Sunday, September 6, 2009

Contreras Delivers for Rockies; Bats Still Hollow

When the Rockies acquired Jose Contreras from the White Sox less than a week ago there was a collective groan from Rockies fans throughout Colorado. At 5-13 with an ERA near 6.00 most thought that trading Brandon Hynick, a pitching prospect who threw a perfect game in Triple-A on June 30th, was a huge mistake.

The Rockies were in desperate need for a starter to fill the void of Aaron Cook after Josh Fogg failed in his attempt and the spot was skipped the next time around. Most did not think that the answer would be Contreras.

Adversity, however, is something that Contreras is clearly no stranger to. He grew up under the oppression of dictator Fidel Castro in Cuba and was able to escape against all odds to pitch under the bright lights of Yankee Stadium. He pitched in the World Series in his first season in America. He also spent four years away from his wife and family while he waited for them to be able to enter America with him.

So to say that some fans not being excited about his acquisition would bother him would be ridiculous.

Contreras gave the Rockies exactly what they were looking for. He went 6-2/3 innings, giving up just one run on a mistake pitch that was crushed to left-center field off the bat of Brandon Allen. Although working with traffic, Contreras was able to fight back in every single inning and get the Diamondbacks to get themselves out.

The Cuban righty scattered eight hits and struck out five while giving up just the one run. Maybe the most important stat of the night for Contreras was that he walked only one hitter. While he was not pounding the strike zone, Contreras was able to work his way back from several 3-0 counts to get the hitters out.

The night was solidified by the offensive performance of Seth Smith, who doubled twice and homered, scoring three of the Rockies four runs. His second double of the night was pure hustle. With two outs in the fifth inning Smith hit a ball sharply to right field. He hit first base and never slowed down, barely beating the throw from strong-armed right fielder Justin Upton. Smith then hustled home on Todd Helton's single to right, once again barely beating the throw from Upton, but was able to score a huge run that gave the Rockies some breathing room.

Smith, who has seven hits in the series already, has carried the offense on his shoulders for the last week. He has been the spark plug when the rest of the offense seems to be bogged down by tired legs.

While the win was huge for the Rockies, there are still question marks swirling around this team. The offense has nearly gone away. What was supposed to be one of the best offenses to don a Rockies uniform has turned into the San Francisco Giants. Despite the fact that they are second in the National League in runs scored, the majority of that work came in the early part of the season.

Smith's hitting has been phenomenal, nothing short of heroic, but the fact is, this team does not make the playoffs unless something changes.

Brad Hawpe got the night off after looking terrible in four at-bats on Friday, striking out all four times. On several of the pitches Hawpe looked completely confused, as if he never even saw the ball. He is hitting under .250 since the All-Star break.

Hawpe is not alone. Clint Barmes has become the second pitcher in the lineup. He is used strictly for his glove as hit bat does absolutely no damage. Despite getting a great bunt down on Friday night, Barmes failed twice in San Francisco to get bunts down in huge situations. His all or nothing swing is meant for a true power hitter, not a second baseman. Barmes may be the hardest worker on the team, and he may be one of the best defensive second basemen in the game, but if he cannot get the job done that the team needs him to, the Rockies will fail to make the playoffs. His dead bat essentially makes the bottom half of the order a free inning for the opposition.

Ian Stewart has had a few hot streaks, but cannot string together anything that is prolonged. He hit a long home run on Friday night, but went 0-for-3 against the soft throwing Doug Davis and his batting average sits at .230.

Chris Iannetta, who manager Jim Tracy announced on Saturday was no longer his starting catcher, is mired in a season-long slump. When the Rockies have needed him the most he has failed them. While some would argue that a catcher is not on the team for his bat, but his defense, it has become clear that Iannetta has lost some of his focus on the defensive side of the game lately.

In San Francisco, in what was the biggest three games of the year for the Rockies, Iannetta made three mental errors in one game. On a pop up right in front of the plate, Iannetta ran towards the backstop, then tried to come back when he realized the ball was going the other way, but was not in time to prevent a lead off 10-foot double by Juan Uribe.

Later in the same game Iannetta made a throw to second base on a bunt that was only saved from the outfield by the steady hand of shortstop Troy Tulowitzki.

The third blunder came when Iannetta simply quit on a foul pop up that landed on the netting the is about four feet off the ground next to the dugout. Iannetta was in position to catch the ball, he simply did not reach out to make the play. While the winds were swirling in the bay, Iannetta needed to stay focused on the ball to make the play.

In order to reach the playoffs, the Rockies, who are fortunate to have a one-game lead in the Wild Card race, will need to get the bats in order and make something happen offensively to provide some breathing room for their pitchers.

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