Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Rockies Ride Into Philadelphia, Win Series Opener

Coming into Tuesday night's game with the Phillies the Colorado Rockies had won four straight and quickly turned around the fate of what seemed like an ill-fated road trip after dropping the first three games in New York. The Rockies were able to run the streak to five in a row after pounding the Phillies 8-3.

Playing against the World Series champions from a year ago, the Rockies would love to come away with a series victory and head home to play the Cubs with a winning road trip.

Knowing that the team will be facing newly acquired defending AL Cy Young winner Cliff Lee on Thursday, the Rockies would need to get a win early in the series to allow themselves some breathing room. With Jason Hammel on the hill for the Rox, the feeling was that the offense would need to step up and get the job done.

Hammel struggled all the way through July. He carried his typical home struggles with him on the road, culminating in his final start of the month, going head to head against Mets ace Johan Santana. He could not get out of the second inning, giving up five runs in the frame before recording the second out.

While the offense did it's job to put runs on the board, Hammel's performance was a huge confidence boost for the Rockies. He worked into the seventh inning, giving up three runs on nine hits. He struck out nine Phillies and had confidence in his breaking ball.

While Hammel's line was nothing spectacular, the story will not show up in the boxscore. In the bottom of the third inning, staked to a 2-0 lead, Hammel had runners on first and second with two outs. He then hit Chase Utley with a curveball and was forced to face slugging lefty Ryan Howard with the bases loaded. After running the count full it looked like Hammel would groove a fastball and hope for the best, which usually results in the worst. Instead, Hammel delivered a hard curve ball on the inside half of the plate. Howard swung through the pitch and the Rockies were out of the inning.

That was the biggest pitch of the night.
The lineup, tweaked slightly facing lefty Jamie Moyer, came to life. Garrett Atkins, getting a rare start, showed how deep this Rockies offense is. In the second inning after Ryan Spilborghs reached base Atkins drilled a pitch into the left field seats to give Colorado a 2-0 lead.

During this road trip, despite the success in the previous four games, the offense has played like it did during the first two months of the season. Instead of getting a lead and continuing to pour the runs on, they would get a lead and get content, before blowing the lead and wondering why they had lost the game.

That ended on Tuesday night as the lineup was able to go up 4-0, then after the Phillies put two runs on the board the Rockies offense came back and put a four-spot on the board in the sixth inning, courtesy of a two run double by Atkins.

The win shows the strength of the Rockies, who dominated a game in which their struggling fifth starter was on the mound, and two everyday starters were on the bench due to the lefty Moyer being on the mound.
If Hammel can pitch as well as he did on Tuesday and Jorge De La Rosa can continue gaining confidence and pitching at the level that he is capable of, this Rockies team is extremely dangerous. There is no easy game for an opposing offense.

Hammel has shown his abilities, but has yet to reach the consistency needed for full confidence to be put in him.
The offense also showed its depth. Having a guy like Atkins on the bench, who has struggled mightily this year but has proven his talent over his career, is something that most teams do not have.

Both Carlos Gonzalez and Dexter Fowler, youngsters that the Rockies are depending on, have started to turn the corner. Both players are tremendously talented, but have had their fair share of struggles. Recently, however, Gonzalez has learned to lay off the breaking ball outside of the strike zone. Fowler is still a young player learning to play the game, but his game winning hit on Sunday, and then a ball hit deep off the wall in right-center field on Tuesday shows that he is maturing as a player.

While the Rockies are not getting much national attention, it may be just what they need. Teams can continue to underestimate them and get surprised when the Rockies, who are very adept at winning on the road, play like contenders.

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