Thursday, June 30, 2011

Happy 2K, Toddfather

Rockies 4, White Sox 6

This game was so sad. For one thing, it's June 30th so the season is halfway over. (It's always messed with my head that the All-Star break is in the middle of July. That's not the halfway point people.) For another thing, the Rockies just dropped a home series to a truly mediocre team. And finally, it's going to take a miracle for them to pull all the pieces together and make a play-off run. I know we still have a long way to go, but nothing anyone has tried has proved to be a consistent solution.

Just a few things about today's game.

1. Aaron Cook. Not great but not bad. He got into a pretty nasty jam in the 2nd in which he issued 4 free passes, on 3 walks and a hit batsman. That's some control issues. Before the final walk, he threw a wild pitch which scored the runner on 3rd. Not sure whether that or walking a run home would have been more ignominious. Especially since that last walk went to pitcher Jake Peavy. What did I say about walking pitchers? I said no more. And yet here we are. Beyond that, a miracle happened and Cook did not allow any more runs. He went 6 innings and gave up 5 hits and 4 walks, which again is not great, but he didn't give up like he seemed to in New York last weekend. He kept at it, and he kept his team in the game.

2. Said team did much to play themselves out. The only inning where the offense looked good was the 1st. Carlos Gonzalez and Todd Helton hit back-to-back singles, and then Troy Tulowitzki had one of his best at-bats of the season. It was obvious he was sitting on a fastball he could drive into the seats. He battled for 12 pitches until he got the one he liked, and drive it into the seats he did. After that, nothing. They loaded the bases twice in the 3rd and couldn't score. Loaded them again in the 7th and couldn't score. Their only other run came in the 6th. Seth Smith doubled and Peavy intentionally walked Charlie Blackmon to get to Matt Pagnozzi. I would have done the same, but Pagnozzi came through with a bloop single that scored Smith. At the time it seemed like an insurance run, but it was not.

3. That's thanks to the bullpen. How they can pitch six scoreless innings on Monday and come back to make this mess today is beyond me. Rafael Betancourt came on in the 7th and immediately gave up a solo home run to Gordon Beckham. Beckham has 29 home runs total in 2 1/2 MLB seasons, so it's not like he was a power threat. Rex Brothers replaced Betancourt with 1 out and he was a little all over the place. A single, a wild pitch, and a stolen base got Juan Pierre to 3rd. Adam Dunn walked with 2 out. Jim Tracy let Matt Belisle finish the job, and he did. But he threw exactly one pitch, and was replaced with Matt Lindstrom in the 8th. Bad move. Lindstrom gave up 3 hits and a walk, good for 2 more runs scored. That tied the game and robbed Cook of a win I think he deserved. Huston Street pitched a 1-2-3 9th, but Clayton Mortensen couldn't get it done in the 10th. A double, a single, a fielding error, and a very long single scored 2 more runs, and that was all the Sox needed.

4. At this point in the season, the Rockies should be a well-oiled machine. Everyone should know his part and play it. Every so often a guy will have a bad day and throw the machine off, but those should be few and far between. Instead, rarely does anyone seem to know what he's supposed to do. We've got a broken machine on our hands. The acquisition of Mark Ellis from the A's this afternoon is not going to be enough to fix it. Let's be real fans and stick with our team, but let's also be honest about what we can expect from here on out. I'm going to go ahead and say it. This will not be our year.

5. A little lost in the grossness of this game was that it was the 2,000th of Todd Helton's career. Only 36 men in major league history have played 2,000 games with the same team. I love Todd so much I'm a little choked up right now. I prize loyalty above most other things, and he has it. Along with character, integrity, leadership, and an excellent work ethic. I want to end this post on a happy note, so I'm ending it with my hat off to the Toddfather. One of the best things that ever happened to the Colorado Rockies.

Tweet of the Game is in celebration of Helton rather than lamentation over anything else. @303Wes: "Thank you #Toddfather for 2,000 great games!!! #Rockies."

The Solo Special

Rockies 2, White Sox 3

There was a whole lot to be frustrated with in this game. Most frustrating of all is the fact that the White Sox are not a good team. I knew that they weren't brilliantly good, but I thought they were better than this. Watching them the past couple days, it's been clear that they're mediocre at best. So? Maybe it's time to admit that the Rockies are mediocre too.

Ubaldo Jimenez was not flawless but he was very very good, for the third start in a row. He went 7 innings and gave up 2 runs on 4 hits and 2 walks. He only had one tough inning, the 4th. That was the one inning when his command seemed to take leave. He walked Juan Pierre and hit Carlos Quentin. A Paul Konerko single and A.J. Pierzynski double scored Pierre and Quentin. But he interspersed all of those things with outs, and he started over again in the 5th as though nothing had gone wrong.

In fact, the 5th was kind of awesome. In the bottom of the 4th, White Sox pitcher Mark Buehrle picked Ty Wigginton off 1st. It's conventional baseball wisdom that Buehrle is an excellent defensive pitcher; he's got a pair of Gold Gloves and a killer pick-off move. Wiggy had a very short lead, but his move back to the bag was terrible, and honestly, he would have been out no matter who was on the mound. But redemption came in the top of the 5th. Ubaldo surrendered a double to Buehrle, who almost never hits and therefore isn't especially good at baserunning. He got himself a monstrous lead and didn't seem concerned that Ubaldo knows how to pick off too. A perfect throw and a great tag by Troy Tulowitzki and Buehrle was jogging back to the dugout.

That's about all the good I have to report, unfortunately. For the first couple weeks of June, it seemed like the Rockies had finally figured out how to work as an offensive unit, at least well enough to put together a big inning or two and win games. Now we're back to finding new and interesting ways to strand runners. Somebody reached base in every inning but the 4th, and yet nobody drove anybody else in. The 2 runs came by solo homers from Wiggy and Jason Giambi. Giambi's came in the 6th after Carlos Gonzalez singled and Jonathan Herrera erased him with a double play. But that was not the only opportunity the Rox squandered. After Wiggy's homer, in the 7th, Ryan Spilborghs singled. Buehrle, perhaps feeling a little cocky about that pick-off move, tried to catch Spilly off 1st and threw the ball away. Spilly went all the way to 3rd standing up.   That was a gift, and he must score in that situation. There was only 1 out. But then along came Chris Iannetta with an infield pop-up and Chris Nelson with a weak grounder. Stranded. In the 8th, the Rockies loaded the bases with 1 out, and up came Wiggy and his hot bat. What did he do? The absolute worst thing he could have done. Grounded into a double play.

The bullpen didn't give the Rockies a chance to take it into extras this time. Huston Street gave up a pair of singles in the top of the 9th and then a Pierzynski sacrifice fly scored Quentin. It was a pretty shallow flyout, and Seth Smith was perfectly positioned because he had to run to come into it and that gave him great momentum toward home. But his throw was low and took a bad hop that Iannetta couldn't handle. That was excruciating to see, because Iannetta was several feet in front of the plate and had all kinds of time to make the tag. In fact, he did make the tag, but the ball was on the grass.

You can't mess up that throw. And you can't strand guys at 3rd when they got there with less than 2 outs. And you can't drop games at home to teams like the White Sox. Especially when the next day you're trotting out Aaron Cook and they're trotting out Jake Peavy.

Here's a happy note: today will be Todd Helton's 2,000th career game. I expect nothing less than a sustained standing ovation for him, Coors Field. That's something worth celebrating.

Tweet of the Game: Ok, this tweet was from Tuesday's game, but I couldn't not use it. It's just too good. @sarolei: "What do you want from me bro? My team is trying to be the best mediocre team in all of baseball. I have to support them. #Rockies." +1.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Walk-Off. Finally.

Rockies 3, White Sox 2 F/13

I think this is the happiest I've ever been to have a walk-off win besides that one time some guy got us into the play-offs with a face-mangling slide into home. The Rockies just really needed this. Something about a walk-off energizes a team like nothing else, because it shows them that they can stay in a tight game and win it, and to do that in front of the home crowd is a thrill like no other. Who's to say exactly what kind of momentum this win will give to the Rockies, but it's got to give them something.

The sad thing about walk-offs is that they nearly always rob your starting pitcher of the win. Despite some tight squeezes, Jason Hammel deserved this one. In fact, until further notice he deserves every one he gets, because he keeps on turning in good starts and then ending up with a no-decision or a loss thanks to our no-offense offense. Last night, he went 7 innings and gave up just 2 runs on 6 hits and a pair of walks (in Spooky Baseball news, White Sock Gavin Floyd had the exact same line). The first run came on a solo shot by Alexei Ramirez in the 2nd inning. The second, via a single, a walk, and a double in the 5th. But in the midst, he got two double plays to limit the damage. The 6th and 7th innings were 1-2-3's. My only real complaint with Hammel is that he walked Floyd in the 5th. Just like Jhoulys Chacin walked Matt Garza on Monday. In both cases, our guy failed to throw a single strike to an opposing pitcher who had 3 or fewer career hits. That cannot happen. In both cases, the walk contributed to a run scoring. NO MORE of this.

The Rockies didn't have much trouble getting hits (except for Troy Tulowitzki and Chris Iannetta), but they did have some trouble scoring. They didn't plate a run until the 4th, when Todd Helton singled, Tulo walked, and Seth Smith singled to drive in Helton. Especially heartbreaking was the 5th, when Jason Hammel himself displayed some excellent baserunning and reached 2nd on an error with 2 outs. Carlos Gonzalez grounded out to end the inning and waste Hammel's nice work. In the 6th, the Rox came back to tie the game. Chris Nelson led off with a single and Helton walked. Fortunately Tulo did not ground into a double play, although he did ground into a force. Smith, our RBI machine last night, hit a long fly ball that was good enough to score Nelson.

There were quite a few more frustrating situations, as is often the case when a game goes to 13 innings. The Rockies left 10 men on base total. But finally finally they got the hit they needed. Tulo drew a 1-out walk in the bottom of the 13th. Smith was called out on strikes. All Ty Wigginton needed to do was put the ball in play long enough to score Tulo from 1st. That seemed like a tall order, but he did it. He blooped a single into short center, and the White Sox did a pretty lousy job fielding it. It's still kind of a miracle that Tulo scored that run. He wasn't even to 2nd when the ball dropped. But there was no controversial play at the plate. The throw was off-line. He was safe easily. It took the guys a second to come onto the field and start celebrating. I think their understanding of walk-off protocol may have been a little rusty.

The real heroes of this game weren't Hammel and Wiggy though. People, our bullpen went out there and pitched SIX scoreless innings. That is unheard of. And do you remember our last extra-innings game? May 20th at Miller Park in Milwaukee. Three times the offense wrested the lead from the Brewers, three times the bullpen blew a save. Not last night. Matt Belisle, Matt Reynolds, and Rafael Betancourt each allowed a baserunner, but none of them got past 1st. Huston Street, Matt Lindstrom, and Rex Brothers (recording his first career win) all retired their three hitters in order. It was really a beautiful thing. Bullpen: thank you.

Of course, now they're pretty much all unavailable for tomorrow, especially Brothers who also pitched Monday, so it's up to Ubaldo Jimenez and Clay Mortensen to control the White Sox offense for 9 innings. The hope is that this walk-off will bring the offense out swinging big in this game, so that the pitchers won't have to be perfect to get the win.

Tweet of the Game: I picked this before the end of the game because it was really funny. So even though we won: @WAGGL3S: "Watching the Rockies hit in extra innings is like watching an old lady beat a dead cat. #NotFun."

Monday, June 27, 2011

The Machine Malfunctions

Rockies 3, Cubs 7

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Rookie Rubber Match

Rockies 4, Yankees 6

I just can't be too sad about this loss. For one thing, I got to watch the Rockies play at Yankee Stadium. That's not a once-in-a-lifetime experience for everyone, but it probably is for me. Another thing I'll probably never see again: the old-timers game at said stadium. Most of the time I'm very proud to be a fan of a young team, because it means I've been with them since the very beginning. But every so often I'm jealous of teams like the Yankees for the incredibly rich history they have. It will be several generations more before anyone who was part of the Rockies' organization takes on the mystique of Yogi Berra or Goose Gossage. I've never seen those guys in person before. So today could only have been a good day.

The game itself was pretty fun too. It really gives you some perspective on how fast current major-leaguers are when you see former major-leaguers huffing around the bases! There were a lot of long singles. The two runs that scored came by a Bernie Williams double and a Tino Martinez home run. This was completely thrilling for me. I've rooted for the Yankees at different times over the years, and for a variety of reasons I cheered them on hard during the 1996 World Series. That's still one of the best series I've ever seen. So to see Williams and Martinez rounding the bases in three dimensions ... well, that alone was worth the price of admission.

And now to the game that I really paid to see. It was certainly easier to watch than Saturday's. Juan Nicasio is young, but if he can keep developing those offspeed pitches he will be great. He was great through 4 innings today, before he started hanging sliders and the Yankees figured him out. He retired the first 13 batters he faced. Everything fell apart in the 5th with a Robinson Cano single and back-to-back Nick Swisher and Jorge Posada home runs. Those names should tell you that the life just went out of Nicasio's pitches in a hurry. Swisher I can understand, but for Posada to homer and Curtis Granderson, Mark Teixeira, and Alex Rodriguez all to go hitless against little Juan says something's up.

Jim Tracy gave his young pitcher a chance to get it back, but brought in Matt Belisle after the first two hitters reached in the 6th inning. Belisle got three nice ground balls, one of which was a double play ball off Cano's bat, but another of which found the hole between 3rd and short and scored the tying run. Belisle allowed another run in the 7th; however, it was unearned thanks to a rare Troy Tulowitzki error. Even though Belisle was good today, I'm glad he got the loss because it makes up for the win he stole from Jhoulys Chacin in Cleveland. Matt Reynolds came in after that and finished the 7th, but he gave up a solo home run to Teixeira in the 8th, and that was more than enough for the Yanks. Matt Lindstrom: perfect. Glad to see him coming back around.

Besides that Tulo error (which he redeemed with a terrific throw from the hole in the 8th), the real problem today was (all together now) hitting with runners in scoring position. The Rockies really missed some opportunities today. Yankees' starter Ivan Nova, a rookie like Nicasio and showing equal or better potential, was far from perfect. He surrendered 6 hits and 3 walks in 6 innings pitched, but the Rockies only managed to plate 4 of those runners. In the 1st, Carlos Gonzalez walked and Jonathan Herrera reached on an error. Both advanced into scoring position, but nobody could drive them in. In the 2nd, Ty Wigginton hit a solo home run. In the 3rd, Todd Helton was stranded at 1st after a 2-out walk. I don't need to say more. You know the drill.

Wiggy hit another solo homer later in the game which brings his total for the series to 3. Chris Iannetta also contributed a solo shot. The only run that scored without the help of the long ball was in the 4th. Cargo led off with a walk, stole 2nd, and reached 3rd on Herrera's groundout. Helton knocked him in with a sacrifice fly. We could have used a few more of those.

I think this game was more than winnable, but it wasn't a slaughter. The Rockies held the lead until Nicasio gave up those homers. They reached base in all of the first 7 innings. The bullpen was good some of the time. And I don't blame Wiggy, Charlie Blackmon, or Netta for swinging at crap from Mariano Rivera. That guy is so good the umpires give him several inches of breathing room on either side of the zone. The best we could have hoped for was a mistake pitch down the middle, and the chances of that happening weren't great.

Not a sweep. Rockies still own the American League. A win during our make-up at Wrigley tomorrow makes this a winning road trip. And two more AL teams await us upon returning to Coors. There is hope.

Tweet of the Game: @milehighsoapbox: "This ump must have dinner reservations in New York because the 3rd strike to Blackmon was off the plate." Another possible explanation for the wide zone.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Tracy, Cook, EY Hand One to the Yanks

Rockies 3, Yankees 8

I dislike it when the Rockies lose in front of my very face. It makes me mad. You've been warned.

Okay, I know that Jim Tracy lineup bashing is what all the cool kids are doing, but today there is nothing else to do. Tracy's strategy is starting to emerge quite clearly, though to my knowledge he's never admitted it out loud. He plays his best combination of hitters and fielders in two out of three games: the two in which he thinks the Rockies have the edge according to the pitching match-up. Then he gives all those guys a break in the third game and delivers the team to the wolves. I understand this strategy, and it's not necessarily a bad one. But it's often hugely disappointing for the fans, and appears to be utterly demoralizing for the players. How would you feel if your boss showed his lack of confidence in you by making you use a desktop running Windows 95 for your presentation when everybody else had brand new iPads?

Aaron Cook was charged with lugging that dinosaur desktop out to the mound today against more-often-than-not Cy Young candidate CC Sabathia. The lineup Tracy trotted out behind Cook left much to be desired: Ryan Spilborghs in left instead of Charlie Blackmon, Matt Pagnozzi catching instead of Chris Iannetta, and, most horribly, Seth Smith benched in favor of ... Eric Young Jr.?? We all know what happens when EY is chosen to guard right field. Bad things. Bad, bad things. He botched the very first play he had to make. Curtis Granderson singled with Brett Gardner on 2nd. Gardner likely would have scored no matter what, but EY bobbled the ball and then made a terrible throw to Troy Tulowitzki that allowed Granderson to reach 2nd without a problem. Smith does not screw up that play.

Young wouldn't stop there. The Yankees gave him a lot of work to do in right because they obviously knew what they were dealing with. He comes in to the ball like you might approach a bowling lane with a ball in your hand. He causes an enormous gap in left center because Cargo has to play further over to cover him. And his worst offense occurred in the 7th inning on an Alex Rodriguez pop-up that Chris Nelson clearly had control of. EY came charging in and collided with Nelson, causing the ball to drop. Fortunately that created a force play (if this had occurred on the dirt, the infield fly rule would have been called), and Mark Teixeira was out at 2nd. In another baseball rulebook FAIL, Young was credited with an outfield assist on the play when he should have been charged with an error. He just has no business in the outfield. I don't care what Jim Tracy has to do in terms of a lineup shuffle to keep him out of there, but it must be done. I have a lot of sentimental love for EY because of what his family means to the franchise, but I cannot abide him as a member of this team anymore. He doesn't fit anywhere defensively, and his offense was only helpful the first couple days he was here. I'm sorry, I know this is harsh, but you gotta go little EY.

Moving on. Beyond the poor defensive choices, Tracy may have been onto something, because Cook's pitching was poor enough that I don't think our best lineup could have made up for it. Now the good guys are all rested and ready to take on Ivan Nova. In 5 2/3 innings, Cook gave up 5 earned runs on 12 hits. The hits just wouldn't stop coming. He allowed multiple baserunners in all but the 5th inning. For the most part he kept the ball down, but the Yankees' hitters are good enough that his high-80s velocity allowed them to make quality contact. It felt like Cook was in one giant jam the entire game. We kept looking at the scoreboard in shock that more runs hadn't scored. I don't know what to say about Cook at this point. He's too far along in his career to be sent down to the minors for some tender loving care. The Rockies are looking to trade for a good arm, and if they find one, Cook will be on the chopping block.

Bullpen. Rex Brothers got the one out he was sent to the mound to get. Clay Mortensen loaded the bases in his inning but got out of it with no runs scored. Rafael Betancourt gave up a walk and then a two-run home run to Mark Teixeira. Obviously that was not ideal, but by then it didn't matter too much.

Offense. Nine strikeouts for Sabathia. He's a great pitcher, so I can't get too mad at anyone for that. Tulo is the only one who managed more than one hit. Carlos Gonzalez was 0-for-2 with a walk,
Todd Helton was 1-for-3 with a pair of strikeouts, Jason Giambi was 0-for-3 with a walk, Chris Nelson was 0-for-4. The Rockies just couldn't get anything going. Matt Pagnozzi scored the first run by singling, advancing to 3rd on a pair of groundouts, and scoring on Seth Smith's pinch-hit single (who's to say how much further along the offense would have been if Smith had started?). The other two runs scored on Ty Wigginton's home run. He made a couple of good defensive plays too, and the best news I can share from today is that I no longer believe we have the third-base woes we dealt with at the beginning of the season. Wiggy has improved with his glove, and his bat is strong. Yes, he must get the start from now on.

Well, obviously this was more of a rant than it usually is, and it usually is pretty rant-ish anyway. But like I said, I get pissed off when my team loses like this and I am sweaty and sunburned from my efforts to support them. That said, I am really looking forward to tomorrow. I see no reason why Tracy won't trot out his best lineup since everyone's well-rested after today, and Juan Nicasio could be awesome. I hope he will be.

Tweet of the Game: @fiyahpowah, in response to the theory that Tracy plays to win the series instead of the game: "Maybe he should be paid 2/3 his contract too."

Friday, June 24, 2011

Battle of the Pinstripes

Rockies 4, Yankees 2

Around the 7th inning the YES Network, which is the Yankees' local channel in New York, ran a poll for viewers asking who the player of the game was. The choices were: 1. Jason Giambi. 2. Troy Tulowitzki. 3. Ubaldo Jimenez. 4. Curtis Granderson. Granderson's contribution in this game was 3 walks and 2 runs scored. So that ought to tell you something about what kind of game this was.

I don't know that I'd call Ubaldo dominant (4 walks in 7 innings = still too many), but he certainly kept things under control. If it hadn't been for those walks, this would have been a shut-out; as noted above, both runs were scored by Granderson, who did not have a single hit. The Yankees only had 5 hits in the game; 4 of those were charged to Jimenez. The 5th came courtesy of our favorite 9th-inning drama king.

Ubaldo really settled in after the 3rd inning. Only one runner got into scoring position after that. Once again, it was Curtis Granderson, walking and stealing 2nd in the 5th. But he was stranded. In general, the Yankees were pretty tied up by Ubaldo. He recorded 7 strikeouts and got a lot of weak ground balls. The best part was that he did not lose focus when he allowed baserunners. He has been known to completely go off the deep end when he doesn't have control early in the game, but in this one he got better and leveled out nicely. If only he could pitch like that at home ...

The Yankees' A.J. Burnett is a nasty pitcher sometimes, but the rest of the time he is pretty mediocre. I was hoping the latter Burnett would be on the mound tonight and that the Rockies would take advantage. Done and done. Hitting with runners in scoring position was unsurprisingly abysmal, but otherwise, the Rox made a meal out of Burnett. Jason Giambi hit a (solo) home run in his first at-bat at Yankee Stadium since donning a Rockies uniform. He got a lot of cheers, which I wasn't expecting, but maybe New York fans are a little more forgiving than I give them credit for. In the 3rd, Chris Iannetta walked, advanced to 3rd on a ground-rule double by Carlos Gonzalez, and scored on a Todd Helton single. In the 4th, Giambi walked, advanced to 3rd on  a Seth Smith double, and scored on a Ty Wigginton groundout (showing some impressive hustle, I might add). And in the 5th, Tulo hit a (solo) home run. It wasn't quite the offensive onslaught I'd have liked, but 9 hits, 5 for extra bases, is certainly competent.

Matt Reynolds had a nice 1-2-3 8th. Some long fly balls, but they stayed in the yard. And then Huston Street gave up a hit, per usual, but this time the runner didn't advance beyond 1st base. That's pretty solid for Huston. Michael Kay on YES: "You know, if Huston Street pitched for the Yankees, he'd have to pronounce his name HOUSE-ton." I personally am a fan of that pronunciation, but it would only work if he spelled it Houston. Sorry Mike.

I do not see how the Rockies win tomorrow, with Aaron Cook and CC Sabathia pitching the way they normally do. Sunday we stand a chance: Ivan Nova is having an outstanding rookie season for the Yankees, but so is Juan Nicasio for the Rockies. I'm just thrilled that we won't be swept. And that American League East Coast fans were forced, for one night, to notice the other team in pinstripes.

Tweet of the Game: Oh @TroyRenck. What will you say next? "Street ready to come in for 9th. I told Tracy before game that Rockies' fans hide under beds when Street pitches." This is a true statement. However, the guy who's leading the league with 23 saves might deserve a little more confidence than we, specifically I, have been putting in him.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Don't Be Bored

I don't want to leave you, my loyal readers, hanging on an off-day, but I also don't want to write a post that's just fluff. So I'm going to start a new off-day feature designed to give you something to do in the absence of a Rockies game. I try to keep up with the Rockies/general baseball blogosphere, so here I bring you a collection of the best articles and blog posts I read in the past few days. Enjoy.

  • Here's my recap from last night's game if you missed it.
  • Jim Armstrong gives us the skinny on Jason Hammel's balk last night. Hammel's explanation is even more embarrassing than the one I made up for him. Maybe he should have read my blog before he gave that interview.
  • MLB Trade Rumors gives us Dan O'Dowd's latest sound bite about looking to trade for better pitching. I'm okay with that, as long as they don't dump a bunch of great prospects for an innings-eater who will earn a living with no-decisions.
  • Frank the Druid's essay about flawed pitching stats was borne out of a discussion we had on Twitter Tuesday night. I vehemently disagree with Matt Belisle getting the win for that game, since the tying run crossed the plate on his watch. But, everything has a formula, and there's no room in that for common sense.
  • Sometimes it's fun to laugh at your enemy a little bit. Especially when that enemy is the San Francisco Giants. Hahahahahaha Giants!!
  • Ben Warwick considers what might happen if the Rockies played in the American League. I hope against hope that we never have to see that occur in the real world, but it is interesting to think about how they would do, given their record against the AL in the past 5 years.
  • Andrew Fisher takes on the All-Star Game and whether other teams' fans/coaching staffs will come through for the Rockies. I personally used up all 25 of my votes the very first day to push for an all-Rockies NL team but, well, my voice is small.
  • My favorite recap of Monday night's game came from Mark Townsend. I don't like American League baseball. But I like that the Rockies are awesome at it.
Okay. Time to go walk the streets of Manhattan and see if I run into any Rockies.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Cleveland/Rox

Rockies 3, Indians 4

I understand giving guys days off, but do we have to give all them a day off at the same time? Tonight Jim Tracy chose to bench Todd Helton, Charlie Blackmon, and Chris Iannetta in favor of the inferior offensive production of Jonathan Herrera, Ryan Spilborghs, and Matt Pagnozzi. Obviously I don't want anyone to overwork himself, especially Helton, but can we stagger these please? The Indians' lineup was almost exactly the same as it had been in the rest of the series, so it's kind of amazing this game was as close as it was.

Credit where it's due: Josh Tomlin pitched a gem. Ultimately he allowed 3 runs on 5 hits, but those runs weren't scored until the 5th and 7th innings on a pair of Ty Wigginton home runs (one of which occurred with a baserunner!). Otherwise he had the Rockies pretty well stifled. Matt Pagnozzi was the first to get a hit, also his first hit as a Rockie, a single in the 3rd. He was stranded. Jonathan Herrera and Troy Tulowitzki also contributed singles, but aside from those and Wiggy's homers, nothing. Again, this was a lineup issue. Too many of our best hitters were on the bench tonight, and that is never a good thing. It didn't help that Jason Giambi, such a potent DH in the first two games of the series, went 0-for-4. So did Carlos Gonzalez, looking like his old 3-hole self and chasing pitches nowhere near the zone.

Jason Hammel had his usual 3rd-inning troubles, but otherwise he had a solid outing. In fact, his line isn't that far off of Tomlin's: 1/3 fewer innings pitched, but 1 less hit allowed and 1 more strikeout. The main difference is that Tomlin didn't walk anybody, and Hammel walked 5. One of those walks turned out to be quite costly. In the 3rd, Hammel walked Jack Hannahan behind a Travis Buck double. Grady Sizemore singled to drive in Buck. Asdrubal Cabrera grounded out to advance both runners into scoring position. And then Hammel committed the worst balk I have ever seen. I know that it was bad because my baseball knowledge has some gaps, and one of those is my ability to recognize balks. I have read about them, watched them in slow motion, listened to commentators describe them, done just about everything I could to try to familiarize myself with them, but I still can hardly ever tell when they've occurred. With Hammel's balk today, it was immediately obvious. He crossed all the way over and then stepped off. It looked like he meant to bluff a throw to 1st and then remembered too late that there was no runner there. He knew he screwed up the second it happened. Oh well. But there was a runner on 3rd thanks to that walk.

Hammel recovered well from that, and didn't allow another hit until the 6th. Asdrubal Cabrera led off with a double, and then Travis Hafner went deep to put the Indians up 4-1. Hammel got out of that inning without further damage. It wasn't his best performance, but we can all agree he doesn't deserve to have 7 losses on the season.

Then, guess what? The bullpen did not allow Cleveland to extend their lead. Rex Brothers came on in the 7th and pitched a stellar 1-2-3 inning with 2 strikeouts. I think the coaching staff is still figuring out just how much work he can do in a given series, but if they can get that down to a science he could be our most reliable reliever. He returned in the 8th and struck out Hafner (3 strikeouts in 4 batters), but then gave up a double and a walk. Matt Belisle replaced him, coming into a very similar situation to that which he faced last night. This time, he did not allow any of the inherited runners to score. Nice job bullpen.

It was great to see the Rockies take a series from a little-seen opponent on the road. A sweep may have been too much to ask. Hopefully they still have some momentum coming to Yankee Stadium, where I'll be happy to see them take one win. They finish out interleague play with a 6-game homestand, so with luck they'll continue their Tour of Terror through the American League Central then.

Tweet of the Game: @nuggetfan4life: "Who's excited for the Yankees series? #rockies 'raises hand.'" I think this is my last baseball season in New York, so I could not be more thrilled that I get the chance to see my team on a rare visit to Yankee Stadium. Raising both hands, and both feet too!

The Designated Home Run Hitter

Rockies 4, Indians 3

Last night was another one of those games that would have been a loss a month ago. I really hope that this iteration of the Rockies is here to stay, because it's so nice to go into the 9th with a tie or even trailing and know that we still stand a chance. The more insurance runs the better, with Huston Street on the loose, but these Rockies finally look like the team I thought they were. We're above .500 for the first time since May 24th. It's taken a long time to dig out of that deep hole they made, but I think they're starting to peek over the edge!

Jhoulys Chacin turned in another stunning start: 1 run on 2 hits and 7 strikeouts in 6 2/3 innings pitched. He didn't allow his first hit until the bottom of the 6th. Unfortunately, it was an RBI single by Shin-Soo Choo because Chacin had walked the two batters that came before him. Chacin walked a total of 6 batters in this outing, just a few more than I'd like to see. He's so hot right now that the walks aren't as dangerous for him as they are for some of our other pitchers, but when he's having that much trouble throwing his fastball for strikes, I get a little nervous. I imagine it's one of those things that time and maturity will correct. In the meantime, I won't complain too loudly: the man has a 1.01 ERA in the month of June.

Alas, Chacin did not get his 9th win because the bullpen blew it. I'm so glad the offense is on fire right now, because no lead seems to be completely safe when one of those relievers comes to the mound. Matt Reynolds is the only one who did not earn my ire last night. He replaced Chacin and inherited a runner on 3rd with 2 outs, but he got Michael Brantley to fly out and saved Chacin another earned run. Rafael Betancourt came on in the 8th and gave up 3 straight singles, one of which scored a run, without recording an out. Yank. Matt Belisle entered and got two quick outs, but then he gave up an RBI single to Travis Buck to tie the game. Belisle wasn't charged that run, but he still got hit with a blown save.

The Rockies' offense was substantially quieter last night than they were on Monday, but thankfully Seth Smith was in the lineup. (What does this guy have to do to prove himself to Jim Tracy??) Until he got going, the Rox reached base in 4 straight innings and failed to score. Many things seem to be hinging on Charlie Blackmon right now, and he went 0-for-4 last night, which certainly affected the team's ability to score. Jonathan Herrera delivered the Rockies' first RBI, driving in Carlos Gonzalez with 2 outs in the 5th. That was great to see, because Herrera hadn't knocked in a run since May 24th. That was largely due to the fact that he was hardly getting any starts, but it was nice to see him doing something with his bat again. He got a little too excited and was caught stealing 2nd for the 3rd out of the inning.

In the 6th Jason Giambi, thriving in his DH role, doubled with 2 outs. Seth Smith absolutely crushed a Mitch Talbot cutter to give the Rockies a 3-0 lead. Luckily Smith led off the 9th inning, when the game was tied. This time he took Chris Perez deep; nobody was on base, but you only need one run to win. Well, that's not true. With Huston coming to the mound, four or more is preferable. I love Huston Street, people! I promise. And he gets the job done: he leads the majors with 22 saves. It's just never easy with him. Never. Last night, he got 2 outs, as is his custom, then allowed an extra-base hit and a walk, also his custom, then got a swinging strikeout to end the game. Yes, that is his custom too. I guess by now I should be comfortable with those things happening, because it's all clockwork at this point. But there's always that tiny chance that he won't close it out. It has happened a couple of times. My nerves are fried.

Bold prediction: Chacin will get his first no-hitter before Ubaldo gets his second. And before any other Rockie gets his first.

Tweet of the Game goes to @t3mperedsteele, commenting on the stormy weather in the 9th inning: "With that lightning even GOD wants this game over Huston!!! #Rockies."

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Cower in Fear, American League

Rockies 8, Indians 7

Something about interleague play just ignites the Rockies. I wish I knew for sure what it was, because then maybe we could bottle it and make them drink it all season long. If I had to guess, I'd say it's that they expect to lose, since AL lineups are stacked with beefy power hitters, and it seems that the best way for the Rockies to eke out a win is to go in expecting to lose. Who knows?

For whatever reason, the Rockies really played this game like winners. They accepted the lucky breaks that were handed to them, made good plays at important moments, and kept at it offensively. I hate to keep bringing up the Giants, but that's what they do and, well, they're the World Champions. So wins like this actually make me glad. They show glimpses of a team that could go all the way.

The 1st inning was very, very important, because the Rockies scored first, they showed themselves that they could hit Fausto Carmona, and ultimately that one run was the difference in the game. Carlos Gonzalez led off with a single, stole 2nd, advanced to 3rd on Todd Helton's single, and then scored on Troy Tulowitzki's single. Of course, the Indians came back in a big way in the bottom of the inning. Michael Brantley and Asdrubal Cabrera hit back-to-back singles, and then Travis Hafner homered to right. If there's anybody bigger than Jason Giambi, it's Hafner, so I can't say I was surprised. Fortunately, Juan Nicasio kept his head and got two swinging strikeouts to end the inning. His poise is pretty remarkable.

Nobody would score again till the 4th, when Carlos Santana hit a solo home run to put the Tribe up 4-1. But the Rockies came alive in the top of the 5th. They scored 5 runs, all with 2 outs. Carmona certainly had a meltdown, which he's known to do, but who cares. That's some good baseball. Chris Iannetta walked, then Cargo and Chris Nelson hit back-to-back singles to load the bases. Helton walked, which scored Iannetta. Tulo hit a weak grounder down the 3rd base line that somehow made contact with the bag and skipped into foul ground in short left. That's a 2-run double (and also why you run even when it's a weak grounder). Giambi eyed three straight sinkers from Carmona and then nailed the fourth one to the seats in center. Just like that, it was a 7-4 Rockies lead.

Nicasio wouldn't last the 5th inning. 4 singles and a walk plated 2 more runs for the Indians, though both those runs scored on Rex Brothers' watch. I'm not sure how wise it was to put Brothers into a bases-loaded situation after his injury yesterday. The good news is, he was the only reliever who had a tough time. These days, giving the bullpen 4 1/3 innings of work to do probably isn't a great idea, but they worked it out. Matt Lindstrom gave up a single in the 6th, but he also got a double play, so 3 up 3 down. Matt Reynolds pitched a perfect 7th, then gave up a hit with 1 out in the 8th and was replaced by Rafael Betancourt. Betancourt allowed a hit that scored Reynolds's runner. But Huston Street had a a 1-2-3 9th. Somehow. I'm still not sure how.

The Rox scored one more run, in the 8th inning. Blackmon walked and Iannetta singled. Then Indians' catcher Lou Marson tried to pick Iannetta off 1st, and he threw the ball into the outfield. Blackmon's the guy you want on 2nd base in that situation. He scored easily.

Gifts the baseball gods gave to the Rockies: 1. Manny Acta's inning-long duh moment which allowed the Rockies to score 5 runs before Carmona was finally yanked. 2. Tulo's double hitting 3rd base. What are the chances of that? 3. Marson's throwing error. He's great at throwing out runners. Not yesterday. 4. Cord Phelps called out at 2nd in the 8th. He was not. 5. Grady Sizemore's long fly ball in the 9th did not leave the yard. Nobody looked more shocked than Seth Smith that he caught that ball. Jeff Huson: "Sometimes it's better to be lucky than good."

Random note: It is weird looking at the box score for AL games. For about half a second I couldn't stop myself thinking - why were there so few pinch hitters last night??

Tweet of the Game: @Supahfly328: "In sports it doesn't matter how you win them, just as long as you do. #Rockies."

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Verlander Express Crushes Rockies

Rockies 1, Tigers 9

Okay, be serious. Did you really expect a different outcome? Aaron Cook vs. Justin Verlander. That is a David and Goliath situation if ever there was one. It was Cook's turn in the rotation, so there wasn't much Jim Tracy could do about it, but it would have taken an actual bona fide miracle for the Rockies to win this game. Any of our other pitchers I think might have had a chance at containing the Tigers' offense; Cook was done pretty much right out of the blocks. And Verlander is just an absolute beast. He made one mistake with a changeup, and Ty Wigginton served it into the seats in left. Otherwise, flawless. Unsurprisingly so. From a starting pitching/offensive standpoint, let's put it in the books and leave it there.

Now, there certainly were other aspects of the game in which the Rockies disappointed me. The bullpen: just what on earth is wrong with them. They were the only part of the team that held it together through the long slog that was May, and now they are the worst-performing part of the team. Can we EVER have everyone playing well at the same time? Rex Brothers didn't even record an out, partly because he had to cover the plate and got spiked (in his right arm, a.k.a. not the throwing one), but he did give up 2 hits and a walk to the 3 batters he faced. All of them would come around to score. Clayton Mortensen pitched the 7th, 8th, and 9th and held the damage to 2 runs, but those came from back-to-back home runs by Brennan Boesch and Miguel Cabrera. Ick.

And then there was the running. I guess Charlie Blackmon was destined to make a running mistake eventually, being around these guys all the time. He was caught stealing 2nd today, and he really shouldn't have been running at all. I hope that was a fluke and not evidence that he's been getting lucky. Also, defense. The Rockies called up Matt Pagnozzi to replace Jose Morales as the back-up catcher, and Pagnozzi had his first start today. He was touted as a defensive star, which made me feel good because Morales was not that. Then Pagnozzi had a passed ball in the 7th. Well that's just no good. Hopefully that was first-major-league-start nerves rather than I'm-not-as-good-as-advertised. The passed ball occurred with Boesch on 3rd base, and it's what led to Brothers' getting his clock cleaned at the plate. Oh, and the run scored. Pagnozzi got an assist out of the whole mess, so I guess all is not lost.

The loss I can excuse, because like I said, this match-up left nothing to chance. But the sloppiness was disappointing. In general the Rockies have played better fundamental baseball these past couple weeks, so I would like to see them return to form in Cleveland.

Tweet of the Game: @astoria922: "Denver is under a tornado warning. At least if I die today, it'll have been at a #Rockies game." Correct priorities!

Ubaldo Jimenez, Offensive Hero

Rockies 5, Tigers 4

This may have been one of the most satisfying games so far this season, because it was Ubaldo Jimenez's first win at home, and it is JUNE. The second half of June. The guy who won 15 games before the All-Star break last season has certainly been slow out of the gate. But every little bit counts, and he is starting to assemble the building blocks of a respectable season. When he left in the 6th inning last night with a leg cramp (that's what running the bases for the first time in a million years will get you), he'd given up 3 runs on 8 hits, walking 2 and striking out 5. Not his most dominant performance, but an able one.

He was aided by a more than able defense, namely Troy Tulowitzki, who threw two absolute missiles to gun down a runner at home. Those of you who doubt that a good defense is vital to a contending team can go sit in the corner now, because that's two runs Tulo saved, and we only won by one. Good judgment and good execution are as indispensable on the fielding side as they are on the hitting side, and the Rockies just look like a much better team when they aren't committing errors every other inning.

When Ubaldo left in the 6th, the bases were loaded with no outs. Matt Lindstrom, the guy I would have wanted to come in to the game at that point up until a couple of weeks ago, immediately surrendered a double  that might have cleared the bases if not for Tulo's arm (assisted by that of Ryan Spilborghs). Lindstrom gave us a glimpse of his former self with two swinging strikeouts to end the inning but ... I would not at all mind seeing him behave entirely as his former self. The rate at which he's given up timely hits lately has begun to disturb me.

Matt Reynolds, Matt Belisle, Rafael Betancourt: Grade-A relief work. Huston Street: requisite drama. It's almost like a done deal these days that Huston's going to give up a couple of hits and a run with 2 outs in the 9th. Maybe he thinks it makes the game more exciting for the fans. I have no idea what goes through his head, but at this point I think the criteria for a save opportunity should be adjusted specially for him. If he comes in with a 5-run cushion and the Rockies still win, Huston gets a save. He's that unlikely to get a scoreless inning. Last night he walked Alex Avila on sinkers that were meant to be just far enough outside the strike zone to fool the hitter. He was not fooled. Then Avila advanced to 2nd on defensive indifference, which I won't complain about, because obviously Todd Helton had to play behind the runner in case Brennan Boesch pulled the ball down the line and went for extra bases. Alas, the indifference was costly, because Boesch did single to right to drive in Avila. Huston should start marketing his own line of pacemakers. I would buy one.

Did I mention that Ubaldo was the hero at the plate today? He had been 0-for-all-season, so when he came to the plate with the bases loaded and 2 out in the 2nd, I was not exactly expecting him to contribute. Lo and behold: he pounced on Phil Coke's very first pitch and roped it to center to drive in 2 runs. Since we won by one, Ubaldo = hero. He also kept the inning alive so that Carlos Gonzalez could come up and single home another run (on which single Ubaldo booked it all the way to 3rd). Good hitting, good baserunning, and even some pretty good pitching from Ubaldo last night. I like what I am seeing.

Other offensive notes: Ty Wigginton went 2-for-4 with an RBI and no errors, which to me is an absolutely perfect night from him. Chris Nelson hit his second major league home run the day after his first. Suddenly he is a power hitter, at least against poor American League pitchers who don't know how to pitch at Coors. Charlie Blackmon finally had a no-hit night. It was bound to happen. The Rockies collectively drew 9 walks, 7 from Coke. I like.

The funniest part of the whole night was watching the Tigers maneuver a double switch in the 8th. Even Jim Leyland looked serious and concerned, and it's not like this was his first time managing at Coors Field.

Um, hey Todd Helton. You know that you have 36 CAREER stolen bases and that you have not successfully stolen a base since 2006, right? Save your old man legs for going 1st to 3rd on a single. I mean, unless you were trying to relieve Cargo and Tulo of their Nightly Baserunning Error responsibilities, in which case, okay.

I promised the Tweet of the Game to @EB68 who cleverly said: "#ROCKIES drinking #Tigers blood! #winning !!!!" Indeed.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Put the Tigers Back in the Cage

Rockies 13, Tigers 6

Just a few quick notes this morning.

Brilliant:

1. Carlos Gonzalez. He's on a 10-game hitting streak and last night he went 2-for-4 with 4 RBIs. He also hit the Rockies' first home run in the lead-off spot this season. When he hit it, he let go of his bat the way he always does when he's sure it's going to go. I'm so relieved to see that confidence returning!

2. Chris Nelson. Just 1-for-5, but that 1 was a 3-run home run in the Rockies' big 2nd inning. It was his first major-league home run. He's hitting .306.

3. Charlie Blackmon. 4-for-4. Hitting .410. And one of his hits last night was a bunt that would have made Dexter Fowler cower in shame. I never want to see this man on the bench. Ever. For all eternity.

4. Ty Wigginton. He only went 1-for-3 but he also walked and reached on an error, and he scored every time he got on base. Way to hustle around the bases big guy.

4. Matt Belisle. He pitched 1 2/3 scoreless innings and worked around a pair of hits. He even came to the plate in the 7th and hit the ball pretty well. Magglio Ordonez caught it, but still. My favorite Matt of the day.


Got Away with Murder:

Jason Hammel: Hammel had one of his worst outings of the season, allowing 6 runs on 8 hits and 4 walks and only striking out 2 in 6 1/3 innings pitched. One of the hits he gave up was a grand slam to Jhonny Peralta. The bases were loaded by 2 singles and a walk. Those walks. Hammel also walked home the Tigers' first run in the 1st inning. No thank you Jason. However, he had a couple starts this season that he should have won, if the Rockies' offense had bothered to show up, so he can still have credit for this one. Also, he came to the plate with the bases loaded and 1 out in the 2nd, took 6 straight pitches, and walked to drive in a run. I admire him for being patient and not taking hacks at bad pitches. He could very easily have hit into a double play, and instead he kept the inning alive which ultimately allowed 5 more runs to score. And it erased the pain of walking in a run for the Tigers in the previous inning, because at least he didn't walk the pitcher.

Good job Rockies. Keep that interleague magic going!

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Stick to the Script

Rockies 6, Padres 3

So it seems as though the Rockies have finally hit on a winning formula. Step 1: Starting pitcher has a respectable outing in which he strikes out more batters than he walks and otherwise has a quality start. Step 2: Bullpen is decent, perhaps giving up a run or two but no more. Step 3: Offense looks pretty impotent for the most part but has one or two big innings in which almost everyone in the lineup gets a hit. It's working fellas. Don't fix what ain't broke.

This is not the way I would choose to have the Rockies play baseball, but it really has worked for them all week (as long as all three steps have been completed satisfactorily). Step 1 today belonged to Jhoulys Chacin, who pitched 6 innings and allowed only 3 hits. He struck out 7 and walked 2, and the lone run the Padres scored off him came from a Rob Johnson home run. Who is Rob Johnson you ask? I didn't know either. It was a mistake pitch and shouldn't have gone out of the park.

Step 2 featured Matt Lindstrom, Matt Reynolds, and Rafael Betancourt. Only Reynolds was flawless, retiring 4 straight batters in the 7th and 8th. He came in to clean up the mess made by Lindstrom, who gave up a double, a walk, and an RBI single in his 2/3 inning. I'm hoping Lindstrom comes back around, because his recent struggles are discouraging. Betancourt also allowed a double and an RBI single, as well as a long fly ball for the last out of the game that came close to leaving the yard. I'd really appreciate the bullpen settling down a bit and not scaring me like that. But again, if all the steps are completed, they're allowed to give up a run or two.

Step 3 occurred in the 6th inning. Prior to that, the Rockies only scored 1 run, and that was all because of Chacin. He came up with 2 out and Jose Morales on 1st and singled to center to keep the inning alive. That allowed Carlos Gonzalez to come to the plate and drive in Morales. In the 6th, the Rockies did what they've done in almost every game this week and batted around, slapping single after RBI single. Jonathan Herrera, breaking an 0-for-20 streak, led off with a single, and he was followed by Todd Helton, Seth Smith, Ty Wigginton, Charlie Blackmon, Morales, and Ryan Spilborghs, interrupted only by a Troy Tulowitzki strike out. Smitty, Wiggy, and Blackmon all drove in a run, and Spilly drove in two. The Rockies faced both Mat Latos and Chad Qualls in the inning and did damage against both.

So there you have it. Three steps. If all goes as planned with each, the Rockies win.

A few other notes:

Charlie Blackmon is hitting .343. He also has a 5-game stolen-base streak. Dexter who?

Jose Morales has huge defensive issues. I really don't want him to catch anymore. Today alone he had a passed ball, an interference call, and a throwing error. That's just way too much. The catcher has to take more control over the field than that. Fortunately, none of those things cost a run, but it's still a concern. I strongly feel that he should start less frequently. That, or call up Jordan Pacheco ASAP and make him the back-up catcher.

Everybody who came to the plate today had a hit except Jason Giambi. Aside from those few home runs he hit in May, he hasn't been any good. I'd really rather not see him too often, especially since Jim Tracy frequently calls Seth Smith off in favor of him. Makes no sense.

Tweet of the Game: @Adam_Greenbaum: "THIS is Rockies baseball."

We'll Take That Juan

Rockies 6, Padres 3

How good is Juan Nicasio? This kid, in just his 4th major league start ever, tied the Rockies' season high for strikeouts in a game, with 9. After giving up a home run to the first batter he faced and hitting the next guy, he struck out the next 4 in a row. Even better news: the third strike in 6 of those 9 K's was an off-speed pitch. The guy throws some serious heat and now he's got his secondary pitches working for him too. He's setting himself up to be a very threatening member of this starting rotation.

He did allow 6 hits in 6 innings pitched last night, but the 4th inning was the only one that gave him some trouble. He gave up doubles to Cameron Maybin and Alberto Gonzalez that scored the Padres' 2nd run, but he limited the damage to that. I would say let's see how Nicasio does with a more potent offense before we pass judgment on him, but his first start was against the Cardinals, who have the best offense in the National League. He didn't allow a single earned run in 7 innings pitched. He'll struggle with consistency at times, a function of the time it takes to settle into the job, but I think we can expect great things from Juan Nicasio.

I don't have any real complaints about the Rockies' offense last night. They went down in order in the 1st, but that was because Ryan Ludwick made THREE diving catches in left field. Ludwick is not exactly known for his defense, so I have no explanation for that. It was encouraging to see the top of the order hitting the ball hard and to the opposite field (at least in the case of Carlos Gonzalez and Todd Helton). Charlie Blackmon recorded his first career extra-base hit in the 2nd with a double, but wasn't able to score. More of a reason to move him up in the lineup; we need to put guys who will drive him in behind him.

The Rockies were able to put together a big inning in the 4th, which was good because they definitely did not do that on Monday. Chris Nelson drew a lead-off walk and then stole 2nd. 4 straight hits followed to drive in 3 runs: a Helton single, a Troy Tulowitzki double, and singles by Ty Wigginton and Blackmon. Blackmon reached out and touched a pitch that looked like it might have hit the dirt if he didn't get to it. I have no idea how he managed that hit. I am so happy we called this guy up! He may just be the hero we've been looking for.

In the 6th, Wigginton doubled and then was tagged out at 3rd on Blackmon's groundout. It wouldn't be the Rockies without a baserunning error. Wiggy looks like a man carrying twice his own weight when he runs, and there was just no reason for him to take off for 3rd. Blackmon promptly stole 2nd, though, so the better runner was in scoring position at that point. Ryan Spilborghs walked and Chris Iannetta hit a long ball to left. Iannetta's power doesn't show itself often enough, but every now and then the ball just leaps off his bat, and you see what he's really capable of. It always makes me want to move him up in the order so that he's more likely to have men on base when he does it.

The bullpen showed signs of the shakiness they've displayed lately; however, they managed to hold on. Matt Lindstrom loaded the bases with a walk and a couple of singles in the 7th, but Rex Brothers replaced him and got a strikeout to end the threat. Brothers then came to the plate in the bottom of the 7th with the bases loaded and 2 out, a move that got Jim Tracy absolutely creamed on Twitter. Personally I could see the reasoning; we had a 4-run lead and Brothers is a good pitcher who could probably take care of business in the 8th. He very nearly proved me wrong when he allowed a baserunner to reach 3rd with 2 out, but nobody scored. Brothers showed what he's made of last night, because he was put in three high-pressure situations in a row and he made it happen. Of course, Huston Street thought he'd throw a little of his usual drama into the mix, allowing a pair of singles and a run. He got his swinging strikeout for the 3rd out, though, and didn't give up any home runs. In other words, a good outing for him.

I would like the Rockies to get a winning streak going, but I'm really glad that Monday's offensive impotence has been the exception this week rather than the rule. If they keep swinging the bats, if the bullpen can readjust and get back to being brilliant, if the starting pitchers can get it done like Nicasio did today, we might eventually find ourselves back in this thing.

Tweet of the Game: After Helton scored in the 4th, we learned it was his 1300th career run. To which @TroyRenck tweeted: "That was 1,300 run of Helton's career. I am not sure I have done anything 1,300 times, except wake up or blink." Suffice it to say, Todd Helton is a far more accomplished human being than any of the rest of us can ever hope to be!

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Offense Washes Out

Rockies 1, Padres 3

Just when it looked like things were taking a turn for the better ... the Rockies got stomped by a brand new pitcher making his MLB debut. The sad thing is, we would have won this game easily with the amount of runs scored in any of the games we played against the Dodgers. I'm quite wearisome of this business of, we can pitch or hit but not both, so we'll probably lose most games. Not a fan.

The Rockies did find themselves in their typical number of unlucky situations. You can't fault Seth Smith for hitting the ball hard but into an outfield where Cameron Maybin happened to be. Some would say you can't fault Carlos Gonzalez for being tagged out at home on Troy Tulowitzki's grounder, though I maintain that the contact play never works in the Rockies' favor and should be avoided at all costs. And poor Aaron Cook actually had an excellent start. He gave up 3 straight singles and a sac fly in the 1st to start things off, but after that he settled in and looked great. He allowed just 2 more hits and 2 walks over the course of his outing, which lasted 5 2/3 innings but certainly would have gone on longer if not for the rain delay. His sinker looks about as good as it ever did. My tentative prediction is that he won't be the ace he's been for us before in 2011, but he will be a solid member of the rotation and a reason to be a little less sad at Jorge De La Rosa's departure.

The real problem last night was the middle of the order. Todd Helton, Tulo, and Smith went 0-for-10 with a couple of walks, and while Smith should have had a double in the 4th, the rest of those at-bats weren't very good at all. The guys who really took the team onto their shoulders last night were Chris Nelson, Ty Wigginton, and Charlie Blackmon. Nelson had 2 hits, but didn't score because the middle of the order couldn't get him home. He also made a terrific defensive play to rob Alberto Gonzalez of a base hit up the middle. Wigginton didn't get a hit, but he walked in the 4th and then stole 2nd. If he hadn't done that, he wouldn't have scored on Blackmon's single and this game would have been a shutout. Wiggy also didn't make any errors last night, so all in all it was a good one for him.

Blackmon just gets better and better. He's played in 7 games and hit safely in 5 of them. I haven't really seen the power he supposedly brings to the table yet, but he hits the ball to all fields and, perhaps most importantly, he's a great baserunner. He's stolen 3 bases already, and I think we have to put him and Chris Nelson together near the top of the lineup. That likely means moving Cargo back to 3rd, which I'm not wild about since he's still giving pitchers a mile-wide strike zone sometimes, but Nelson and Blackmon together would be a force to be reckoned with. On days when the middle of the order was hitting well, those two would score several times apiece. Last night's 4th inning alone is reason enough to move Blackmon up. He hit the single that scored Wiggy and then stole 2nd, but there were 2 outs, and of course the Padres walked Chris Iannetta to get to Cook. We have to put Blackmon in a spot that will give him better protection than that. He's good enough that I say we start working on terms of endearment for him. Black Horse of the Apocalypse?

The bullpen was fine. Rafael Betancourt gave up 2 hits with 2 outs that allowed the Padres to score their 3rd run. He kind of looked like an idiot doing it since the RBI single deflected off of him and he fell over and couldn't find the ball, but that was just a tough break. The real monsters were the San Diego relievers. Mike Adams is freakishly good. He, Cory Luebke, and Heath Bell held the Rockies hitless through the final 4 innings, allowing just 2 baserunners on walks. This series is the exact opposite of the one we just played. It's imperative that the Rockies take advantage of the Padres' starters early in the game. Their bullpen is way too powerful, and it won't be a late-inning slugfest like it was against Los Angeles.

Tweet of the Game: @sarav19, who can always be counted on to articulate the emotions welling up in me as the Rockies lose again: "Whatever #Rockies. I'm mad at you right now. Until of course I'm back watching tomorrow's game. Stop crushing my poor little heart."

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Was This a Different Game?

Rockies 8, Dodgers 10

I'm really glad this series is over. For one thing, the Dodgers are hitting like nobody's business all of a sudden, so I'd rather they scoot on over their next destination and refrain from bothering us any longer. For another, I'm just plain bored because these games were so much like each other. Let's at least try to keep things interesting, gentlemen.

You can read my recap of yesterday's game if you wonder what happened in this one. It was almost exactly the same. So instead I'm going to bring you 5 Things the Rockies Better Keep Doing and 5 Things the Rockies Better Stop Right Now.


5 Things the Rockies Better Keep Doing

1. Putting Carlos Gonzalez in the lead-off spot. His bat has just come alive all of a sudden, and I'm very nervous about transitioning him back to hitting 3rd because that triggered a relapse the last time Jim Tracy did it. I know that the lead-off man should generally be determined by OBP and that Cargo has a lot of extra-base hits, but for one reason or another, that position in the order has brought him back to form. He went 3-for-5 with a home run today. More please.

2. Starting Chris Nelson over Jonathan Herrera. I hate to even write those words, because I'm a Herrera-lover. I was advocating for him to start several weeks ago when Tracy started benching him in favor of Ty Wigginton or Eric Young Jr. But Herrera has cooled off a LOT (he was 0-for-3 today), and even his defense isn't quite what it used to be. I don't know that there's anything wrong with him; maybe he just is the utility player he was supposed to be from the start, and therefore ought to be used only as a pinch-hitter. Whatever's going on, Nelson's bat is better and his defense will improve with time. He's going to have to be our everyday second baseman.

3. Starting Seth Smith. Smith needs to start EVERY SINGLE DAY. This has been clear since the beginning of the season, and I know that he's had occasional wear and tear to deal with, but sometimes he's just inexplicably not in the lineup. Smith had his issues last year, but this year he's been a powerhouse, and his .314 average is second only to Todd Helton for best on the team. Anybody and everybody should be benched in favor of Smith. End of story.

4. Stealing bases. There just hasn't been enough base stealing so far this season, and the Rockies are plenty capable. Today both Cargo and Charlie Blackmon stole a base, and I think it's worth at least attempting once or twice a game, unless you've got a catcher with an uncommonly good arm (Yadier Molina comes to mind). The hitting has come back to the point that having runners in scoring position is an even bigger priority. In recent games, it didn't really matter if you reached 1st, 2nd, or 3rd, because the three guys behind you were going to strike out. Now, however, there's a good chance somebody will single you in, so get to 3rd any way you can where you have the best chance of scoring.

5. Letting Rex Brothers pitch. Yes, Brothers gave up his first run(s) as a major leaguer today, and surely there will be more to come. But in general he has been so so good. Everybody's allowed to have a bad day. Brothers needs frequent appearances.


5 Things the Rockies Better Stop Right Now

1. Allowing Ty Wigginton to play defense at any position. I'm tired of Wiggy's errors costing the team runs, especially since defense is the team's greatest strength, and therefore the very last reason runs should be scoring. Ubaldo Jimenez's first FIVE runs allowed today were unearned because Wiggy messed up an easy double play. Of course, Jimenez needs to figure out how to recover when those things happen and not immediately give up a grand slam, but the fact remains that Wiggy has become a defensive liability. He's made either an error or just a really boneheaded play at every single position he's played this season. I like the guy and his bat definitely brings something to the table, but at this point I'd prefer to see him come in the game late like Jason Giambi often does. We can't afford these little mistakes right now.

2. Giving up hits to opposing pitchers. The opposing pitcher ought to be the easiest out. Instead, the Rockies allowed four singles to Dodgers pitchers in this series, including Rubby De La Rosa today. It was his first major league hit, and he ran so far down the right field line it looked like he was never coming back. That's a guy who has not had many chances to hit. So he should not be getting hits.

3. Starting Jose Morales once a series. Morales's fielding percentage is a lousy .974, to Chris Iannetta's .997. Iannetta isn't perfect behind the plate, but those numbers speak for themselves. Morales has trouble with routine throws to 1st, and as I said, we can't be making those little mistakes right now. I'm fine with Morales backing up Iannetta late in games or staring maybe once a week, but once every three games is too many. Especially because after he called a great game for Ubaldo a couple of weeks ago, he's followed it up with two shabby ones. I say give Chris a chance to call for Ubaldo in his next start and see if it works. It can't hurt.

4. Doing great offensive stuff with 2 outs. I know that the guy in the batter's box has no control over what came before him. But why do the Rockies seem to hit so much better when there's only 1 out left? 5 of their 11 hits today were with 2 outs. The problem with this is that it takes away the possibility of a sacrifice to score a run. As long as that possibility exists, there is a much greater chance the run will score. The Rockies need to work on their situational hitting on many levels, but perhaps most importantly they need to get the lead-off man on base and then get him home. The lead-off man reached base 4 times in this game but only scored twice. If a guy gets on base with no outs, he needs to score most of the time.

5. Giving Ubaldo Jimenez home starts. Ok, this last one is impossible. Obviously he will have to start at home some of the time. But all his best starts this season have been on the road. Who knows why that is. But since the offense plays better at home, it means we stand to lose every single one of his games for the rest of the season.

Tweet of the Game: @merknits: "The #Rockies need to be underdogs. As long as they're NOT written off, they play terribly. This is all a cunning plan ;)" Insightful. And very possibly true.

Fight On, Brave Offense

Rockies 7, Dodgers 11

Last night's game was just a heartbreaker. There were so many moments when one little play seemed to turn the tide of the entire game. Unfortunately, those little plays happened for the Dodgers more often than for the Rockies.

I honestly don't even know where to start in breaking this thing down. Pitching? Defense? Running? Hitting? Actually, hitting was the one good thing. We can know for certain that the Rox are officially out of their collective slump, because no matter what happened yesterday, they kept hitting. And kept driving each other in. There were certainly moments when they could have done more, but in general they fought hard. For most of May, whenever they fell behind more than couple runs, it just seemed like the game was over and done. But now, as in April, it always feels like there's hope. That walk-off is coming, I just know it.

Jason Hammel looked just okay last night, and when he left the game in the 6th inning with stiffness in his back, I wasn't too surprised. He allowed 7 hits and 4 walks in 5 innings, and it was kind of a miracle that the Dodgers only scored 3 runs (2 earned) off of him. It's a testament to how good he's become that he managed the baserunners so well and got key outs when he needed them. I expect we'll see his control reestablish itself in his next start.

The bullpen, on the other hand, has no excuse for what they did last night. Matt Reynolds, Clayton Mortensen, and Matt Lindstrom each had a bad outing at a time when we really needed brilliance from them. They're all capable of brilliance, so it's a shame that it eluded all of them at the same time. Reynolds came on in the 6th when Hammel left, inheriting a couple of baserunners with nobody out. He gave up a single to load the bases, and then pinch hitter Casey Blake doubled to clear them. Mortensen pitched the 7th and the 8th, and while the 8th was perfect, the 7th was not. The lead-off man reached base thanks to Ty Wigginton's inability to put his glove on Matt Kemp's ground ball. From there Mortensen allowed 3 more hits and 3 runs total, though only 1 was earned. Lindstrom came in in the 9th, at which point it was a 1-run game and still winnable, and gave up 4 runs on 4 hits. Lindstrom, like Mortensen and Hammel, was the victim of poor fielding as well, though you wouldn't know it from the box score. Tony Gwynn came up with runners on the corners and no out and hit a dribbler right at Jonathan Herrera. Herrera fielded it and then just stood there, as if he needed time to think about where to throw it. Well, there is no time to think in baseball, and the run scored while Gwynn reached 1st safely and Aaron Miles went to 2nd. It was scored as a fielder's choice, but Herrera didn't choose to throw it anywhere. He's a much better defensive player than that, so I have no idea what happened.

Needless to say, between the defense and the pitching, the offense had their work cut out for them. But like I said, they really took it upon themselves to keep the team in the game. It's so refreshing to see clutch hits and timely run production late in games right now, when it was nowhere to be seen a couple of weeks ago. At first, it was looking like business as usual when the Rockies scored only one run in the first 7 innings. That came by, surprise, a solo home run by Wigginton. In the 8th inning, though, the Rockies broke it open against the Dodgers' bullpen. They were down by 6 and they scored 5 runs in that inning. Carlos Gonzalez doubled, Eric Young singled, and Jason Giambi walked to load the bases with nobody out. Troy Tulowitzki, who has truly rediscovered his ability to put the ball where it needs to go, singled home Cargo and EY. Seth Smith singled home Giambi and Tulo, then went all the way to 3rd because of Matt Kemp trying to be fancy and failing. Charlie Blackmon singled home Smith. Those big innings are our bread and butter. I wish we were more of a small ball team sometimes, but the truth is that these hitters really feed off each other when everything is clicking, and that's what was missing in recent games. If that's how they want to get it done, I won't complain.

Then Matt Lindstrom had a terrible 9th and the Rockies were down by 5 coming up on their last chance. And at first it looked like more of the same: Cargo hit a ground rule double and then just stood in the middle of the basepath as EY lined into the glove of Dee Gordon, who was a step away from 2nd. He really didn't have a chance to get back, but that misfortune probably cost us the game because of what happened next with 2 outs. Giambi, Tulo, and Wiggy hit back-to-back-to-back singles, Wiggy's driving in Giambi. Then Spilly walked, so it was a 4-run game with the tying run at the plate in Charlie Blackmon. I realized that I hadn't mentioned Blackmon except in passing, which wasn't intentional, but I am a little mad at him for going to Georgia Tech (I went to Georgia). Loyalties aside, he made his MLB debut this week and he fits right into the lineup in terms of his ability to hit when it's needed. He hits very well to the opposite field, which is exactly what he did in this plate appearance. And wouldn't you know it, Tony Gwynn came out of nowhere and just speared that ball. Of all the unlucky breaks last night, that was the unluckiest. If Gwynn had been a sloppier fielder, or Blackmon had hit it just inches in the other direction, it likely would have cleared the bases.

The good news is that, in a different game, Blackmon wouldn't have had to be the hero. The bullpen's issues this week have been puzzling, since they were previously the guys we could count on to pitch scoreless innings as the offense flailed and refused to take advantage. The Rockies really need to put all the pieces together now. Every element of the team has had some really terrific games, but unless they can find a way to play their best all at the same time, the season will slip away.

No Tweet of the Game today. Twitter was a lot of "huh?" and "what?" and "?$%!" last night as the pendulum swung back and forth. Here's hoping we all have reason to be a tad more articulate today.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

June Is Looking More Like April Every Day

Rockies 6, Dodgers 5

Full disclosure: I fell asleep some time around the 4th inning last night. That was unintentional, but on some level I feel as though I was protected from the near disaster that occurred when the Dodgers came to bat in the 9th inning. I can only handle so many Huston-induced heart attacks in one lifetime. I feel like I've already had more than I need in this season.

I think the most interesting thing about last night's game is how it can be compared to two other games the Rockies played this season, one a couple weeks ago in Los Angeles, and one in April in New York. On May 30th, the Rockies and Dodgers played at Dodger Stadium. Starting the game for LA was Chad Billingsley, also the starter in last night's game. The Rockies got 11 hits off Billingsley on the 30th, which was a career high for him. They also managed to score only 1 run, so he still got the win. Last night, they rocked him for 13 hits, a new career high. But this time they scored 6 runs. These are your June Rockies, ladies and gentlemen. No longer incapable of driving in runs, and currently on a 3-game winning streak.

That game in New York, the first of the doubleheader on April 14th, also featured 6 runs by the Rockies. They were leading 6-2 going into the bottom of the 8th, and then Matt Belisle and Huston Street came in and started giving up runs, just like they did last night. But the offense had given them enough of a cushion that those runs did not cost the game. The Rockies won, 6-5.

To me, two totally different teams played those two games. Both teams are equally talented offensively, but one has the energy, the ambition, and the determination to make things happen, and the other is defeated and uninspired. The first team was on the tail end of a 7-game winning streak when they pulled out the victory in New York. I think the team we're seeing now bears a much greater resemblance to that one than to the one we saw dragging its feet all over the diamond in May.

It's really looking as though the Rockies have found a way to be the offensive team they appear to be on paper. Carlos Gonzalez and Troy Tulowitzki are both safely out of their slumps, while Todd Helton and Seth Smith are hitting as potently as ever. That's a powerful lineup even without Chris Nelson, Charlie Blackmon, or Chris Iannetta. And a note to Jim Tracy: let's not ever put Cargo in the 3-hole again. He's had two substantial hitting slumps this season, both while hitting third. I don't care where else we put him, lead-off, 2nd, 5th, 6th, anywhere but 3rd please.

In the 5th inning, this offense came alive. A pair of singles and some heads-up baserunning by Cargo and Nelson put two runners in scoring position with 1 out. Helton singled them both home. Tulo's single advanced Helton. A wild pitch once again put 2 RISP with 1 out. Seth Smith drove both runs in with a single. Ty Wigginton's single advanced Smith, and Chris Iannetta's single brought him home. 7 singles, a pair of fielding errors, and a wild pitch, and just like that the Rockies had scored 5 runs. That's the kind of inning they are good at having, the kind they need to keep having. Good at-bats, good baserunning, capitalizing on the other team's mistakes.

Fortunately those runs were enough, because they didn't score any more. Jhoulys Chacin had one of his best outings of the season, perhaps the best other than his complete game shutout against Pittsburgh. He went 8 innings and allowed just 3 hits, 3 walks, and no runs. He struck out 9. You can't ask for anything more from the guy. And he finally got a well-deserved win for his troubles. Of course, then Matt Belisle and Huston Street gave us the 9th inning from hell, but the important thing is that we can afford a few of those now and then since the bats are back. And I still love the Huston swinging K to get the final out of the game.

The Rockies didn't win back-to-back-to-back games in all of May, so I think that month is safely behind us. Strangely, the pitchers have had a rougher time than the hitters the past few days, so if they iron out their kinks and get back to form, this team is now formidable. Look out Giants. The Rox are coming for you.

Tweet of the Game: @druidlove: "Street loves to win by a difference of 1 run. #sigh #Rockies #Dodgers." That's why I go to sleep.

Friday, June 10, 2011

A Tu-For-One Comeback

Rockies 9, Dodgers 7

News flash: The Rockies just won back-to-back games for the first time since their two-game sweep of the Giants on May 16th and 17th! Man that feels good. And it feels even better because these games featured pitching performances that were not exactly top-shelf. In recent weeks, it has seemed as though nothing less than perfection from our pitchers would secure the win. In these games, the Rockies proved that they can mount an offensive comeback large enough to help a pitcher out when he's having a tough outing. I always knew they could do it, but lately it looked like they didn't know they could. It's so refreshing to see them get back a bit of their confidence.

As we all know, the team's offensive capabilities often stand or fall on the output of Troy Tulowitzki. He's the most talented hitter on the team, which is why he will never hit anything other than clean-up (at least not until he's pushing 40 and the next young superstar is anchoring the team). In Wednesday and Thursday's games, he earned that clean-up spot in a way he really hasn't since I saw him in New York in April. He's a streaky player, but to go nearly two months with long stretches of time between quality at-bats was really too much, and the team suffered for it. They suffer no longer, because Tulo is finally hitting in the clutch again.

The best part about last night's game was that the Dodgers had the lead for most of it, and at one point they significantly increased it. The Rockies stayed in it, though. There was no conceding. They also found creative ways to bring runners across, another thing that's been lacking lately. The surprise clutch player of the game, other than Tulo, might actually have been Jason Giambi. Jim Tracy sent him up to pinch hit in the 7th with the bases loaded and 1 out. Seth Smith was called back for Giambi, so you know Tracy was looking for a grand slam and nothing less. The game was tied, and in my opinion a single or a double from Smith was by far the better bet. But Giambi, instead of swinging away, patiently took a walk, which plated the go-ahead run. MUCH better than a strikeout, which is what we were probably in line for otherwise.

Juan Nicasio took the ball for his third major league start, and it was his toughest by far. He only had 1 inning in which he retired all three batters in order. Through the first 4 innings, however, his only real mistake was the pitch that Matt Kemp hit out of the park. Otherwise, he handled his traffic and kept smoking the Dodgers with his 97-mph fastball. In the 5th inning, things got a little dicier. He gave up a single to pitcher Clayton Kershaw (never okay) with 1 out, and then Dee Gordon singled. Casey Blake grounded into a force out that erased Gordon, so it was the perfect opportunity for an easy flyout to end the inning. Instead, Andre Ethier singled home Kershaw and Matt Kemp tripled to score Blake and Ethier. If Nicasio had gotten Kershaw out, that inning would never have happened. So some rookie mistakes, but his velocity is excellent and he is showing great control, painting the corners of the strike zone like a master.

Rex Brothers came on in the 6th and had a 1-2-3 inning with a couple of strikeouts. He has yet to give up a run as a major leaguer; he's only pitched 2 2/3 innings, but still, I like what I'm seeing! In the bottom of the inning, the Rockies' bats came alive. They were down by 4, but showed some serious fight. Carlos Gonzalez, perhaps finally finding a home in the lead-off spot, singled, as did Chris Nelson (the Rox got a stroke of luck there; Kershaw deflected it, and if he hadn't it might have been a double play ball). Todd Helton walked to load the bases with 1 out. Tulo has frequently hit into double plays in these situations of late, but he took charge and laced the ball to left for a 2-run double. Ty Wigginton followed that with an actual productive out: a ground ball down the first base side that allowed Helton to score. Just like that, the Rockies were within 1.

Of course, then Matt Reynolds came on to pitch in the 7th, and had an uncharacteristically rough time. He gave up a single to Kershaw as well, followed by a single to Gordon. Gordon bunted it, and Morales tried to throw him out from his knees. The ball skipped into the outfield and Kershaw scored. It was one of those "really??" moments the Rockies like to have. As in, "Really? You pull within one run and then you fall further behind on a run scored by the opposing pitcher because of a horrible throwing error? Do you even want to win this game?" The carnage wouldn't stop there. Blake doubled to score Gordon, then moved to 3rd on a wild pitch. (Rockies pitchers have thrown 32 wild pitches this season, good for 2nd in the league behind the Blue Jays, who have thrown 33). Ethier hit a deep fly ball that scored Blake easily. Just like that, the Rockies were down 4 runs again. And it all started with a lead-off hit by the pitcher.

Once again, however, nobody laid down and died. Perhaps their confidence was a function of the depleted status of the Dodgers' bullpen, but this was the same bullpen they faced in three games back in LA, only one of which they managed to win. They faced 4 members of the Dodgers' pitching staff in the 7th inning: Kershaw, Scott Elbert, Mike MacDougal, and Blake Hawksworth. Charlie Blackmon and Jose Morales hit back-to-back singles, and Eric Young Jr. walked to load the bases with nobody out. With Cargo coming up, it was nail-biting time, but he came through with a single that scored Blackmon. Bases still loaded, still nobody out. Chris Nelson struck out swinging for the first out, but then Helton came up and drew a walk that scored Morales. Rockies were within 2. It was Tulo's turn to be clutch again, and he did it, singling home EY and Cargo. Suddenly the game was tied. And then Giambi took that walk, and the Rockies were winning. Blackmon and Morales both got to hit again, and I guess they decided they were tired of this inning, because they both managed to leave the bases loaded. However, this is the kind of inning we've been so used to seeing from the Rockies, and that they've struggled so much to have lately.

Rafael Betancourt pitched a perfect 8th, and the Rockies came back in the bottom inning determined to get some insurance runs. Pinch hitter Seth Smith singled, and Cargo doubled (he's shown a lot more discipline the past few days, which means he's finally getting pitches to hit again). Nelson hit a sacrifice fly that scored Smith. Nobody else would score in the game, but nobody needed to. Huston Street, despite giving up a double to Ethier, saved the game without allowing a run (helped by a truly fantastic defensive play from Tulo).

What a satisfying game. I have restrained from saying perhaps we've turned over a new leaf for a long time now, because every time we have a game like that we seem to follow it up with a terrible one. But this was the second win in a row, and in many ways the Rockies really did look like they had their mojo back. The guys who are supposed to hit were hitting, against a great pitcher like Kershaw. This homestand would be the perfect time to get a winning streak going before they head into interleague play. The division is still well within reach. And the LoDo magic is alive!

Tweet of the Game: I'm stepping outside the Rockies family briefly to bring you the following exchange between my Cardinals friend @rodneyknuppel and me: 6th inning - @rodneyknuppel: "What in the world is wrong with the Rockies offense?" @rockieswoman1: "That's the million dollar question. Nobody knows. If they know they aren't telling." 7th inning - @rodneyknuppel: "See what happens when I question the Rockies offense?" @rockieswoman1: "Yes, would you please do so every day for the rest of the season??" Thanks for the good luck!!

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

A Series Win!

Rockies 5, Padres 3

Oh Rockies, we needed this one. You probably did too, but we, your fans, really needed this one. So thank you from the bottom of our hearts.

This is the Rockies' first 3-game series win on the road this season (they swept the Mets in 4 games back in April). It gives them a 4-5 record on this road trip, not quite what we were hoping for, but certainly better than we expected. And after days of dismal run-scoring totals, they finally put 5 on the board. 2 of those went up in the 9th, and this is the Rockies' first win this season when they weren't already leading going into the final inning. Next step: a walk-off?

Aaron Cook made his first start of the season after coming off the disabled list. I'm still a Cook believer; he's one of the those longtime Rockies it just doesn't make sense to give up on. But I understand the naysayers, too. The last time he came off the DL things did not turn out so well for him. Who knew which Cook would turn up today? I think he had a pretty respectable start considering it was his first with the big-league club in 9 months. He went 5 2/3 innings and allowed 6 hits and 3 runs, striking out 4. He also made a neat pick-off in the 1st inning to erase his first baserunner, and contributed a single to the day's offense. The most problematic part of his line is the 4 walks, especially since 2 of the batters he walked ultimately scored. It seems like Rockies pitchers have generally struggled with walking too many guys this season, but when I checked the stats, they're actually 16th in the majors. So law of averages says it isn't affecting the team that much.

On the other hand, the law of averages demands an average offense, which the Rockies also have (14th in the league in runs scored). That makes our failure to win games that much more maddening. But I liked what I saw today. They went 3-for-11 with runners in scoring position, which obviously isn't great, but they were able to put some clutch hits together. After a Todd Helton solo home run in the 3rd, 3 straight singles by Troy Tulowitzki, Seth Smith, and Ty Wigginton plated a run. All 4 of those hits came with 2 outs, which is nearly unheard of in Rockiesland this season. In the 5th, Helton doubled and Tulo singled him home. And the 9th was where the money hit happened. Carlos Gonzalez actually managed to reach base with a lead-off single; Jim Tracy wisely pinch-hit Jonathan Herrera who bunted him to 2nd. Padres' Heath Bell walked Helton and then threw a wild pitch that moved both runners into scoring position. This is where the clean-up hitter becomes very important, and this is the kind of situation where Tulo has been ineffective of late. But he more than delivered with a double to center that scored both runners. I was so happy I forgot to be a little bit mad at him for taking 2nd base (he was safe, but more often than not he isn't when he does that). A 9th-inning rally?? More please.

Matt Belisle had a bit of a rough night, inheriting 2 baserunners when he replaced Cook in the 6th and then allowing a single that scored Brad Hawpe. He was able to come back, though, and pitch a perfect 7th. The run doesn't affect his ERA, but he did earn a blown save. Most nights, that's a death knell, but when the offense comes out to play it doesn't have to be. Matt Lindstrom  had a few issues too, allowing a pair of singles in the 8th. He squeaked out of the inning by fielding a ground ball and throwing it to Iannetta, who tagged the lead runner out at home. Otherwise, a run certainly would have scored. I like my Matts to be a little steadier than they were today, but in general they have been so good I won't complain too much. Huston Street had a 1-2-3 9th, including his practically patented swinging strikeout to end the game. He earned his 17th save of the season and seems to have his feet firmly back under him after a tough few weeks.

A few final notes: 1) watching Tulo get hit in the hand practically made my heart stop, even though I was watching it on a replay and already knew the outcome. After his broken wrist last season, my nerves cannot handle that. 2) During the 3rd inning, on Seth Smith's single, the ball hit the 2nd base umpire and Tulo had to stop at 2nd. I was following on Gameday which initially reported that the ball had hit Tulo and therefore the inning was over. Moral of the story: watch the game. Gameday will lie to you. 3) Todd Helton gets an honorary cycle as far as I'm concerned. His old man legs probably aren't going to churn out many, or any, more triples, but that second double today really should have been one. Toddfather, I salute you.

Tweet of the Game: @Nicole80017: "I'm dreaming. The Rockies are being productive. Don't wake me up." It felt like a dream. Let's hope it wasn't.