One week after securing a four game lead in the Wild Card and making it seem like they were taking aim at another race, the Rockies have fallen back to nearly even with the Giants.
Barry Zito did his best Tim Lincecum impression on Saturday night, nearly going the distance for the Giants before serving up a Brad Hawpe opposite field home run in the ninth.
The Rockies put up a fight, getting the tying run to the plate before Clint Barmes hit a weak fly ball to center field, forcing the Rockies to succumb to a Giants team that looked far more comfortable all night long.
It would be easy to once again give credit to the pitcher. Zito was on. He had very good stuff all night long that kept the Rockies hitters off balance. He was difficult to hit and work his way out of jams. That is what good pitchers do. The problem for the Rockies is that if they are serious about being a contender, they are going to need to be able to beat good pitchers.
In order to beat good pitchers they are going to find a better option than struggling second baseman Clint Barmes. Barmes, who went 1-for-5 on Saturday, flying out to end the game on the first pitch from Brian Wilson. Barmes greatest failure on the night, however, was his inability to get a bunt down in the fifth inning. With runners at first and second and no one out, the second baseman made a feeble attempt at getting a bunt down on a Zito fastball. Barmes made timid little leaguers look good on the attempt. He fouled it straight up in the air, and Giants catcher Eli Whiteside made the catch, leaving the runners at first and second now with one out.
Barmes' second half has been a total failure. He has seen his average drop 40 points since the beginning of July and has failed in some of the biggest situations.
The issue for Barmes is a tough one. He is very aggressive at the plate. He has never seen a breaking ball in the dirt that he did not want to take a hack at. He loves to swing the bat and wants to put the ball in play. The fact is, this very attitude is what put Barmes in the big leagues. He is not a huge man. He cannot hit the ball 500 feet, he does not have exceptional speed and he has never been known as a great hitter. What he is known for is his work ethic.
Barmes' talent may not be Major League, but his heart is Hall of Fame. He has become a great fielder because of his determination and effort. He has learned to hit for power, and when he can keep his weight back and go to the opposite field, he is actually a decent hitter.
For Barmes, his greatest strength is also his greatest weakness.
Making it to the big leagues with less than Major League talent required Barmes to play the part with aggressiveness. He worked his way into positions and found ways to get the job done. He was not good enough to simply stand at the plate and take pitches. He needed to hit the ball and hit the ball hard to prove that he belonged. Now that he has arrived, however, he has not learned when to turn that intensity down. He is consistently trying to do too much. If a pitcher wants to get Barmes out, all they need to do is throw him an off speed pitch. Keeping his weight back and waiting for a pitch is not a part of Barmes' game.
The second baseman is similar to the Padres two-time World Champion and one-time World Series MVP David Eckstein in so many ways that they cannot be counted. They both play the game as hard as possible and never quit. Their only differences are the fact that Barmes has more natural talent, and Eckstein can get the little things done to help his team win a baseball game.
Eckstein is a great bunter. He can move a runner over and sacrifice himself. Little things are what got Eckstein to the big leagues. Barmes not executing on the bunt attempt was costly for the Rockies on Saturday. It changed the complexion of the inning, and in a game where the opposing pitcher is throwing as well as Zito was, that one inning is where the Rockies needed to break through.
The Rockies look to avoid the sweep and maintain a lead in the Wild Card race with the series finale on Sunday. It will be no easy task for the Rockies. The Giants are putting Matt Cain on the mound and the Rockies are countering with number five starter Jason Hammel. Game time is 2:10 MDT.