Monday, August 17, 2009

Cook's Struggles Will Hurt The Rockies, De La Rosa Continues To Impress

Sweeping a doubleheader in Major League Baseball is very difficult. Teams generally split a double dip. However, the Rockies had a chance at widening their Wild Card lead and gaining ground in the National League West if they were able to accomplish the feat.

The day started with the return of Aaron Cook, the Rockies ace who missed his last start due to a sprained big toe. After nursing the toe back to health, Cook was set to rejoin the rotation and help the Rockies get a win in a very important series in Miami.

It was not meant to be as Cook lasted just 2-1/3 innings, giving up seven runs on eight hits. He walked three and struck out two. It is Cook's second consecutive loss after winning seven straight decisions. Do not be fooled by the numbers, however, as Cook has been struggling for some time now.

On Independence Day at Coors Field against the Diamondbacks, Cook was staked to a 4-0 lead going into the fourth inning. Normally for a pitcher of Cook's caliber, the Rockies would just put the game down in the books as a W. Instead, Cook blew the lead, leaving in the sixth inning with a tie ball game after giving up a big home run to Mark Reynolds. Later in the month he pitched a carbon copy of the game. With the Diamondbacks in town once again, Cook blew a 3-0 lead, and the Rockies eventually lost to the D-Backs, resulting in another no-decision for the right hander.

On July 31st in Cincinnati, the red head looked dominant through five innings. The Rockies were seemingly in control with a 3-0 lead in the seventh inning. They seemed in control until Cook gave up back to back home runs to tie the game. The biggest bomb coming off the bat of Paul Bako, a Mendoza-like hitter who had yet to homer on the season.

While the Rockies went on to win that game, it continued a disturbing trend for Cook. For a sinkerball pitcher, Cook has given up way too many home runs. In just 142 innings on the season, Cook has given up more home runs (18) than he has in any other season in his career. In 2008, Cook's All-Star season, he gave up just 13 home runs, and that was in 211-1/3 innings.

Sunday, on a very humid day in Miami, Cook's sinker was not sinking. He would leave the pitch over the plate and in the hitter's zone.

The slump may be a disturbing trend.

In 2008, after getting started extremely quickly and racing to an All-Star appearance, Cook looked like he was on his way to a franchise record for wins. He even seemed as if he had a chance to win 20 games and compete for some Cy Young votes.

Instead, Cook struggled after the All-Star break. In August of 2008 Cook threw more than five innings in exactly one start, and he went just six innings in that game. In fact, over a seven start stretch beginning in August and ending September 9th, Cook maxed out at six innings pitched, and he did that only twice, going 2-3 with two no-decisions.

The reason that it is a concern is because if the Rockies want to have a shot at the playoffs they do not simply need Aaron Cook to be a decent pitcher, they need him to be dominant. If he is only going to throw five innings in his starts, he is not being effective enough against the opposition to give his teammates confidence to back him up with run support.

While some of the blame may lie on the sprained toe, the fact is, this Rockies team is in desperate need for Cook to show that he can dominate like he has in the first half over the last two seasons.

Speaking of dominant, the Rockies were spared by the phenomenal pitching of Jorge De La Rosa in the second game. The lefty added to his win total, giving him 11 on the season. He has won more games than any other starter in Major League Baseball since June 1st.

De La Rosa's confidence is at an all-time high. Instead of looking scared on the mound when he gets into a jam he simply finds a way to bob and weave his way out of it. It has actually become a joy to watch. Often thought of as the weak link in the rotation, De La Rosa has now become one of the most relied upon starter. After the Rockies dropped the first game of the doubleheader, there was a sense of relief that De La Rosa would be going out there to avoid the sweep in game two.

He delivered just as everyone expected him to.

The Rockies get an off day on Monday to go check out the sites in Washington D.C. before playing a three game series against the Nationals. The Rockies need to take the series in order to salvage a decent road trip. While it would be nice to sweep the lowly Nats, they have been playing a better brand of baseball of late and actually have a decent lineup.

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