Thursday, June 11, 2009
Rockies Show Fight In Eight Straight Win
It will be easy to pick out a Rockies fan on Friday. They will be the one with no fingernails left.
After a grueling final three innings of the longest road trip in 2009, the Rockies held on to a 5-4 win to sweep the Brewers in Milwaukee for the first time in their history.
The bullpen, which has been tough as nails throughout the road trip, showed that they are human again on Thursday.
For Jim Tracy's squad to get through the seventh inning it took four pitchers. Holding on to a 3-0 lead, Aaron Cook, who had thrown six spotless innings before tiring in the seventh, gave up back-to-back singles. That was it for Cook as he gave way to Matt Daley, who got an out but allowed the runners to move to second and third, then came Alan Embree, who got an out of his own on a sacrifice fly to score the Brewers first run, then Joel Peralta, who walked a man to load the bases, before getting Ryan Braun to strike out to end the threat with only one run scoring. Just as he did on Wednesday night, Peralta threw the biggest pitch of the game and was able to deliver a strikeout.
Knowing they needed some insurance, the offense came out and put up two more runs. The cushion was barely enough as Huston Street gave up a three run blast in the ninth to Braun. Street was only responsible for Braun's run as he was trying to clean up the mess left for him by Randy Flores.
After walking Prince Fielder, Street got Mat Gamel to strike out, ending the threat and the game.
The eight game winning streak has everyone a buzz again as the squad climbed back to within four games of .500. Don't look now, but the home team is just 5-1/2 games out of the wild card race in the National League.
It is far too early to talk about contention, but the fact of the matter is, this team is starting to raise eyebrows.
This 11 game road trip, the longest of the season, was supposed to put Colorado closer in the standings to the Nationals than to the Dodgers. It was supposed to be the final straw before the front office started off-loading the salaries of Brad Hawpe, Jason Marquis and Huston Street. After dropping the first three games of the trip, it looked like everything was going to plan.
The Rox had a different plan, however, as they decided to come together as a team, and break all sorts of franchise records.
An eight game road winning streak is the longest in their history. It is also the first time that a club from the Mile High city has swept a series in St. Louis. It is also the first sweep in Milwaukee. This is the first time that Rockies starting pitchers have picked up eight consecutive wins. It is also the latest that a Rockies squad has been over .500 on the road.
It is hard not to wonder if this team is finally playing to its potential that it showed in Spring Training. It is also hard to discount a squad that has played more games than anyone else in the league on the road and is still a stone's throw away from being in contention.
The Rockies have played 37 games on the road, while only 23 at home. It is the greatest disparage in the league. That stat evens itself out as the Rockies are starting to get hot and lasts through July.
In the first two months, this squad could do nothing right. The defense was terrible, the bullpen could not nail a lead down, and the offense could not get a clutch hit to save themselves. That has all changed, and there is one simple key to that change. The starting pitching has finally turned the corner.
During the run Rockies starters have thrown no less than six innings in any game. They have not given up more than three runs in any of their outings.
Starting pitching does not get clutch hits. What it does get, however, is confidence from a lineup. Instead of feeling like they were constantly going to be crawling out of a hole, the lineup knew that if they took advantage of opportunities they could simply score a run here and there and be in the game. When the starting pitching is weak, the offense begins to press, thinking that they have to get the big inning every time out.
The other aspect that is often forgotten about solid starting pitching is that when a team is in the lead they are not seeing the best of the opposition's bullpen. Far too often early in the season the offense was busy late in the game facing the opposing team's set-up man and then their closer.
The Rockies now face another task. They need to prove that they can win at home. They embark on a nine-game homestand starting on Friday facing the Mariners for three games, then the AL Champion Rays for three, followed by the Pirates for three more.