Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Rockies Shut Out Dodgers on Marquis Performance

In the offseason, Dan O'Dowd must have been holding back laughter in the offseason when he completed a trade exchanging aging and embattled reliever Luis Vizcaino for perennial 10 game winner Jason Marquis.

Not only was Cubs general manager Jim Hendry willing to deal Marquis, he also agreed to pay some of his salary.

The move is proving to be the most lopsided trade of the offseason. After shutting out the Dodgers on their home field throwing just 86 pitches in a complete game, no walk effort, Marquis became the winningest pitcher in the National League.

If Marquis does not make the National League All-Star team it will be one of the biggest snubs in recent history.

All season long Marquis has been the go-to guy when it came to getting a win after an emotional loss. Six of his wins have come after a Rockies loss.

On Tuesday Marquis was nothing short of brilliant. In his second complete game shutout of the season, he gave up only two hits, while walking none and striking out three. He induced 17 outs via the ground ball, evidence that his sinker was working masterfully.

After losing a heartbreaker just a night earlier, and going into the game beating the Dodgers just once in 10 tries on the season, it was nearly imperative for the Rockies to prove to themselves that they could beat the Dodgers and compete for the franchise's first ever National League West crown.

Marquis' importance to the Rockies cannot be overstated. When the team was struggling, Marquis was pulling his weight. His confidence and ability to bounce back has resonated throughout the clubhouse, helping the Rockies get out of their early season funk and find a way to continue winning, despite the odds and the toughness of the road schedule.

A loss could have been crushing, leaving the Rox playing on Wednesday to avoid yet another sweep at the hands of Los Angeles. Instead, the Rockies take the field on Wednesday afternoon going for a series victory and a huge boost of confidence going into the holiday weekend and the longest home stand of the season.

Still 7-1/2 games out of the National League race, keep in mind that the Rockies have played more games on the road than any other team in the Major Leagues. In the final 84 games of the season, the Rockies play 51 at home. It is a schedule that plays well for a team that continues to play good baseball and looks capable of continuing to whittle away at the Dodgers NL West lead.

The win is also significant because it gives the Rockies 21 total wins in June, setting a franchise record for wins in a month. Who would have thought that when the Rockies rattled off 20 wins in September of '07 that landed them in the playoffs that just 20 months later they would have an even better month.

After the way the Rockies played at the beginning of the season this run has come with the feeling of simply being a hot streak. While Rockies fans were willing to watch the team climb back over .500 and into contention, the feeling was that reality would eventually set in and the team would most likely settle back in to win 74 or 75 games on the season.

That reality, however, does not look like it is going to come. This team is playing with a ton of confidence. They do not seem to mind facing tough pitching or playing on the road. Nothing seems intimidating to this squad and they never roll over for an opponent. Even in the 13th inning loss on Monday, the team showed heart and fight the whole way through.

The fact is, this team is good. The rotation has been extremely under estimated and may be the best in the National League West. The lineup is nothing to laugh at either. When a guy like Seth Smith can be a platoon starter and a power bat like Chris Iannetta is hitting in the eight hole suggests that this lineup is also one of the best in the league.

The scary thing for opponents is this. The Rockies lineup has yet to reach it's full potential. Iannetta is hitting just .229 and Ian Stewart is at a paltry .215. Even with his recent surge, Troy Tulowitzki is hitting a mere .253. If those three guys start hitting to their capabilities, it is not a huge stretch to say that the Rockies will be in the playoff race for the entire season.

Rockies Drop Opener in L.A. in 13 Innings

For the whole month of June the Rockies have been playing like they are Superman. If the Rockies are Superman, the Dodgers are kryptonite. The 13th inning loss on a Andre Eithier two run home run to right field

Ubaldo Jimenez looked as good as he ever has on the mound. He went seven strong innings, giving up only two earned runs on five hits while striking out four, and having only an intentional walk.

The two runs, however, essentially lost the game. In the fifth inning, just minutes after Ryan Spilborghs gave the Rockies a 2-0 lead, Jimenez gave up a hit to Matt Kemp, then with two outs he intentionally walked Russel Martin to get to the pitcher Randy Wolf, boasting an average of less than .100 coming into the game.

With runners at first and second Jimenez quickly got ahead of Wolf 0-2, looking like he would easily get out of the inning.

What happened next was the turning point.

With Jimenez about to pitch, Wolf stepped out of the box, calling time. Jimenez stopped in mid-pitch, where home plate umpire Bruce Dreckman called the right-hander for a balk. While Wolf had stepped out, Dreckman never granted him time out, meaning that play was still live. The runners moved up to second and third, but Jimenez still had Wolf at the plate.

Clearly rattled by the call, Jimenez did not find the zone on the next pitch, he then threw an offspeed pitch that Wolf raked into right field, scoring two runs and tying the game. They were the last runs scored until the bottom of the 14th inning.

The bullpen did a phenomenal job for the Rockies. After struggling their last times out, both Alan Embree and Juan Rincon showed poise and confidence, combining to give up only one hit in two innings, shutting the Dodgers down in huge situations.

The offense looked like the April and May Rockies offense. They had very little patience, chasing pitches out of the zone and consistently getting behind in the count.

The Dodgers bullpen, which pitched from the seventh inning on, combined to strike out 13 Rockies hitters. Clint Barmes, on fire of late and a huge catalyst in the Rockies run back to contention, went 0-for-6 with a strikeout. The strikeout came at the most inopportune time for the Rockies.

Leading off the 10th inning, Spilborghs hit a ball on the screws, which knuckled in the air and skipped past center fielder Matt Kemp, it landed Spilborghs on second, who moved to third on Chris Iannetta's rocket shot to left field. With no one out and runners on first and third, Carlos Gonzalez, Dexter Fowler and Clint Barmes all whiffed and the rally was killed.

The 10th inning was exactly the opposite of what the Rockies have been able to accomplish over the last month. It has seemed that when an opportunity to hurt a team comes around, the Rockies have made the opposition pay all through June. Tonight it was back to status que as the team consistently failed in big situations.

In all, the Rockies left 17 men on base, Barmes being the biggest culprit, leaving four himself.

The game was a good test for the Rockies. While they seemed to fail in the big situations, they played to the Dodgers level and stayed in the game. When the pitchers got into trouble they found a way to wiggle out of it.

Not once did the Rockies look like they did for most of the '08 season and early in '09 when the look in the dugout was of complete defeat, waiting for a chance to win the next night instead of that night. It was an encouraging sign for Rockies fans.

The Rockies look to get back at the Dodgers on Tuesday night, with Jason Marquis looking for his 10th win of the season. Marquis will be taking on Chad Billingsley, who has looked like an All-Star himself, also winning nine games so far on the season. The game starts at 8:10 Mountain Time and will be broadcast as always on Fox Sports Rocky Mountain and 850 KOA on the radio side.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Rockies Cook Up A Sweep In Oakland

Aaron Cook took over the all time Rockies lead for wins by a pitcher on Monday in Anaheim. On Sunday he decided to add to his lead. He was three outs away from a complete game shutout before manager Jim Tracy gave him the hook and brought in closer Huston Street to ensure the win.

After surviving another scare, the Rockies won the game 3-1, completing the sweep of the A's and heading to Los Angeles for the biggest series of the first half of the season.

In the win Cook pitched 8+ innings, giving up nine hits and one earned run. He walked one while striking out four.

Cook was absolutely incredible. After a horrible start to the season, the right hander has looked incredible in June, going 5-0 and leading the National League in wins during the month. At 8-3 and still three starts to go before the All-Star break, Cook still has an outside chance at earning his second consecutive All-Star appearance.

Cook's resurgence in many ways mirrors that of his team over the last month. Early in the year it was clear that Cook had better talent than what he was showing on the mound, but he looked lost. He looked as if he could not find the grip on the pitches that he wanted to throw and was forced to give in on certain occasions.

The Rockies looked the same way. They knew that the lineup was chalk full of talent. They knew that the top three pitchers in their rotation could compete with anyone, yet they could not find their groove.

If there is a way to explain how well the Rockies have been playing, the sweep in Oakland should use as a prime example. Until the early June sweep on the Cardinals, Colorado had exactly zero sweeps on the season. Just winning a series was a big deal for the struggling team.

Now, the Rockies complete a sweep of the A's and the feeling is not that of satisfaction. The club nearly blew a nine run lead on Saturday night and once again made it too close for comfort on Sunday. The feeling was that the team did not play as well as they knew how to.

Yet, the fact remains, the Rockies swept the A's.

Six weeks ago if the Rockies would have been told that they would sweep the A's in Oakland they would have been extremely happy, not only for a sweep, but for a sweep on the road. Now, after completing the sweep there is a feeling that the team must play better than they did.

When thinking about the sweep, consider the fact as well that the first two starting pitchers were number four and number five starters Jason Hammel and Jorge De La Rosa, respectively.

One of the biggest reasons for Colorado's June success has been the fact that the team knows that they will have a chance to win every single night.

In June, De La Rosa and Hammel have combined to win eight games.

The final two spots in the rotation is not simply a give-away game, or even a flip of the coin. The back of the rotation has been as solid as any other part of the team. De La Rosa has had his fair share of trouble, but the fact is, he went 4-1 in June and pitched well enough to keep his team in the game, and that is all that is asked of the back end of the rotation.

The Rockies head to Los Angeles to face the Dodgers, a team that has beaten them eight out of nine times this season. While the Rockies have faced tests during this run, the three games against the Dodgers will be a true sign of whether this team is just good, or if they truly have a chance to contend in the National League West.

Going into the series the Rockies are 7-1/2 games behind the Dodgers. For the Rockies to be in the race they will need to be somewhere in the five games behind range by the All-Star break. Taking two out of three in Los Angeles will get the Rockies to 6-1/2 games back and well within striking distance.

Rockies Slug Their Way To Series Victory; Bullpen Shows Weaknesses

The Colorado Rockies held an 11-2 lead going into the seventh inning. They held on to win 11-9 with the tying run at the plate and Huston Street on to secure the save.

Early on it was all Rockies, in the first Brad Hawpe connected for his 100th career home run, a towering shot just inside the right field foul pole and just below the second deck. In the second Ian Stewart connected for his team leading 14th home run, then Clint Barmes homered in the third and Seth Smith in the fourth.

Saturday night was a night that the Rockies were hoping to steal. They knew going into the game that Jorge De La Rosa would be on the mound for them and that the game could go either way. De La Rosa has proven to be frustratingly bipolar in his outings.

This time it was the good De La Rosa who took the hill for the Rockies. He threw six innings, giving up two earned runs, both in the third inning when he gave up a few hits and struggled to locate his pitches. He struck out five A's, none bigger then Matt Holliday in that same third inning with runners on and only one out.

For all of his struggles, De La Rosa finishes June with a 4-1 record. The four wins ties him for the most in the National League. He is tied with two teammates, Aaron Cook and Jason Hammel.

The Rockies have now won 19 out of their last 22 baseball games, the best stretch by far in all of Major League Baseball. While there is no Rockies fan complaining about the results thus far, on Saturday the team showed its glaring weakness, something that general manager Dan O'Dowd has said that he will try to acquire if the team remains in contention. Bullpen help.

Alan Embree, playing for his 10th team in the Major Leagues and in his 18th year of Major League Baseball was called upon to throw strikes and get outs in the eighth inning. Instead of getting outs, Embree gave up hits and runs. He threw 24 pitches, gave up three hits, two earned runs and a walk, all while getting only one out. Jim Tracy finally had finally seen enough and went back to the bullpen.

After Embree came Juan Rincon, a cast off from the Detroit Tigers. Rincon got out of the eight, but gave up four runs in the ninth inning without getting a batter out and leaving with the results of the game in doubt.

Fortunately for the Rockies, Huston Street came in and showed the Oakland faithful what they are missing out on, getting his 18th save in 19 opportunities.

The fact is, the Rockies wanted nothing to do with Street even getting loose in this game. He should have been in the clubhouse waiting to congratulate his teammates after a blowout victory. Instead he was busy getting three outs to secure the victory.

It really is not a problem in June. A win is still a win. But at some point the Rockies hope that they will not need Street to come in and save every single game. They need to give him some nights off if they want to stay in contention.

Of all the things that managers get accused of it is mismanaging the bullpen. If Colorado wants to be in the thick of the race in September, they most certainly will need a strong, well rested Huston Street to close out hard fought ball games.

The problem for the Rockies is that they lack bullpen depth. Embree has been a total bust so far. He may be 13th in the history of baseball for appearances, but he is dead last in the Rockies bullpen for ability to get outs. From the left side, even his mid-90's fastball is useless if it sits over the heart of the plate like it did on Saturday night. Embree's Rockies ERA sits at 7.08.

Rincon is a cast off from the Tigers. He was a decent pick up to add depth to the bullpen, but guys like him are a dime a dozen. For the most part, when a player is picked up off the waiver wire, there is a reason that they were there in the first place. If they had been producing for their current team they would not be willing to give them up. There is no reason to think that simply by switching uniforms a player will regain his composure.

The Rockies do have Josh Fogg, Matt Daley, Randy Flores and Joel Peralta, who have all done exceptionally well in their rolls, but at some point it has to be considered that the team is in desperate need of a pitcher who can get guys out with any of his pitches, someone who consistently pitches their game and will not give in to a hitter.

That will be the task for O'Dowd if the Rockies stay in the Wild Card hunt in '09, and by the looks of an offense that puts up 11 runs in a pitcher's park like Oakland, they may just stay in the hunt all season long.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Colorado Rockies Have Figured Out How To Win On The Road

Since their inception in 1993 the Colorado Rockies have had several types of teams. They have had the big home run hitters known as the Blake Street Bombers, they have had teams with speed, they have had teams with big name free agents, and teams with other franchise's cast offs. Yet, they have all had one thing in common. None of them could win on the road.
Even in 2007, when the Rockies made their first World Series appearance, they won only 39 games on the road. For some reason, teams have always found a way to play well at Coors Field, but fallen flat on their faces on the road.

This season is different, the Rockies have learned to win on the road.

After Friday night's 4-2 win over the Oakland A's, the Rockies improved their record away from Coors Field to 21-20. While one game over .500 might not be all that impressive, consider that in 2008, Colorado won only 31 games on the road all season. With just 10 more wins on the road all season, the Rockies will have won as many games on the road in '09 as they won all year just a season ago.

2007 was as close as the franchise has ever been to having a winning record on the road when they went 39-42. The fact that they were able to keep the record close to .500 was one of the main reasons that the Rockies were able to win the Wild Card that season. Even then, consider that the Rockies were nine games under .500 on the road on September 16th before a 6-0 trip to close the gap and keep the team in contention.

The good news for the Rockies in regards to their road record is the fact that they have played more games after sleeping in a hotel bed than any other team in the league. Three weeks before the All-Star break, Colorado has already completed half of their road games.

The key to the success this season has been the starting pitching. In the past the squad may have had one or two pitchers that gave the team a shot on the road. If anyone beyond the first two in the rotation were pitching it seemed as if a lost cause.

Beyond the pitching, the offense always seemed to fall asleep on the road. A game in which the team scored five or more runs was an extremely good night. The disparage was so bad that many players lost credibility with the national media and baseball experts. They were thought of as products of Coors Field.

Former Rockie Dante Bichette had a theory of his own. He believed that the light air of Coors Field helped hitters get hits there, but that leaving the highest playing field in the league also had disadvantages. After a long homestand Bichette believed that it took a few games to readjust to the breaking pitches, which would break more at sea level than they would at Coors Field.

Another theory was that playing at Coors Field takes a toll on a bullpen. A manager would have to go to his bullpen early and often due to the amount of runs and hits allowed by the park, not to mention the altitude fatigue. Therefore, on a long homestand a bullpen was so used up that when they went on the road they had nothing left in the tank.

Whatever the reasons, in 17 years of Rockies baseball not one of the teams that management has put together has found a way to be successful on the road.

Until now.

In 2009 the Rockies are taking the same game that they play at home on the road with them. The difference may be exactly that. In the past seasons the team had to find a different way to win away than they did at Coors.

Pitchers had to anticipate giving up hits and runs, and not pitching as deep as they would on the road. Hitters were looking for a home run on every single pitch instead of trying to move runners over and play small ball. On the road the home runs did not come as easily and the offense was lost in what to do to be in a ball game.

These Rockies are different. The franchise has figured out that to win at Coors Field they would need to get pitchers who are ground ball pitchers. They have actively drafted and groomed sinker ball pitchers, and they emphasize players who value good defense. Pitchers are no longer looking to strike out every batter at the plate, they are OK with the hitter making contact and believing that the players behind them will make the play and get the out.

Aaron Cook and Jason Marquis both rank in the top three in the league in ground ball to fly ball ratio. In addition to Cook and Marquis, Ubaldo Jimenez is continuing to learn how to pitch low in the zone and pitch to contact.

The offense is also making strides. Instead of playing station to station baseball and waiting for the long ball to win a game for the club. Watch carefully and it can be noticed that when a runner is in scoring position with no one out, the batter is very willing to hit the ball to the right side and move the runner over. It looks like a failed at-bat in the box score, but baseball fans know how many games are won by unselfish play.

In addition to ground balls moving runners over, the Rockies also lead the National League in sacrifice flies, an area that they struggled mightily in all through 2008. In '08 through April the Rox had only one sacrifice fly, dead last in the Majors. That change has made a huge impact on the success of this team.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

A Holliday Weekend; Time For Rockies Fans To Get Over Matt Holliday

The Colorado Rockies traded Matt Holliday on November 12th to the Oakland A's in exchange for Carlos Gonzalez, Huston Street and Greg Smith. It was a trade that angered the Rockies fan base and made most people in baseball question the Rockies desire to be a winner.

Holliday had been the Rockies best player for the past three seasons, appearing in three All-Star games and leading the Rockies to the 2008 National League pennant. He was quickly becoming the face of the franchise.

Fans had every right to question the Rockies, the package that they received back for Holliday was a pitcher who had lost in the double digits (Smith), a potential five-tool player who was unproven in the big leagues (Gonzalez) and a deposed closer (Street). Many thought that the package could have contained much more talent and that Dan O'Dowd should have waited further in the offseason for other teams to become desperate.

While some thought that the package was a bad one, most simply thought that trading Holliday was the symbolic waving of the white flag by Rockies ownership. Fans in Denver believed that Holliday was the type of player that the franchise should have opened up the check book for and locked him in long-term.

The trade disenfranchised fans and because several reports said that Holliday was doing all that he could to stay in Colorado, but ownership was not willing to budge and give the slugger a deal longer than four years.

The problem is, Holliday could talk about his desires to stay in Colorado all he wanted. He could talk about how he wanted stability for his children, he could say how money was not the important issue, but the fact is, as soon as he hired Scott Boras as his agent Holliday's true colors came out.

With Boras as his agent the Rockies could have negotiated until their faces turned as purple as Dinger, but they never would have gotten anywhere because Boras is notorious for having his big-name players wait until free agency before selling themselves short with their current team.

Boras is very good at making a player start to get bitter against his current team. This is exactly what happened with Holliday. Towards the end of 2008 Holliday was becoming more and more open about his feelings that the Rockies did not want to win and that he wanted to be on a winner. He made it clear that he believed that the run to the World Series the year prior was simply a fluke and would never happen again unless the team started getting solid talent. Fans did not want to believe it then, but Holliday was taking his first stabs in the back of his teammates.

Later, after it became public that Holliday had turned down a four-year $72 million deal that the Rockies had offered, the left fielder said that he wanted a no-trade clause and that was the major holdup.

After that offer fell through, O'Dowd and the Rockies had no doubt that the 2007 NL MVP runner-up would be hitting the free agent market following the '09 season. Competing with the Yankees, Red Sox, Angels and Mets was not an option, and the Rox did not want to only gain two draft picks for him, so they looked for suitors.

While most fans were disappointed, some fans understood the reality of the situation. It was made clear through Boras that Holliday wanted nothing less than the absolute highest dollar amount possible, and that would not be coming from the Rockies.

Holliday may have day-dreamed about playing in New York or Boston, hitting behind players like David Wright, or Alex Rodriguez. He may have thought about how nice it would be to play for the Angels and have his family live near the beach. He may have thought that playing with Albert Pujols in St. Louis sounded like fun. But Holliday most certainly never thought that spending one year in Oakland would be good for his career.

Sure enough, without the protection of Todd Helton and Brad Hawpe in the lineup, and hitting at the pitcher friendly Coliseum instead of Coors Field, Holliday is looking pretty average. Through Thursday his batting average sits at a lowly .269 and he has hit only eight home runs to go along with just 39 RBI's.

With the continuing downturn in the economy and Holliday's poor play away from Coors Field, many experts are saying that as Holliday enters free agency he likely is not going to get what he wants. His desire for a six year deal for over $100 million is simply a dream at this point. ESPN's Buster Olney predicts that if Holliday gets a deal longer than a year or two that it will be a three year, $30 million deal. At this rate, Holliday must be kicking himself for not signing the first deal with Colorado, which would have been for one more year and $42 million more.

Despite Holliday's struggles, sit in the seats at Coors Field, talk to fans, or read the comments on the blogs and it is clear that fans are still upset about the trade. They think that if Holliday was on this team that the Rockies would be competing with the Dodgers for first place in the NL West.

The fact is, the Rockies are a better team without Holliday.

Holliday proved to be a player who was only looking out for his own good. He was willing to trash his teammates during a down season and act like his play had nothing to do with the team losing. Imagine a player with the class of Todd Helton saying something like that. It would never happen. During the rebuilding years when Helton was the only attraction on the Rockies, he often took the blame for the team losing 90 games, wishing that he could have done more. Holliday on the other hand, blamed the pitching.

Three weeks ago, Holliday was interviewed on a satellite radio show based in Chicago. He said that he is ready for a trade because the A's are not doing as well as he would like and he would love to play for a contender. It sure seems easy to forget that Holliday is putting up pedestrian numbers that are not exactly what the A's were hoping for when they acquired him for their former Rookie of the Year and two top prospects.

It seems like Holliday has forgotten rule number one in team sports. You win as a team and you lose as a team. If your team is losing, you have as much to do with it as the rest of the team does.

Holliday seems to forget that in five years in Colorado he was a part of only one winning team. In Oakland not much has changed. If he is such a great player who deserves a $100 million contract, maybe he should prove that he can carry a bad team on his back and make a winner out of it, and not just for three weeks, because according to him, that did not happen because of him, all the stars just aligned properly.

While Holliday will forever be a part of the Rockies history, fans need to remember that he is simply that, history. He is not coming back, and frankly, Colorado is not missing him in their lineup. The Rockies have plenty of .269 hitters with eight home runs.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Bad Outing For Marquis Sinks Rockies Early

Jason Marquis has been a huge reason why the Colorado Rockies have raced back into contention. Coming into Wednesday night he was 9-4, one win shy of the National League lead. When the Rockies struggled in the first two months, Marquis pitched well, ending five losing streaks in April and May.

Unfortunately for the Rockies, even the best pitchers have bad outings.

Wednesday night was exactly that for Marquis, a bad outing. Early in the game it was evident that the right-hander was struggling to hit his spots, and quickly gave up three runs in the first inning, facing eight hitters. In the second inning he gave up another three runs, never finding a feel for his sinker.

With Joe Saunders on the mound for the Angels, the remaining seven innings were only played because the rules said that they had to be. The route was on as the Rockies lost 11-3.

After a June in which the Rockies set a team record for wins before the official start of summer, a two-game losing streak feels like a 10-game losing streak.

While it may fly in the face of what has been going on with the squad, especially the pitching staff, it shows why the true weak link on this team has not throw a pitch or swung a bat all season.

The weak link for the Rockies is pitching coach Bob Apodaca.

Veteran pitchers like Marquis and Aaron Cook have thrown enough big league innings, won enough games and refined their mechanics enough to know what they need to do in order to get Major League hitters out. That is evident when Cook can respond from a horrible start and go back to using his sinker to get ground ball outs.

It has been reported several times that Marquis tweaked his delivery in the offseason, using Spring Training as a testing ground, to get more of a downward plane on his pitches, keeping the ball low in the zone and inducing more ground balls. All of these changes came before Marquis had every worked with Apodaca.

The problem is that even good pitchers like Marquis and Cook will eventually need another set of eyes to help them tweak their mechanics and find out other ways to be successful. There is only so much that they can do themselves.

On a night like Wednesday night, with Marquis struggling, Apodaca strolled to the mound for the first time in the bottom of the second inning. As is standard procedure, neither Chris Iannetta nor Marquis said a single word. For the entire minute that Apodaca was at the mound, the camera's clearly showed him doing all the talking.

This is commonly the case with Apodaca. Instead of listening to what is going on with the pitcher, he simply talks at him, sometimes even getting to the point of looking like a parent disciplining a child. While there is a time and a place for a coach to reprimand a player, on the mound with the cameras watching is not that place.

For another example of Apodaca's deficiencies, look no further than the young pitchers.

Ubaldo Jimenez has been nothing short of dominant in his last four starts, including a loss on Tuesday night in Anaheim. However, his struggles early in the season were a huge part of the reason that the team fell flat on their faces out of the gate.

Jimenez has drawn comparisons to Pedro Martinez, his fastball was consistently harder than anyone else's in the league in 2008. Not only does he have heat, his pitches move all over the place. He can easily throw a 96 MPH pitch with six inches of sink.

Despite having some of the greatest talent in the league, Jimenez started the season 1-4, with an ERA in the sixes. The reason is simple; his talent is unrefined and instead of pitching, he was simply throwing. Being young, it took Jimenez through the first six weeks of the season to figure out what was wrong. Since then he has been arguably the best Rockies pitcher.

Jorge De La Rosa is another example. He throws 96 MPH from the left side. He has the ability to get strike outs at any given time, however, his confidence wavers on a consistent basis and it is difficult for him to avoid the big inning when he gets in a little bit of trouble. Instead of Apodaca walking out to the mound to encourage De La Rosa, he goes out and chews him out, which clearly makes De La Rosa feel like his insecurities are true and that he cannot pitch well in the majors.

While the Rockies are proving that they are a good team, to get to the next level they are going to have to figure out how to win over the course of six months, instead of just one, with a second rate pitching coach.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Rockies Falter In Anaheim

So many times during this 17-1 run, the Rockies have found a way to score runs or get outs when they needed them most. They played crisp defense and manager Jim Tracy made all the right moves.

On Tuesday night it was a different story.

Ubaldo Jimenez had another masterful outing, but he was let down by poor clutch hitting and bad defense.

Despite Troy Tulowitzki's first career multi-homer game, the Rockies looked as if they left their bats in the on deck circle.

Clint Barmes, Todd Helton and Brad Hawpe combined to leave 12 men on base. Barmes, who has been the hottest hitters in the Majors in June, went 0-for-5, striking out three times, the final time in the ninth inning to end the game with the tying run at second base.

In the fourth inning with a runner at third base and two outs, Helton had a 3-1 count, but rolled over a pitch and grounded out to second base to end the inning.

Despite the issues at the plate, the Rockies were still in the game, leading until the eighth inning when Maicer Izturis laid a bunt down the third base line. Ian Stewart charged to field the ball, trying to bare hand the ball. He bobbled it and could not make a throw. Replays showed that Stewart would have had time to glove the ball and make the throw.

With runners at first and second Chone Figgins laid down a bunt that Jimenez fielded quickly and threw to third. However, Stewart could not find the bag with his foot and all the runners were safe. Bobby Abreu followed with a two-run single. It was all the Angels needed.

The feeling with the loss is different than the average loss. With the Rockies recent success it almost seems like the end of a great run. However, the fact is that with the loss the Rockies have now simply won 16-out of-18. That still leaves them as the hottest team in baseball with a chance to win a series against one of the best teams in the American League on Wednesday.

During this run, the Rockies have had a surprisingly tiny amount of national coverage. The coverage that they have received is basically calling the run a fluke and that this team cannot contend. From an outsiders perspective it is easy to write this team off, they are still relatively young and, for the most part, are full of unknown players.

Those who watch the team on a daily basis know that despite not having names that are known in all parts of the country, this is a good team and, while they will probably not have another 17-1 run, they have the talent to contend in the National League.

If Ubaldo Jimenez was pitching in New York or Boston, his name would be everywhere on the nightly national shows. Experts would be calling him the next Pedro Martinez. They would be raving about his 97 MPH fastball that has Greg Maddux type movement. However, he plays in Colorado, so he remains simply an afterthought.

If Dexter Fowler played on the East Coast he would be considered the next great speedster. Every time made a tough play in center field look easy it would be one of the top highlights. However, he plays in Colorado, so he is just a potentially talented player with some speed.

Brad Hawpe is in the top five in every single offensive category for outfielders in the National League, yet barely ranks in the top 20 in All-Star voting for outfielders.

To find a player that has been overlooked by the national media, look no further than Todd Helton. Helton has over 2,000 hits in his career, over 300 home runs, and is 10 doubles away from 500 in his career. He is a .320 lifetime hitter. His numbers are far and away better than many of the players who have been enshrined in Cooperstown, yet he is simply considered a good hitter who has reaped the benefits of playing in Coors Field.

The fact is, until the Rockies prove that they can consistently win, not just once every 15 years, or when they have an incredible run to end the year, they will always be looked at as a junior varsity team in Major League Baseball.

Until then, everyone who watches one or two Rockies games per year will think that any win they get is simply luck and that their talent is just second rate.

This may be the team that is able to prove that they are not just a fluke. This run is happening in June, not September, which means that Colorado has a chance to continue playing well for the rest of the year. If they can do that it may change the perception of some of the experts on the national stage.

Of course, that requires the Rockies to shake off games like Tuesday night and keep enough confidence to play like they know how to the next day.

Monday, June 22, 2009

The Beat Goes On For The Rockies; Cook Breaks Rockies Win Record

If this is a dream, don't wake the Rockies up.

After crushing the Angels 11-1 on Monday night in Anaheim the Rockies improved their road winning streak to nine straight games. They have now won 17 out of their last 18 ball games, which conjures up memories of the stretch run in 2007, propelling the Rockies to the World Series.

Aaron Cook became the Rockies all-time winning est pitcher after shutting down the Angels. He has now won 59 games in a Rockies uniform, one more than Jason Jennings. Cook pitched seven strong innings, giving up only three hits, walking two and striking out four. His only blemish was a fourth inning home run off the bat of Kendry Morales. It is obvious when Cook is on his game, the opponent is pounding the ball into the ground. On Monday Cook induced 13 ground ball outs.

Cook is not the only one setting records.

The Rockies as a team have now won nine straight games on the road, a franchise record. They have now won 17 games in June, that also is a franchise record. The fact that the team is setting records for wins in a month on the 22nd of the month is indicative of what kind of run this is.

It is difficult to give credit to a single member of this team for the run. While the usual suspects, Todd Helton and Brad Hawpe have delivered their fair share of the time, the winning attitude is oozing from every member.

On Monday it was Seth Smith's turn to shine.

Smith was inserted in the designated hitter's slot and put in the nine-hole. Jim Tracy said that he did not want to mix things up in the lineup simply because of a DH, so Smith hit ninth.

The pinch-hitter extraordinaire showed that he can be successful with more than just one at bat a night. Smith had his first career four RBI night. In the second inning he laced a ball into left field to score two, then in the sixth inning he put the barrel on a ball and gave a souvenir to the fans in the right field seats. He almost made it five RBI's when he launched another ball deep to right field. The ball fell about five feet shy of the fence, but was good enough for a sacrifice fly.

While Smith did his part, it did not mean that Brad Hawpe took a day off.

Hawpe, celebrating his 30th birthday, continued his impressive season. After going two straight games without a hit, Hawpe showed that he was not in a slump. The lefty went 2-for-4 with a three-run home run that essentially put the game away in the fifth inning. It was his 53rd RBI of the season.

This team is finding ways to win every night, but the fact is, the starting pitching is carrying the team through this streak. The offense has won it's share of games, but the confidence that the offense has is a direct reflection of the pitcher's performances.

Baseball is an odd sport because so much success depends on individuals making plays to help a team succeed. No one on the team can aid in that success when it is an individuals turn in the spotlight. However, momentum is contagious on a baseball team.

If a starting pitcher goes out and has a great outing, the next's days pitcher feels like they can also have a good outing. It also brings confidence to the men at the plate because they do not feel that they are going to have to score seven runs to win a game. They can go up to the plate knowing that if they can get a run here or a run there than they will be able to win a game.

Numbers and stats can be analyzed and theories can be presented as to why this Rockies team continues to win, but the answer is simple.

This team is full of talent.

Not only is the lineup good from top to bottom, their is so much depth that guys like Smith who would start on several teams in the league can come off the bench.

The starting pitching is one of the best rotations in the league. Cook was an All-Star last season, and has an incredible sinker, Ubaldo Jimenez is learning how to be a pitcher and is refining his ability to throw 98 MPH. Jason Marquis is showing why he has won 11 or more games in five straight seasons, and Jason Hammel and Jorge De La Rosa are holding their own on the back end of the rotation.

Whatever the reasons, this Rockies team continues to win. The 11 game winning streak could have been passed off as simply a streak of luck, but after losing one game and winning the next six in a row, the Rockies are showing that they are no fluke. This team has incredible ability, and right now, they are the most feared team in Major League Baseball.

Aaron Cook Looks To Break Rockies Record In Anaheim

Aaron Cook enters Monday night's game against the Angels with 58 career wins. That number is significant because it puts him in a tie with Jason Jennings for the all time lead in wins in a Rockies uniform.

A win tonight will put Cook solely in first place on the Rockies all time list.

It should be a special moment for Cook. While his talent has never been questioned, the fact that the 2007 All-Star is still pitching in the big leagues is no small miracle. In 2004 Cook nearly died on the mound while pitching at Coors Field. Feeling short of breath, he told trainer Keith Dugger that something was wrong.

Dugger quickly recognized the symptoms and had Cook rushed to the hospital in which doctors removed a rib in order to relieve a blood clot in his lungs. Several doctors said that Cook was within hours of dying and that if he would have continued pitching he most likely would not have had time to make it to the hospital.

It was a huge loss for the Rockies, who were in the middle of rebuilding and believed that Cook could be their anchor for years to come. Most believed that Cook would never be able to throw another pitch at the Major League level.

Cook, however, had different plans. Just over one year after the incident he was back in a Rockies uniform and finished the season with a 7-2 record. He won his first six starts.

The record, when Cook breaks it, should be in his name for quite some time. He is under contract through 2011 with a mutual extension for the 2012 season.

Rockies Complete Best Homestand In History; Sweep Pirates

One thing is for sure, winning doesn't get old.

If there was a game in which the Rockies did not feel as confident taking the field, it was Sunday.

On the mound for the Rockies was Jorge De La Rosa. The lefty has the only Rockies loss in the last 17 games after getting rocked by the Rays just five days ago. De La Rosa is not the type of player to shake a bad start off and look forward to dominating in his next performance. In fact, the opposite could not be more true.

Fate, it seems, just happens to be on the Rockies side. After De La Rosa gave up three runs in the first two innings, the Rockies stormed back to tie it at three in the bottom of the second inning. The Rockies would add two more runs and win their fifth in a row, and 16th out of their last 17, 5-4.

The Rockies victory on Sunday came down to two words. Hustle and Luck.

In the bottom of the second inning with two outs, Clint Barmes hit a routine fly ball to second baseman Freddy Sanchez. Sanchez seemed to be fine until the last second, when it became apparent that he had lost the ball in the sun. Barmes, hustling the whole way, slid into second base with a fluke double. A ball that should have ended the inning scored a run for the Rockies and left a runner on second. The next batter, Ryan Spilborghs, roped a ball down the left field line to score Barmes. It tied the game for the Rockies and put the momentum back on their side.

De La Rosa was able to settle in, staying out of trouble until the sixth inning with two outs when he allowed two base runners and was lifted for Josh Fogg.

With De La Rosa beginning to show signs of struggling in the fifth inning, Adam LaRoche swatted a pitch that landed near the left field line. He dug for second but was thrown out after Ryan Spilborghs made an incredible throw to Barmes, waiting at second base. Spilborghs got an incredible read on the ball and was there to field it quickly, however, the throw was the remarkable part. He could not have put it in a better spot. The play helped De La Rosa make it through the fifth.

The bullpen did exactly what any manager could only hope for. Between Fogg, Randy Flores, Joel Peralta, and Huston Street, the bullpen pitched 3-1/3 hitless and walk-less innings, while striking out three batters to nail down the sweep for the Rockies.

When a team gets hot like the Rockies have been for the last two and a half weeks, it just seems that things start to fall into place for them. When an inning should have ended in the second, it was continued because of a pop-up lost in the bright sky.

When a double is turned into an out because a left fielder makes a tremendous throw and nails a runner at second base, there is no denying that things are falling in the Rockies favor.

On a day in which the two players who hit the game-tying home run in the eighth inning and the walk-off home run in the ninth are taking the day off and the weak link in the rotation gives up three runs in the first two frames, things are going well for a team.

There is no doubt that the Rockies had their fair share of luck on Sunday, but sometimes "luck" is what happens when a team starts to believe in themselves. The mentality is there that a play that needs to be made, will be made. When a clutch hit needs to happen, it will happen.

In baseball, often times people will point to luck as to why a team wins or a player does well. It just seems ironic that good teams seem to have more "luck" than bad teams.

During Colorado's magical run to the World Series in 2007 there was some of that same luck involved. When Helton hit his walk off home run against Takashi Saito and the Dodgers, it was the first home run Saito had given up all season. In fact, Matt Holliday, the Rockie standing on first base at the time, had just gotten the first hit of the season for the Rockies against Saito.

Later in the run, center fielder Cory Sullivan, playing only because Willy Taveras was out with an injury, threw a perfect strike to the plate to nail Jeff Kent trying to score on a base hit.

Sometimes "luck" happens to good teams. Sometimes good teams create their own luck. The Colorado Rockies are proving to themselves that they are a good team.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Rockies Rally To Beat Pirates On Todd Helton's Walk Off Blast

If many Rockies fans and baseball experts had their way, Todd Helton would have been shipped off a long time ago. Less than a year ago all anyone talked about was how overpaid the 35 year-old is and how he is simply just a shell of the player he once was.

It will be tough to find those same negative voices these days.

Todd Helton, Mr. Rockie, delivered a two-run, walk-off home run in the bottom of the ninth inning off Jesse Chavez to complete the comeback and secure a 9-7 Rockies victory. They have now won 15 of their last 16 games, putting the club squarely in playoff contention as the All-Star break approaches.

The Helton home run came after the Rockies found themselves down by three runs with two outs in the eighth inning, when eight hole hitter Chris Iannetta, on an 0-2 pitch, launched a 445 foot, game-tying home run to dead center field.

The Iannetta home run brought cheers from the fans that showed that the masses are finally back behind this team. While most who attend games at Coors Field are more concerned about how many times the wave makes it around the stadium, Saturday was different. Fans were ready for the Rockies to make a comeback, even when it looked like they would have to wait until Sunday to try and win the series.

The late inning heroics would never have been possible without the night that Ian Stewart had. Stewart went 3-for-4 with three RBI's, two coming on a massive home run of his own, also to straight away center field. At the time it gave the Rockies a 4-2 lead. Stewart also had a second inning run scoring triple, and a double in the fourth, leaving him just a single short of his first career cycle.

This was a game that possibly showed that the Rockies are for real. They should have lost. Even good teams typically lose a game in which their bullpen gives up the three inherited runners that they receive, plus two of their own.

The feeling for these Rockies is that they are going to find a way to win every game. It does not seem to matter who scores first, who has the lead in late innings, or who is coming up in the batting order, they will find a way to win.

The scary thing at this point for the opposition is the fact that some of the Rockies best hitters are still struggling at the plate. Stewart, after his 3-for-4 night is still hitting just .231. Ironically, Stewart is hitting just .157 at home. That is a stat that most definitely will change. Iannetta, after going 2-for-3 is now hitting just .233. Troy Tulowitzki, who has been hot for the past two weeks, is still hitting just .245.

What kind of damage will this team do when all of the bats start firing at the same time? It may not matter if the starting pitching begins to falter. The offensive attack may be so strong that they will simply outscore the opponent.

The confidence that this Colorado team has is so evident that it is spilling over to the seats at Coors Field. Fans are jumping back on board the bandwagon that has been broken down since the end of the 2007 miracle run. After Helton's home run, instead of rushing to beat the traffic, fans stayed and waited to give Helton a much deserved curtain call. It was not just a few fans, it was the vast majority of the fans.

The Rockies only blemish in the last two and a half weeks was the last time Jorge De La Rosa took the mound. De La Rosa attempts to erase that outing with a good one on Sunday. A win would give the Rockies their fourth sweep in their last five series. Game time is 1:10 PM Mountain Time, with Fox Sports on the TV side and 850 KOA on the radio side.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Rockies Keep Rockin': Win Again Against Pirates

These are not your father's Rockies.

Throughout much of their history the Colorado Rockies have been known for their exceptional offense and their less-than-exceptional pitching. Especially in games at Coors Field, the team would often put up seven or eight runs and still get blown out.

That is no longer the case as the 2009 Rockies are led by their exceptional pitching. On Friday night Jason Marquis had another outing in which he made general manager Dan O'Dowd look like a genius. Marquis nearly went the distance, throwing 8-2/3 innings and giving up three runs on eight hits while striking out three and walking three. Marquis held the Pirates to one run through eight innings before tiring in the ninth.

Alan Embree got the final out of the night to secure the 7-3 win for Colorado.

The win was the ninth of the season for Marquis, tied for the lead in the National League. The man who was traded for him, Luis Vizcaino, has been designated by assignment by two teams this season.

The outing by Marquis was just the latest great outing by a Rockies starter. During the winning surge, the Rockies starters are 13-1 with one no decision. The has only been one win in which the starter went less than six innings, and that was Sunday, when tornadoes delayed the game and forced Jason Hammel out after 5-2/3 innings.

The performances have kept the offense in the game long enough and close enough to be within striking distance of the opposition.

It is something that the "Blake Street Bombers" era of Colorado Rockies never experienced. It is arguable that the Rockies have one of the top five pitching staff's in the league.

While the pitching staff has carried the team through the run back to .500, the offense deserves it's fair share of the credit.

On Friday, Brad Hawpe continued his assault on opposing pitchers. He went 3-for-4, ending the night a triple shy of the cycle. Todd Helton also went 3-for-4 with two doubles, getting him within 12 doubles of his next career milestone, 500 career doubles.

While Hawpe and Helton have been the consistent producers in 2009, some other key members of the team have began to produce.

Troy Tulowitzki hit his 10th home run of the season, a two run shot in the fifth inning with two outs that essentially buried any hopes that the Pirates had. Tulo's resurgence is key if the Rockies want to continue contending. His protection of Brad Hawpe in the lineup means that Hawpe will see better pitches, knowing that a good hitter is on deck behind him.

The Rockies have now won 14 out of their last 15 games. The confidence exudes from the clubhouse and can be felt throughout the ballpark. The feeling is that no matter who the opposition is, no matter who is on the mound for the other team, the Rockies will find a way to win.

Unlike Rockies teams in the past, this team has the ability to depend on their starting pitching, which means that when the offense is able to get some hits and score some runs, they are more often than not in a position to win a ballgame.

The Rockies look to clinch another series on Saturday, it would be their fifth in a row. The game starts at 6:10 Mountain Time, broadcast on Fox Sports Rocky Mountain and on the radio on 850 KOA.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Rockies Take Series With Rays Behind Another Gem By Ubaldo Jimenez

Anyone who knows Ubaldo Jimenez knows that his boyhood hero is Pedro Martinez. Jimenez watched his fellow country man dominate opposing Major League hitters from his home in the Dominican Republic.

At 6'4" and 200 lbs, Jimenez hardly resembles the 5'9" Martinez. Their pitches however, are nearly a clone. In his hey day, Martinez could put so much movement on a 97 MPH fastball that defied physics. Jimenez, while still not as polished as his hero, may well be on his way to a similar type of career.

Six days after throwing nearly 130 pitches in a complete game against the Mariners, Jimenez took the mound and put together an absolute gem. With questions about where his velocity would be after the long outing, Jimenez continually popped catcher Paul Phillips glove with 97 and 98 MPH heat.

If the heat did not impress the Rays hitters, the movement on the fastball did. Jimenez's fastball had as much movement as it ever had, riding in on right handers and away from the lefties.

The Rockies offense was not intimidated by Rays starter, ALCS MVP Matt Garza. Clint Barmes launched a two out, two run homer in the third, immediately followed by a no-doubt-about-it home run to give the Rockies a 3-1 lead. They would score another insurance run, which would prove to be valuable, to help Jimenez to his sixth win.

Jimenez delivered another incredible outing going 6-2/3 innings, giving up six hits and one run while striking out seven and walking three. Once again, Jimenez cruised past the 100 pitch mark, throwing a total of 117 pitches before leaving to a standing ovation from the Coors Field crowd.

In his second full season in the big leagues Jimenez is turning the corner.

The 26 year-old has as much talent as anyone who pitches on a Major League mound. His fastball was the hardest on average of any pitcher in the league in 2008, his fastball is anything but straight. The fastball, however, is hardly his only pitch. He also mixes in a great curveball which keeps the batters off balance, and a split finger pitch that looks like a fastball until it drops off the table.

Jimenez has also figured out that to succeed he needs to keep the ball down. When he first arrived in the league, Jimenez, understandably would try and blow the fastball by all of the hitters. This led to trouble and Jimenez had to find out the hard way that Major Leaguers can hit the fastball if they know it is coming.

Learning from his teammate Aaron Cook, Jimenez has found success in not worrying about hitters putting the ball into play. The key is to make them put the ball on the ground instead of the air. That reduces the number of big hits the opposition can get, and always keeps a double play as a strong possibility. For Jimenez it is a powerful weapon because when he does need a strikeout he has the potential to get it at any time.

Early on in 2009 it was questionable if Jimenez was going to find himself and turn the corner, becoming more than a potential talent and turn into an All-Star caliber pitcher.

Jimenez has closed the mouths of his critics in June pitching no less than 6-2/3 innings in any of his starts and picking up four wins.

The maturity that Jimenez has shown is exciting for the Rockies. The talent that he has shown suggests that Jimenez will quickly become the teams next ace, and after signing a deal that takes him through 2014, fans will have the ability to watch Jimenez dominate opposing batters for years to come.

It will be a huge surprise if Jimenez does not find his way to an All-Star game in the next couple of years.

The win on Thursday did not come without drama. After Manny Corpas continued his resurgence in the eighth inning, Huston Street provided some stress. He gave up base hits to BJ Upton and Carl Crawford both singled, which brought the dangerous third baseman Evan Longoria to the plate. After working the count to 2-2, Longoria chased a slider in the dirt, recording the first out. Then came Carlos Pena, who Street also struck out after running the count full.

Street was not out of the woods however, as Ben Zobrist dropped a ball into center field, scoring both runs and getting the Rays within a run and putting the tying run at first base.

The reigning N.L. Player of the Week was not about to fold. After getting behind 2-1, Gross lined a ball right at second baseman Clint Barmes to end the threat. It was Street's 15th save of the season.

Cook Ties Rockies Record For Wins

A night after the Rockies had a chance to write in the team history books and failed, Aaron Cook had his chance and succeeded. The gutsy redhead threw seven innings, giving up three runs, two on back-to-back solo home runs from Carl Crawford and Evan Longoria, while striking out three and walking one. The win improved Cook to 6-3 on the season and 58-47 for his career.

The win ties Cook with Jason Jennings for the franchise record in wins by a pitcher.

The record tying outing, in many ways, resembled Cook's career. He worked flawlessly through the first three innings, using his sinker to induce ground outs. Then, after being staked to a 4-0 lead courtesy of a Troy Tulowitzki three run home run, Cook ran into trouble.

With two outs in the fifth Cook gave up the back-to-back homers to Crawford and Longoria. It seemed as if Cook may be losing his stride and that the bullpen would be in for a fair amount of work to preserve a win.

Cook entered the sixth inning already having thrown 90 pitches on the night. After inducing a double play ball, the right hander was out of the inning, his pitch count at 98, allowing him to throw the seventh inning as well.

The game resembles Cook's career because it was not a night in which he had his best pitches working for him. He ran into trouble and could not get the slider over consistently. Instead of getting down on himself, Cook looked inside, and found a way to go and get outs. Even though the performance was sloppy, it is that mentality that inks Cook in the Rockies record book. He worked through the tough moments so that he could help his team get the win.

The ace of the Rockies staff, a second round pick in 1997, spent several years in the minors before finally making his Major League debut in 2002. In 2003 he was showing his talent and ability to do well on the Major League level, going 4-6 while working mostly out of the bullpen.

The Rockies were excited about what Cook had to offer and moved him into the rotation permanently for the '04 season. It was his chance to shine.

He was well on his way to the season that he and the Rockies were hoping for, with a chance to win 10 games, Cook was on the mound against his hometown Cincinnati Reds in August of '04. He was having a hard time breathing, it was enough of a problem that he told trainer Keith Dugger that he needed to come out of the game. Dugger was quick enough to realize that the symptoms were severe and rushed Cook to the hospital where doctors discovered a blood clot in his lungs.

Many doctors said that if it were not for the quick reactions by Dugger, Cook would have died on the mound that day.

Needless to say, Cook's baseball career was put on hold. The 25 year-old had another battle to fight. Most believed that Cook would never return to the Majors.

However, just over a year later, Cook was back with the Rockies, helping them down the stretch and finishing the '05 season with a 7-2 record in 13 starts.

The fact that Cook even attempted to come back from the injury is a true testament to who he is as a person and as a pitcher. When things are not going his way he does not just give in and accept that he cannot have what he wants, he fights back.

The Colorado Rockies and their fans have now seen it 58 times in his career. Cook is a hard-nosed professional who no one will ever worry about when he takes the ball every fifth day.

He proved it again on Wednesday and will continue to prove it as he claims the Rockies win record and runs with it.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Rockies Winning Streak Ends At Eleven

On the brink of history, the Colorado Rockies fell on their faces.

During the franchise-tying 11 game winning streak everything seemed to go right. Pitchers made the pitches that they needed to, the offense had clutch hits and the defense played almost flawlessly, mixing in some really nice plays to save runs.

Tuesday night was the exact opposite. It all started with starting pitcher Jorge De La Rosa, who struck out the first two batters of the game before leaving a pitch up and over the heart of the plate to Evan Longoria. Longoria proceeded to give away the first of several souvenirs to the fans sitting in left field.

The defense lacked the crispness that helped propel the team back into contention. In the second inning Gabe Kapler hit a foul ball down the left field line. Ian Stewart approached the ball, then mysteriously backed off, thinking that Troy Tulowitzki would get it. The only problem is that Tulo was covering third base and the ball dropped in foul territory. On the next pitch Kapler roped a triple, scoring two and the route was on.

The fact of the matter in the 12-4 loss for the Rockies, is that they were never in the game. While it is difficult to complain about a team that is 11-1 in the last 12 games, play like Tuesday night are exactly why the Rockies had such a bad first two months. During the streak, the main key was the fact that the starting pitchers were keeping the team in the game from the beginning, allowing the offense a chance to strike back.

The only thing consistent for Jorge De La Rosa has been inconsistency.

If there was a winner take all game and a manager could pick anyone to pitch, De La Rosa would be near the bottom of most managers lists. Despite having incredible stuff, he throws in the mid-90's and has an above average changeup and curveball, he cannot seem to figure himself out.

From one start to the next he seems like two completely different pitchers. In fact, De La Rosa can seem like two different pitchers from one batter to the next. Tuesday night was a prime example of that. He made quick work of BJ Upton and Carl Crawford, putting pitches exactly where he wanted them. Immediately following the two strike outs De La Rosa proceeded to give up a no-doubt home run to Evan Longoria. The most frustrating thing about him is that he has the talent to be a top flight pitcher.

The way that De La Rosa falters, if he had any less talent he would not be in a big league uniform. He would be a guy who no team would want to take a chance on because there was no strong upside. The problem is, De La Rosa has a ton of upside. Teams like the Rockies are willing to live through what they hope are growing pains, hoping to uncover a diamond in the rough.

Unfortunately, his inconsistency brings a lack of confidence to a team that has to wonder if no matter what they do at the plate, they may get upstaged by an imploding starting pitcher.

Actually a pitcher like De La Rosa may have been even better if his stuff was just a little bit worse. It sounds funny, but its true. With the arsenal of pitches that he brings to the mound at the lower levels he was able to blow the ball past hitters with his fastball and buckle hitters knees with his breaking pitch. He relied heavily on his talent.

Talent, however, will only take a man so far. Instead of learning how to make pitches and hit locations, De La Rosa became used to relying on his raw abilities to get him out of jams in the Minor Leagues. That translates to good stats, but the difference is that Major League hitters are not as fooled by his pitches. They are able to catch up to his fastball, and they can lay off the breaking pitch out of the strike zone.

That leaves De La Rosa in a situation that he is not used to. He is used to getting guys out of using pure talent instead of having to be a pitcher and deceive them with what is coming, or finding a hole in their swing and pitching to that. It is a tough hurdle that many talented pitchers face when they enter the league.

Ubaldo Jimenez is a classic example. In the minors he could throw so hard that he could walk two batters per inning, but still get out of the inning by striking out the next three. In the Majors he had to learn that control was more important than velocity. It has been a learning curve, but Jimenez is showing the mental fortitude to handle the change.

That mental fortitude is something that De La Rosa is still looking for. Until he finds it, or the Rockies decide that they can no longer wait for him to find it, the club will struggle when De La Rosa takes the mound.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Rockies Streak Puts Them Back In The Race

The Colorado Rockies finally had on day off on Monday. After 17 games in 17 days, the longest stretch of the season without a day off, Colorado had a chance to take a breather.
The only problem, that was the last thing they wanted.

This team just finished off their third consecutive sweep, they are riding an 11-game winning streak, tied for the longest in franchise history. Playing the way they are, there is no one in the clubhouse looking for a day off. They are excited about coming to the ball park and winning another game.

One thing that the off day provides is an opportunity to reflect.

Is it crazy for anyone else to think that the Rockies have won 11 games in a row? This is the same Rockies team that had not won more than three games in a row before this streak, and that came during the second, third and fourth games of the season. That is the one and only time that this team had won more than two games in a row. Now they have rattled off 11 straight.

If the Rockies win on Tuesday night at home against the Rays, they will have the longest winning streak of the season by any team in the Majors. That is not supposed to happen.

There is not a Rockies fan who is not reminded of the 2007 streak that took the Rockies to the playoffs, and eventually to the World Series. The streak is extremely similar. While the '07 streak clearly came at a more important time, it could be argued that the '09 Rockies had one foot in the grave before the current streak began. Now they sit one game under .500 and just 3-1/2 games out of the wild card.

This streak brings back memories of the '07 streak not just because of the number of wins in a row, but also due to the nature of the wins.

It does not seem to matter if the Rockies have the lead or not, there is a feeling that the club is going to find a way to win the game.

Early in the season, if the Rockies did not take the early lead they were done. Before the streak not only had they only won two one-run games, they had only won four games in which they did not score the first run. For non-baseball fans, that is a horrible statistic. It told the story for the Clint Hurdle led '09 Rockies. If they did not get way ahead early they lost the game.

During the streak it seems that the team is just going to find a way to win.

In 2007 the hero of the game was not necessarily the stars of the team. In fact, Matt Holliday was on the bench nursing an oblique injury for two games during the '07 streak. Players like Cory Sullivan, who made an incredible throw to nail the Dodgers Jeff Kent at the plate, essentially winning a game in Los Angeles in '07, became heroes.

In the one-game playoff against the Padres, Yorvit Torrealba hit an early home run to get the lead on San Diego ace Jake Peavy, set the tone for what become the most exciting game in franchise history.

The same thing has been the case for the Rockies during this 11-game streak.

Players like Jorge De La Rosa and Jason Hammel, who combined have five of the 11 wins on the mound have found ways to piece together great starting pitching. De La Rosa battles continuously with his own inner demons and is extremely susceptible to the big inning, but has managed to control his emotions and pick up his first two wins of the season.

Hammel, who had been good on the road, but miserable at Coors Field, put together an impressive start at Coors on Sunday, striking out six and walking none, giving up only a first inning run. The only thing that could beat him was the weather as the tornado delay was long enough to end his day after throwing 5-1/3 innings.

Huston Street, named on Monday as the National League co-player of the week, has nailed down six saves during the stretch, raising his season total to 13 saves.

Reliever Joel Peralta, who three weeks ago was wearing a Colorado Springs Sky Sox jersey, got the biggest out in two consecutive games in Milwaukee, the second time coming with the bases loaded against Ryan Braun.

It should not be forgotten how much of an impact new manager Jim Tracy has had on the Rockies. Since taking over for Clint Hurdle the Rockies are a robust 13-4. While the moves he has made have not been drastic, they have been impactful.

Tracy immediately moved Clint Barmes into the two-hole in the lineup. This ensured that he would see more fastballs because he would be batting behind Dexter Fowler, a threat to steal on the bases, and in front of Todd Helton, who no one wants to face with men on base.

Barmes immediately responded, raising his average over .50 points to nearly .300. He has more extra base hits during the 11-game stretch than he had all season.

Tracy has also made the tough decision to play Ian Stewart everyday. The decision is not hard from the standpoint the Stewart is ready, but from the standpoint that it meant sitting the slumping Garrett Atkins on the bench.

Atkins was a huge contributor on the '07 team. He is the only Rockie to average over 100 RBI's over the last three years.

However, Atkins has been merely a shell of what he had previously been. With a three-hit day on Sunday Atkins average finally went above the Mendoza line, now sitting at a meager .204. To top it off, the Rockies know that signing Atkins after this season will be extremely difficult and are trying desperately to trade him. Putting him on the bench will not enhance his trade value, but Tracy is doing what he thinks will help the team win now.

The problem for the Rockies now is that this winning streak is merely digging them out of the hole that they were dug themselves into through the first two months. After Sunday's game the Rockies are still one game below .500 at 31-32. That means that they have 99 games to go.

It can be assumed that to win the Wild Card the Rockies are going to need at least 87 wins. With 99 games to go, that means that they will have to win 58 more games. That would mean the rest of the way they will have to have a winning percentage of roughly .586. That is a tough number to get to, especially over a 99 game stretch.

While 58 more wins is tough, it by no means is impossible.

On the plus side for the Rockies is that through the first 63 games they have played more games on the road than any other team in the Major Leagues. What that means is that over the final 99 games of the season they will play more games at home than any other team.

That alone should be a huge advantage for making a run, especially considering that they are finally starting to jell as a team. It is always easier to win when the team plays well together, especially when you have the final at-bat.

Regardless, looking back, two weeks ago no one would have thought that there would be a thought of putting the Rockies and contention in the same sentence. That alone shows how well the team has been playing. Regardless of how long the current streak lasts, it has infused the Colorado Rockies clubhouse with a confidence that should help them continue to play well and find ways to win baseball games.