Sunday, August 30, 2009

Rockies Blow Wild Card Lead In San Francisco

So much for that four game lead in the Wild Card race.

The Rockies went to San Francisco for a three game weekend series that was supposed to solidify their lead in the Wild Card race and instead return to Denver with their tails between their legs and serious issues raring their ugly heads.

It looked good for the Rockies. They got an early lead off Giants starter Matt Cain and had his pitch count over 100 in the fifth inning. It looked like the Rockies were finally coming out of their funk and would avoid their first sweep under the leadership of manager Jim Tracy.

Rockies starter Jason Hammel cruised through the first five innings, facing the minimum number of hitters through the first three innings and throwing a remarkable 42 pitches through five innings. He left the game in the sixth when he ran into trouble, staring at Giant base runners on second and third with no one out.

Franklin Morales walked to the mound and did a brilliant job of getting the Rockies out of the inning with only one run scoring on a sacrifice fly.

Then Jim Tracy made his first bad decision.

After the Rockies added an insurance run and got back to a 5-2 lead, Tracy decided to leave Morales in the game for the seventh inning. After loading the bases without getting an out, Tracy went out and got him, in favor of Rafael Betancourt.

Betancourt immediately missed his spot to Edgar Renteria who launched a no-doubter to left field, giving the Giants a lead that they would not relinquish.

In the top of the eighth Clint Barmes once again showed why he has no business being on a Major League field. Down one run, Ian Stewart led off the inning with a double, looking to swing the momentum back on their side. The next batter was seven hole hitter Barmes, who seems to come up to bat in the biggest of situations regardless of where he is in the lineup.

A light hitting second baseman who is hitting under .250 and rarely walks should be a phenomenal bunter. He should be able to get the little things done to help the club win. Instead, for the second straight day, Barmes popped a bunt up and blew his chance to help the team win.

The mechanics behind his bunt were ridiculously bad. Little league coaches teach young hitters how to bunt by putting a mit on the end of the bat and explaining that instead of pushing the bat to the ball, a bunter should receive the ball with the bat, allowing the bat to deaden the ball and get down on the ground.

Instead, Barmes swatted the bat to the ball and popped out in the biggest at-bat in the 2009 season. Yorvit Torrealba came to the plate and hit a hard single to right, too hard to score Stewart from second base. If Barmes gets the job done, Stewart scores and the game is tied.

Barmes' epic failure became a moot point in the bottom half of the eighth, when the Giants batted around in consecutive innings.

Tracy's second horrible decision came in the bottom half of the eighth.

Down by just one run, Tracy decided to go with Juan Rincon to keep the Rockies in the game. Big mistake.

Rincon loaded the bases without getting a single out. He could not find his location and was hanging every single slider that he threw. A double in the left-center gap and the Rockies were out of it.

The loss was sickening for Rockies fans. This was not the team that got themselves back in the race after being so far behind over the last three months.

The Rockies starting rotation is hanging on by a thread after the loss of Aaron Cook, and the bullpen is in total shambles. Juan Rincon is not the answer in a one run game, Matt Daley has given reason to question his effectiveness over his last three outings, and Betancourt has gotten hit hard his last two times out.

The Rockies get a much needed day off on Monday before starting a 10 game home stand against the Mets. It will be very important for the Rockies to start playing better at home and find a way to bounce back from a horrible weekend.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Clint Barmes Is Failing The Rockies When They Need Him The Most

This is getting old.

One week after securing a four game lead in the Wild Card and making it seem like they were taking aim at another race, the Rockies have fallen back to nearly even with the Giants.

Barry Zito did his best Tim Lincecum impression on Saturday night, nearly going the distance for the Giants before serving up a Brad Hawpe opposite field home run in the ninth.

The Rockies put up a fight, getting the tying run to the plate before Clint Barmes hit a weak fly ball to center field, forcing the Rockies to succumb to a Giants team that looked far more comfortable all night long.

It would be easy to once again give credit to the pitcher. Zito was on. He had very good stuff all night long that kept the Rockies hitters off balance. He was difficult to hit and work his way out of jams. That is what good pitchers do. The problem for the Rockies is that if they are serious about being a contender, they are going to need to be able to beat good pitchers.

In order to beat good pitchers they are going to find a better option than struggling second baseman Clint Barmes. Barmes, who went 1-for-5 on Saturday, flying out to end the game on the first pitch from Brian Wilson. Barmes greatest failure on the night, however, was his inability to get a bunt down in the fifth inning. With runners at first and second and no one out, the second baseman made a feeble attempt at getting a bunt down on a Zito fastball. Barmes made timid little leaguers look good on the attempt. He fouled it straight up in the air, and Giants catcher Eli Whiteside made the catch, leaving the runners at first and second now with one out.

Barmes' second half has been a total failure. He has seen his average drop 40 points since the beginning of July and has failed in some of the biggest situations.

The issue for Barmes is a tough one. He is very aggressive at the plate. He has never seen a breaking ball in the dirt that he did not want to take a hack at. He loves to swing the bat and wants to put the ball in play. The fact is, this very attitude is what put Barmes in the big leagues. He is not a huge man. He cannot hit the ball 500 feet, he does not have exceptional speed and he has never been known as a great hitter. What he is known for is his work ethic.

Barmes' talent may not be Major League, but his heart is Hall of Fame. He has become a great fielder because of his determination and effort. He has learned to hit for power, and when he can keep his weight back and go to the opposite field, he is actually a decent hitter.

For Barmes, his greatest strength is also his greatest weakness.

Making it to the big leagues with less than Major League talent required Barmes to play the part with aggressiveness. He worked his way into positions and found ways to get the job done. He was not good enough to simply stand at the plate and take pitches. He needed to hit the ball and hit the ball hard to prove that he belonged. Now that he has arrived, however, he has not learned when to turn that intensity down. He is consistently trying to do too much. If a pitcher wants to get Barmes out, all they need to do is throw him an off speed pitch. Keeping his weight back and waiting for a pitch is not a part of Barmes' game.

The second baseman is similar to the Padres two-time World Champion and one-time World Series MVP David Eckstein in so many ways that they cannot be counted. They both play the game as hard as possible and never quit. Their only differences are the fact that Barmes has more natural talent, and Eckstein can get the little things done to help his team win a baseball game.

Eckstein is a great bunter. He can move a runner over and sacrifice himself. Little things are what got Eckstein to the big leagues. Barmes not executing on the bunt attempt was costly for the Rockies on Saturday. It changed the complexion of the inning, and in a game where the opposing pitcher is throwing as well as Zito was, that one inning is where the Rockies needed to break through.

The Rockies look to avoid the sweep and maintain a lead in the Wild Card race with the series finale on Sunday. It will be no easy task for the Rockies. The Giants are putting Matt Cain on the mound and the Rockies are countering with number five starter Jason Hammel. Game time is 2:10 MDT.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Rockies Lose Third Straight, Need An Off Day

If they were pitching on the east coast people would be following their every moves. The major sports networks would be talking about them before each and every start. Instead, on a night where both teams are playing for their spots in the playoffs, they might get a blip in the nightly shows.

Ubaldo Jimenez and Tim Lincecum are as good, or better than any other pitcher in the league. Not just the National League, but all of the Majors.

After Jimenez out dueled Lincecum on Sunday at Coors Field, Lincecum showed what he is made of on a warm night in San Francisco. The Rockies lost 2-0, shrinking their lead in the Wild Card to just two games.

The offense is to blame for the Rockies recent struggles. Throw Friday night out the window. Facing Lincecum is tough on the best offenses ever assembled. No team in the league is going to have a good offensive night when Lincecum is pitching well, plain and simple. He has proven himself to be a phenomenal pitcher.

However, the truth is, the offense has been abysmal.

In the last eight games the Rockies have played, the opposition has scored first in every single outing. While that could be blamed on the pitching, the offense has to take some of the blame for not coming out of the gate strong. Scoring first builds confidence for a starting pitcher and changes the complexion of an entire game.

Garrett Atkins, mired in a season long slump, had his struggles hidden by the coming out party of Ian Stewart. Stewart has been a slick fielding third baseman who can hit a baseball a mile. Unfortunately for the Rockies, Stewart's swing has the tendency to get long. When it does he struggles to hit the inside pitch. Stewart's batting average is low, but his strikeout total is alarming. If his batting average were low, but he was still finding ways to get on base, or moving runners over, it may not be an issue. Strikeouts, however, are unproductive outs that do nothing but help opposing pitchers get out of trouble.

Chris Iannetta, touted by ESPN's Peter Gammons as one of the best catchers in the game before the season, has failed miserably. The soft-spoken catcher looks like a completely different player in '09. At one point in '08, former manager Clint Hurdle had to sit Iannetta down and tell him to be less patient. That is a rare conversation for a young player. Iannetta was walking all the time. His '08 on base percentage was .390, clearly making him a tough out.

In 2009, Iannetta is not seeing the ball as well. His batting average dropped below .220 on Friday, and his on base percentage for the season sits at .332, far below what would be expected of him in his second season as the everyday catcher.

This offense is one that will hit. They have scored more runs than all but one team, the Phillies, in the National League. While Coors Field is still a hitter's park, Citizen's Bank Park in Philadelphia is even more of a hitter's park.

The problem for the Rockies may be the fact that they are tired.

This is uncharted territory for the Rockies. In 2007 they were in the race, but they were not defending a lead. The Rockies were not on top of the National League Wild Card race until they beat the Padres in game 163.

This 10 game stretch has been the most nerve racking stretch possibly in the history of this franchise. Add in the fact that two straight nights involved the Rockies winning in walk off fashion, one of which ended at midnight, and the next coming the very next night.

If that was not bad enough, before the Rockies started their 10 game stretch against the Dodgers and Giants, the Rockies played a night game in the nations capital and did not arrive at home until 4:00 AM. Monday's off day may make the biggest difference for these Rockies. It will be the Rockies first day off spent in Denver since July 23rd.

Even after a three game losing streak to their biggest enemies, the Rockies are still in a position to go home with a four game lead over the Giants in the National League Wild Card race. That would require the team to win two tough games against Barry Zito and Matt Cain, but Zito is facing Jason Marquis, and Jason Hammel has pitched well against the Giants this season, and even better on the road, putting the Rockies in a position to possibly win the series.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Rockies' Bats On Ice, Lose Ground In Both Races

The Rockies got a wake up call at Coors Field on a sunny Thursday afternoon.

After three exciting wins in a row that made fans believe that a playoff berth is not just a pipe dream, the Rockies lost two games to the Dodgers, leaving them with some serious work to do as the head west for a weekend rematch against the Giants at AT&T Park in San Francisco.

The Rockies rallied to beat Tim Lincecum, then played plated five runs in the 14th inning on Monday for the win. Then they completed the trifecta with a win in the 10th inning on Monday night, the second consecutive extra-inning walk off win for the Rockies.

The wins gave them distance in the Wild Card standings, and closed the gap in the NL West, all while creating a buzz in Denver that resonated throughout the Rocky Mountain region. These Rockies were serious about contention.

Then reality hit.

Josh Fogg, filling in for the injured Aaron Cook, gave up six runs in three-plus innings on Tuesday night. That gave the Dodgers a lead the Rockies could not come back from. Then, on Thursday, Jorge De La Rosa pitched well, but the offense could not support him, and the Rockies lost 3-2.

Tuesday night's game can be chalked up to a bad outing. Fogg never had his best stuff, and if it weren't for Juan Rincon, the Rockies would have lost by an even larger margin with the bullpen getting even more warn out.

Wednesday's game is the game that should have the Rockies concerned. They were facing newly acquired pitcher Vincente Padilla in his first Dodger start. Padilla is not terrible, but he was released for a reason. He is a decent pitcher, but is known for getting hurt the second time through the order.

With the Rockies getting a good outing from De La Rosa, the offense needed to find a way to score runs against Padilla. Two runs in five innings was simply not going to be enough to make sure that the Rockies got the win. Very rarely does a team win a Major League Baseball game scoring only two runs.

In a homestand that the Rockies surprisingly finished out at just 4-3, the Rockies failed to score first in any of the games. Not once did the home team get on the board first. While the Rockies were able to come back in four games. That is a trend that simply cannot continue if the Rockies are hoping to hold onto their playoff hopes.

Part of the reason for the early deficits comes due to the starting pitching not getting into a zone early in the game. In all but one of the games the opposition scored in the first inning. In the the other game, Ubaldo Jimenez served up a two run home run to Edgar Renteria in the second inning. It may be time to call into question the method of preparation that pitching coach Bob Apodaca is employing for his starter.

The issue is not only with the pitching. The hitters are failing miserably at the plate.

Brad Hawpe has watched his batting average drop from the .320 mark at the All-Star game to an even .300 after going 1-for-4 on Thursday. Hawpe's strikeouts are way up. He is confused by the breaking pitch and has failed in the exact situation that landed him in the All-Star game, hitting in the clutch.

Second baseman Clint Barmes, while hitting his 21st home run of the season on Tuesday night, is struggling mightily at the plate. He has watched his average drop from nearly .300 all the way down to .248. In Las Vegas betting on him to pop up to an infielder would be the easiest bet in town.

Ian Stewart is also struggling. He was a bright spot when Garrett Atkins start to the season never seemed to turn around. However, Stewart is not doing much better. Stewart has struck out 12 times in his last seven games, while walking only three times and getting only three hits, one for extra bases in that same span.

His defense provides a lift for the Rockies, but in order for this team to contend they need Stewart to be hitting somewhere in the range of .260 instead of the .222 average he will take to San Francisco.

Strikeouts are rally killers and the Rockies have been good at doing that while they have struggled. In the last seven days the Rockies have struck out 48 times, and in the last two weeks they have fanned a whopping 114 times. That is far too many times for a team that can hit for power, but does not pride itself in winning games by out homering the opposition.

The weekend does not get any easier as San Francisco looks to avenge a bad weekend in Denver. The Giants will put Tim Lincecum, Barry Zito and Matt Cain on the mound, which should prove to be a difficult task for the Rockies.

With the loss the Rockies are looking at going to San Francisco trailing the Dodgers by four games in the West and leading the Giants by just 2-1/2 games, depending on the results of the Giants game against the Diamondbacks on Thursday night.

Rockies Lose To Dodgers 6-1

Sometimes you have to lose a battle to win the war.

That phrase describes the Rockies night on Wednesday. The Rockies had just completed two extremely dramatic nights at Coors Field in which the team had come back and won in extra innings. On top of that they were dealing with the fact that the bullpen had been in desperate need for relief of their own due to overuse in the last week and a half.

The Rockies were due for a hangover. While nights like Monday and Tuesday are fun, they do not come without a price. Games in late August in which a team is playing teams that are neck and neck with each other are full of emotion. Then throw in the fact that the two previous games featured amazing extra inning victories and left to be found is a team in desperate need of a break.

That break was nowhere to be found, with another tough game against the Dodgers was slated. From the get go the Rockies seemed to be in a hole. The Dodgers had Randy Wolf on the mound, a pitcher who has re-discovered his form, and despite the fact that he has a rather pedestrian 9-6 record, Wolf sports a 3.25 ERA. He showed why opposing teams are not happy to face him on Wednesday. He went 7-1/3 innings giving up just one run on five hits while striking out five and walking just two.

Wolf kept the Rockies off balance all night in a game that where the offensive performance was simply lackluster.

There may have been an offensive letdown due to the fact that Rockies starter Josh Fogg, starting a game for the Rockies for the first time since game three of the 2007 World Series, clearly did not have his best stuff early on. Fogg is not the type of pitcher who can survive without his best stuff simply because even his best stuff is barely mediocre.

In the first inning Andre Eithier launched a two run home run to right field, then in the fourth Eithier launched his second bomb of the night, this time a solo shot, to nearly the same spot. That came immediately after Ryan Spilborghs hit a home run to left field that injected some life into the Rockies.

It was not meant to be as Fogg gave up four runs in the inning without recording an out, before handing the ball to Jim Tracy in favor of the newly recalled Juan Rincon. Rincon settled the game down, giving up no runs in four innings.

Losing is never fun, but the game gave the Rockies an opportunity to rest closer Huston Street for one more night and also give a day off to Franklin Morales, Rafael Betancourt, Matt Daley and Joe Beimel. All of those relievers had been over used in the last few days, whether in the game or having to get up and get loose in the bullpen.

In order for the Rockies to make a serious run at October baseball they are going to need good starting pitching, but beyond that they are going to need a fresh bullpen. While Fogg's outing definitely raises questions as to how where the Rockies need to go to get some pitching help, it still helped this team out. Between Fogg and Rincon, they pitched enough to save those arms for a night and perhaps give Street and his bullpen buddies a chance at hitting that second wind before the real push for the playoffs start.

The Rockies go for the series victory on Thursday afternoon at Coors Field. The Dodgers will be sending their newly acquired starter, Vincente Padilla to the hill to face Jorge De La Rosa.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

More Late Night Heroics As Rockies Shrink Dodgers NL West Lead

If Monday night wasn't enough drama, Tuesday night should be satisfying.

The Colorado Rockies, coming off a series in which they increased their National League Wild Card lead to four games, proved that they are not interested in leading the Wild Card race. They are in this thing to win their first division title in team history.

On Monday night Ryan Spilborghs was the hero, Tuesday night it was Troy Tulowitzki's turn.

After fighting back against Dodgers starter Clayton Kershaw, getting two runs on a home run by Brad Hawpe, a certified Dodger killer, the Rockies kept battling. Clint Barmes hit his 21st home run of the season, four short of Matt Holliday's total in 2008, to give the Rockies their first lead of the night, then they added another run in the bottom of the eighth on a double down the left field line by Tulowitzki. Todd Helton was thrown out at the plate to end the inning, but the damage was done. The Rockies were winning 4-2 headed to the ninth.

Rockies fans have become accustomed to having a relaxing ninth inning, thanks to the shutdown work of Huston Street. There was one problem for this game. Street was unavailable due to his heavy work load over the last seven days.

That meant that Rafael Betancourt would take the mound, trying to earn his first save in a Rockies uniform.

That proved a tough task. Betancourt gave up a single to Juan Pierre, then a double to Rafael Furcal. The tying run was at second base with no one out. Matt Kemp then strolled to the plate and hit a sacrifice fly to Hawpe in right, moving the tying run to third. That was it for Betancourt, who stepped aside for Joe Beimel who struck out Andre Eithier, then stepped aside to let Matt Daley face Manny Ramirez with the tying run at third.

After throwing two perfect pitches for strikes, Daley got Ramirez to foul off a pitch, then went for the strike out on the high heater. Ramirez lined the pitch into right field, tying up the game. Hind sight is always 20/20 but the thought had to cross the mind of anyone in the Rockies corner, why pitch to Ramirez?

Regardless, the Rockies went to the bottom half of the ninth, and were quickly disposed of, leaving them with only one pitcher in the bullpen, Matt Herges, who is scheduled to work a chunk of Wednesday's game since Josh Fogg is not completely stretched out.

Herges went to the mound with Rockies fans wondering if he could shut down this potent Dodgers lineup. Six pitches later the Rockies were back in the dugout, ready to face the Dodgers in the 10th.

In the bottom half of the 10th Dodgers manager Joe Torre elected to throw James McDonald, a long reliever. McDonald proceeded to walk Ian Stewart, putting the winning run on base. That is when the flashbacks to Monday night began, with a chance to do damage, up to the plate came Carlos Gonzalez, a defensive substitute in the ninth inning. Gonzalez still has a stitch in his hand and cannot swing the bat.

With over 20,000 people in the stadium knowing that Gonzalez would lay down a bunt, the lefty laid down a perfect bunt just to the first base side of the mound. It was hard enough for McDonald to not be able to field the ball, leaving it up to first baseman James Loney. Loney should have held onto the ball, but instead made an errant throw to first, sending Stewart to third base with no one out.

After striking out Omar Quintanilla and walking Todd Helton, thoughts to Monday night's game were coming back yet again. With the outfield drawn in, Troy Tulowitzki knew that he needed to lift the ball and the game would be won. On the first pitch from McDonald, Tulo drove a go pitch to left center field, over the reach of the drawn in outfielders for the win.

At this point, thoughts were coming back again from Monday night, only this time, it was the celebration memories.

A jubilant Tulowitzki hit first base and headed to the outfield where the Rockies dugout, which evacuated on contact, met him.

The Rockies once again found a way to get the job done.

The greatest fear for the Rockies after last night was that they would suffer a hangover from the emotional late night that was Monday. The team showed up ready to play. While the offense struggled early against Kershaw, they kept fighting, which is the key to a good team.

Once again it is easy to forget about the outing by the Rockies starting pitcher in the late inning drama.

Jason Hammel, knowing how badly the Rockies needed a big start from him, delivered. He has struggled at Coors Field, coming into Tuesday nights game with over a 7.00 ERA at home. However, he put his foot down and despite giving up two early runs he was able to shut the Dodgers down. He also gave the Rockies enough distance to keep the bullpen from getting into serious overuse issues. In all Hammel went seven innings, giving up the two runs on eight hits. He struck out four and walked only two. It was an incredible performance which gave the Rockies an opportunity to win this game.

These Rockies could easily settle for the Wild Card. They have a four game lead in the Wild Card, which is not huge, but is significant. It would be easy for the team to take a breath and relax for a couple of days, taking it easy due to their sprint back into contention over the course of the last three months.

This team is not quitting though. They are finding new ways to win games. When their bullpen blows its fist save in over 25 chances, the offense does not panic, they simply do what they do best, get men on base and find ways to move them over.

For the key to this continued resurgence look no further than Tulowitzki. The shortstop plays every pitch like it is the World Series. He constantly is demanding more from himself and looking for new ways to improve his game. While he struggled early in the season, it was clear that it was due to him trying to do too much.

On Tuesday when he stepped to the plate in the 10th, the thought was not about him hitting into a double play, or popping out and the Rockies finding a way to blow a chance. The thought was that there was no way that Tulowitzki would fail. He was going to find a way to win the ball game, and he wasted no time in doing it.

Spilborghs Ends Incredible Rockies-Giants Game With Walk Off Grand Slam

There are no words to describe it.

The English language is not equipped with an adjective that properly describes the Rockies game on Monday night.

After a pitcher’s duel that turned into an extra inning game in which both teams blew scoring opportunities, the Giants finally broke through against Adam Eaton in the top of the 14th inning. San Francisco scored three runs in the top of the inning, one more run than had been scored in the previous 13 innings.

While most teams would have packed it in, these Rockies decided that a little bit of drama might be fun this late in the season. In the bottom half of the 14th, when most fans had turned off their TV, or headed to the parking lot, Dexter Fowler led off with a walk, two pitches after fouling a pitch directly off his left knee cap, clearly hurting the center fielder. With no one on the bench Fowler limped his way to first base.

After a Clint Barmes pop out the Rockies were seemingly done. Then Chris Iannetta, hitting for Carlos Gonzalez who had run for Todd Helton in the ninth inning, and is still unable to swing a bat, patiently lined a pitch into center field, bringing the tying run to the plate in the form of Troy Tulowitzki. Tulo, itching to tie the game, only got one pitch to swing at, which he fouled off. Tulowitzki ended up walking on five pitches.

Now the tying run was at first base with the winning run stepping up to the plate.

There was only one problem for the Rockies. The winning run was pitcher Adam Eaton. While Eaton is no slouch at the plate for a pitcher, he is still a pitcher. Long time Rockies fans had flashbacks to Lance Painter pinch hitting in the 1995 NLDS, facing Mark Wohlers 100 mph fastball.

Manager Jim Tracy was seen pulling Eaton over to whisper a word into his ear. Clearly Tracy feared that if Eaton would hit into a double play and end the game. If nothing else, Eaton did a good job of faking it. He did the part of a hitter, strapping on his batting gloves and taking a decent looking crouched stance to the plate. The fact was, Eaton may as well have not brought a bat to the plate. He was not going to swing.

With a free out at the plate, Giants pitcher Justin Miller missed the strike zone four times in five pitches, pushing a run across the plate and putting the tying run at second base.

Giants manager Bruce Bochy had seen enough, he went to the mound and got Miller in favor of his final pitcher in the bullpen, Merkin Valdez.

While Bochy did not have another option, he must have forgotten that Spilborghs had tripled off Valdez just two nights ago.

After a first pitch strike, with one swing of the bat Spilborghs rewarded the Coors Field faithful with a long walk off grand slam, deep into the Rockies bullpen. Known as the clubhouse clown and the constant jokester, Spilborghs sprinted around the bases, nearly beating his celebrating teammates to the plate for the celebration.

If there is a way to describe the feeling of the game, picture Todd Helton’s walk off home run that ignited the run to the playoffs mixed with the play in game that legitimized the entire run in 2007.

In the clubhouse, members of the media were begging for players to make the comparison to ‘07.

That comparison was never made.

The hero Ryan Spilborghs, when asked the question, quickly said that the team is not like the ‘07 team and that they do not even think about that team. It is in the past and this is a new team. Spilborghs stopped after he said “this team is be..” It was clear what Spilborghs was thinking, but avoiding saying.

If they won’t say it, someone needs to.

The 2009 Colorado Rockies are a better team than the ‘07 squad that etched its name onto the National League Championship trophy.

This team is more well rounded, they have a deeper pitching staff, a better bench, and a more complete bullpen. While they may not be getting the national attention that they deserve, the members of the clubhouse do not care what the so-called experts say. They believe that they are a great team and that they are going to not only land in the playoffs, but do damage when they get there.

Lost in the drama and the highlights will be the incredible outing by Jason Marquis.

Marquis pitched eight innings, giving up only one run in the first inning. Marquis kept the Giants guessing all night long with a slider that had as much bite as the Rockies have ever seen from Marquis. He missed his 15th win of the season only because San Francisco starter Barry Zito nearly matched him pitch for pitch, his only blemish coming with his six walks.

With the improbable win, the Rockies are right where they want to be. While a sweep is never expected, the Rockies are in a position where if they happen to rattle off three games in a row, they will be in a dead heat with the Dodgers for the NL West lead.

Just the fact that the Rockies are being mentioned in the same breath as first place in August, let alone in 2009 is a testament to the way this team has played and turned things around under the guidance of Tracy.

The Rockies are hoping to avoid a 14-inning hangover as they open the important series with the Dodgers.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Rockies Make A Statement With Win Over Giants And Lincecum

In what is being touted as the most highly anticipated home stand in Rockies history, the team that calls Coors Field home is out to prove a point.

Coming into a four game series with the Giants the Rockies had a two game lead. With 40 games to go entering the series, 10 were coming against the Giants, four at home and six in San Francisco. To say that getting a few wins in this series is important is an understatement.

Friday night and the first four innings of Saturday night's game made fans briefly think that the Rockies were not really contenders, but more pretenders, winning games against teams from the inferior NL East and NL Central.

That is when the Rockies decided to prove that they are for real.

On Sunday the Rockies were down 2-0 after a second inning home run off the bat of Edgar Renteria. With Tim Lincecum on the mound for the Giants, a two run lead may as well have been a 10 run lead. Well, maybe for a different team. Instead the Rockies, who were held hitless through 5-1/3 innings until Todd Helton lined a single into center field, showed the guts that have put them in the postseason driver's seat.

After Helton's single and a Troy Tulowitzki walk, Ian Stewart stepped to the plate. Stewart was a whopping 0-for-14 in his career against Lincecum and before the game on Saturday night was quoted as saying that he has no idea how to hit the San Francisco righty and that he is the best pitcher he has ever faced.

Well, Stewart picked a good time to pull the trigger on Lincecum. On the second pitch of the at-bat Stewart lined a fastball to right field. Helton, running hard from second base, ran through the stop sign at third base and would have been out at the plate by 10 feet. Instead, Ryan Garko, acquired from Cleveland for the stretch run, cut off the perfect throw from Nate Schierholz. The relay was not in time and Helton was safe, scoring the first run for the Rockies.

In the next inning after Omar Quintanilla took a huge walk to lead off and Ubaldo Jimenez bunted him to second base, Seth Smith, starting in left field because Carlos Gonzalez hurt his hand in a freak accident the previous night, took an 0-1 pitch and put it where very few balls have ever gone at Coors Field. 451 feet later the Lincecum pitch landed half way up the second deck at Coors Field. After adding another run in the eighth inning, the Rockies had beaten the beast that is Tim Lincecum, giving them a sizable three game advantage over the Giants.

While Smith's blast will show up on all the highlight reels, enough cannot be said about blossoming star Ubaldo Jimenez. He stepped up to the challenge and proved that while Lincecum has a Cy Young on his mantle, he is not that far behind. Over eight innings he completely dominated the Giants lineup, mixing his pitches while sticking with his 99 mph fastball as his out pitch.

Coming into the series the Rockies goal had to be to win the series. They knew that with Lincecum on the mound on Sunday it was going to be a tough match to win. Lincecum is coming off a Cy Young season and has already racked up 12 wins with an ERA in the mid two's.

After a Friday night in which the Rockies made it seem like they may struggle, the Rockies looked like they would be in a tough spot just to earn a split of the series.

After a remarkable comeback on Saturday night and getting to arguably the best pitcher a day later, the Rockies look like they may never lose again.

The Rockies head into the Monday finale of the series with the Giants facing Barry Zito, whose record does not show how well he has pitched. He gets very little run support, but has been very capable of dominating a lineup, reminiscent of the days when he pitched on the opposite side of the bay.

However, if momentum plays a part, the Rockies are hopeful that they can complete the series victory when Monday night's game is all said and done.

With Jimenez pitching like he is, to go along with a Rockies offense that is getting hits when it counts and winning the games that really matter, the Rockies may be in a position to make all of the doubters eat crow as they continue to win games.

Most experts from the major networks are still suggesting that the Braves are the team to beat in the Wild Card race, but with the Rockies finding ways to win, ignoring Colorado may be something that is only possible for another week or so.

This team is for real. This team is good, and this team is the most talented squad in the NL Wild Card race.

Rockies Overcome 6-1 Deficit To Defeat San Francisco And Extend Wild Card Lead

Apparently the humidor is not working.

On a hot and dry night at Coors Field the Rockies sent Jorge De La Rosa to the mound for what was the biggest game of the season for the team.

After dropping a tough game on Friday to the Giants, reducing their wild card lead to just one game, the Rockies desperately needed a win on Saturday.

It didn't look good early.

After a quick first inning, De La Rosa gave up three runs in the second inning, then two more in the third, and one more in the fourth. With the Rockies down 6-1 to a seemingly determined Giants team. For a brief moment the thought for the Rockies had to be whether or not they were good enough to beat their biggest opponents in the National League West.

The Rockies put two runs on the board in the bottom of the fourth, but the way that De La Rosa was pitching, and the way that the Giants were hitting, the momentum was still strongly in favor of the visitors.

Momentum, however, can change quickly.

After De La Rosa found his location, the Rockies struck gold in the sixth inning.

Troy Tulowitzki led off with a single, then Brad Hawpe hit a ball to left that just kept going. It sailed over the head of Randy Winn, who badly misplayed the ball, leaving Hawpe at second with a double and Tulowitzki at third. Up to the plate came Ian Stewart with an opportunity to put the Rockies back in the game.

The Rockies would have taken a single. It would have put the Rockies within a run with no one out. Instead of a single and being down by a run, Stewart elected to tie the game. He hit a ball high and deep to left center field, the 411 foot blast sent the Coors Field faithful into a frenzy. With no one out, Joe Martinez's night on the mound, and seemingly easy win, was over.

The bullpen was no relief for the Giants.

After Stewart's home run Yorvit Torrealba hit a single into center field, then pinch hit extraordinaire Seth Smith stepped to the plate. Smith lined a pitch straight down the right field line. Smith slid into third with a run scoring triple. It gave the Rockies a lead they would not relinquish.

Dexter Fowler then hit his second triple of the night to score Smith, then scored on a wild pitch to Todd Helton. Helton then showed how good his back feels. He launched a ball deep into the right field bleachers that took Rockies fans back to 2001 when Helton blasted 49 home runs.

The Rockes scored seven runs in the inning and were off to a 14-11 win, putting them back to two games ahead of the Giants in the Wild Card standings.

The win was exactly what the Rockies needed. A loss would have put the Giants in a dead heat in the standings with the tough task of facing Tim Lincecum in a Sunday matchup. It also ensures that even if the Rockies falter over the next two days the Giants will fly out of Denver with no more than a tie with the Rockies in the standings.

As far as the standings go it was a huge game. As far as the mental side of the game, it was even bigger.

Down 6-1 the Rockies easily could have folded and waited for their chance Sunday. When it looked like the team was buried they dug deeper and found a way to not accept defeat. Even with a huge deficit, the team was able to prove that they are the better hitting team.

The excitement of the win may go miles for the team that is looking to put the Giants away. With two more wins in the series the Rockies would face the Dodgers worried more about the National League West race than the Wild Card race, as the Giants would be four games behind them in the standings.

Winning two more games against the Giants will not be an easy task, however as the Giants have Lincecum on the hill Sunday. While Lincecum is definitely a tall task, the Rockies counter with Ubaldo Jimenez, who has taken steps to become the type of pitcher that his talent says he will be.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Rockies Lose Opener Of Huge Series Against Giants

The bad news came early for the Rockies on Friday.

Shortstop and spark plug for the Rockies, Troy Tulowitzki, woke up feeling sick. Too sick to play on Friday night. In fact, too sick to even come to the ballpark. Manager Jim Tracy said that Tulowitzki had been throwing up all morning and that he was hoping he would be available by Saturday.

It could not have come at a worse time for the Rockies, who entered a four game series against the Giants, and a stretch in which they play 10 straight games against San Francisco and Los Angeles, a crucial run that will basically determine if the Rockies are for real.

The good news for Colorado was that they had a strong advantage in the pitching match up. Jonathan Sanchez was on the hill for the Giants, and despite throwing a no-hitter before the All Star break, has struggled winning only five games coming into the night in 21 starts. While Cook had struggled in his last two starts, much of it was blamed on an injured big toe that had held him back.

After throwing an extra bullpen session after a short outing against the Marlins, Cook declared himself fit to pitch, also mentioning that he had discovered some mechanical flaws in the film of his last outing.

With that in mind, it seemed to be a perfect night match up for the Rockies to set the pace for the series. In a four game series winning the first game is crucial because the team that wins the first game can falter a little bit and still be in a position to get a split. The team that loses instantly needs to play well to salvage a split.

Despite Cook's claims of being ready, he quickly showed that he had no business being on the mound on Friday night. He got a quick ground ball out to start the game, then proceeded to give up three runs before getting out of the inning. His pitches were up in the strike zone, something that a pitcher like Ubaldo Jimenez can get away with because he throws 99 MPH. A pitcher like Cook, who throws 91 MPH will pay for pitches like that, even against a poor hitting Giants team.

After settling down, Cook went out for the fourth inning, gave up a base hit, then summonsed Keith Dugger, the Rockies trainer. Dugger and manager Jim Tracy went to the mound and after speaking briefly with Cook, removed him from the game with what was later found out to be a sore shoulder. Sore shoulders and pitchers do not mix well. Cook will most likely end up on the 15 day disabled list, and could be replaced by Adam Eaton, Josh Fogg, or Jhoulys Chacin.

The loss of Cook is frustrating because it now becomes the third year in a row in which Cook has to be shelved down the stretch due to injury. In 2007 Cook missed much of the second half with a strained oblique muscle. Then in 2008 Cook had his All Star season derailed by a lower back issue. Now in 2009, with the Rockies firmly entrenched in the Wild Card race, Cook goes down with a shoulder injury.

In baseball there are very few must win games, but if there is such a thing, Saturday is that day. The Giants have Tim Lincecum on the mound for them on Sunday. Lincecum is a tall task for any lineup and is proving this season why he deserved to be the National League's Cy Young winner in '08. While the Rockies have Ubaldo Jimenez going that same day, it would be nice for the Rockies to have won the night before to ensure that even with a slip up against Lincecum they have a shot at splitting the series on Monday.

In order to make Saturday a successful day, the Rockies are going to have to find a way to get the bats going again. Ian Stewart looks completely lost at the plate, and with a chance to gain playing time back, Garrett Atkins has not been able to turn his season around. Chris Iannetta, known for his patience at the plate, is striking out at an alarming rate, and Clint Barmes has not pushed himself completely out of a devastating second half slump.

Strikeouts are still a huge issue. On Friday the Rockies fanned 12 times. It may be a matter of hitters once again trying to do too much. Another piece of evidence to support that is the fact that the Rockies are not hitting with runners in scoring position. On Friday they went a measly 2-for-9 in that department and left 11 men on the basepaths.

The Rockies look to Jorge De La Rosa to get the game back on Saturday. Game time is 6:10 MDT.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Hammel Shuts Down Nationals, Helps Rockies To Wild Card Cushion Before Huge Weekend

Redemption is sweet.

Jason Hammel started the first game of the road trip in Florida and faltered. It was his third straight start in which the right hander struggled in. Hammel was struggling to get his breaking pitch over the plate and was getting hit hard. The poor performances began to raise questions of whether or not Hammel should be replaced in the rotation, possibly by either Josh Fogg or Jhoulys Chacin.

After the Giants lost in extra innings earlier in the day, Hammel was the only thing standing between the Rockies and a two game lead in the Wild Card lead heading into a huge four game weekend series with the Giants.

In his biggest outing of the year, Hammel did not disappoint.

The 26 year-old dazzled a good Nationals lineup. His curve ball was breaking sharply and he was locating his fastball. Hammel was perfect through 4-2/3 innings, and kept the Nationals off balance all night.

After throwing only 85 pitches Hammel was pulled after seven innings. He gave up only one run on just three hits. He walked two and struck out three.

While the first two games of the series against Washington were ugly wins for the Rockies, this game was well played. The defense was phenomenal behind Hammel. Twice Ian Stewart made incredible plays, once to his right and once to his left. After walking two and giving up a base hit in the fifth, Hammel found himself in a bases loaded jam. A ground ball headed into left field that would have scored at least one run and possibly two, was snagged by Stewart, who threw from the seat of his pants to Clint Barmes at second to get the third out of the inning.

While the bats were not on fire, the looked like they could not miss compared to Wednesday night. With the Rockies up 2-1 in the eighth and two outs, birthday boy Todd Helton hit a hard single to center field. Troy Tulowitzki then came to the plate and with a full count put a swing on a pitch that should be put on an instructional video. Tulowitzki swatted a low and away pitch into the right-center gap, scoring Helton all the way from first. Brad Hawpe then came to the plate and after striking out his first three times at the plate lined a ball into right field, scoring Tulowitzki and increasing the lead to 4-1.

After two perfect innings by Rafael Betancourt and closer Huston Street the Rockies had swept the Nationals and took a two-game lead in the Wild Card race and currently sit just three games behind the Dodgers in the National League West race.

The sweep goes a long way in terms of showing where this Rockies team is at compared to years past.

While the squad completed a sweep and a road trip in which they went 4-2, the Rockies are not happy with their level of play. They hit poorly with runners in scoring position and did not pitch as well as they could have.

In the past the Rox would have been thrilled with even a .500 road trip, and if they were fortunate enough to sweep a series on the road there may have been a champagne celebration in the clubhouse. This Rockies team, however, knows that they must hit better in clutch situations.

The performance by Hammel is a huge confidence builder for the Rockies. There was an unspoken concern that the fifth spot in the rotation was the chink in the armor.

Instead, on Thursday Hammel went out and put his foot down, showing that he can be effective and that the Rockies can depend on him to keep them in the game.

Looking forward, the Rockies now embark on the biggest 10 game stretch of the season. They play four games against the Giants, then three verses the Dodgers at home, then travel to San Francisco for a three game set.

The good news for the Rockies is that they will not face Matt Cain this weekend at home. In all over the seven games against the Giants Colorado will face Tim Lincecum twice and Cain just once. The key to success will be beating up on the inferior San Francisco pitchers, and then try and scrape one victory away from the three games against Cain and Lincecum.

If the club can find a way to take three of four from the Giants over the weekend they will be four games up in the Wild Card race with their future squarely in their hands.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Rockies Win Despite Ugly Offensive Performance

Good teams win bad games.

In a season that lasts 162 games, there are certainly going to be games where certain aspects of a team do not hit on all cylinders. Wednesday night was that night for the Rockies.

Early on it looked as if the Rockies would be on the fun end of a laugher, as Nationals starter Collin Balester could not find the strike zone. He walked the first three batters, then threw a first pitch fastball to Troy Tulowitzki who drilled it down the left field line for a two run double.

After Brad Hawpe walked, the bases were loaded again with no one out and it looked as if the route was on. Instead Ian Stewart popped out, followed by a Clint Barmes pop out, and a Chris Iannetta weak ground ball. While the Rockies had just put two runs on the board before the Nationals grabbed their bats, it seemed as if momentum had shifted Washington's way.

In the bottom of the first inning Jason Marquis gave up a run on Ryan Zimmerman's triple down the left field line to make the score 2-1. Marquis wiggled out of the one out jam and escaped with the lead.

The Rockies had another opportunity to pour it on in the second inning. Jason Marquis roped the first pitch he saw off the base of the right-center wall for a double. Dexter Fowler then barreled up a pitch that hit the wall and scooted away from right fielder Elijah Dukes. Fowler cruised into third as Marquis scored the Rockies third run.

With one out and Fowler on third base, it looked like the Rockies would get redemption from their failures in the first inning. However, after a walk to Todd Helton and Tulowitzki to load the bases, Brad Hawpe struck out and Ian Stewart grounded out to first base. After having the bases loaded in both the first and second innings, the Rockies had only three runs on the board.

In the fifth inning Clint Barmes, emerging as quite the power hitter, launched a solo home run to left to give the Rockies some breathing room. It helped because Marquis had a hiccup in the bottom half of the inning, giving up two runs to get the Nationals within a run.

The Rockies got another run in the eighth inning when Carlos Gonzalez hit yet another home run, his fourth straight game with a bomb. Gonzalez hit a pitch that looked like it would one-hop the wall, but simply continued carrying and landed three rows in the right field seats.

That run was huge as Huston Street came for the save and on his first pitch gave up a solo home run to Cherry Creek High School product Josh Bard.

Street locked in after that pitch and got the next three hitters out to secure his 31st save of the season.

Overall the Rockies offense left 29 runners on base. Chris Iannetta himself left six on base, while Ian Stewart bested him with seven runners of his own.

There is no doubt about it that the Rockies did not bring their "A" game. They pressed too much when they had a chance to break the game open. They failed to put their foot down when they had a chance to put the Nationals away. Yet, despite their struggles, the Rockies found themselves on the top of the scoreboard for the second straight night.

While the Rockies must find a way to play better and capitalize when they have a chance to hurt the opposition, they are still finding ways to win baseball games. Their struggles are something that every team deals with over the course of a long season.

It may be beneficial that the struggles are coming while they are playing a Nationals team that was once on pace to break the record for the most loses in a season.

The trend must come to an end when the team returns home on Friday to face a Giants team that is nipping at their tails for the Wild Card lead. However, the definition of a good team is a squad that can find a way to win baseball games when they do not have every aspect of their game working for them.

The Rockies go for the sweep on Thursday night with Jason Hammel trying to bounce back from a rough outing in Florida. The Rockies also go for a winning record on the six game road trip, game time is 5:05, broadcast on FSN Rocky Mountain and on the radio on 850 KOA.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Rockies Ride Jimenez To Victory In Nation's Capital

With the Rockies leading the wild card race by one game and trailing the Dodgers by 4-1/2 games in the National League West, games against the Washington Nationals are huge.

Starting on Friday night, the Rockies play 10 straight games against the Giants and Dodgers. Those 10 games could make or break the 2009 season. However, before the team can get to those games, they must not look past the Nationals.

Having a good series in the nation's capital could go a long way for building a cushion going into the weekend series with the Giants. The Rockies got off to a good start on Tuesday.

With Ubaldo Jimenez on the mound for the visitors, the Rockies were confident that they could take the first game of the series. Jimenez did not disappoint. He went eight innings, giving up two earned runs on seven hits, while walking only one and striking out five hitters.

Jimenez did make the Rockies nervous. As seems to be standard for the righty, Jimenez had one very shaky inning. In the second inning after getting two outs, Jimenez gave up an RBI double to Nationals pitcher Craig Stammen. With the score tied, Jimenez failed to bare down and get the final out. Instead he gave up a base hit to Niger Morgan, scoring Stammen from second base. In the inning Jimenez threw 28 pitches.

If the Nationals had any ideas of a blowout win after a rough inning they needed to think twice.

Jimenez came out in the third inning and looked like a completely different pitcher. While he threw several pitches in the third, he was not scored upon. Then in the fourth, fifth, sixth and seventh innings, Jimenez was nearly unhittable, throwing less than 10 pitches in two of those innings.

After throwing his 100th pitch in the seventh inning, it looked as if Jimenez would be done for the night, leaving the game tied at two. However, manager Jim Tracy chose to let Jimenez throw the eighth inning as well, which Jimenez proved to be a good choice by getting the Nationals in order.

In the top of the eighth, Carlos Gonzalez led off with a shot deep into the Nationals bullpen in right field. It was his seventh of the season and third in the last three games.

After giving up three hits and a run, Huston Street got Ryan Zimmerman to pop out to left field to secure his 30th save of the season.

While Gonzalez has turned into quite the story for the Rockies, Jimenez stole the show on Tuesday.

This game was a prime example of how good Ubaldo Jimenez really is. Early on it looked like it could be a long night for Jimenez. He could not hit his spots and was getting into trouble.

When a pitcher has the ability to throw 100 MPH, he should never give up a hit to a pitcher. Even though Stammen is not a horrible hitter for a pitcher, he has a .222 batting average in his rookie year, he is still a pitcher.

Jimenez needed to attack the zone and challenge him to get a hit. Instead, he tried to nibble around the strike zone and throw off speed pitches. The result was a line drive down the right field line, scoring a run.

When Jimenez believes in his pitches, it usually results in good things. He can throw a two-seamed fastball at 97 MPH that moves from one side of the plate to the other. No matter how good a hitter is, the only way that they are going to hit that pitch is if they guess and happen to catch the barrel on the ball.

The scary thing about how good Jimenez is, is that he is still learning how to pitch. He has not figured out the nuances of the game the way that his teammates Aaron Cook and Jason Marquis have. He is still, to a certain degree, a thrower. When he learns how to pitch to individual hitters and figures out their weaknesses Jimenez will find himself firmly entrenched in Cy Young races for years to come.

As Jimenez develops, so does his confidence, which really will play into him figuring out how to pitch. He is going to be a prized talent in this league. The scary thing about watching Jimenez is that he is able to be an 11 game winner in August and still be nowhere near his potential.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Rockies Shock The Baseball World, Sign First Rounder Matzek

The Colorado Rockies continue to surprise their fan base.

As the clock ticked closer to the 10 pm MDT deadline for Major League teams to sign their draft picks, the Rockies shocked the baseball world by signing Tyler Matzek, a hard throwing lefty from Orange County, CA.

Matzek was reportedly given a $3.9 million signing bonus, but was not given a Major League contract as he was initially looking for. The figure is more than double the recommended amount for the 11th overall draft choice.

The number also represents a record for the Rockies franchise.

After suggesting since the day of the draft that it would take around $7 million to convince the hard-throwing lefty to not fulfill his commitment to the University of Oregon, Matzek moved significantly on his part.

Matzek seemed intent on attending college, going as far as moving into his apartment in Eugene, OR over the weekend.

Matzek was widely considered the best prep player available in the draft.

Cook's Struggles Will Hurt The Rockies, De La Rosa Continues To Impress

Sweeping a doubleheader in Major League Baseball is very difficult. Teams generally split a double dip. However, the Rockies had a chance at widening their Wild Card lead and gaining ground in the National League West if they were able to accomplish the feat.

The day started with the return of Aaron Cook, the Rockies ace who missed his last start due to a sprained big toe. After nursing the toe back to health, Cook was set to rejoin the rotation and help the Rockies get a win in a very important series in Miami.

It was not meant to be as Cook lasted just 2-1/3 innings, giving up seven runs on eight hits. He walked three and struck out two. It is Cook's second consecutive loss after winning seven straight decisions. Do not be fooled by the numbers, however, as Cook has been struggling for some time now.

On Independence Day at Coors Field against the Diamondbacks, Cook was staked to a 4-0 lead going into the fourth inning. Normally for a pitcher of Cook's caliber, the Rockies would just put the game down in the books as a W. Instead, Cook blew the lead, leaving in the sixth inning with a tie ball game after giving up a big home run to Mark Reynolds. Later in the month he pitched a carbon copy of the game. With the Diamondbacks in town once again, Cook blew a 3-0 lead, and the Rockies eventually lost to the D-Backs, resulting in another no-decision for the right hander.

On July 31st in Cincinnati, the red head looked dominant through five innings. The Rockies were seemingly in control with a 3-0 lead in the seventh inning. They seemed in control until Cook gave up back to back home runs to tie the game. The biggest bomb coming off the bat of Paul Bako, a Mendoza-like hitter who had yet to homer on the season.

While the Rockies went on to win that game, it continued a disturbing trend for Cook. For a sinkerball pitcher, Cook has given up way too many home runs. In just 142 innings on the season, Cook has given up more home runs (18) than he has in any other season in his career. In 2008, Cook's All-Star season, he gave up just 13 home runs, and that was in 211-1/3 innings.

Sunday, on a very humid day in Miami, Cook's sinker was not sinking. He would leave the pitch over the plate and in the hitter's zone.

The slump may be a disturbing trend.

In 2008, after getting started extremely quickly and racing to an All-Star appearance, Cook looked like he was on his way to a franchise record for wins. He even seemed as if he had a chance to win 20 games and compete for some Cy Young votes.

Instead, Cook struggled after the All-Star break. In August of 2008 Cook threw more than five innings in exactly one start, and he went just six innings in that game. In fact, over a seven start stretch beginning in August and ending September 9th, Cook maxed out at six innings pitched, and he did that only twice, going 2-3 with two no-decisions.

The reason that it is a concern is because if the Rockies want to have a shot at the playoffs they do not simply need Aaron Cook to be a decent pitcher, they need him to be dominant. If he is only going to throw five innings in his starts, he is not being effective enough against the opposition to give his teammates confidence to back him up with run support.

While some of the blame may lie on the sprained toe, the fact is, this Rockies team is in desperate need for Cook to show that he can dominate like he has in the first half over the last two seasons.

Speaking of dominant, the Rockies were spared by the phenomenal pitching of Jorge De La Rosa in the second game. The lefty added to his win total, giving him 11 on the season. He has won more games than any other starter in Major League Baseball since June 1st.

De La Rosa's confidence is at an all-time high. Instead of looking scared on the mound when he gets into a jam he simply finds a way to bob and weave his way out of it. It has actually become a joy to watch. Often thought of as the weak link in the rotation, De La Rosa has now become one of the most relied upon starter. After the Rockies dropped the first game of the doubleheader, there was a sense of relief that De La Rosa would be going out there to avoid the sweep in game two.

He delivered just as everyone expected him to.

The Rockies get an off day on Monday to go check out the sites in Washington D.C. before playing a three game series against the Nationals. The Rockies need to take the series in order to salvage a decent road trip. While it would be nice to sweep the lowly Nats, they have been playing a better brand of baseball of late and actually have a decent lineup.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Rockies Nearly No-Hit, Almost Win

The Colorado Rockies knew that they had a tough task on Friday night in Florida when they were slated to face Marlins ace Josh Johnson.

Coming into the game Johnson was 11-2 on the season with a 2.92 ERA. Going back to 2008, Johnson has won 18 of his last 21 decisions. This kid may be the best pitcher in the big leagues that no one has ever heard of.

While the Rockies knew that they would have a tough task ahead of them, they never saw this one coming. Johnson was nearly flawless, taking a no-hitter two outs into the seventh inning. Johnson looked like he had a good chance of completing the feat, keeping control and velocity all the way into the late innings.

With no one on base and two outs in the seventh inning, Garrett Atkins, playing first base for the resting Todd Helton, worked the count to 3-1. The next pitch looked low and away, but home plate umpire Mark Wegner called it a strike, running the count full. It looked like a tough break for the Rockies until Atkins launched the very next pitch deep down the left field line, ending the no-hitter and shutout with one swing of the bat.

While the Rockies were facing an ace, they countered with their starter who is struggling the most, Jason Hammel. Hammel has not been able to find his control over his last three starts. On Friday night he minimized damage, but still could not find the strike zone.

Hammel struggled through just four innings, giving up three runs on six hits. He struck out three, and walked four. One of those walks came in the second inning when Johnson was at the plate with a runner at first base. Johnson was clearly looking to sacrifice, but Hammel would not let him make an out, walking him on four pitches.

Adam Eaton did a good job in relief for Hammel, shutting down the Marlins for two plus innings before giving up a two-run home run in the bottom of the seventh inning, making any sort of comeback difficult for the Rockies.

In the ninth inning Troy Tulowitzki, intent on remaining hot, smoked a pitch from Marlins reliever Rich Donnelly to straight away center field. At 434 feet, the center field wall at Land Shark Stadium (Joe Robbie, Pro Player, Dolphin Stadium, whatever you want to call it) is one of the longest center fields in the league. The ball hit off the wall and Tulo cruised into third with an easy stand up triple.

Tulowitzki's triple sparked a rally in the ninth, as Garrett Atkins reached on an error and then Ian Stewart hit a pop up that hit off the glove of diving shortstop Hanley Ramirez. That prompted Marlins manager Freddi Gonzalez to go to the bullpen with the tying run on deck.

With two outs Chris Iannetta knocked a three run home run to make the score 6-5, Todd Helton pinch hit and flew out to center field to end the game.

The game is tough to swallow for the Rockies as they had a chance to gain another game on the Giants in the Wild Card race, and let the Marlins get within two games of their lead.

The silver lining for the Rockies is that they never quit. Earlier in the season, this same Rockies team would have quickly folded and waited for the next day instead of trying to scratch and claw their way back into the game. Even being down 6-1 going into the ninth the team continued to fight and made the game close.

Close is not good enough, however, when the playoffs are on the line.

The Rockies will look to regain their form on Saturday, with the return of Aaron Cook to the mound. With the humidity of Miami, Cook's sinker should be tough to hit.

Colorado simply needs to wash this one off and chalk the game up to facing a good young pitcher who may have had the best stuff that he has ever had. The bats need to be ready to return as the Rockies have their ace on the mound.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Jason Marquis Wins 13th Game; Rockies Are Very Well Rounded

The third time is the charm for Rockies starter Jason Marquis.

On a Thursday matinee at Coors Field, Marquis dominated the Pirates for seven innings, winning his 13th game of the season, which ties him for the league lead. Marquis had been stuck on 12 wins for nearly half a month, giving up a three run lead in Cincinnati and not being able to find the strike zone against the Cubs.

Marquis threw seven solid innings in the win, but the way the Rockies hit, he could have afforded a few mistakes. On the day Marquis gave up one run on only three hits, striking out six and walking three. It was evident that Marquis’ blister is no longer an issue.

Dexter Fowler may want to consider running into a wall more often.

On Monday night in a blowout win against the Cubs, Fowler made an amazing catch, while running full speed into the center field wall. The thud was so loud that it could be heard in the infield upper deck, more than 450 feet away.

There was some concern that Fowler, whose knee was hurt in the collision, would not be ready to play full speed. On the first pitch the Rockies saw, Fowler drilled a pitch from Paul Maholm into the left-center gap for a double. He ended up scoring on Todd Helton’s double play grounder right before Troy Tulowitzki once again proved how hot his bat is with an opposite field home run that was hit as hard as any ball all day.

Fowler was just getting started. For the first time in his young career Fowler had four hits, including three doubles. He scored three times.

It was a good day to break out of a slump as Clint Barmes found his stroke and had three hits of his own, including a two run home run in the seventh inning, his 17th of the season, that put the nail in the coffin for the Pirates. It was a relief for the Rockies to see Barmes break out of a slump that saw him have only five hits from July 21st through August 10th.

Barmes and Tulowitzki are arguably the best double play combination in the game. They both have quick feet, excellent gloves and cannons for arms. However, they are very under-rated in one category. Power. Tulowitzki and Barmes lead all double play combinations in the league with 40 combined home runs. That kind of power is far and away more than what the Rockies were expecting when the season began. In fact, Barmes had never hit more than 12 home runs in a season. With his home run on Thursday he has 17 for the season.

With the Dodgers and Giants both idle for the night, the Rockies gain a half game in both the Wild Card race and the National League West race.

While the national media does everything in it’s power to ignore the Rockies, assuming that they will fade down the stretch, the fact is, this team is good. This Colorado Rockies team is the most talented team that that the franchise has ever put on the field.

That is a bold statement considering that this is a franchise not even two years removed from a National League crown. Yet, it is true. There is no true weakness on the club. Their starting pitching has been nothing short of brilliant. Even with the loss of Jeff Francis in Spring Training the Rockies still have four 10 game winners already. Not only have the starters been able to get wins, they have all been dominant. The four starters with at least 10 wins all have ERA’s either below 4.00 or hovering right around that number. Ubaldo Jimenez, just getting his feet wet in the big leagues in ‘07, continues to make strides and is quickly becoming a dominant pitcher.

The offense is far more well rounded than the ‘07 squad. While the team is without ‘07 catalyst Matt Holliday, they now have three solid starters in the outfield, including Brad Hawpe, and Carlos Gonzalez, who is showing the five tool talent that has been bragged about by scouts for years. While the outfielders are good at the plate, between Fowler and Gonzalez, there is rarely a ball hit anywhere from the left field line to right-center field that touches the ground. These two can run, and both have good arms.

The bullpen is far more solid than it was in ‘07. With the acquisition of Rafael Betancourt from the Indians and the impressive relief work from rookie Matt Daley, who gets outs as if he has been pitching in the big leagues for 10 years, the Rockies have a solid bridge to closer Huston Street, who has blown only one save in 28 opportunities this season.

Another strength for the Rockies is their bench. Having the ability to call on Seth Smith, the Major League leader for average from a pinch hitter, is huge. They can count on Smith to give them a quality at-bat and find a way to get on base. Also, Ryan Spilborghs has power potential and a quick bat.

The Rockies can be ignored right now because it is the middle of August, but the fact is, if they continue to play at the level that they are playing for another three weeks they could find themselves within a game of the lead in the National League West race.

The Rockies head to Florida for a huge weekend series against the Marlins. Florida is looking for a big series that would put them within a game of the Rockies in the Wild Card standings.

Jason Hammel will pitch on Friday night for the Rockies, and Aaron Cook, held out of his last start due to a sprained big toe, will be on the hill on Saturday.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Ubaldo Jimenez Shuts Down Pirates in Rockies Romp

After a four game series in which the Rockies proved that they are legitimate playoff contenders against the Cubs, the team looked like they were a team that wanted nothing to do with the October baseball on Tuesday night against the Pirates.

On Wednesday night, the contending Colorado Rockies, behind emerging star Ubaldo Jimenez, re-emerged at Coors Field.

Jimenez was nothing short of phenomenal. He dominated the Pirates hitters for eight innings, giving up only three hits, while striking out six hitters. He did walk four hitters, struggling at points to find his command, but besides the walks, Jimenez was absolutely incredible.

Out of 119 pitches that Jimenez threw, nearly 100 of them were fastballs.

That number is significant because many of the times that Jimenez has struggled he has tried to be too cute. He tries to keep hitters off balance with his breaking pitches and his mechanics break down. While some pitchers must nibble and find a way to get hitters out, most pitchers do not possess the ability to throw a 98 MPH fastball with movement.

Even if a hitter knows that a fastball is coming, it is difficult to hit a pitch traveling with that kind of velocity. For Jimenez to become the dominant type of pitcher that he has the talent to become, he needs to pitch like he did on Wednesday night, challenging hitters and forcing the opposition to prove that they can hit the heat.

The win moves Jimenez’s record to 10-9 on the season. He becomes the fourth Rockies pitcher to have won 10 games, after Jason Marquis, Aaron Cook and Jorge De La Rosa.

Having four starters in double digits for wins before the middle of August is evidence of a team that is being carried by its pitching. While the Rockies offense can put up runs with the best of them, the fact is, they are in most games because the starter has kept them in it.

One of Jimenez’s struggles this season and throughout his career is the inability to get out of innings. He may get two quick outs but then give up a blooping hit, walk a batter and then give up a big hit. That has been the story for most of the games that Jimenez has lost. On Wednesday, Jimenez looked like he was on the path to giving up the big inning. With the Rockies up 3-0 in the fifth inning, Jimenez got two quick outs, then gave up a blooper to Brandon Moss, then walked eight hole hitter Ronnie Cedeno.

No big deal right? Pirates starting pitcher Kevin Hart was coming to the plate with two outs.

Wrong. Jimenez walked Hart on five pitches, loading the bases for rookie phenom and the Pirates hottest hitter in Andrew McCutchen.

The thoughts of a big inning for the Pirates and a momentum shift were on the top of every Rockies fans mind. Jimenez, however, did not fold. He threw a fastball low in the zone and McCutchen hit a slow roller to Troy Tulowitzki, who threw him out at first by a step, ending the threat.

Moments like that are what will help Jimenez turn the corner and go from a pitcher with potential, to a true dominant ace.

The Rockies also got encouraging news on the offensive side of the ball. Clint Barmes who has seen his average drop nearly .50 points since the middle of July, came through with three hits on the night. Barmes is a very aggressive baseball player. His aggressiveness is why he is in the big leagues. Unfortunately the good comes with the bad. His aggressiveness causes him to try too hard and get ahead of himself at the plate, trying to pull everything. When he is trying to pull the ball, it is nearly impossible for him to hit the breaking ball away from the plate.

On Wednesday Barmes let the ball get deep and tried to hit the ball to the opposite field. When Barmes has that approach at the plate, which he did for the majority of June, good things happen.

Carlos Gonzalez is also showing why the Rockies were so high on him when he was part of the Matt Holliday trade. His talent was evident, but he had not shown the ability to hit the breaking ball. Since the All-Star break, Gonzalez is second in the National League in hitting, with a .421 batting average.

The win was a good sign that the Rockies are not going to let one game carry into the next. They knew that after playing flat on Tuesday that they would need to quickly dispose of the Pirates and gain a game on the Dodgers, who had lost to the Giants earlier in the game.

If there is a negative for the Rockies, it was Todd Helton’s 16-game hitting streak came to an end as he went 0-for-3 with a walk.

Rockies Lose In Sloppy Fashion To Pirates

A day after Troy Tulowitzki and Jorge De La Rosa inspired Colorado Rockies fans everywhere to want to jump back on the bandwagon, the team failed to show up to the ball park to play the lowly Pirates.

After an impressive weekend series against the Cubs in which the Rockies took 3-out of-4, the second worst team in the league, the Pirates came to town, and made the Rockies look like a junior varsity team, awkward and wondering whose mom was in charge of bringing the juice and snacks for after the game.

The loss looked like the Cubs, who played incredibly sloppy defense all weekend long, had decided to stay an extra day and suit up for the Rockies.

Colorado committed three errors on Tuesday night.

The poor defense did not help Jhoulys Chacin, making his first start in a big league uniform. It was clear very early that the nerves were there for the youngster. Chacin did not make it out of the third inning, giving up just one hit, but walking six batters. His pitches were consistently up and out of the strike zone. When he made pitches he was able to get outs, but the free passes killed him on Tuesday.

The defense was poor, the pitching was suspect, and to top it off, the offense was lackluster all night long. Besides home runs off the bat of white-hot shortstop Troy Tulowitzki and center fielder Carlos Gonzalez, plus two hits off the bat of Todd Helton to extend his hitting streak to 16 games, the Rockies struggled to produce anything at the plate.

It was a night that needs to be taken at face value. Although the middle of August is quickly approaching and the Dodgers and Giants are duking it out this week in San Francisco, the Rockies need to shower this loss off and move forward.

Fans should quickly forget an ugly game and wait for the real Rockies to show up, the team that man-handled the Cubs and produced runs like the humidor at Coors Field never existed.

Tuesday night simply gets chalked up to "one of those games." The Rockies had a very young starter on the mound who had only thrown in relief since his call to the big leagues. He has never thrown a pitch at the Major League level and he is thrown right into a late season playoff race.

The nerves that Chacin was feeling had to far out weigh the nervousness of either Ubaldo Jimenez and Franklin Morales, who came up and were a part of a playoff race in 2007, but not to the magnitude that the Rockies are in the midst of right now. When Jimenez was called up in 07 the Rockies were long shots to make the playoffs, giving him time to settle into the role.

On top of the fact that the Rockies had a rookie making his first Major League start, they are also coming off a very tough series against the Cubs in which the crowds were fired up each and every game. Those types of games are exciting and fun to be a part of for a baseball team, but when the atmosphere goes back to normal, it is easy for a team to have a hangover of sorts.

The Rockies will bounce back from a difficult game on Tuesday night. They will find their winning ways again. While they had an opportunity to take their lead over the Giants to two games after San Francisco lost to the Dodgers, the Rockies can take comfort in the fact that even after a poor performance they are still in the driver's seat in the Wild Card race.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Troy Tulowitzki Hits For The Cycle To Propel Rockies

On a perfect summer night for baseball, Rockies shortstop Troy Tulowitzki had a night he will never forget.

In the midst of a breakout season, the Rockies shortstop may have blossomed into an elite player on the same night that Rockies fans blossomed into genuine baseball fans themselves.

After Jorge De La Rosa worked out of a bases loaded jam in the top of the first inning, Todd Helton got a two out base hit to left field to extend his hitting streak to a season high 15 games. The hit brought Tulowitzki to the plate for the first time in what would become the best night of his career.

The first pitch that Tulowitzki saw from Cubs pitcher Tom Gorzelanny he launched deep to left field, over the bleachers and onto the concourse. The ball bounced into the Grilleworks concession stand on the concourse. The two-run bomb was 452 feet away from home plate when it hit the ground. It got the Rockies started on what could propel them into the playoffs.

While Tulowitzki had already done damage, his night was just beginning.

After De La Rosa worked out of another bases loaded jam in the second inning, Tulowitzki came up once again with two outs, but this time with the bases loaded. On a 91 mile per hour fastball that was left over the heart of the plate, Tulowitzki hit a ball that was twice the height of the left field foul pole, and once again landed on the concourse. However, third base umpire Bill Welke ruled the ball foul. Rockies manager Jim Tracy came out to argue the call, and forced what became the first ever instant replay utilized at Coors Field. With a high Colorado sky, it was impossible to tell where the ball was on replay, and crew chief Bob Davidson came back out onto the field and ruled that the ball was six inches foul.

After the four minute and ten second delay, Tulowitzki lined the next pitch, a change up, into left field to plate two runs and give the Rockies a comfortable 6-0 lead.

Tulowitzki came up to the plate once again in the fourth inning and lined a pitch just to the left side of the second base bag for what looked like his second single of the night. However, the 6'4" shortstop, running hard out of the box, rounded first base and headed to second. Centerfielder Sam Fuld hurried to the ball and made a decent throw, but it was not good enough to get the sliding Tulowitzki.

When Tulowitzki came up to the plate in the seventh inning, the crowd was buzzing. If there was one good thing about the Cubs being in town, it forced Rockies fans to be in the game and cheer hard for their team, if only to drown out the sea of blue in the stands. Once again, on the first pitch Tulowitzki saw he lined the ball down the third base line past a diving Jake Fox. Watching Tulowitzki, it was never in doubt that he was not going to be content with a double. He motored past second base and went sliding into third. A good throw from left fielder Alfonso Soriano would have nailed the Rockies home run leader, but the ball skipped away from Fox and the scoreboard immediately recognized the feat.

The cheering from Rockies fans was reminiscent of the September 2007 night when Todd Helton's walk off home run blasted the Rockies past the Dodgers and into what would be a magical run that would lead them to the World Series. Brad Hawpe took his time walking to the plate so that the crowd could continue acknowledging Tulowitzki, who was being cheered by Rockies fans and Cubs fans alike.

Tulowitzki becomes just the second player in the history of the game to turn an unassisted triple play and hit for the cycle in his career.

The crowd continued to cheer and produced the famous "Tulo" chant on their own, with no prodding from the press box. After the inning was over, fans began to cheer louder, anticipating their shortstops return to the field. As Tulo ran out of the dugout he gave a tip of his hat to the crowd and ran to his position.

Tulowitzki returned to the plate in the eighth inning, once again with the bases loaded. With the game firmly in hand, Tulo was obviously swinging to become the first player in history to hit for the cycle - and then hit a grand slam in the game. It was not meant to be as the count quickly became 1-2. Tulo shorted his swing and delivered a base hit to center field, scoring two runs and giving the 24 year old seven RBI's for the night, a career high.

While Tulowitzki's name dominates the headlines, it should not go unmentioned what De La Rosa did on the mound. The young left hander, who has struggled mightily with confidence issues, was able to work out of two bases loaded jams in the first two innings of the game, allowing the Rockies offense to put up runs and give him a cushion to work with.

From then on out, the lefty was phenomenal, striking out 11 Cubs and giving up only seven hits in 7-2/3 innings worth of work. He may have completed the game had his pitch count not been so high. When Tracy walked to the mound to get him, he had already delivered 125 pitches on the night.

It was the perfect start for De La Rosa after having a rough outing in Philadelphia. He proved to himself that he could still get outs and was able to avoid the big inning that has haunted him his whole Major League career. The win also gave him 10 on the season, his second straight year having a win total in double digits.

If someone would have told the Rockies that De La Rosa would collect 10 wins all season long the franchise would have been thrilled. The fact that he got his 10th win on August 10th is just an added benefit for the Rockies.