Sunday, July 31, 2011

Sunday Robs Nicasio of First Road Win

Rockies 3, Padres 8

Juan Nicasio. You should know better than to have such a terrific start on a Sunday. You should have held back a little and saved your really good stuff for a day of the week when wins are still possible. Your mistake.

Pitching on a Sunday was Nicasio's only mistake. Otherwise he was brilliant. So brilliant that I could not help thinking, for a very brief second, is this the guy the front office will deal three or four years from now when the Rockies fall out of the race before the trade deadline again? Excuse my lack of faith. It might take a couple of seasons before I go back to believing that all of our franchise players won't be going up for sale every July.

Back to this game and Nicasio's brilliance. This was his best road start yet, which is very encouraging since he's struggled so much away from Coors Field. I know that this was the Padres, and I know that this was in Petco Park, but this was still a very big step in the right direction. He went 7 innings and 2 runs (1 earned) on 5 hits and 2 walks. And he struck out TEN. I don't care where you're pitching, that's dominant. He struck out Logan Forsythe on 6 straight fastballs, varying the location just enough to fool the hitter completely. Not many guys can throw the same pitch six times in a row and expect to get a swing and a miss. He still needs to work on feeling comfortable throwing his secondary pitches, but when his fastball is working, he doesn't need them. He threw just 98 pitches today, and I see a complete game shut-out for him before the end of next season.

Other pitchers, not so good. Rex Brothers replaced Nicasio in the 8th and started the carnage. His first two pitches were his signature nasty strikes, but then his location went out on him. He ended up not recording an out, allowing 2 walks and a double en route to 3 earned runs. In this case, Jim Tracy's bullpen overmanagement might have come in handy. Brothers has become a reliable set-up man, so I'm not suggesting he be sent to the showers every time a right-handed hitter comes to the plate. But consider this: switch-hitter Chase Headley is hitting .266 from the left side. He's hitting .372 from the right side. Of course, he hit an RBI triple off Brothers. When a guy has splits like that, you have to match him up to a righty.

Matt Belisle followed Brothers and let another 3 runs cross the plate (2 earned). I still like Belisle and don't see any reason why we shouldn't keep believing in him, but there are specific situations when I want to see him and others when I don't. He does really well entering the game in the 6th or 7th, at the beginning of an inning with no traffic. He is not good in high-pressure situations. He's fine with the bases empty or one runner on, but give him two or more, and his ERA skyrockets from less than 2 to 7+ no matter which bases are occupied. Obviously most pitchers have a higher ERA when they pitch with runners on, but Belisle just hasn't been much good at shutting the door on a bad outing by one of his fellows. Again, not saying I dislike him. I just want him before the messes start happening. He's not the guy I want coming in to clean them up.

Edgmer Escalona replaced Belisle to get the final out in the 8th, and did so on one pitch. He's only pitched one full inning so far this season, but I'm a fan of anyone who has yet to surrender a run. Speaking of runs, you may notice that both Belisle and Nicasio gave up an unearned one. Those were both the fault of Eliezer Alfonzo, who has a lot of work to do defensively. Tracy said he allowed Alfonzo to play because of his contributions yesterday, but I think we're all in agreement that grand slams are not going to be an everyday occurrence for him. Chris Iannetta behind the plate wouldn't have won us the game, since the run differential was 5, but it would have made things less embarrassing. I'm tired of multi-error games for our catchers, and Iannetta is the only one I trust not to do that. Dexter Fowler contributed an error of his own, making an unnecessary attempt at a sliding catch that turned a sacrifice fly into a man on 2nd. Ick.

Offensively, the Rockies started strong and then completely vanished, as they so often do on Sundays. Several guys had multi-hit games, but they didn't put together any really solid innings that allowed those hits to pile up. They had 10 hits as a team, all singles, and in some cases there were more than one in an inning, but not enough. The Padres only had 9 hits, and they won the game by 5 runs. Same old same old for the Rockies. I will say that I like what I'm seeing from Troy Tulowitzki a great deal. He seems to be entering one of his hot hitting streaks. He went 3-for-4 today with an RBI and a run scored. He's been taking much better at-bats this week and popping the ball up a lot less. Good on him.

It's a shame the Rockies couldn't get Nicasio a well-deserved first win on the road. And that they couldn't manage their first sweep since April. I guess that's Sunday for you.

Thank You, Ubaldo

Rockies 10, Padres 6

There are four things I'm hoping to accomplish in this post. One, to clarify the emotions I'm having regarding the Ubaldo Jimenez trade. Two, to ream out the Rockies' management for what they did to the entire Rockies community in last night's game. Three, to say exactly why Ubaldo will be so greatly missed. Four, to make a few comments about the game itself, since those who made contributions should not be overlooked.

First, feelings. This is the most unexpected and devastating trade in Rockies history, and that includes Larry Walker to the Cardinals and Matt Holliday to the Athletics. In both cases, we knew those guys were looking to be traded. Ubaldo had never expressed anything but happiness playing for the Rockies. Also, up until yesterday afternoon it seemed like the team's asking price was far too high for any other team to bite. And Ubaldo is the first legitimate ace this organization has ever produced. He gave us all hope that such a thing could be done. I can't feel anything but total sadness that he's gone. Let me tell you what that sadness does not mean, though. It does not mean I don't want to cheer for the Rockies anymore. Nothing could ever change that. I won't say what the "right" response to a situation like this is, but to abandon my team because of a trade would be wrong for me. Also, feeling sad doesn't mean I disagree with the wisdom of the trade. In fact, I have no comment on that at the moment. I don't know enough about the players we got in exchange and, unlike my male blogging counterparts, it's going to take me longer than a few hours to process the loss before I can think much about the gain. So my anger at Dan O'Dowd and company is unrelated to the content of this trade. I want to make sure that is clear.

On to what my anger at Dan O'Dowd is about. Going through with Ubaldo's start last night was quite possibly the most tasteless thing this team has ever done. One of the reasons I love being a Rockies fan is because I think the organization and the fans have a good deal more class than a lot of teams. O'Dowd and the rest of the management completely shattered that reputation with their decision to play Ubaldo. The deal was less than an hour from being done when he went out to warm up, and he knew that. I don't care that he's a professional and that he's being paid to pitch in a baseball game. Forcing him to go to the mound under those circumstances was incredibly disrespectful to him, the team, and the fans who had to watch him during that inning. What did it accomplish? It was one of the worst innings he's ever had (4 walks, 2 doubles, and 4 runs). To have that be his swan song as a Rockie was a huge mistake. He deserved better, and we deserved better because of how much we love Ubaldo. Jim Tracy's explanation was that at game time, no trade had taken place yet. That's bull. For the first time, I was ashamed to be a Rockies fan. I just hope that the organization will abstain from garbage like that in the future, so I can feel proud to support this team again.

Ubaldo. Times like these a writer feels speechless. You will never know what you have meant to this team and these fans. You made us believe in pitching at Coors Field for the first time. You combined positively electric stuff with incredible character, and we know how rarely those things are found in the same man. Your humility and joy will stay with us long after we've forgotten the velocity you did or didn't reach this season. I'm so glad that your no-hitter will always be the Rockies' first, because you deserve that honor. We wish you nothing but success in the future and we'll be eagerly watching to see what you accomplish during your career, which I have no doubt will be long and impressive. I hope you know that, to us, you are worth way more than four Indians. You are one in a million.

The good news, if it can be called that, is that the rest of the Rockies stepped up last night and rescued Ubaldo from finishing his Rockies career with a loss. Troy Tulowitzki absolutely crushed an Aaron Harang curveball in the 1st for a 2-run home run, and later hit an RBI double. In the 4th, Chris Nelson and Ian Stewart hit back-to-back doubles, and Stew picked up his 4th RBI. Nelson had a 3-hit night. Dexter Fowler went 2-for-5 and scored both times. And the absolute last guy you'd suspect hit the Rockies' first grand slam of the season: Eliezer Alfonzo. The best news was the performance of Esmil Rogers, who essentially started this game since he entered it in the 2nd inning. He went 5 innings total and allowed just two baserunners, on a hit and a walk. It was a dominant performance, and it makes me feel a lot better after he crapped out in LA on Tuesday. If he can get a little more consistent, he will be a great fit in the rotation. Matt Lindstrom, Rafael Betancourt, and Rex Brothers combined for 7 K's in their 3 innings. Betancourt did give up a run, but it was unearned because the runner reached on an error by Nelson. I guess if there's anything I'm glad about, it's that we played Ubaldo's last game in San Diego, where we win so easily. We needed a grand slam last night, so much love to Alfonzo for providing it.

Ubaldo's mourning period will pass, as Walker's did, as Holliday's did. And someday soon we'll see whether the trade paid off. I do desire the long-term health and vitality of this team, so for the sake of that I hope this was the right move. Although if it turns out not to be, you won't catch me crying for Dan O'Dowd.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Jason Hammel Wants a Divorce From the 3rd Inning

Rockies 3, Padres 2

To be honest, I would have liked a much more crooked number out of the Rockies last night. Yes, they won, but they scored all of their runs in a single inning and went back to their old selves after that. They also collected half of their 8 hits in that inning. Facing Tim Stauffer, they can do better.

However, I will give them this: there were substantially fewer crummy pop-ups than there have been lately. Those pop-ups have been symbolic of so many things, not the least of which is the Rockies' general inability to show some patience and take good at-bats. They hit the ball hard a lot last night, and unfortunately hard-hit balls frequently tend to make outs in the vast wilds of Petco Park. They also drove the ball up the middle quite a lot, which is as good a strategy as any at Petco.

In the 2nd, this up-the-middle method is what led to the RBI parade. Troy Tulowitzki, Seth Smith, and even Ian Stewart all hit line-drive singles to center. Chris Iannetta contributed one to right. Then Stewart and Iannetta pulled off a killer double steal that didn't even draw a throw from Luis Martinez. This turned out to be a key move, because then Stauffer balked, which allowed Stewart to score. That would be the winning run. Of course, then a botched squeeze play led to Iannetta getting caught in a rundown between 3rd and home, and that meant Jason Hammel had to finish his at-bat with the bases empty and 2 outs.

The Rockies couldn't put a rally together after that, and in fact they went down in order in the 7th, 8th, and 9th innings. That's not ideal, especially when our bullpen isn't especially reliable right now. I'm getting ahead of myself, though. First, Hammel. He dealt with his usual early traffic. It seems so common for him to put men on base in the 3rd inning that I felt the need to check his ERA splits to see if it was actually happening or just an illusion. Well, see for yourself:

1st inning: 5.57
2nd inning: 2.14
3rd inning: 8.14
4th inning: 3.05
5th inning: 2.75
6th inning: 6.89
7th inning: 4.15

This says a couple of different things to me. First of all, the 3rd inning really is the kiss of death for him. If he can hold it together in that inning, he will most likely have a quality start. In last night's game, 3 hits, a stolen base, and a wild pitch led to 2 runs scoring for the Padres. Since Hammel's offense was able to give him one more run than that, he still got the win. But his 3rd inning is significantly worse than Huston Street's 9th. Another concern I have looking at these splits is the way his ERA varies so wildly from inning to inning. The only back-to-back innings in which it's acceptable are the 4th and 5th. He can't sustain himself. He has one great inning and then one very messy one. I've said this before: Hammel is not on our team to be an ace, and no one should expect that out of him. But I think we can and should expect more consistency than that.

Back to that bullpen. I'm nervous about giving them a 1-run lead right now, but they pulled it off last night. Even more impressive, Jim Tracy's overmanagement of the middle relievers actually paid off this time. Four different pitchers came to the mound in the 7th, and they kept the Padres from scoring a run. They loaded the bases en route to finishing things off, but they did it. Rafael Betancourt really seems to have his legs back under him; he pitched a perfect 8th yet again. He hasn't given up an earned run since July 6th. And Street had a typical 9th - allowed a double, but shut the door without surrendering a run.

Not the most cleanly-played game for the Rockies, but they're scrambling for wins at the moment, and we need to take them any way they come. And it was great to see Hammel control his traffic, the pen hold the lead, and Stewart drive in a run. Positive thinking, people!

Thursday, July 28, 2011

While I Was Sleeping

Rockies 3, Dodgers 1

Confession: I slept through the entire game last night. It started at 10 p.m. eastern and I had to get up early today. This isn't the first time I've fallen asleep just as a game was starting, but this is the first time this season that I woke up and had trouble believing the game that took place as I slumbered was not a dream.

Eric Young Jr. did not make one single error in the outfield? Dexter Fowler successfully stole yet another base? Troy Tulowitzki had not one but TWO productive at-bats with men on base, driving in 2 of the Rockies' 3 runs? And Aaron Cook. This is why I'm still not quite sure this game happened. Someone please pop my dream bubble if I'm wrong about this, because I can't bear to go on believing it if it's not true. When I watched him pitch, his sinker ball was like, sinking. 13 groundball outs? Holy crap Aaron Cook. Do not tease me right now.

That's not to say some parts of the game weren't rooted firmly in reality. In the 2nd the Rockies put two men on with nobody out. Neither scored. In the 4th they did it with one out. Neither scored. In the 5th, after back-to-back-to-back singles scored a run, Hiroki Kuroda walked Seth Smith to load the bases with 2 outs.  A wise choice, since Ty Wigginton was up. He did what he does and struck out to strand everybody. Also, Huston Street gave up a solo home run in the 9th to rob Cook of a shut-out.

Still. Way to go Rockies for playing way better baseball than in the previous game. I doubt we saw Cook's second coming, but congrats on the second win and here's hoping you can manage a few more.

Today's an off-day, so I would normally publish a list of links to keep you all busy, but I've been swallowed alive by school and I don't think it will be inclined to regurgitate until next Thursday when the term finally ends. Sorry to disappoint. My off-day feature will return August 18th in all its glory.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Three-Ring Outfield

Rockies 2, Dodgers 3

Ladies and gentlemen, for your entertainment pleasure, I present the 2011 Colorado Rockies!

In left field, we have Ty Wigginton, who will perform the stunning feat of failing to catch a fly ball! Lest you miss the magnitude of this accomplishment, consider that this ball will fall very similarly to an infield pop-up, so Wiggy's error cannot even be blamed on the fact that he is not really an outfielder! And more amazing still, the error will ultimately lead to 2 unearned runs scoring!

In center field we have Dexter Fowler, who will demonstrate how many different directions he can knock a baseball without actually getting control of it! This trick will allow an ordinary double to become a triple!

In right field, Ryan Spilborghs will attempt one of his wildly unsuccessful sliding catches! Even more impressive, he will do it while Mark Ellis goes out on a fly ball that he catches easily! Spilly will slide at the exact right moment so that Ellis will trip over him and fall down, preventing a throw to the plate and allowing a run to score!

This is all more than your money's worth, obviously, but don't miss our very entertaining sideshows! Watch in the 1st inning as the Rockies put two men in scoring position with 1 out on an error, a walk, and a wild pitch, and actually fail to score! You can't get that anywhere else in Major League Baseball folks! And that's not all! Wiggy strikes out 3 times! Troy Tulowitzki leaves 5 men on base and gets his only hit when leading off! Spilly manages to come up with four different ways to get himself out! Chris Iannetta makes two pop-outs seem like seven!

If you missed the live show, never fear! Full-color commemorative photos are available!

Ok, I can't go an entire post without saying something sincere about my Rockies. I haven't dived completely off the cliff of cynicism. Jhoulys Chacin had a damn good start, and you have to respect that considering the fact that he was matched up against Clayton Kershaw. Those unearned runs netted Chacin the loss, because he was pitching when they happened, despite the fact that he and Kershaw allowed the same number of earned runs. Chacin also allowed just 3 hits and 1 walk in 6 innings. It was his best start since the time he nearly no-hit the Indians in June. It's a real shame that the Rockies couldn't manage to win it for him.

The bullpen was also terrific. Rex Brothers, Matt Reynolds, and Rafael Betancourt combined for 2 scoreless innings. And a tip of the cap, as usual, goes to Todd Helton, who knocked in both the Rockies runs. If you had asked me at the beginning of this season who I wanted at the plate in the clutch, Helton's name would not have come to mind. Now, I want him hitting 1-9 so he can just drive himself in over and over.

And speaking of circuses, I didn't stay up late enough to watch the Pirates-Braves 19-inning insanity, but Julio Lugo was tagged on about seven different body parts scoring the "winning" run. I think that ump just wanted to go home. If it were my team I'd be incensed, but in this case I can't really blame him. I didn't catch the Diamondbacks-Padres game either, but it's worth watching the highlights to see Orlando Hudson pull a Larry Walker and throw the ball away because he thought there were 2 outs. See Rockies fans, it can always get worse!

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Not-So-Jolly Rogers

Rockies 5, Dodgers 8

I'll give the Rockies this. They played a way better top of the 9th yesterday than they did on Sunday. They could have gone out there and swung blindly at everything, just trying to get the whole thing over with, but instead they took advantage of the Dodgers' severely weakened bullpen. For the most part, they took a lot of pitches and forced the Dodgers, especially poor Hong-Chih Kuo, to throw strikes. The result: 2 hits, 4 walks, a throwing error, a wild pitch, a bunch of advancing on defensive indifference, and 4 runs scored. There was still the usual inexcusable stuff, like Troy Tulowitzki hitting an infield pop-up with the bases loaded and only 1 out, but I'm impressed that they didn't throw in the towel simply because it was the final inning and they were down by 7.

Other things, not so impressive. Juan Nicasio is still a great pitcher, but he seems to lose a considerable amount of confidence when he's not at Coors Field. I don't know if I'll ever quite get over the irony of that. In the late '90s, the joy emanating from our pitchers when they got a chance to start on the road was palpable. Most of them still seem to prefer it. Not Nicasio. His home record is 4-0 with an ERA of 1.58, and he's averaging 6 2/3 innings per start. On the road, he's 0-3 with a 8.75 ERA and an average of 4 2/3 innings per start. I wish there was a way we could tool with the rotation and give him all home starts, but obviously that won't work since road trips are always longer than 5 days. Shrug. Hopefully maturity and coaching will work it out of him. In the meantime, last night he gave up 5 runs on 6 hits and 2 walks in 5 2/3 innings. He struck out 5, mostly with his fastball.

Matt Reynolds and Matt Lindstrom did a perfectly adequate job in relief, combining for 1 1/3 scoreless innings. Reynolds got into a little bit of trouble, but Lindstrom was there to bail him out. Unfortunately, Esmil Rogers got into a lot of trouble. It was his first appearance since May 1st, when he came out of the bullpen to relieve a struggling Ubaldo Jimenez and gave up 4 runs in 1 inning. After that he was put on the disabled list, and is just now returning. Perhaps he might have benefited from another rehab start or seven. He pitched 1 inning last night in Los Angeles and allowed 3 runs on 4 hits and 2 walks. Just like that appearance in May, he took the Rockies out of the game, since they ultimately lost by the margin of runs he allowed.

Other than that 9th inning, the offense did little to help out any of the pitchers. In the 2nd, back-to-back-to-back singles with 2 outs allowed 1 run to score, but that was it. And one of those singles was hit by Juan Nicasio, so one can only imagine where we would have been if he'd had an ordinary pitcher's at-bat. Otherwise, the Rockies seemed to have no clue how to face Rubby De La Rosa. He issued 4 walks in 6 innings, but because they could not get wood on his pitches, all of those runners were stranded.

Again, I will say that it's encouraging that the Rockies rallied in the 9th. Maybe some fight still remains in them. Against the Dodgers, the late innings are when offensive damage can be done, and must be done when the starter is a guy like Clayton Kershaw. So we may be holding our breaths for a long while tonight, in anticipation of a rally that might come. But might not.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

An Open Letter to the Colorado Rockies

Dear Rockies,

You and I go back a long time. So long, in fact, that I hardly remember what life was like before you. I guess baseball existed, but as far as I was concerned it didn't. It wasn't until you landed in Denver with your Mile High miracles and your Blake Street Bombers that I started to notice and care. Suddenly there was something that mattered a great deal more than New Kids on the Block and The Baby-sitters Club. You ruined me for life. Since the age of ten I've never been able to root for a sports team with even a fraction of the passion and loyalty that you've inspired. And I was a Georgia Bulldog for four years.

For the most part, all this has been more than okay with me. It's like falling in love. You don't mind that this person invades your thoughts at the most inopportune times, that you suddenly find yourself wanting to give up everything you've ever been interested in so you can spend every moment with them, that your every mood is tied to how they behave toward you. It's all worth it, because if this person loves you back, all your dreams have come true. And all the emotion I have spent on you over the years, Rockies, is worth it, because I know one day you will return my love with a World Series title, and I'll be able to say I was a fan all the way back when.

Because of my longing for that, and because we go so far back that we're now like an old married couple who doesn't know how to be single anymore, I'll never abandon you. But I have to be honest. In all our long years together, this is the most disappointed you've ever made me. I stuck with you during those terrible dry years when conventional baseball wisdom said that you were a team that couldn't win. Every pitcher you signed was immediately swallowed by the Coors Field Black Hole, and any hitter who performed well was ridiculed for swinging the bat through thin air. I loved you the way people love stray dogs, the ones you think will never do anything for you and are lovable just for that reason.

But then you started changing. You took a bath, and your fur was suddenly shiny and clean. You could run fast and jump high. All the other dogs were starting to get jealous, and worried. You went all the way to the World Series, and I cheered for you just like I always hoped I'd be able to. You didn't win it all, but you did so many miraculous and wonderful things that year that I could forgive. And when things got a little tougher the next year, I forgave that too. I felt I could ride for a while on what you gave me in one magical play-off run.

During all of this, other people started to notice you too. The same people who for years had made me angry with their dismissals of you. The baseball world was realizing that you were a force to be reckoned with, that you had figured out how to develop young players and make them Coors-Field ready. That maybe they could even predict you'd win your division and be right. So that's what they did.

I'll tell you something about expectations, Rockies. They mean everything. Back when I didn't expect much out of you, I could love you the way I'd love that stray dog. You were like a secret I could keep all to myself. You represented summer and childhood and hot dogs and freshly cut grass. You didn't need to win to be dear to my heart. But once you started winning, and other people started expecting you to win, I did too. Why shouldn't you? You have the talent now. All those players you worked so hard to develop are with the big-league club, where they should be contributing. But they aren't. And it's no longer like loving someone nobody else loves. It's like loving someone who has all the potential to be the best-loved there ever was, and is failing to live up to that every day.

I won't walk away from you, because I wouldn't even know how. Like I said, you ruined me for any other team. And I don't regret that. I know you'll give me my World Series someday. You'll figure out what's wrong and you'll fix it. But it doesn't look like that's going to happen this season. For a brief minute, I thought maybe you cared enough to get yourselves back in this thing. Now, I see that you have given up. That's a real shame, because there's plenty of time left, and you have what it takes. I guess my love is not enough to inspire you this time around. So I'll hold onto it, and adjust my expectations to 2002 levels, when your record was exactly the same on this day as it is now. Back then, I accepted that, and I guess I'll have to again now. I'll never stop being your fan, but I am a sad fan.

Love,
Rockies Woman

The Edge of Gory

Rockies 3, Diamondbacks 12

I don't like writing about games like this one, especially since I did the play-by-play last night, so I already feel like I suffered through it completely. Please don't make me do it again.

Okay, I'll give you the gist in case you missed it. Jason Hammel, who had not allowed an earned run to the D-backs yet this season, seemed like he thought he should make up for lost time. In his first 2 innings he gave up 7 runs. He allowed the first 6 hitters he faced to reach base. He managed a 1-2-3 5th, but otherwise the lead-off man got on base in every inning he pitched. He left in the 6th with 2 outs after loading the bases. His biggest accomplishment was striking out 7. It just seemed like everybody but those 7 got a hit or a walk.

Eric Stults replaced Hammel and walked Miguel Montero on 5 pitches. I think it goes without saying that when the bases are loaded, and especially when there is only one out left, you need to make the hitter swing. If you can't do that, what are you doing on a major-league pitcher's mound? Obviously the worst-case scenario is the hitter makes contact and hits a grand slam, but the chances of that aren't very good, so make him swing.

Did I say the chances of a grand slam weren't very good? My fault. I guess if you're Eric Stults a granny is just as likely as a bases-loaded walk. In the next inning, he gave up a ground-rule double, walked a guy intentionally, then hit a guy (that's not what's supposed to happen after you walk someone on purpose). This allowed Justin Upton to come to the plate and, yes, hit a grand slam. Why was Stults still in the game at that point? And why was he allowed to come back in the 8th? Because Jim Tracy had decided long before then that the Rockies were going to lose the game, and he didn't feel like burning any other relievers in a lost cause.

Offense - pretty dead in the water. Maybe they decided around the 5th inning that we weren't going to win this one, and they thought they'd take a little rest as well. In the 1st, Troy Tulowitzki hit a solo home run. In the 4th, Mark Ellis led off with a single and Todd Helton followed that up with a ground-rule double. 2 runners in scoring position with nobody out, that's easy. Even for the Rockies. Despite two shallow fly balls from Tulo and Seth Smith, Ty Wigginton swung at a pitch that was not a strike and managed to smack it up the middle to score both runners. After that, 3 hits in the final 5 innings.

This is why I keep saying the Rockies are cooked. We're past the point where we can look at one blow-out win and think it is a harbinger of things to come. It's not. These Rockies just don't know how to put all the pieces together. They are showing more life than they did in the first half, in my opinion, but not more intelligence. Until they find that, this roller coaster will continue.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Battle for Mediocrest Place

Rockies 8, Diamondbacks 4

All right, I know "mediocrest" is not a word. But I struggled to think of how to describe what was happening in last night's game, and that's what came to mind. When there isn't a word, you invent one.

The Rockies and D-backs haven't faced off since the last week of May. You might remember the first game of that series as the last one Jorge De La Rosa pitched. It was a long time ago. It was around the time the D-backs started to look like they might actually turn the National League West into a three-team race, and in fact by the end of that series they had nosed past the Rockies and moved into second place. All I could feel as this was happening was incredulity, because I do not think the Diamondbacks are the better team. I tweeted that several times as Arizona moved up in the standings, and received some angry responses from D-backs fans who thought their win-loss record should speak for itself. Well, I thought, and still think, that a team's talent is measured by more than just their performance.

I now feel justified in that opinion. Last night's game featured two teams playing the exact same level of fundamental baseball. Both starting pitchers had short-ish outings and gave up too many hits. And both offenses failed to capitalize on the number of baserunners they had and scored too few runs. Combined, they went 5-for-23 with runners in scoring position. Since the baseball community is in general agreement that the D-backs are playing better than we all thought they would and the Rockies are playing worse: the Rockies are obviously a better team.

More proof? The Rockies sent Aaron Cook to the mound, easily our worst starter this year, still searching for his first win. The D-backs sent Daniel Hudson, their second-best starter behind Ian Kennedy. He hadn't lost a game since May 12th. So this pitching match-up was very clearly in the D-backs' favor. However, against all odds, Cook scored his first win. Not a stellar outing for him (6 innings pitched, 4 runs on 8 hits and 2 walks, just 1 strikeout), but good enough because of who he was facing.

Okay, I know it's mostly Rockies fans who read this thing, and that I don't have to convince any of you that our team is better, so I won't say any more about that. I will say that despite some pretty lousy hitting in the clutch, the Rox have done one thing consistently since the All-Star break: stayed in the game. They don't always produce when they need to, but their attitude at the plate when they're tied or behind feels different. They look like they think they can get something done, when in the first half they so frequently just gave up. Even though I think our play-off hopes are shot, I'm pleased to see this. In fact, it's because I think our hopes are shot that I'm pleased. That they seem to be fighting harder given their situation, rather than throwing their hands in the air, shows me that they're still the same team they've always been. It's probably too late for this year, but they will come back around.

Just a few specifics to note: Dexter Fowler is hitting .563 in his last four games. Even better, he's finally found his swing from the left side. I know some people are saying he shouldn't have been sent down to Triple-A, but it really seems to have helped him. If he can keep it up, and there's no reason why he shouldn't, he won't get sent down again. Last night he got another chance to hit lead-off with Carlos Gonzalez on the disabled list, and he made good use of it. He went 3-for-5 with an RBI and 2 runs scored. Dear old Dex still made his nightly baserunning error, but he's taken major strides in the right direction.

Mark Ellis also had a 3-hit night and scored a couple of runs. Aaron Cook, whose new strategy seems to be to hit well enough that his bad pitching won't lose the game, hit a pair of singles, scoring on one and driving in a run with the other (the first was a pop-up that someone should have caught, but still impressive). Ian Stewart only had one chance to hit, but he got a single for his troubles, and then he and Seth Smith executed a double steal. This allowed Smith to score on a Ryan Spilborghs groundout.

It was just great to see the Rockies fighting late in the game. They came back twice to take the lead. And guess what? The bullpen didn't blow it. Rex Brothers and Rafael Betancourt were fantastic. Matt Belisle was very good, helped by a great throw from Chris Iannetta to get Willie Bloomquist stealing 2nd. This is how this team will win games. The offense keeps at it no matter what the score is, and the pitchers hold off the other team long enough to let them do it. In that scenario, the best team wins.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Some Relief, Please

Rockies 6, Braves 9

It looks like the 2011 Rockies are just plain not as good as the 2011 Braves. I guess we already knew that, but our 2-6 record in the season series should satisfy any doubters. However, I tip my cap to the Rox for what they did this week. They didn't let their sweep in Atlanta get them down. They did everything they could to keep themselves alive this series, and emerging with a split is nothing to be ashamed of.

The two really disappointing things about this game were 1) Carlos Gonzalez's wrist reinjury and 2) the pitching, especially the bullpen. Well, especially the mattpen. Matts Lindstrom and Reynolds gave up 4 runs combined, and Matt Belisle allowed the hit that drove in the final tying run before the Braves took the lead for good. I need better than this from my Matts. Lindstrom and Reynolds especially have been too uneven over the past couple of months. It's a shame that on days when the offense really has some fight in them, they still lose the game because the pitchers can't keep them in it.

Of course, Jhoulys Chacin certainly owns his share of the blame. That tying run Belisle gave up was scored by a runner Chacin allowed on. This particular runner, Brooks Conrad, did not walk, but the one ahead of him, Eric Hinske, did, and if there had been no force at 2nd when Conrad came to the plate, he would have grounded out. Chacin gave up a season-high 7 walks today, which is a truly appalling figure when you consider that he only pitched 4 2/3 innings. He walked the first batter he faced, Martin Prado, on four straight fastballs, and it all just went downhill from there. He could not locate, no matter what pitch he threw, but the fastball especially was giving him trouble. That's a very bad sign, because it meant he frequently got behind in the count, and then he would throw his slider right down the middle, and people would hit it out of the park. Two people, to be exact, Freddie Freeman and Jason Heyward. Heyward's accomplished two runs because Prado was on base with, you guessed it, a walk. Chacin only gave up 4 hits, but he's charged with 5 earned runs. We've seen these tough outings from him before, and they're always the same. I'm certain that, with a little maturity, they'll be fewer and further between, but in the meantime, they hurt.

A little good pitching news: guys not named Matt or Jhoulys were terrific. Rex Brothers struck out the side in the 8th. The final strike of two of those K's was a ball in the dirt. He had the Braves completely fooled. While the rest of the pen has appeared to slide slowly into the abyss as the season's gone on, Brothers has emerged as one of the most promising young pitchers to come through the system in a long time. Rafael Betancourt continued his comeback run with a perfect 9th inning. By then it was too late, of course, but congratulations are still in order.

So, Cargo's wrist injury. He led off the bottom of the 1st with a solo home run, and everything looked perfectly fine with his swing. Then in the 5th he fouled off a curveball and fell to the ground in pain. That face is what you don't ever want to see as a Rockies fan, especially when it concerns an injury that continues to crop up. It's so frustrating because we keep seeing glimpses of Cargo's power potential, and then the wrist holds him back again. The team still hasn't determined whether they'll put him on the disabled list, but at this point that seems like the wisest thing to do. He needs time to really rest it and heal it. Of course, we need him in the lineup for our road trip next week, so ... we'll see how things unfold.

The offense was mostly great today. Dexter Fowler is a (somewhat) new man. He only had 1 hit today, but he made it count: a 2-run triple in the 2nd inning. Then, Jim Tracy called for a suicide squeeze on the very first pitch Tommy Hanson threw to Chacin, and Fowler executed perfectly. Chacin took the pitch for a ball, but it hit off the top of Brian McCann's glove, and before he could get there Fowler was crossing the plate. Technically it was a steal, though it didn't have quite the panache of a true steal of home, when whichever fielder is holding the ball has complete control over it. The funny thing is that if McCann had held on, Dex would have been tagged out or caught in a rundown, nothing we haven't seen from him before. But with a suicide, you have to commit, and trust the hitter to do his job. Chacin didn't, couldn't really, as the pitch was high, but Dex's trust paid off anyway.

In the 6th, Troy Tulowitzki led off with a single and was followed by Seth Smith, who tripled. Chris Iannetta then drove in Smith on a sacrifice fly, quite a rarity for him. The Rockies haven't done enough sacrificing this season, so anytime we see that we are happy. The great thing was that the Rockies slammed Hanson with 6 runs over 6 innings and drove his ERA from 2.73 to 3.06. It was so good to see them have a little swagger at the plate against him, especially since he held them to one earned run in 7 innings the last time they faced him. So even though we lost the game, and even though there were some failures in key situations (i.e. Ryan Spilborghs grounding into a double play in the 7th, when the Braves were still sending out their normal relievers instead of their obscenely talented ones), in many ways this was well-played.

What I'm so frustrated by at this point in the season is the fact that we are hardly ever able to put all the pieces together. Some days the starting pitcher is brilliant, some days the bullpen is, some days the offense is. Most days the defense is, but defense alone doesn't win a game. On days when two out of three of the pieces are working, the Rockies often win. But my greatest concern for this team at this point is their severe lack of mojo. Good teams, contending teams, put all the pieces together 3 out of 5 times. Our team does it maybe 2 out of 5 times. The difference is huge. The difference is playing baseball in October or taking your family vacation then. It's pretty clear to me at this point which one the Rockies will be doing.

Helton Hearts Hudson

Rockies 3, Braves 2

This is one of those games that I am so bummed to have to watch the next day when I already know the outcome. This is the kind of game that you wish you could say you had watched live. I might not have made it out of bed this morning if I had stayed up to watch, but that's a price I would have paid if I'd known.

Enough lamenting. All you really need to know is that LoDo magic happened.

Here are some other things you might like to know:

1. Juan Nicasio got some redemption against a Braves team that crapped all over him in Atlanta earlier this month. He doesn't have a win to show for it, but he does have a diminished home ERA that's scarcely to be believed for a Coors Field pitcher (1.58). If we could have him pitch every home game and Ubaldo pitch every road game, well, that would be something. In 7 innings, Nicasio allowed just 5 hits and 1 run. He wasn't quite as strikeout-dominant as he normally is, but he mixed his fastball and slider very efficiently. The slider is probably his second-best pitch. He's more reluctant to use the cutter and the changeup, but he is developing them well, and the pitch that got Jordan Schafer to ground into a double play in the 5th was a cutter.

2. Not Nicasio's best defensive game. Martin Prado led off the 6th with what should have been a groundout, but Nicasio took his eye off the ball when he went to cover 1st base, and he missed Todd Helton's throw. That shook him up enough that he left a pitch up to Grim Reaper Freddie Freeman, who knocked it into right for a double. Instead of 2 out and nobody on, there were no outs and 2 in scoring position. Fortunately, Ian Stewart did have an excellent defensive game. Those two errors he committed on Sunday seemed to shake him out of a stupor, and he's done everything right since then. That included making a quick, smart decision to throw home on Dan Uggla's grounder to get Prado there. The Rockies got out of that inning without allowing a run, which is a miracle considering how it started.

3. Todd Helton - Baseball Writers' Association of America, if you are listening, please take note that this should be the season that makes the Toddfather a no-doubt Hall-of-Famer. We Rockies fans would say he should have been considered one long before now, but we know how you feel about guys who play their home games at Coors Field. Please, please, just look at what this man is doing at the age of 37, while the rest of his team shuffles around him mumbling, "We're not worthy." Case in point: an absolute rocket to the seats in right during last night's 1st inning that put the Rockies up 2-0. He is 10-for-15 lifetime against Tim Hudson. He is a one-man master class. If you neglect him when the time comes, I will never forgive you.

4. Eliezer Alfonzo - not the best defensive catcher the game has ever seen, and last night stuck his glove way too far out on a pitch to Jason Heyward. Heyward's bat hit Alfonzo's glove and he was awarded the base on what would have been an easy groundout. Fortunately no run came of this, but I would still rather it didn't happen.

5. The bullpen, after having several excellent games, would have frayed my nerves last night had I been watching live. I am glad that Jim Tracy gave them a chance to figure things out for themselves for once. Rex Brothers gave up a single to the first man he faced in the 8th, but Tracy left him in long enough to get 2 outs. Matt Lindstrom then replaced Brothers and gave up a single to the first man HE faced. This one scored a run. But again, Tracy left him in, and Lindstrom did finally get that third out, even after the Alfonzo-Heyward mess. Huston Street pitched about as good a 9th inning as can be pitched, despite a very long fly ball off the bat of Brian McCann that Dexter Fowler caught against the wall. Because of that catch, Huston gets the win for this game, his first of the season.

6. Speaking of Fowler, he had a terrific game, going 2-for-3 without a strikeout. He did contribute the Rockies' nightly baserunning error, which was disappointing since he seemed to have gotten it together in that area. Part of it was just tough luck, though, as Fredi Gonzalez called a pitchout at the moment Dex chose to go. Honestly, him getting caught in a rundown wasn't the worst part of the whole scenario. That was Jonathan Herrera swinging. At a pitchout. Puh-leeze. I'm glad Tracy left Fowler in the game, though, because he came up with 2 outs in the bottom of the 9th, generally a time when the Rockies find a swinging strikeout or a weak grounder to be the most appropriate course of action. If we're being honest with ourselves, that grounder is exactly what Dex did think appropriate, but fortunately for us all Martin Prado did everything wrong and Dex got all the way to 2nd. Putting those legs to good use was the least he could do after messing up that steal attempt earlier.

7. Carlos Gonzalez - everybody remembers Cargo's first walk-off hit. It was last July against Chicago, the same day he hit for the cycle, and that hit was a walk-off home run. That set the Rockies off on a run that lasted through August and the early part of September, during which time they seemed a lock for a play-off spot. Who's to say what Cargo's second walk-off hit will trigger, but he got it last night. Eric O'Flaherty pitched around Ty Wigginton, which makes perfect sense considering that Wiggy is 2-for-3 lifetime against O'Flaherty and is also a righty. But Cargo was having none of that, and he leapt on the first pitch he saw and dumped it into right to score Fowler. It was a beautiful piece of hitting, as all of his are when he's on. Maybe the best part was seeing him and Troy Tulowitzki embracing afterward. I felt the meaning in that; both of them know how much of this team's offensive output rests on them, and how much they've let us all down this year. Tulo himself has had two opportunities to secure a walk-off victory this week, and didn't make it happen. He was congratulating Cargo and also thanking him for doing what needed to be done in a season when people aren't really doing much of that at all.

Good, good game. We need more of these. As soon as possible.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Standing O

Rockies 12, Braves 3 + Ubaldo Rumors

All I asked in yesterday's post is that the Rockies win one game against the Braves, and I said that this game was most likely to be it. I think they agreed with me, because they played this game as if they'd never have a chance to win again. I hope that doesn't mean they intend to go quietly in the rest of the series, but if they do, at least this won't be a sweep!

So much great stuff last night. Ubaldo Jimenez looked like he knew exactly what he was doing from the get-go, and the importance of this return to confidence cannot be underestimated. When he's got it, his control of the game is brilliant. He did allow 2 walks and 7 hits in his 6 2/3 innings, but got key strikeouts whenever he needed them. In fact, 4 of his innings ended with a strikeout, and he punched out 9 total. If anybody is still griping that Ubaldo doesn't hit 99 mph much anymore, I can't hear you. He doesn't need to throw that hard to be dominant, because everything else he does is so smart. The only runs he allowed came on two solo homers by Dan Uggla. One was on an 83-mph slider and the other was on a 94-mph fastball, so? Ubaldo just happened to miss a couple of spots to the same guy. The crowd gave him a standing ovation when he left the game, and he well deserved it.

There was some offense from the Rockies too. Their bats feasted on poor Brandon Beachy, a rookie who hasn't quite reached Jair Jurrjens status yet. The Rox were already leading 3-0 at the end of the 1st, thanks to a well-timed home run by Troy Tulowitzki. Whenever he does that, you understand what he's trying to do the rest of the time. One of these days he won't be quite so anxious to go yard and he'll stop hitting weak grounders in clutch situations so often. For now, as long as he gets those homers from time to time, he's still earning his keep. Carlos Gonzalez followed that up with a 2-run shot in the 2nd. It was his best swing since coming back from his wrist injury, the kind where he can feel the power going through the wood and doesn't run right away because he knows it's gone.

Other contributors: Todd Helton had a hit and 2 walks and scored all three times. Seth Smith contributed a double and a triple, driving in 3 runs altogether. Dexter Fowler went 3-for-4 with a walk, and one of his hits was a bases-clearing triple. Ian Stewart was hitless but smacked a couple of very long fly balls and also drew two walks, one of which was intentional (pitchers are scared of him again!!). Chris Iannetta also drew a couple of walks and hit an RBI double. Even Ubaldo hit a single!

Every time the Rockies have this kind of game I say: now what we need to do is string a bunch of these together. And that's what never happens, which is why we are 10 1/2 games back in our division. I don't want to be a downer, but our 2011 track record indicates that we follow these statement wins with whimpering losses. Today's game will be interesting, since it's a rematch of a game in Atlanta a couple weeks ago: Tim Hudson vs. Juan Nicasio. Can Nicasio keep from melting down this time? The better question is probably whether the hitters can find a way to take some momentum from yesterday and keep it all going.

Ok, as I have said, I loathe trade talk, but people keep asking me what I think about the Ubaldo rumors, and I suppose the responsible blogger thing to do is weigh in. A friend of mine who's a Twins fan emailed me the other day to ask what I thought, and this is what I told him:

I can tell you that the Ubaldo rumor has been WAY over-inflated by the national media, especially ESPN. Once the Yankees expressed interest it became much bigger than it really was, as anything involving the Yankees usually does. Our starting rotation is too unstable for us to give up Ubaldo. Jorge de la Rosa is out for this season and part of next year, Aaron Cook came off the DL in June and hasn't won a game since, and Jhoulys Chacin and Juan Nicasio are very talented but very young. Jason Hammel is a good #4 or 5 starter, but he's not ace material. All these are reasons we need Ubaldo or someone who can perform at the level he's performed at this season, which is to say not perfect but very well. Because Ubaldo is ace material, he's worth more than the average player, so we would want at least two, probably three in exchange. One would have to be ready to step into the starting rotation immediately and win often. The second would have to be a top-quality prospect, probably a pitcher as well. One of our recent first-round picks, Tyler Matzek, is kind of floundering in A ball, so I could see us going for someone who could ultimately take his spot. And any team looking to get Ubaldo could sweeten the pot by throwing in a middle infielder who can hit. That's where I think we're at. But again, it is VERY unlikely. If nothing else, I think the front office still believes we are in the post-season hunt, and so they're not going to auction off anybody major in this go-round.

So that's what I think, based on what I've read and deduced and my gut feeling. Whether I'm right remains to be seen, but you asked, I answered!

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

How Lowe Can You Go?

Rockies 4, Braves 7

This was another one of those games when just too many ridiculous things went wrong. At some point I may get tired of chronicling these but you know what? I am no fair-weather fan. So here goes.

Jason Hammel had another one of those Huh?? starts, which he's been having about every other game this season. I still refuse to jump down his throat too hard, because he's still just a #5 starter. He's our Joe Blanton. A placeholder. Not to disrespect his talents or what he has brought to the table, because I think those things are well beyond what we expected, especially considering what he did in Tampa before he came to us. But he's not supposed to be brilliant every single time. So last night he wasn't, and the Rockies happened to be playing the Braves, who are brilliant, at least this season.

Hammel lasted 5 innings and allowed 6 runs (4 earned) on 8 hits. He walked 3 and only struck out 1. That line is a loss 95% of the time. He was missing his spots; 2 of the runs he gave up were solo homers by Freddie Freeman and Eric Hinske, both of whom went deep on the first pitch of the at-bat. When Hammel is on, he will paint those corners all night long, but when he's off he can't seem to avoid the middle of the plate. That's what happened.

What also happened is Todd Helton committed his third error in two games. The consensus is that he can't be blamed for this one, and I tend to agree. The sun shines right on 1st base at Coors Field sometimes (hence Prince Fielder's need to borrow a fan's sunglasses the other night). Helton said that he normally reminds the other infielders to make low throws to compensate for that, but that he forgot to do so last night. So Ty Wigginton's throw was pretty high, and Helton lost it in the sun. Unfortunately, it was a costly error, as the bases were loaded with 2 outs. And the batter was Braves' pitcher Derek Lowe. Should have been an inning-ending groundout, instead it scored 2 runs. Tough break.

Also, the Rockies combined for only 5 strikeouts, and they batted .500 with runners in scoring position. Pretty good right? Not if you consider the fact that they hit into SEVENTEEN groundouts, 14 off Lowe. He is a good pitcher but he's not that good. Somebody ought to have been able to get the ball out of the infield. Instead, the only extra-base hit was a triple by Seth Smith, and he did it with 2 outs and nobody on. Earlier in the game, with 2 out and runners on the corners? Grounded out to 2nd.

The guys did put together a good 7th inning, with 4 singles, a walk, and a sac fly that scored 3 runs. All the runs were charged to Lowe, proof that he can be gotten to. Against Jonny Venters and Craig Kimbrel, nobody could do anything. Which wasn't a surprise; against the Braves, you must get going before the 8th inning, because the back end of their bullpen is positively killer.

Our bullpen did some good work too. Eric Stults had a so-so inning in which he gave up 3 hits (one to Lowe) and a run. Rex Brothers was untouchable, as he seems to be about 3 out of 4 times at this point. And Rafael Betancourt had his second consecutive excellent outing, giving up a lead-off hit to Freddie Freeman in the 9th but then striking out the following 3 batters.

So some good stuff, some not-so-good stuff, some pretty bad stuff. That's the Rockies this season. If they could win one game against the Braves, I would be a happy Rockies Woman. Tonight, with Ubaldo Jimenez going against Brandon Beachy, seems like it might be their best chance.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Aaron Cook on a Sunday?

Rockies 3, Brewers 4

The Rockies had a tough day and so did I, so this one will be short and to the point.

Jim Tracy. I have felt concern over your ability to make decisions at several moments during this season, perhaps most of all when I learned that you intended to leave Aaron Cook in the rotation after the All-Star break. But surely you might have juggled the schedule a little bit and given him any other day than the cursed Sunday? You know any guy who starts on Sunday is probably going to lose. The irony is, he wasn't too bad. He allowed a LOT of baserunners (11 in 4 2/3 innings), but only 3 runs scored. He squeezed himself out of more than one bases-loaded jam. Now, don't read this as an endorsement for Cook maintaining his spot in the rotation. Under no circumstances should he be allowed any more starts. But for all the superhero stuff he pulled, he ought to have had a decent shot at his first win of the season. If this had been any other day, he might have gotten it.

Cargo: 0-for-5. You're forgiven because you're still coming back from your injury. But you can only play that card so long. I do appreciate that you didn't strike out once. Thanks for that.

Giambino: Once again proving that you can only hit when you're in the starting lineup. I don't like that since you're supposed to be bench player. But I did like your home run. Good job today.

Tulo: 3 K's today? And this was also the second game in a row that you came to the plate in the bottom of the 9th with a man on, 2 outs, and your team down by one. You have had two consecutive chances to be the hero, and you blew both. Please don't tell me you're becoming anxious Tulo again. He and I don't get along so well.

Seth Smith/Ty Wigginton: Good. As usual.

Ian Stewart: I am quite nearly speechless about you today. Do you know what I should never see in the play-by-play? "[Opposing pitcher] reaches on a fielding error by third baseman Ian Stewart." Why am I seeing it twice in one game? Why did your hands behave as though they had never handled a baseball before? Ick. No more of that. And if you should happen to see Dexter Fowler around, tell him the same. You're both still on probation. I like what I have seen so far, but you need to not make dumb mistakes like that.

Eliezer Alfonzo: I am rather impressed with you sir. Coming into last night's game with no warning whatsoever and then even getting a hit. And a hit today too. I think it was good to give our friend Chris Iannetta a day off, and in his absence I prefer you to Jose Morales. And so far to Matt Pagnozzi as well. Welcome aboard.

Matt Belisle: Good job getting Prince Fielder to ground into a double play, but did you have to also allow the winning run? Boo.

Rafael Betancourt/Rex Brothers/Matt Reynolds: Thank you for keeping us in the game.

Cory Blaser: You might have had the decency to call out sick today. At least you were at 3rd base instead of home, where you weren't able to do as much damage.

Team: This isn't quite what I had in mind. Now you're .500 in the second half and you're about to face the Braves for four more games. Um ... good luck.

We Fought the Law, and the Law Won

Rockies 7, Brewers 8

So the Rockies should have begun the second half 3-0, but they're going to have to settle for 2-1 because of a series of unfortunate events. I'm not going to blame them for last night's loss, though they obviously had a hand in it. Sometimes bad things happen to good people. Worse still, sometimes bad umpires happen to good people.

Things started out well enough last night; the Rox got to Zack Greinke almost immediately, scoring 3 runs in the 2nd inning. The hitters who produced said runs? Ian Stewart, triple. Dexter Fowler, strikeout but reached on an error. Chris Iannetta, double. Jhoulys Chacin, single. Usually when the bottom of your order is on fire like that, you're in good shape. Chacin also pitched very very well for 4 innings, so things certainly seemed like they were going our way.

Then the bottom of the 4th rolled around. The bottom of the order was at it again; back-to-back singles by Seth Smith and Stewart and a sacrifice bunt by Fowler put two runners in scoring position with 1 out. This felt like a test: are the second-half Rockies really any different from the first-half ones? Well, no. Iannetta walked to load the bases. Chacin could not come up with a hit this time and struck out. Carlos Gonzalez grounded out to end the inning.

The shame of leaving the bases loaded was magnified in the top of the 5th. Chacin walked Greinke. I can hear the drumbeats of doom every time the opposing pitcher is walked; it seems the baseball gods like that less than any other kind of walk. They usually punish you pretty severely for it. In Chacin's case, the slider that had been working so well for him up to that point missed its spot and was deposited into the stands by Corey Hart. Suddenly he was working with a 1-run lead.

Nothing else would happen till the 7th, and that's when everything happened. The inning began in exactly the same way the Rockies' 4th had: back-to-back lead-off singles, sac bunt, free pass. Bases loaded, 1 out. It was too much to hope that the Brew Crew would fall apart the way the Rox always do in that situation, though. Matt Reynolds replaced Chacin at that point, and the first pitch he threw was drag bunted by Nyjer Morgan. Todd Helton did everything wrong (I'm just as surprised that I typed those words as you are that you read them), especially his throw home, which skipped past Iannetta. Two runs scored; Morgan was safe at 2nd and Hart at 3rd. The next batter, Mark Kotsay, flew out to center. Fowler came into the ball and made an on-the-money throw home. Iannetta tagged Hart when his foot was still several feet from the plate, but home plate umpire Cory Blaser, perhaps wanting to show solidarity with his name twin, called Hart safe. Iannetta immediately went ballistic, as well he should have, and Blaser tossed him before he could even get a decent F-you out. Jim Tracy hustled on out of the dugout but he was ejected right away as well. At least he got some good Lou Piniella dirt-kicking in.

The Coors Field crowd let Blaser know what they thought of that play for many minutes afterward, and he seemed too flustered to keep a consistent strike zone at that point. Everybody makes mistakes, but that might have been the worst one since Jim Joyce called safe on the final out of Armando Galarraga's perfect game.

The Rockies staged a comeback. In the bottom of the 7th, Kameron Loe came in to pitch with runners on the corners and 2 out. Apparently as long as the bases are not loaded the Rockies are capable of clutch hits; a Todd Helton single and Troy Tulowitzki double scored 3 runs, and the lead was returned to its rightful owner.

The Brewers would not go quietly, though, and they scored again on another lousy throw by Helton in the top of the 8th. It's a good thing his bat was alive enough to keep us in the game, because his arm was working real hard to keep us out of it. Obviously, as we've seen this season, age has done almost nothing to diminish his defensive power. But everybody has those days.

Game tied in the top of the 9th, here comes Huston Street. He walked Prince Fielder, who isn't a pitcher, but I still heard the drumbeats of doom. Rickie Weeks took Huston deep. Then the Rockies made it more painful by staging yet another comeback in the bottom of the 9th. Cargo singled and stole 2nd, then scored on Helton's single. Tulo came up with 2 outs and hit a little grounder that accomplished nothing beyond ending the game so I could go to bed.

It's one game. Hopefully the fight we saw in Iannetta will bring the Rockies out to play today and in every game for the rest of the season. They need to feel that they are a good team, and every win is worth battling for. If they can do that, the losses will be close and the wins more frequent.

Tweet of the Game: If you haven't seen this picture yet, well, get out of your hole. Here it comes courtesy of @Safran_MHS: "Picture says 1000 words, Ianetta only gets to say about 4 of them.  "

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Dexter Runs. And Scores.

Rockies 4, Brewers 0

Dexter Fowler's first act upon being reinstated in the lead-off spot for the Rockies was to smack a double down the left-field line. He then advanced to 3rd on a Mark Ellis groundout and scored on a wild pitch. It was a perfect inning for Dex: good at-bat, good swing, heads-up running, and a run scored. That's exactly what we need to be seeing from him after his most recent stint at Triple-A, since those were the issues he had before being sent down. He also walked and stole 2nd in the 5th, and seeing him steal a base in his very first game back was great too. Welcome back, Dex!

Of course, he also grounded into a double play. And made a lazy defensive play that allowed Nyjer Morgan to stretch a single into a double. And it remains to be seen how well he'll hit left-handed, which was a big problem prior to his being sent down. According to Troy Renck, he's made some adjustments to his swing, but said swing produced only the aforementioned double play from the left side last night. So there is still room for growth there. But it was very encouraging to see some good work from him. Both times he reached base he scored, just like a good lead-off man.

Juan Nicasio was completely brilliant last night, and he's still doing more than I think we had any right to expect from him. His home record improved to 4-0 with last night's win, and his ERA at Coors Field is 1.64, best on the pitching staff. His location was terrific and he didn't walk one Brewer in 7 innings. He held them to 4 hits and brought Ryan Braun's 23-game hitting streak to a screeching halt. He only struck out 4, but he induced a very impressive 11 ground-ball outs. This guy is the best surprise of the season so far for the Rockies. He can stay as long as he likes in my opinion.

Todd Helton continued his comeback campaign with a pair of singles, both of which scored Mark Ellis, who had the decency to give the Toddfather somebody to drive in both times. Probably the best thing about last night's game from an offensive standpoint was that the Rockies did a great job hitting when it mattered. Their 3-for-8 with runners in scoring position isn't quite where it ought to be yet, but it's a vast improvement over where they've been. Also, Ian Stewart: 0-for-3 last night but drew a walk, and in his last at-bat he took a great cut. It was just dumb luck that the ball ripped into Prince Fielder's glove and doubled Ryan Spilborghs off 1st. I'll take that out over a called strike three any day.

Matt Lindstrom and Huston Street combined for two perfect innings without a single baserunner. Yes, even Huston! I guess he didn't want to waste any of his drama in an outing that wasn't a save situation. We all eagerly await the next time you cause us to break out in a cold sweat, Huston. No doubt it's right around the corner.

I have no complaints so far about these second-half Rockies. They really seem reinvigorated. They're playing the game well again. Of course, what they need to do is make this last. Consistency isn't their strong point, so they've got their work cut out for them.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Hello Second Half

Rockies 12, Brewers 3

I'm pleased to inform you that all is finally right with the world. The Dark Lord has been vanquished forever, baseball is back after a break that feels longer every year, and the Rockies are collecting 20 hits in a game. Is this that second-half run so many have been saying the guys would make? Well, let's not get too carried away. We're only one game in. Still, it's hard to ignore the fact that this one game included some very encouraging signs.

Ubaldo Jimenez: Meh, not his best start. 2 runs on 6 hits in 6 innings. 2 walks and only 4 strikeouts. He threw 96 pitches in those 6 innings. High pitch counts are common with Ubaldo, though, so this certainly wasn't his worst start either, and it did come against the hard-hitting Brewers. The good news, and the reason he got and deserves the win, is that he kept things under control. After giving up back-to-back doubles to Ryan Braun and Prince Fielder in the 1st, he struck out Corey Hart. In the 2nd, Yunieksy Betancourt singled and stole 2nd, then was driven in by a Yovani Gallardo double. Don't get too upset with Ubaldo for that one; Gallardo's one of the best hitting pitchers in the game. And a Rickie Weeks strikeout ended that inning. Two more happy things: Fielder's RBI double was his only hit of the game, so he didn't go yard once. And it's not as if he hasn't had any practice with that this week. Also, Ubaldo erased the embarrassment of giving up that hit to Gallardo by knocking an RBI single of his own in the bottom of the 2nd. Ubaldo's batting average is worse than Ian Stewart's, so the joke's on Gallardo now.

Speaking of Ian Stewart. What a night he had! 3-for-5 with 2 runs scored and only 1 strikeout. And 2 of those hits were doubles. I'd be tempted to chalk it up to a bad night for the pitcher, but Stew got each of his hits off a different pitcher. Also, he went 2-for-3 Sunday. I'm holding my breath a little bit here, but maybe his four-month spring training is finally over. If it is, wow, I am so glad we held onto him and that he got another chance. Even if it's not, it's so great to see him swinging and making quality contact. This is the kind of hitter he truly is. I do NOT want to see Ty Wigginton starting in the outfield ever, but if that's what it takes to get Stew more playing time, well, I'm willing to look away.

Another guy I prefer not to see starting in the outfield is Ryan Spilborghs, and he didn't have a super great night defensively. But, he was the undisputed offensive hero of the game. He went 4-for-6 with 4 RBIs and 3 runs scored. He led off the game for the Rockies with a home run. He stole 2nd in the 4th inning, which put him in scoring position and allowed him to score on a Mark Ellis single. He did ground into a double play late in the game, but by then the Rox had a 10-run lead, and Spilly, like Stew, collected his hits off three different pitchers.

Some other guys had a good game as well. Mark Ellis, 2-for-5 with 3 RBIs. Troy Tulowitzki, 2-for-5 with an RBI. Chris Iannetta, 3-for-5, Wiggy 3-for-5. Cole Garner came to the plate twice after entering the game in the 7th; he drew a bases-loaded walk and later hit an RBI single. 20 hits is nothing to turn your nose up at. Of course, these are still the same Rockies who played such bad baseball in the first half, so what I need to see is that they don't come out tonight and scratch out 1 run on 4 hits. They need to keep this thing going. Whatever's working for Spilly and Stew, more. There's still time to crawl out of this hole they're in, but it is a deep deep hole.

I would be remiss not to mention Matt Belisle and Rex Brothers, who each pitched a scoreless inning. Brothers is no longer a concern; after a few growing pains in early June, he's been fantastic. His ERA has dropped from 6.75 to 2.77 since June 20th, and I think he's likely to finish the season at or just under 3. Eric Stults pitched a 1-2-3 9th, after he allowed a home run to Corey Hart. Stults has pitched 7 2/3 innings since his called up and all three of the runs he's given up have come via the solo special. I'm going to say, with fingers crossed, that that's not going to be a huge issue. The first two came in Atlanta, where it seemed like every five minutes Freddie Freeman was hitting a home run. And this most recent one came in Stults's second appearance at Coors Field this season. It's going to take some time for him to learn how to be a Coors pitcher. In his career with the Dodgers, he averaged a home run every 8 innings.

So! The second half has begun and the Rockies appear to be taking the bull by the horns. I certainly hope that is what they are doing. This entire homestand is pretty important, as the Brewers are in town for three more games and will be followed by the Braves for four, fresh off a 4-game sweep of the Rockies at Turner Field last week. How things unfold between now and next Thursday will give us a lot to go on in terms of what we can expect from here on out.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Don't Be Bored: All-Star Edition

On our last off-day, I posted a list of some favorite essays and articles from recent days to help keep you occupied in the absence of a baseball game. We have three straight off-days beginning today, so I'm just going to go with a supersized version of the list and assume that most of you will be watching the Home Run Derby and/or the All-Star Game as well. If it's still not enough - face it, it might be time to develop a hobby outside of baseball.

  • Here's my article for RoxPile on this year's All-Star snubs. According to Buster Olney, there weren't any, but I heartily disagree. If anything I'd say the issue is that too many undeserving players are on the roster. Note: I made this list while Todd Helton was still up for a spot via the Final Vote Ballot. Obviously he would have been in the top 3 if he'd already been cut when I wrote this. Also, 4 of my top 10, Andrew McCutchen, CC Sabathia, Jhonny Peralta, and Michael Pineda did make the final roster thanks to players being injured or bowing out. So some justice was served.
  • Mark Townsend's first-half player ratings for the Rockies. Franklin Morales does look a little strange at #21, but his ERA in his games with Colorado is better than Rafael Betancourt's, and opponents are batting better against Rex Brothers. That hurts.
  • A look at Ubaldo Jimenez's overall value to the team from Logan Burdine. I've been saying for weeks that he's looking more like his old self all the time, and that his early-season struggles are clearly behind him, but my taste for and talent with stats only goes so far. Burdine doesn't give us too many specifics here, but I've read enough of his stuff to know that he really did look up all those FIP numbers and everything else.
  • Let's get some warm Cook fuzzies in light of all the sadness he's been bringing us lately. Purple Row's series on the Rockies' best All-Star moments featured this entry from Andrew Fisher about Cook's brilliant appearance in the 2008 midsummer classic. And it's kind of fun to see him and Clint Hurdle on the mound together in the picture.
  • This is what happens when you take in a game on the opposing team's turf. I totally missed that Ubaldo Jimenez had broken Pedro Astacio's record for strikeouts by a Rockies pitcher, and this is the only place I saw it pointed out. Obviously Ubaldo is going to set a record that will be much harder to beat, but once Jhoulys Chacin records his first no-hitter, he'll be in need of something new to shoot for.
  • Some trade rumors about Ubaldo via Ken Rosenthal. At one point I heard that Ubaldo's name had come up as a possibility to go to the Yankees in exchange for Robinson Cano and Andruw Jones. There must be other names involved in that discussion because I don't see how that's a fair exchange. I really don't want to lose Ubaldo under any circumstances. But for Cano? Yeesh. Tempting.
  • Jayson Stark's first-half awards are my favorites of all that I've read. I purposely don't do first-half evals because the blogosphere is full of them. Save yourself some time and read just this one. Not only is Stark highly readable, anybody who disses Hanley Ramirez has my full support.
  • Fire Jim Tracy? Maybe. Rich Kurtzman's article reminding us of the kind of manager Tracy can be and has been this season is good food for thought.
  • The Marlins gave Jose Lopez even less of a chance than we did. Perhaps we should have been as quick to act on his apparent uselessness.
  • You're not going to hear me talk much about who we should trade and for whom. I'm too sentimental a fan for that. I break out in hives just thinking about losing Chris Iannetta or Ian Stewart. The Clint Barmes-Brad Hawpe-Jeff Francis trifecta last season was almost too much for me. So I'm afraid I have to direct you elsewhere for intelligent discussions on the topic. Try here and here.
I know I promised a supersized list but I think this is about the same size as the last one. I may add some more stuff later, but for now this ought to be enough to get you started.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

2011: The Year the Rockies Could Not Win on Sunday

Rockies 0, Nationals 2

I'm back! I had a great time in DC, and the highlight was definitely getting to hang out in Nationals Park. It is really a beautiful stadium, and they do a great job pumping up their fans. Some might say that they're desperate to get those fans in the first place, but I prefer to think that they just aren't taking them for granted!

I didn't get to attend today's game, and the Rockies responded to my betrayal by losing. But who are we kidding? The Rockies don't win on Sundays no matter who is in attendance. They have won exactly two Sunday games this season, April 10th against the Pirates and April 17th against the Cubs. Whatever is causing this end-of-weekend meltdown, it has to stop. This team is terrible at finishing the job (and that is not a slam on Huston, even though he nearly gave me a stroke last night). They come in to Sunday games with a win or two in their pockets - most of the time - but they can't close it out. They take their chance to win or sweep the series and toss it halfheartedly to the side.

The other disappointing part of this series was how weak the offense was. Yes, I know we have injuries. But there was plenty of Todd Helton and Seth Smith. Troy Tulowitzki was out Friday but back in Saturday and Sunday. Ty Wigginton started every game. Carlos Gonzalez and Charlie Blackmon are really the only ones whose offense we might have missed this weekend, and Charlie has cooled off considerably since his first couple weeks. Could Cargo have driven in four runs in each of these games? Maybe. But probably not. So the blame for the so-so offense, as usual, falls on the shoulders of the team as a whole. 3-2 and 2-1 are perfectly acceptable scores by which to win when you are playing the Phillies or the Braves. Not when you are playing the Nationals.

The pitcher whom the spirit of Cy Young chose to possess today was Jordan Zimmermann. Zimmermann isn't a bad pitcher. He's actually quite good. He's only started 41 games in his young career, but he's posted a modest 3.72 ERA and struck out 201. Opponents are hitting .240 against him this season. Well, the Rockies hit .182 against him today. And everybody but Todd Helton, Jhoulys Chacin (?!), and Ian Stewart (?!?!) hit .000 against him. So it's safe to say that Zimmermann's pitching genius did not win this game for the Nationals.

The real shame in all of it is that Jhoulys Chacin did turn in a pretty genius start. He went 2/3 of an inning longer than Zimmermann (7 total) and allowed the same number of hits (4). But he takes the loss because he happened to give up one run. That run occurred after Chacin had thrown 5 innings of one-hit baseball (the hit came off the bat of Zimmermann). In the 6th, Chacin allowed a pair of singles that, surrounding a sacrifice bunt, scored a run. He didn't make any huge mistakes; there were none of the meat pitches he threw in his last couple starts that resulted in no-doubt moon shots. He only walked 1. This was good Chacin. This was the Chacin that the Rockies need to win for. It is not okay that he pitched that well and the offense gave him zip.

Matt Reynolds took the team out of it for good when he gave up a solo home run to Rick Ankiel in the 8th. It would be easy to blame Reynolds, but he came in with a 1-run deficit that should have been a lead. Also: overmanagement alert. Matt Lindstrom was only allowed to face one batter, whom he struck out, and then Jim Tracy yanked him because the lefty Ankiel was up. Well, Ankiel took Reynolds deep, so there you have it. I understand the logic behind bringing in an LHP to face a lefty, but Lindstrom was doing just fine. Of course, all this is moot, because the Rockies lost by two and therefore Ankiel's run was nothing more than insurance.

So it's time for a break. You need it, I need it, our team needs it. All but Tulo will be lying around their living rooms Tuesday night, watching the game from the comfort of their own couches. Hopefully this time off will provide them an opportunity to think about this first half and consider what is required of them in the second. It's gut-check time.

Friday, July 8, 2011

No Recap Till Sunday

Hello dear readers - I am in Washington DC this weekend to cheer the Rockies on in person. I'm hanging out in the city with friends so I'm suspending my blog for a couple days. I tweeted tonight's game in great detail (head over to my timeline at twitter.com/rockieswoman1 to read) and I'm doing the same tomorrow in lieu of blogging. I'll see you back here Sunday evening for a recap of that day's game!

Thursday, July 7, 2011

The Doldrums

Rockies 3, Braves 6

I guess maybe I'm starting to understand a little bit of what it's like to be a Cubs fan. Or a Mets fan. Recently there was an article in New York magazine about how likely the Mets were to trade Jose Reyes. The writer, Will Leitch, who is reliably one of the most intelligent sportswriters I've ever read, made a good argument for trading and for keeping Reyes. He wrapped the article by saying that whatever decision the Mets' front office made, it was sure to be the wrong one. Well, that was funny. And painfully true. And maybe that's where the Rockies are now, though any Mets fan who reads this will likely think I'm whining and I have no idea what real pain is like. What I do know is that this is one of the worst weeks the Rockies have ever had. This might even be the worst season we've ever had, if the criterion is distance between expected performance and actual performance. And it's only half over.

Today's game against the Braves was like a microcosm for the whole series. For the whole week, really, extending back to Sunday's game against the Royals. Bad situational hitting. Pitcher meltdowns. Injuries.

Bad situational hitting: Please, the next time the bases are loaded and Ty Wigginton is at the plate, somebody place a very large bet on my behalf at wherever those sorts of things are done. You can set your watch by at it this point. Other inexcusables: Mark Ellis grounds into a double play with the bases loaded and 1 out. Mark Ellis also grounds into a force out with the bases loaded and 2 out. And this was after poor Eric Stults, in a desperate attempt to help his own cause, hit a lead-off double. He didn't even get to score in return for his troubles. The only guy who really got anything done today was Jason Giambi. He collected a pair of RBIs, first with a double that rolled to the wall and scored Jonathan Herrera from 1st, and then with a chopper off the plate that scored Ty Wigginton. He did a pretty nice job hustling to 1st base on that too, and was rewarded with "fielder's choice" - a scoring decision I do not understand because no out was made. That happened in a game earlier this week too. I have my doubts about the skills of the Turner Field scorekeeper. Anyway, otherwise it was just a whole lot of leaving guys on base. The usual.

Pitcher meltdowns. Today it was Juan Nicasio's turn. I guess it was only fair that he suffer the same fate of every other Rockies starter in the past couple weeks. He started out looking very solid, with a 9-pitch 1st inning, and he even worked his way out of a bases-loaded jam in the 2nd. Then in the 3rd the wheels came off. He allowed 6 straight hits before he even retired a batter. 3 of those hits went for extra bases. One of those was a home run off the bat of, you guessed it, Freddie Freeman. 5 runs scored. Nicasio got David Ross to strikeout, then walked Nate McLouth to put 2 on with 1 out. Jim Tracy had seen enough. Nicasio's line: 2 1/3 innings pitched, 7 hits, 5 earned runs, 3 walks. 4 strikeouts, which is impressive until you consider he faced 17 batters. The good news I can give you is that the bullpen totally spotted Nicasio. Eric Stults went a full 3 1/3 innings, 2/3 of which involved mopping up Nicasio's mess without allowing a run. He did allow one run in his outing, on a solo shot by Jason Heyward, but otherwise looked terrific. He didn't walk a living soul. Matt Reynolds was his usual solid self for an inning and a third, and even Rafael Betancourt only gave up one hit in his inning! The bullpen is finally coming back around! Too bad everybody else is falling apart.

Injuries. Today it was Charlie Blackmon's turn. He slid into 3rd base in the 3rd inning, and it didn't look like anything had gone wrong at first. But then he called for the trainer and the next thing we knew, he was being replaced by Ty Wigginton (that's how awesomely deep our bench is right now - Wiggy is the best choice to pinch-run). Later we would learn that Blackmon had fractured his left foot. He's out for at least a month and may require surgery. I know he hasn't exactly been a powerhouse recently, but the Rockies started winning again when he came up, and we certainly cannot do without him. Now that he's DL'd, we'll get Cole Garner back. He could surprise us I guess, but it feels like our entire team is made up of Sky Sox right now.

What's the bright side? I'm open to suggestions. For me, though, I actually like the point in the season when it seems like my team is out of it. That frees me up to watch with unclenched teeth for the rest of the year, and to set my sights on the following year's possibilities. In some ways it's easiest to be a real fan when the team is done. You know you're not watching just because of play-off hopes. You're watching because you like baseball. I will always like baseball, so while this certainly isn't my favorite way to enjoy it, I still will.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Good Night and Good Luck, Aaron Cook

Rockies 1, Braves 9

I think I'm finally ready to admit that Aaron Cook's day is done. I feel a kinship with the Rockies' front office, whose reluctance to let go of a player is directly proportional to how long that player has been with the organization. Aaron Cook IS Rockies pitching. He's not the best pitcher we've ever had and definitely isn't the most consistent, but he was the first homegrown pitcher we've had who lived through some tough "nobody can pitch well at Coors" years and finally came out of that. Nobody has hung around as long or tried as hard. Even Jason Jennings was a flash in the pan compared to Cook; their respective ERAs as Rockies: 4.75 and 4.41.

So shaking my head and saying that Cook is cooked is very hard. But it's time. He's a sinkerballer, and his sinker is inconsistently sinking this season. More often than not it stays up, and hitters connect and get it out of the infield. Infield ground balls are Cook's bread and butter, so without them he is, well. Sunk.

Tonight the Braves battered him with 10 hits in 5 innings. He only issued one walk, which is frustrating since walks are the issue with Jhoulys Chacin and Ubaldo Jimenez. Combine Cook with any one of our strikeout guys and he'd be great! But that's not going to happen. The really ugly part about those 10 hits is that they produced 7 runs. That's .7 runs per hit. The Rockies' ratio tonight: .1 runs per hit.

Enough math. The bottom line is that the Rockies still can't hit with runners in scoring position, and until they can, it almost doesn't matter who's on the mound. Cook could have given up 2 runs and we still would have lost this game because we left 9 runners on base. NINE. That's even more unacceptable when you consider that the opposing pitcher was Jair Jurrjens. Many were crying no-hitter before the game began, because that's how good Jurrjens is. That the Rockies got ten men on base and only scored one: that's the hitters' fault. Can't be blamed on the ineptitude of our starting pitcher or the filthiness of the other guys'. Runs must be scored. That's the point of the game, if I'm not much mistaken.

Most grievous offenses: Charlie Blackmon flies out to short left with a runner at 3rd and 1 out. Todd Helton and Ty Wigginton attempt a double steal with 1 out (Helton was safe but Wiggy was not - this was followed by a Mark Ellis walk that would have meant the bases were loaded with 1 out). Wigginton strikes out swinging with the bases loaded and 2 out. These are things that cannot happen. Ever.

Besides those inexcusable mistakes, I'm going to go kind of easy on the offense. It's just not fair to ask them to score a lot of runs minus Carlos Gonzalez and Troy Tulowitzki. And they did do some encouraging things. I'm going to single out Ian Stewart here because he has needed a triumph, and he got it. He had a spectacular at-bat in the 5th. He took a couple of balls and fouled off several pitches. Then he laced a double to the wall. He scored on Matt Pagnozzi's single. If he hadn't had that at-bat, we probably would have been shut out. We need to see a lot more of those from him, but that's a very good start.

Rex Brothers: making progress. He inherited 2 baserunners with nobody out in the 6th. It wouldn't be a Brothers outing without a walk, which he immediately issued. But then he got Jason Heyward to ground into a double play. A run scored but that was still a very important outcome. An RBI single scored another run; both runs were charged to Cook, and if Brothers had come into a bases-empty situation, he would have had a scoreless inning. Matt Belisle: seems to be totally recovered (massive sigh of relief). Rafael Betancourt: another 2-run home run. Shaking my head.

Of course the bullpen was pretty irrelevant, as was the offense, since Cook played us out of this game early on. I feel like a jerk for saying his time is up, especially when I read things like this: "I just feel bad because I am putting my team in huge deficits. It's a really bad feeling. I am not doing my part." (via @TroyRenck) That makes me want to give him a big hug and say all is forgiven. But it's time for the front office and me to man/woman up. It might be too late for this team in 2011, but 2012 is looming and I just don't think Aaron Cook has a place in that picture.

Tweet of the Game: @KrissiBex: "Well let's just look away and pretend THAT never happened. #Rockies."

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

New Plan: No More Walks. None.

Rockies 3, Braves 5

You beat a team like the Braves the same way you beat a team like the Giants: 1) Make their pitchers throw strikes, and when they do, hit them. 2) Make their hitters swing the bat, and when they do, keep the ball down so they can't get it out of the infield. The Braves are no offensive powerhouse. The collective batting average for every guy who came into tonight's game is .234. So how did they win? Well, the Rockies swung at icky pitches, which allowed Derek Lowe et al to paint the corners, keep the counts crisp and quick, and get a lot of ground ball outs. And Jhoulys Chacin taught the Braves early that if they waited patiently, chances were good they'd get four pitches they couldn't swing at before they got three pitches they could. 6 walks (them) and 10 strikeouts (us) later, Rockies lose.

Chacin pitched a lot better than he did in Chicago last week, when every other walk seemed to be followed by a home run. This time, he only gave up one of those, in the 2nd inning, to Freddie Freeman (naturally). Beyond that, he allowed baserunners in all of his 5 innings but one. Irritatingly, he did what he needed to do to make sure those runners got stranded every time, except for one time, the worst possible time. After a ground-rule double and a pair of WALKS, the Braves had the bases loaded in the 4th. But there were 2 outs and Derek Lowe was coming to the plate. Well, you simply must get an out right there. Lowe is no Yovani Gallardo. He's probably going to hit a dribbler if you throw enough strikes at him. Chacin did immediately throw two pitches for strikes, but then he threw one for a ball, and another that Lowe fouled, and another ball. Lowe jumped on the 6th pitch and drove it down the line for a double. Bases cleared.

What this scenario demonstrates is that it really doesn't matter how good you are at managing your traffic. Eventually it will come back to get you. This is what we see with Huston Street once a week or so. Most of the time he keeps his runners from costing the team, but you can only have so much success with that. It's a gamble anytime you walk a guy. The next batter could send him home, and when the next batter is the opposing pitcher, well, ouch.

The Rockies stayed in this game because eventually they did force Lowe to throw strikes. In the 5th inning he allowed 2 hits, 2 walks, and 2 runs. One of the guys who walked was even Ian Stewart. If he can do that as often as he strikes out looking, it won't matter that he hardly ever makes quality contact. His walk tonight allowed him to score a run. Good job Stew. The 6th inning went pretty similarly, though this time it was just hits, no walks. And only one run scored. That would be it for offense, and 3 runs wouldn't be enough.

Eric Stults and Matt Lindstrom looked good out of the pen, except that they both gave up extra-base hits to Dan Uggla, who's having a terrible season and hitting .178. That's a little embarrassing. I think more embarrassing than that, though, was the top of the 8th when the Rockies had the tying run in scoring position with one out and still couldn't plate it. Jonny Venters was pitching, and he's a beast, but he allowed those runners on. Chris Iannetta and Jason Giambi just watched his pitches sail over the plate. You cannot not put the ball in play in that situation, especially if you're Iannetta and there's only one out. That's almost as big a must as you must get the opposing pitcher when there are 2 outs and the bases are loaded.

Okay, enough criticism. Time for some gentleness. This Rockies team is a little battered right now. Without Carlos Gonzalez and Troy Tulowitzki in the lineup, our offensive power is diminished significantly. Todd Helton, Seth Smith, and Ty Wigginton ought to be capable of carrying things for the most part, but they certainly play better with protection from Cargo and Tulo. Plus Atlanta just has a filthy pitching staff. There's no way around that. And we haven't even faced Jair Jurrjens yet. We're the underdogs in this series. I think I'm going to be really excited if we win one.

I need an All-Star break. Anybody else?

Tweet of the Game: @sarolei, please don't ever stop tweeting. You seriously crack me up. "Hey, Major League Baseball players! In a slump? We can help! Can't find your swing? NO PROBLEM. We can fix ANYBODY. Call us. #Rockies."