After three exciting wins in a row that made fans believe that a playoff berth is not just a pipe dream, the Rockies lost two games to the Dodgers, leaving them with some serious work to do as the head west for a weekend rematch against the Giants at AT&T Park in San Francisco.
The Rockies rallied to beat Tim Lincecum, then played plated five runs in the 14th inning on Monday for the win. Then they completed the trifecta with a win in the 10th inning on Monday night, the second consecutive extra-inning walk off win for the Rockies.
The wins gave them distance in the Wild Card standings, and closed the gap in the NL West, all while creating a buzz in Denver that resonated throughout the Rocky Mountain region. These Rockies were serious about contention.
Then reality hit.
Josh Fogg, filling in for the injured Aaron Cook, gave up six runs in three-plus innings on Tuesday night. That gave the Dodgers a lead the Rockies could not come back from. Then, on Thursday, Jorge De La Rosa pitched well, but the offense could not support him, and the Rockies lost 3-2.
Tuesday night's game can be chalked up to a bad outing. Fogg never had his best stuff, and if it weren't for Juan Rincon, the Rockies would have lost by an even larger margin with the bullpen getting even more warn out.
Wednesday's game is the game that should have the Rockies concerned. They were facing newly acquired pitcher Vincente Padilla in his first Dodger start. Padilla is not terrible, but he was released for a reason. He is a decent pitcher, but is known for getting hurt the second time through the order.
With the Rockies getting a good outing from De La Rosa, the offense needed to find a way to score runs against Padilla. Two runs in five innings was simply not going to be enough to make sure that the Rockies got the win. Very rarely does a team win a Major League Baseball game scoring only two runs.
In a homestand that the Rockies surprisingly finished out at just 4-3, the Rockies failed to score first in any of the games. Not once did the home team get on the board first. While the Rockies were able to come back in four games. That is a trend that simply cannot continue if the Rockies are hoping to hold onto their playoff hopes.
Part of the reason for the early deficits comes due to the starting pitching not getting into a zone early in the game. In all but one of the games the opposition scored in the first inning. In the the other game, Ubaldo Jimenez served up a two run home run to Edgar Renteria in the second inning. It may be time to call into question the method of preparation that pitching coach Bob Apodaca is employing for his starter.
The issue is not only with the pitching. The hitters are failing miserably at the plate.
Brad Hawpe has watched his batting average drop from the .320 mark at the All-Star game to an even .300 after going 1-for-4 on Thursday. Hawpe's strikeouts are way up. He is confused by the breaking pitch and has failed in the exact situation that landed him in the All-Star game, hitting in the clutch.
Second baseman Clint Barmes, while hitting his 21st home run of the season on Tuesday night, is struggling mightily at the plate. He has watched his average drop from nearly .300 all the way down to .248. In Las Vegas betting on him to pop up to an infielder would be the easiest bet in town.
Ian Stewart is also struggling. He was a bright spot when Garrett Atkins start to the season never seemed to turn around. However, Stewart is not doing much better. Stewart has struck out 12 times in his last seven games, while walking only three times and getting only three hits, one for extra bases in that same span.
His defense provides a lift for the Rockies, but in order for this team to contend they need Stewart to be hitting somewhere in the range of .260 instead of the .222 average he will take to San Francisco.
Strikeouts are rally killers and the Rockies have been good at doing that while they have struggled. In the last seven days the Rockies have struck out 48 times, and in the last two weeks they have fanned a whopping 114 times. That is far too many times for a team that can hit for power, but does not pride itself in winning games by out homering the opposition.
The weekend does not get any easier as San Francisco looks to avenge a bad weekend in Denver. The Giants will put Tim Lincecum, Barry Zito and Matt Cain on the mound, which should prove to be a difficult task for the Rockies.
With the loss the Rockies are looking at going to San Francisco trailing the Dodgers by four games in the West and leading the Giants by just 2-1/2 games, depending on the results of the Giants game against the Diamondbacks on Thursday night.