The Colorado Rockies have had a special season. After falling on their faces out of the gate, the team took a 180 degree turn after appointing Jim Tracy as manager. They have crawled all the way back from nearly being the worst team in the league, to being the Wild Card leader in the National League.
After a convincing weekend series against the team they just leap frogged, the San Francisco Giants, the Rockies embarked on a 10 game road trip that could very well define their season.
Leading the Wild Card race by two games the Rockies are not in a position to catch their breath after racing back into contention. They have five teams that are within striking distance, so they must stay on their game if they want to play in October.
On Monday night the Rockies looked like they had everything in order to start the road trip with a win. They had their future ace Ubaldo Jimenez on the mound, facing Oliver Perez who has struggled mightily, he has an ERA that is hovering in the sevens.
While the numbers generally tell the story, Monday night was a classic example of the old saying “that’s why they play the game.” While Jimenez pitched well, he was not able to protect a 3-1 lead, giving up two hits in the sixth inning and was unable to close the door, allowing the Mets to tie the ball game.
While Jimenez has the stuff to be a superstar, he continues to struggle with the big inning. He has yet to learn to trust his stuff and bear down to get outs in big situations. While his run support has been pathetic, he is the type of pitcher who should win a game that he leads 3-1 in the sixth inning.
While Jimenez let the Mets tie the game, the Rockies offense is just as guilty for the loss. They left 10 men on base with two outs throughout the game, 18 men left on base total. At one point, failing to score Dexter Fowler who had led off the third inning with a double.
When the Rockies are on they get big hits. In fact, the Rockies lead all of baseball in sacrifice flies and two-out RBI’s, quite possibly the main reason for their return to the race. When they fail, however, the team struggles. The rotation has been good, but even with good pitching three runs is generally not going to be enough.
While Juan Rincon has been good for the Rockies recently, Jim Tracy’s move to use him in the eighth inning could easily be questioned. While Tracy has had a golden finger, making moves that seem to be perfectly timed, the recent late-game use of Rincon can be analyzed.
Tracy has moved recently moved Rincon into higher pressure situations since the loss of Manny Corpas. The decision comes on the heels of good performances from the righty. Last Tuesday night in the middle game of the Diamondbacks series, Rincon gave up a huge two run shot to Miguel Montero, sealing the win for the D-Backs.
Tracy had several other options. He could have gone to Franklin Morales, who has done well in his late inning situations, or he could have gone to Rafael Betancourt, his newly acquired set up man. While Betancourt will most likely be used in late inning situations when the Rockies are leading, it may have been a good time to go to him, even with a tie ball game.
It was clear early that Rincon did not have his stuff. He was missing mightily up and out of the zone. He gave up two quick walks to start the eighth inning, got an out on a sacrifice bunt, then intentionally walked Jeff Francouer to bring up Cory Sullivan. Morales came in to face the lefty and the Mets countered with righty, and professional grand slam hitter Fernando Tatis.
Tatis delivered on an 0-2 pitch. It was a good pitch by Morales. The ball was so low that Chris Iannetta had gone to his knees to block the ball. Tatis smacked it hard enough to clear the left field wall for his eighth career slam, slamming the door on the face of the Rockies.
While hindsight is 20/20 and it is easy to second guess a manager after the fact, it seems risky to move a pitcher of Rincon’s ilk to a late inning role. Rincon has a career ERA of 3.87, but has not had an ERA below 5.13 since 2006. He was cut by the Tigers earlier this season due to his ineffectiveness. While sometimes pitchers benefit from a change of scenery, the case may be with Rincon that he is just on the downhill side of his career. When Tracy has pitchers like Daley and Morales, it would seem more prudent to go with one of the pitchers who has proven to be more consistent in an eighth inning situation.
With the Rockies going up against the Mets, Reds and Cardinals on this road trip, it could easily be a turning point for the team one way or the other. If they want to make a positive impact, games like Monday’s are games that they must win.