Saturday, September 19, 2009

Are The Colorado Rockies Falling Apart?

September.

It is the month when memories are made. Two years ago the memories that were made for the Colorado Rockies and their fans was the famous run to the National League pennant, it was of erasing a six game deficit and finding themselves playing the Padres at Coors Field in a winner-take-all one game playoff. It was Matt Holliday sliding somewhere near the plate and being called safe.

All the September memories smell like roses to Rockies fans.

What the Rockies have yet to experience is the opposite side of those memories. They are the memories the New York Mets are all too familiar with. They are the memories that include the words choke and collapse. These are the September memories that the Rockies know nothing of.

The fact of the matter is, the Rockies memories of September have only been good because for the most part, no one in Denver was worried about the Rockies this late in the year. The attention had turned to the Broncos, or to the Buffs. The Rockies have historically been so far out of the race in September that the only adjective used to describe the September Rockies has been “done.”

After a 7-5 loss on Friday night to the Diamondbacks, coupled with a Giants win in Los Angeles, these Rockies are getting closer and closer to hearing the negative side of those September descriptions.

The Colorado Rockies are still 2-1/2 games up on the Giants in the Wild Card race, and there is little doubt that the Dodgers will most likely find a way to take at least one game from San Francisco over the weekend. Regardless, this Rockies team is on the verge of falling apart.

On a crucial road trip for the team, the Rockies have scored no more than five runs in a game, and that came in Friday night’s loss. They are 2-5 overall on the trip, and the reality is, the two wins that they got were no beat downs. Both wins were not decided until the final pitch was thrown. In San Diego the Rockies were down to their final strike against one of the best closers in the game. In San Francisco the Rockies were one sacrifice fly away from heading to extra innings to avoid a sweep. The point is that in the biggest stretch of the season for the Rockies, they easily could be 0-7.

After a day off on Thursday to regroup and get some rest for the stretch run, the Rockies came back to the field to face a team they swept two weekends ago in Denver and they had Jason Marquis on the mound. It would seem that this should have been a game that a team hungry for the playoffs would find a way to win. After the Rockies went up 4-1 it seemed like it was in the bag and that possibly the Rockies were figuring it out.

Instead Jason Marquis, owner of a 4-6 record since his first All-Star appearance, pitched his way out of a win. Instead of being the first half pitcher who dominated games by attacking the bottom half of the strike zone, Marquis struggled to throw the ball over the plate, and when he did the ball seemed to find either the top of the wall or one of the gaps. The biggest blow came in the fourth when Marquis was able to get a double play to get himself out of a jam only before giving up a run scoring base hit and a two run home run to knot the game at four apiece.

Marquis was visibly angry with home plate umpire Lance Barksdale, who by all accounts had a postage stamp strike zone. Yet Marquis was never backed up by his manager or his pitching coach. Not once did Jim Tracy or Bob Apodaca ruffle any feathers by letting Barksdale have it for the close calls not going Marquis way. This kept the pressure on Marquis, who was unable to battle both the umpire and the batters.

Before it was all said and done, Marquis had taken his fourth bad outing in his last five times out, giving up at least four runs in each of those bad trips to the mound. In his last two times out he gave up a lead of at least two runs.

These are the losses that are debilitating to a baseball team. The Rockies have been in a prime position to bury the Giants in the National League Wild Card race for two weeks. While they played well at home, they have failed to be able to shut down their NL West opponents on the road.

The Rockies are not playing with a sense of urgency, they are playing as if they just need to finish the regular season with as few losses as possible. They are not taking the field in an effort to win every night, but in an effort to not lose. This is not the kind of team that will have success in the postseason. They need to get back to the killer mindset where no lead is good enough and where if the other team strikes, they had better watch out. Those Rockies are not coming to the ballpark these days, however. Instead, the Rockies who are trying to lose as few games as possible before coming home are taking the field.

If the Rockies want to avoid words like “choke” and “collapse”, they must find a way to get the swagger back that they played with for the majority of the middle of the season. If they cannot find it they may be in trouble.

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