Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Off The Marquis; Rockies Righty Looks Terrible In Loss

When the Colorado Rockies stumbled out of the gate, winning less baseball games than any team in the league besides the Washington Nationals, Jason Marquis was the silver lining. In the first 2-1/2 months, Marquis won eight games after a Rockies loss. His sinker was nearly unhittable. When he took the mound a Rockies win seemed nearly automatic.

The right hander earned his first all star berth, tied for the league lead in wins with 11 at the break.

Marquis looked nothing like an All-Star in the Rockies 6-3 loss to the Padres at Coors Field.

No one in the league questioned Marquis as a good pitcher in the first half of the season. What all of the critics talked about was the consistent second-half falloff that Marquis has experienced throughout his career.

The 2009 campaign has been no different for the native New Yorker. Marquis has gone just 4-6. Coming into Wednesday night’s game with the Padres, his ERA in the second half is a half run higher per nine innings.

Marquis’ line was another night he would like to forget. Manager Jim Tracy gave Marquis the hook after pitching just 4-2/3 innings, giving up five earned runs on five hits. He struck out six, but once again created worry by walking five, three of which ended up coming around to score.

What the numbers show is what is incredibly evident on the mound for Marquis. What made Marquis so tough in the first half of the season was his bulldog attitude. Make no mistake, no one confused Marquis’ stuff with that of Ubaldo Jimenez. He has always had to work to get outs. That was why it was so much fun to watch Marquis take the hill in the early half of the season.

The former Cub was phenomenal at pounding the bottom half of the strike zone. Walks were a rarity, and Marquis allowed his defense to play behind him. His sinker was tough to get underneath, causing the opposition to pound the ball into the ground.

To the casual observer, Marquis is simply missing the strike zone too much, forcing him to give in too much, leading to balls being hit harder. That is part of the problem, but is more the result of the bigger issue.

The bigger issue for Marquis and the Rockies is his mentality. In the first half of the season, Marquis would bear down when he got in trouble. He knew how to make a pitch that would get a big out or a double play. If he needed a strike out he would get a strike out. If he needed a double play, he would get the ground ball that he needed.

Marquis’ confidence was so high that it never seemed that he was in trouble. He would just find a way to battle out of it. In the second half, that confidence is nowhere to be found.

When Marquis gives up a base hit or a walk, instead of feeling like he is going to get a big out, it seems like he feels defeated. He ends up giving in to the hitters, which causes more pitches over the heart of the plate. The home run hit by Will Venable was possibly the worst pitch of the season for Marquis. The hanging slider was not finished by Marquis and was drilled to the second deck in right field.

The Rockies, still having a tough schedule ahead of them, needed to win on Wednesday. All of the teams chasing them found ways to win, leaving the Rockies with a four game lead with just 10 games to play. The lead is still comfortable, and the Rockies are still the favorites, but with six of the final 10 games against the Cardinals and Dodgers, the Rockies need to pick up as many wins as possible against teams like the Padres.

The worst thing that the Rockies could have happen is for one of the three teams trailing them to go on a run. If the Giants or Braves finish their season 8-2 and the Rockies flounder in their final 10, going just 4-6, their will be a tie for the wild card lead. That is not something that the Rockies want to see happen.

It may be easy to write the Braves and Giants off, but the reality is, San Francisco has a very favorable schedule down the stretch. They play seven straight games at home against the Cubs and the Diamondbacks before finishing the season with three against the Padres in San Diego. The Giants are the best home team in the National League, and the idea of them going 6-1 in that homestand is not unreasonable. Then all they would have to do is win the series against a Padres team looking forward to vacation.

For the Rockies to win four more games they need to win the finale against the Padres, then take one over the weekend against the Cardinals three top pitchers, then defeat the Brewers at least once and head to L.A. and win at least one game in a place where they have struggled all season long. And all that does is get them to a playoff.

The fact is, these Rockies have to decide that they are a good enough team to play in the postseason and then bury the teams behind them. That is why winning games like Wednesday night’s are so imperative. It takes pressure off of the team and allows them to go into the final 10 games of the season with a five game lead. Instead, they are in desperate need of defeating the Padres in the finale so that they are not in a situation where they need a sweep to clinch their spot.

A win on Thursday night, with Jason Hammel on the mound, will go a long way for the Rockies.

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