a home run in the 7th with Stewart on base, off the Cubs' John Grabow.

Again, the confluence of these particular problems is rare, especially for the 2011 Rockies as we've seen. Typically, either pitching or hitting has been good enough for the win. Today, April 17th, marks one year since the Rockies' first and only no-hitter, accomplished by Ubaldo Jimenez against the Braves. At that time, no one had any idea he was going to go on to a 15-1 first half and start the All-Star game for the National League. The fact that we do know how good he is at this moment, and that we'll have him back next week against the Giants, and that we've gone 11-3 so far this season without him, gives me great hope.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

The Chacin Machine

Rockies 5, Cubs 0

What to be most excited about at this moment? That a 23-year-old threw the Rockies' first complete game shut-out at home since 2008 last night? That not one Rockie hit a home run, including long ball machine Troy Tulowitzki, and they still won the game easily? That a promising young catcher who couldn't put the bat on the ball last season is coming up roses in this one? That we're doing all this without the help of our ace Ubaldo Jimenez, who more than carried the team in the first half last season? Or how about this: that in 2010, the Rockies won 11 games total in April, and in 2011 they've already won that many with 13 left to play?

You decide, but any of those things will do.

The Rockies got the job done quickly last night. Jhoulys Chacin, who makes me so happy I could cry, pitched 9 innings and gave up 0 runs on 6 hits with 7 K's. His location was terrific and he threw a lot of first-pitch strikes. What seemed to be the key for him was that he had no fear of putting the ball in play. He only threw 114 pitches in the entire game (2 fewer than Jorge De La Rosa did in 6 2/3 innings on Thursday), giving the Cubbies pitches to hit in every at-bat. They often did hit it, but Chacin trusted his defense to make the out, which they did. He gave up just one extra-base hit, a double to Aramis Ramirez in the 6th, and that was the only hit of the inning. He allowed 2 base runners twice, once with 2 outs that was followed by a fly out to end the inning, and once that was followed by a double play. I was expecting a breakout year for the talented Chacin, but nothing like this so early in the season. What will he do next? I can't wait to see.

The offense could clearly see that the man on the mound was going to take care of business, and so nobody felt the need to overextend and try to create a big inning. They did wind up with a big inning in the 2nd, though. A Tulowitzki single followed by a Todd Helton single followed by a Seth Smith walk loaded the bases with one out. Chris Iannetta, dealing at the plate, hit a long fly ball over the head of Cubs' center fielder Marlon Byrd. It cleared the bases, but then the cut-off man, Starlin Castro, failed to make the throw to 3rd and Iannetta went home. Technically it was a 3-run triple and an error, but I think we'd all prefer to call it an inside-the-park grand slam! That put the Rockies up 4-0. They only scored one more run in the game, on an RBI single by Helton that scored Jonathan Herrera all the way from 1st. But it was more than they needed.

If I have concerns at this stage in the game, it's that our sure things aren't always sure things. While I appreciate the way our less spectacular performers have stepped up their game, we should be able to count on Ubaldo Jimenez, Carlos Gonzalez, and Troy Tulowitzki to do more than the average player most of the time. Tulo is the only one of the three who has so far. Obviously Jimenez has been injured, and he's been doing great in his rehab starts, so hopefully he'll come back and be the ace we know he is. But what's up with Cargo? He was hitless yesterday, and grounded out in the 2nd inning to strand runners at 1st and 2nd. We didn't need those runs, but one of these days we will. He also has only one home run, compared to Tulo's 7. I suppose I should just be thrilled that we're doing so well without the help of 2 of our 3 superstars, and I am, but if we want to stay relevant once we start playing first-place teams, and if/when we get into the play-offs, these guys need to be great again.

Let's end on a happy note. The Rockies are 11-2, best in the majors (again). Happiness is the only emotion we should be feeling!

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Tulo's Bat Is a Broom

Rockies 6, Mets 5

Today was one of my favorite days in recent memory. This was due to many things, but most of all to witnessing back-to-back Rockies wins in person, while chatting back and forth with all my wonderful Denver tweeps. Our men in purple and black are the first to reach double-digit wins in 2011, and are on a 6-game winning streak, also best in the majors. High on life!

Since today was a twin bill, these recaps will be a tad shorter than usual, but I'll still hit all the high points. The first game, which started an hour earlier than it was supposed to because of the doubleheader, saw Greg Reynolds toe the rubber for the second time since being called up from AAA to replace Ubaldo Jimenez. (Speaking of Ubaldo, word on the street is that he's doing great and his velocity is back in the upper 90's. He's scheduled to start Monday against the Giants.) Reynolds deserves our respect. He's got great stuff, and his composure is that of a veteran on the mound. Today he pitched 5 innings and gave up 2 runs on 5 hits. Ideally he would have gone a little deeper in the game, especially since the bullpen had two games to be rested for, but what he did give was enough. He pitched 3 scoreless innings to start, despite giving up a double in 2 of those 3. His toughest inning was the 4th. A double, a wild pitch, and a walk left runners at the corners with no out. Angel Pagan hit a sac fly to score David Wright from 3rd. A ground out moved Ike Davis to 2nd, and then he scored on a Scott Hairston single. Reynolds was able to stop the bleeding, though, and stranded both Hairston and Josh Thole. He had an easy 5th. He's currently 1-0 with a 3.27 ERA, not to shabby for a last-minute call-up who hadn't started in the show since 2008.

Though Mets starter R.A. Dickey did not allow a run till the 5th, the Rockies took the lead the following inning and never lost it. The first run was scored with classic small ball: a walk, a sac bunt, a double, and a grounder to 2nd and Jose Morales was home. The next 2, scored in the 6th, came from a single, a walk, and a couple of ground outs that eventually put runners on the corners with 2 outs. Morales then doubled in Jason Giambi and Ian Stewart, and it was 3-2 Rockies. Four Rockies relievers were credited with holds for not allowing the Mets to go ahead between the 6th and the 9th, though fortunately some insurance runs were scored. Carlos Gonzalez and Troy Tulowitzki hit back-to-back home runs, Cargo with Seth Smith on base, in the 7th. I was on a subway that was just arriving at the stadium at the time, so I just missed witnessing Cargo's first home run of the season and Tulo's 6th. (6th! And he was not done!)

At that point it was 6-2, and thank goodness, because Huston Street had one of his "Oh, Huston" moments. I was surprised to see him struggle, because he's been the dominant closer we need him to be for most of the season so far. But everybody has those days, and Huston, well, has them as often as anyone, and perhaps more often. When he came in, the lead was only 3 runs, thanks to a Jose Reyes homer off Matt Belisle in the 8th. The inning unfolded thusly: Angel Pagan flied out. Willie Harris walked. Scott Hairston homered, scoring Harris, and cutting the lead to 1 run. Josh Thole singled. Carlos Beltran singled. And Huston was done for the day. His ERA is still 2.61, and he didn't blow the save, so he's forgiven.

Matt Lindstrom came on to get the save in Street's stead. He inherited the 2 baserunners with 1 out. He walked a man to load the bases with 2 out for David Wright. People, my heart was pounding. It's one thing to see these nail-biting innings on TV, and entirely another to see them in person, as I'm sure you all well know. Wright flied out to right, and while I breathed a deep sigh of relief, I'd say it took a good ten minutes for my pulse to return to normal.


Rockies 9, Mets 4

The second game I saw in full, and it was infinitely more fun to watch. The Mets still took the lead first, off Rockies starter Jorge De La Rosa. DLR is a man among men, though, and he can go the distance just about any time it's asked of him. He went 6 2/3 innings, and while he did give up 4 runs, he also fanned 7 Mets. And he knew what his offense was capable of and that it would back him up, which it did.

Chris Iannetta led off the 3rd inning with a double, and then scored on Dexter Fowler's single. Jonathan Herrera (current batting average: .458. Not a typo kids.) singled to move Dex along to 3rd, and then Cargo hit into a fielder's choice that forced Herrera out at 2nd but scored the run. Cargo stole 2nd (initially the umpire called him out, which was weird, and which I mistakenly reported to my twitter followers and was subsequently reamed out for). Tulo walked and Ty Wigginton was hit by a pitch, so the bases were loaded with 2 out. But Todd Helton lined out, and the best the Rockies were able to do was tie the score at 2.

Bats were quiet till the bottom of the 4th, when a single, a walk, a sac bunt, and another single allowed Brad Emaus and Mike Nickeas to score 2 more runs for the Mets. The Rockies had a little something to say about that in the 7th. Tulo led off the inning, and this is a true story. I said, "Come on, Tulo, you haven't homered yet in this game." Obviously I was kidding, because who homers in every game. Well. Tulo. 4-3 Rockies. Two singles and a walk with 1 out loaded the bases for Jorge De La Rosa, who is a decent hitting pitcher if ever there was one. He grounded out, but Mets' second baseman Brad Emaus bobbled the ball and his only play was at 2nd. DLR was safe at 1st, Ryan Spilborghs at 3rd, and Todd Helton crossed the plate to tie the score again. A Fowler single scored Spilly. Taylor Buccholz, late of the Rockies, came in to pitch at that point, and immediately gave up a 3-run home run to Johnny Herrera.

Matt Reynolds and Rafael Betancourt held the lead in the 7th and 8th, and then the Mets' Francisco Rodriguez, a.k.a K-Rod came to the mound for the Rockies in the 9th. He's their closer, but they used a lot of relievers in game 1 of the doubleheader, so there weren't many options to choose from at that point. K-Rod gave up 3 straight singles, to Cargo, Tulo, and Wigginton, the last of which scored Cargo and made the score 9-4. Felipe Paulino was the Rockies' final pitcher, ending the game with two swinging strikeouts and a fly out.

I was jumping for joy, naturally, because the Rockies just swept the Mets on the road. This has been notoriously tough for them and it was their first sweep in Queens since 1994. Plus, I was there! And Mets fans like to boo when their team isn't doing well. Three guys in the second deck behind home plate with paper bags over their heads kept chanting "Fire Wilpon!" Not a lot of love in that stadium. Except from me. It's a good time to be a Rockies fan.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

I'll Have What They're Having

Rockies 5, Mets 4

There are a few things that most Rockies fans are aware of at this moment. Our team has the best record in the majors. They are in the middle of their best season start in team history. They have a 5-1 record on the road. They have yet to lose a standard 9-inning game. None of the starting pitchers have recorded a loss. And Troy Tulowitzki is on pace to hit 80 home runs.

Who is this team, and what have they done with my Colorado Rockies?

Actually, let's not ask that question. Let's take this season so far for the gift that it is. The Rox are notorious slow starters and big finishers, and there's no rule that says that if they start strong they have to finish weak. Perhaps we are on our way to our first division title? Our first 100-win season? Our first ... no, I won't say that. No sense in jinxing it this early on. But admit it - your heart gave a little leap just like mine did.

Tonight's game versus the Mets should have been played last night, with me in the stands, and who knows whether the outcome would have been the same? Regardless, the Rockies won their fourth straight, which was also their fourth straight on the road. It was a one-run game, just like Monday night's. The guys have really turned things around when it comes to those close games. They aren't giving up when the other team scores first, the pitchers are holding the lead when it's achieved and saving games (6 straight saves for Huston Street). There is so much to love about this team right now.

Truthfully, I was a little worried in the beginning. The Mets did jump ahead 2-0 on an RBI double by Carlos Beltran in the 1st and a wild pitch by Esmil Rogers in the 2nd. It seemed like maybe Rogers's stellar start against the Pirates last week was the result of facing a weak team rather than of any real potential for this season. But Rogers held himself together impressively. He could have given up a great many more runs than he did. He allowed 7 hits total but just 3 runs. And he spread those runs out over 3 separate innings (the 3rd on an RBI double by Daniel Murphy in the 4th). He stranded a runner in scoring position in all 5 of the innings that he completed. Ideally those bases would have stayed empty, but if you're going to let a runner get that far along the basepaths, be a good enough pitcher to keep him from reaching home. Rogers was that pitcher tonight.

Offensively, things are resting a bit too much on Tulo's shoulders. He is a strong enough hitter that he can carry the weight, but he shouldn't have to. The Rockies themselves left many men on base tonight (9 total), and while the situational hitting is better than it's been in seasons past, it's not quite there yet. The 2nd inning was the most teeth-gritting example of this. Tulo singled, then Todd Helton doubled with 1 out and Tulo went to 3rd. Ryan Spilborghs hit a ground ball that Mets' pitcher Jon Niese fielded and threw home for the out. Chris Iannetta walked with 2 outs and that loaded the bases, but then up came Esmil Rogers, who struck out. No surprise there, but he could have hit a sac fly or something if there had only been one out. Why did Tulo run on Spilly's grounder? Was it a squeeze play? First base was open, so there was no force at home and he should have stayed put.

The Rockies didn't manage to get on the board until the 4th. A Tulo double and a Todd Helton single scored a run. The Mets were still ahead by 1, and in the bottom of the inning they went up by 2. And then came Troy Tulowitzki. Seth Smith walked and Jonathan Herrera singled. There were two outs, and Tulo hit it into the seats to put the Rockies up 4-3. After the September he had, no one should be surprised, but Tulo, like the Rockies, generally has a tough time in April. Something serious changed in his swing after he broke his wrist. Whatever it was, his power is nasty right now. Again, we cannot depend on him to hit a home run every other game, and the small ball still needs improvement. But at the moment, I'm just thrilled we're winning, however we're getting it done. Let's just hope Tulowitzki can stay healthy, and that in the meantime Carlos Gonzalez can get his mojo back.

Speaking of Cargo, he was 0-for-5 on the night with 2 strikeouts. The Rockies as a team struck out 10 times, which is really not great. Every single Mets pitcher they faced tonight got at least one K. But let's get back to the happy stuff, because that's way more fun to talk about. Ryan Spilborghs, who has desperately needed to come up with a big at-bat, hit a solo blast in the 6th to put the Rockies up 5-3. Jonathan Herrera, who is doing everything right, stole 2nd AND 3rd in the 7th. Felipe Paulino gave up 2 singles and a sacrifice fly in the bottom of the 7th to bring the Mets to within one run, but he got a swinging strikeout following that and saved the inning. Matt Lindstrom got a 1-2-3 8th (wise choice on Jim Tracy's part not to put in Rafael Betancourt after Monday's outing) and Street got a 1-2-3 9th. Put it in the books!

I really hope the Rox can do it again tomorrow, because my rain check from Tuesday is good for the second game of the doubleheader, and I don't know how anybody plays two professional baseball games back to back. That seems like a recipe for early death. But teams do it, several times a season, and at least you know the guys in the other dugout are just as tired as your guys are. I'll be live tweeting from Citi Field during the 2:00 MDT game! Check me out: www.twitter.com/rockieswoman1. Let's keep this thing going!

Monday, April 11, 2011

Make One Less Mistake Than They Do

Rockies 7, Mets 6

Tonight the Rockies played their fourth one-run game of the season, and won for the second. This is a very good sign for those of us who have been following the team for a while now, because in past seasons the one-run game has been the kiss of death for us. But this season, so far the boys are showing that they aren't willing to give up, and that they will do what they have to do to match the other teams output. Or, as the case may be, maximize opportunities created by the other team's mistakes, even if we make some of our own, which we certainly did tonight. The key, though, is to make just one or two fewer than they do. And at this point, with the best start in Rockies' history happening before our very eyes, I say keep doing what's working.

This series is special for me because, as many of you know, I am a New Yorker at present. If you're interested in why a Colorado girl would ever want to live on the east coast, my other blog From the Margins may provide some answers if you're willing to poke around. But what's relevant here is that I actually get to go and see the Rockies play when they're in New York, something I don't get to do a lot of these days. It's not as fun rooting for the visiting team as it is the home team, but there's something very special about not living in the same city as your team and then getting to see them when they come in town.

Last season I went to all three Rockies-Mets games at Citi Field because they came in the middle of August and I was literally doing nothing else. This time around, I can only go to 1 of 4, which is too bad, but I take comfort knowing they're all bedding down in a hotel not too far from me tonight. Speaking of tonight, what a contest. I was really hoping for a win against Mets' starter Mike Pelfrey, because last August I watched disbelievingly as the Rockies failed to score even one run against him, and Ubaldo Jimenez had to take the 1-0 loss. Pelfrey did not get the loss tonight, but at least the guys were able to score on him.

Jason Hammel, on the mound for the Rox, was making me nervous early on just like he did in his start against the Dodgers last week. In the 1st he gave up 2 singles with a stolen base in between, so that Daniel Murphy was on third when Carlos Beltran hit into a double play to end the inning. Murphy was fast enough to score before the second out was made, so the Mets were already up 1-0. And the Rockies, in the beginning at least, looked like they were going to continue to blow opportunities with runners in scoring position. Seth Smith hit a lead-0ff triple off Pelfrey in the 2nd, and did not score because he was tagged out at home on Ian Stewart's weak grounder.

So no one can blame me if I was holding my breath in the 3rd when Jonathan Herrera doubled with one out. Can we talk about Herrera for a second? I love watching him at the plate. He is so business-like. He has none of the anxiety you see on Tulo's face, or the frustration on Stewart's. He looks like he's just hanging out, but in a very focused way. And hey, while he's standing there, he might as well swing this bat and see if he can't hit that ball that's flying toward him at 90 miles an hour. His bat-handling is just terrific. Okay, I digress. So Herrera was on 2nd, and then advanced to 3rd on Cargo's fly out. Tulo came up and hit a single, which scored Herrera and tied the game at 1. But then Seth Smith walked and Ty Wigginton grounded out to end the inning, stranding both baserunners.

The Mets went up 2-1 in the bottom of the inning when David Wright's sacrifice fly scored Jose Reyes from 3rd. Hammel wasn't looking great, but he was doing okay. His line wound up being very similar to what it was in his first start, 6 innings, 4 runs on 6 hits, with 3 strikeouts. The most important thing was that the Rockies were able to answer each run the Mets scored, which they did again in the top of the 4th. Stewart got a lead-off base hit (thank God! Stew is finally hitting!) and then Chris Iannetta walked. Hammel hit a bunt that turned into a force out for Stewart at 3rd, but a Jose Reyes throwing error moved Iannetta up to 3rd, and Hammel to 2nd. Dexter Fowler did exactly the job you want a hitter to do with 1 out and a man on 3rd: he hit a sac fly. Score tied at 2.

The bottom of the 4th is when things really fell apart for the Rockies. Back-to-back fielding errors, by Tulo and Stew, put runners on 1st and 2nd with no outs, when the bases should have been empty with 2 outs. Hammel then gave up a double to Willie Harris that scored both runners. Neither of those runs was earned because of the errors, but they still went up on the board, and the Mets went up 4-2. Hammel got three straight outs after that to stop the bleeding.

Both teams had quiet bats in the 5th, and in the 6th manager Terry Collins decided to pull Pelfrey with runners at 1st and 3rd and one out (Hammel was on 1st with a single; he is one of our most reliable hitting pitchers). That was probably a mistake, because Pelfrey wasn't doing too badly and it was the Mets' bullpen that gave the game away. Ryota Igarashi came in first and walked Fowler to load the bases. Jonathan Herrera grounded out and the Mets went for the force play at home. Cargo was up next, and I was really hoping he could produce something. He hasn't been as reliable so far this season as we've come to expect, and if we ever needed a hit from him, it was right then. Fortunately, he did come through with a single, which scored the two lead runners and tied the game at 4.

In the 7th, Tim Byrdak gave up a double to Seth Smith (that's 2 extra-base hits for him on the day) and a walk to Ty Wigginton, but Jason Isringhausen came in and kept the Rockies from scoring. Franklin Morales came in to replace Hammel in the bottom of the frame and got his one out, after which Matt Belisle took over. He gave up a triple to Jose Reyes with 2 outs, but a Daniel Murphy ground out ended the threat.

Bobby Parnell took over for the Mets in the 8th, and he's probably wishing he'd called in sick tonight. He immediately gave up a single to Fowler, and then Herrera's perfectly executed bunt moved Fowler to 2nd. Parnell followed that with a wild pitch that moved Fowler to 3rd. Cargo hit a comebacker to the mound, but Parnell overthrew it to Josh Thole at the plate, and Fowler scored the run while Cargo trotted into 2nd. Tulo came up then and hit a long home run to left. It was a humid night, too, so silence to those who say the Rockies can only hit long balls in mile high air! Rockies were up 7-4 at this point.

Rafael Betancourt replaced Belisle on the mound, and I thought the game was over. But Betancourt was uncharacteristically shaky. He gave up a home run to David Wright and a double to Carlos Beltran, followed by a single to Ike Davis that scored Beltran. The score was 7-6 and I was feeling worried. Could the Rockies hold the lead? Could Betancourt take a deep breath and retire the side? The answer to both questions was yes, as Betancourt got a pop out, a fly out, and a swinging strikeout to end the inning.

To the 9th: Pedro Beato in to pitch for the Mets, and he got a 1-2-3 inning. Huston Street, on the way to his 5th save, did the same. Mets fans went home angry and, I might add, a little wet, as it started to rain pretty hard just as the game was ending.

Are the Rockies really 7-2 right now? I wouldn't believe it if I wasn't seeing it with my own eyes. We are moving up in the power rankings, and teams like the Giants who everyone thought would be great are moving down. I can't wait for our series against them coming next week, because that will be the real test. In the meantime, make sure you're following me on twitter (twitter.com/rockieswoman1), because I'll be live tweeting from Citi Field tomorrow night! Go Rockies!