Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Rockies Lose Series In LA, But Prove That They Are For Real

On paper the Rockies just lost a series with the Dodgers after a 1-0 pitchers duel where Jason Hammel came out on the wrong end.

However, after a winning road trip and a hard-fought series against the team with the best record in the Major Leagues, the Rockies should head back to Coors Field with a little bit more confidence.

After being owned by the Dodgers in their first three series of the season, the Rockies walked into Dodger Stadium on Monday having lost eight out of nine games against the NL West leaders. While the 1-8 record speaks for itself, it actually does not do justice for how badly the Rockies were beat up in those games. The first series in LA, the Rockies were outscored 31-13 in three games.

That, however, was before June started. The Rockies won more games than any other team in the league in the month and were finally hitting on all cylinders for the first time in the season.

While the offense has been in a groove and has been able to find ways to score runs when it counts, the catalyst for the incredible run has been the starting pitching.

Rockies starters won 18 games in June, that is the most by any team since 1984 when the New York Mets starters also won 18 games. Early in the season both Aaron Cook and Ubaldo Jimenez could not seem to find a groove. Lately, they have found their ways and are pitching with a renewed sense of confidence.

While Cook and Jimenez were expected to produce, two members of the Colorado rotation have proven to be a big surprise. Jason Marquis, acquired from the Chicago Cubs for Luis Vizcaino primarily as insurance in case Jeff Francis was not recovered, has turned into an All-Star candidate. He is the first 10 game winner in the National League.

Marquis' talent was never in doubt, coming into 2009 he had won at least 11 games in each of the past five seasons. Despite his track record, he was thought of more as an innings-eater than a dominate Major League pitcher. Most thought of him as a true number-five type guy in the rotation, instead, he has shown that he is a true professional and, after tweaking some mechanics in the off season, Marquis is throwing a sinker that is as good as anyone in the league.

Without Marquis' early season performance, the Rockies June push would be simply an afterthought in the baseball world. They would be so buried in both the National League West and the Wild Card races that getting back into the chase would require twice the run the Rockies went on.

The other great surprise has been Jason Hammel. The 6'6" righty was brought in for a middle-of-the-road Double-A prospect Aneury Rodriguez. He had lost a battle for the fifth spot in the Rays rotation and was out of options. The Rockies looked at him as a possible long reliever and someone who could possibly fill in the fifth spot in the rotation.

The title of fill-in has quickly disappeared.

When Hammel takes the hill, there is no feeling that the offense is going to need to put up a ton of runs for the Rockies to stay in the game. There is no fear that the club will be out of the game quickly. After Wednesday's 1-0 complete game loss in which Hammel gave up only five hits and the one earned run, his record sits at 5-4, but his ERA speaks more of the job that he had done for the Rockies, sitting at a solid 3.90.

With Marquis and Hammel, to go along with the top shelf talent of Jimenez and Cook, the Rockies boast one of the best starting rotations in the National League West. While the names on the back of the uniforms may not come with the national exposure that other superstars get, the talent is clear and it is showing itself on a consistent basis.

When the quality starts become more and more frequent, like they have been as of late, it builds confidence in a clubhouse that there is a chance to win a baseball game every single time they put the uniform on. Take one look at the Rockies as proof of that. They have showed their confidence more and more since the beginning of this amazing run.

While many are waiting for the other shoe to drop and the Rockies to fall apart all over again, anyone who consistently watches this team knows by now that this is not a flash in the pan. The Colorado Rockies are a good team and they have the talent and potential to give the Dodgers and run for their money in the N.L. West race, and the potential to go deep into the playoffs.

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