Friday, October 23, 2009

TBS Takes Away Postseason Luster For Baseball Fans

A Major League Baseball season lasts a long time. Very few fans are able to watch all 162 games that their favorite team plays. With day games and night games, weekend games and weekday games, the thought of watching a team religiously is nearly impossible. Very few find a way to accomplish the task.

For this, and a variety of other reasons, baseball, a game that was once the national pastime in America, has found itself taking a back seat to the NFL. More people are interested in whether or not Brett Favre will unretire for what seems like the millionth time than watch a Rockies vs. Giants battle that pits up-and-coming flamethrower Ubaldo Jimenez, against a Cy Young winning Tim Lincecum, who looks like a 12 year-old, but is nearly impossible for 12-year Major League veterans to hit. Yet, when the playoffs come around, even the most average sports fan is willing to watch a baseball game, but slowly Major League Baseball is disheartening even those fans.

Major League Baseball often wonders why the next generation of kids is not watching what used to be the nation’s favorite sport. Often times the finger is pointed at a lack of offense, or a less action-filled game that can last up to four hours. These are all potential reasons, but Major League Baseball needs to quit wondering what the NFL is doing right, and look at what they are doing wrong.

The 2009 Colorado Rockies were an incredibly exciting team to watch on a daily basis. They were the epitome of team. Only one player (Todd Helton) hit above .300 and no one hit the 100 RBI plateau, yet they ranked second in the National League in runs scored. They had young talent that was learning to play the game at the Major League level to go along with seasoned veterans like Helton, looking to have another shot at World Series glory. Some of their players had very little talent, but made up for it with a heart the size of the Rocky Mountains. For examples look no further than Yorvit Torrealba or Omar Quintanilla. The Wild Card winning Rockies had players that could hit the ball a mile, and could field a ball hit within a mile of them. They were a team that refused to die after a poor start and made a run at winning their division, despite being 15-1/2 games back at one point.

The ‘09 Rockies should have been Major League Baseball’s dream come true. Americans love to root for the underdog. People relate to teams that come from smaller markets and compete with the bigger market teams, ala David vs. Goliath. Despite being in the playoffs just two years ago, the Rockies represent fresh blood in the Major League playoffs, something different than the standard Yankees, Red Sox and Angels that seem to be playing every October. Major League Baseball should have capitalized on the energetic, never-quit Rockies.

Instead, Major League Baseball allowed TBS, a cable station known for rerun sitcoms and second-rate prime time dramas, to not only broadcast every game, but determine the start time of each game as well.

Because of the fact that the Rockies are rarely seen on ESPN highlights it came as no surprise that the series featuring the defending champion Phillies and the Rockies would kick off the playoffs at 3 pm Eastern Time. Not just the first game, but the second game as well. For two games that would at least draw the average Colorado sports fan and family to tune in at night, the games were simply highlight reels, due to the fact that they took place while potential fans were at work or school. If fans thought it would get better for game three, they were mistaken. On a freezing cold night in Denver, fans had to wait until 8 pm for the first pitch. That meant fans in Philadelphia did not see their team take the field in a pivotal game three until 10 pm on a work or school night.

Why were the first two games played during the day and the third played so late at night? Because TBS insisted on broadcasting every pitch of every game to the entire nation. While the thought sounds like a good one for those who love to watch nine consecutive hours of baseball games, the fact of the matter is, very few baseball fans, let alone average Americans has the ability to tune into every single game in the postseason. Especially considering that the early games are played during the work day. Instead of being interested in the games, American’s simply forget about the playoffs altogether.

The solution seems simple. Broadcast games just like CBS does during the ever popular March Madness. Play two games in each time slot. Broadcast the games that are most important to a particular region in that region and allow a game to switch over when the result of one is in doubt for the national audience, while keeping the local audience on their hometown teams.

This would eliminate weekday games played with fans at work and school, and also take away the late night game where most of the country besides the local markets have gone to bed anyway. It would also presumably boost the ratings because fans would not lose interest if a game became lopsided, they would simply be switched to another more exciting game.

TBS and Major League Baseball could also do fans a favor and eliminate some of the travel days involved in the postseason. Professional baseball players play six months during the regular season and another six weeks in Spring Training with just two or three days off per month. Suddenly it becomes too difficult for them to play more than two days in a row without a day off. With series dragged on, not only does the audience lose its focus, it compromises the integrity of the most important games of the year due to summer turning into fall.

Despite a great effort from both teams, does anyone really want to see championship baseball games played in 25 degree weather? Do players, who travel the country, spend time away from their families and work their whole lives to achieve a goal of winning the World Series want the biggest games of their career determined by terrible weather?

If Major League Baseball wants to do itself some good, they would quit looking at the dollar signs on the TBS paycheck and find a way to make their games played during the most appropriate times, where the average fan can watch and fall in love with a game that they have forgotten about.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Colorado Rockies To Announce Long-Term Deal With Jim Tracy, Are They Making A Mistake?

On May 29th, the Colorado Rockies sat 10 games under .500, they had just been swept by the Dodgers in consecutive weekends and were playing with no heart.

That day, manager Clint Hurdle was given his walking papers. Less than two years removed from captaining a young team to a surprise World Series appearance, Hurdle was no longer the manager of the Rockies. It was a move that was surprising to no one.

Jim Tracy, brought in before the ‘09 season to be the bench coach, was handed the reins. If nothing else, Tracy was the polar opposite of Hurdle. Hurdle was loud and boisterous. He spent time in the clubhouse with the players, he was like one of the guys. Hurdle was very likable, and in the end, that is what got him fired. When he needed to make a tough decision, he struggled. He did not want to disrupt the chemistry in the clubhouse that he felt a part of.

Hurdle managed with his heart. He would play the hot hand instead of going with a routine. This often led to confusion as to what role a player was in. There is no better example of this then the early season move to declare Huston Street the closer, then go with Manny Corpas, then go back to Street. All the while, neither of the pitchers had blown a save.

Tracy, on the other hand, is a very soft spoken. Instead of being “one of the guys” in the clubhouse, he was often locked in his office, scouring through numbers, trying to be one step ahead of the opposing manager, knowing the intricacies of every hitter on the opposing lineup. In his two previous managerial jobs, Tracy’s critics accused him of being too much of a micro manager. They said that when things went wrong, he blamed the players, but when they went right he took the credit. It seemed odd to Rockies fans because Tracy was letting the players play and seemed far too humble to take credit for the success.

Instead of going with the hot hand, Tracy instead put the talent on the field. This included inserting Clint Barmes into the two-hole in the lineup, playing second base every day. In addition to that move, he made Ian Stewart the third baseman, planting Garrett Atkins and his struggling bat on the bench. Tracy retooled the bullpen, finishing the season with only one pitcher still there from the opening day roster, Huston Street. That enabled him to find the right person for each job, and for that person to understand their job.

The starting pitchers were given a longer leash. Instead of being tied down to a pitch count, Tracy would allow the starter to pitch deep into games, giving them the opportunity to pick up the win or the loss, not the bullpen.

The changes were felt in a positive way almost immediately. Barmes looked like the best hitting second baseman in baseball, Ian Stewart was hitting for power and improved the infield defense, Ubaldo Jimenez and Jorge De La Rosa turned into top shelf pitchers. Everyone knew their role, and they became comfortable in that role.

The turnaround that the team experienced was history making. No team had every been as far behind as the Rockies and managed to go to the postseason.

Tracy had the Midas touch, there was nothing that he could seem to do wrong. The team had turned around completely with him at the helm.

Then, as the summer nights turned chili, it seemed as if the Jim Tracy that had calmly led one of the greatest turnarounds in baseball history had turned into the Tracy that the critics had described. Tracy began to micromanage. A prime example of that was on September 24th. Jason Hammel was pitching brilliantly against the Padres. Through six innings he was staked to a 3-1 lead courtesy of a first inning Troy Tulowitzki home run. In the bottom of the sixth inning the Rockies had runners on second and third with two outs. With the game a hit away from being secured as Hammel stepped to the plate. Hammel, not much of a hitter, grounded weakly to the second baseman.

Tracy allowing Hammel to hit for himself was not a big deal, the righty was getting outs and had his best stuff working. What left Rockies fans scratching their heads came in the top of the next inning. After getting the first out, Tracy elected to go to the bullpen to face the light hitting Tony Gwynn Jr.

Franklin Morales came to the mound and promptly walked Gwynn, allowed a hit and walked another hitter, allowing the Padres to even up the score. The next inning the Padres scored two more runs and the game was lost.

The way the playoffs were handled made many fans second guess the previously perfect Tracy.

Due to the fact that the Phillies starting rotation is extremely left-handed, Tracy elected to go with Garrett Atkins at third base. To say that Atkins slumped all season long would be a huge understatement. He looked lost at the plate and could not turn on fastballs the way that he had earlier in his career, presenting questions about his off season work ethic.

While Atkins added a right handed power threat, Stewart was placed on the bench because Tracy did not want too many left handed hitters facing left handed pitchers. While stats would suggest that rightys tend to hit rightys better and lefties hit lefties better, this is not always the case. In Stewart’s case, just one year ago he led the league against left handed pitchers, hitting .370 against them. Early in ‘09, the Rockies bragged about his ability to hit left handers.

For the playoffs, that left the Rockies short both on the defensive side of the ball and the offensive side.

In addition to Atkins playing, Seth Smith rode the bench in favor of Dexter Fowler in center field. Smith in the lineup would have pushed Carlos Gonzalez to center field and Smith in left. The switch-hitting Fowler is far better from the right side of the plate, but was still going through the growing pains of a player who never set foot on a Triple-A field. In 433 regular season at bats, Fowler struck out 116 times.

Smith, on the other hand, had been one of the hottest hitters for the Rockies. He was the National League Player of the Week in the first week of September and contributed in the clutch several times down the stretch.

The moves seemed all too familiar. They seemed eerily similar to the moves of a former manager. One who had worn out his welcome in the clubhouse and lost control of his team. It seemed as if Tracy decided to use the Clint Hurdle book on managing down the stretch and in the playoffs.

The fact that Jim Tracy managed the Rockies to the playoffs at all in 2009 is proof that he deserves a long-term contract, however, it will be interesting to see which Tracy shows up in the dugout in 2010, the Jim Tracy who let the players play the game, or the Jim Tracy who micromanaged his way out of the playoffs in 2009.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Dead End Street; Rockies Blow Two Run Lead In Ninth

Rocktober wasn’t supposed to be over before the middle of the month. The team that seemed to be carried by destiny for four months was suddenly staring at four months of off season. After carrying a 4-2 lead into the ninth inning, closer Huston Street faltered for the second time in as many days.

In a season full of irony, where twists and turns both in the games and in the standings were commonplace, it may have been fitting that the season finished with one of the most unexpected shifts.

Street, acquired in the deal that sent Matt Holliday to the Oakland A’s eleven months ago to the day, had been the most steady member of the Rockies roster for the entire season. After struggling early, Street quickly found himself and once again became one of the top closers in baseball, converting in 35 out of 37 opportunities. He was so good that the Rockies lost just one game all year in which they led going into the ninth inning.

One night after failing to nail down the Phillies in the ninth inning, Street once again strolled to the mound, only this time with a two run lead.

The Rockies had rallied in the bottom half of the eighth inning, capped by yet another heroic hit off the bat of Yorvit Torrealba that plated two runs.

But Street could not finish the Phillies off. After striking out pinch hitter Greg Dobbs, Street had a lengthy at bat with Jimmy Rollins, who, just like the previous night, hit a ball up the middle for a base hit. After retiring Shane Victorino, Street ran into trouble. Instead of pounding the strike zone, he began to nibble with Chase Utley at the plate. The problem is that Utley has a Todd Helton-like sense of the strike zone. After being one strike away from heading back to Philadelphia, Street walked Utley, which brought Ryan Howard to the plate. Howard stroked a pitch to right field that landed on the warning track, good enough to tie the game and land him on second base. Jayson Werth, who punched his certified ticket as a Rockie-killer in this series, then blooped a ball in front of Dexter Fowler, scoring Howard and giving the lead back to the Phillies.

Despite a rally in the ninth inning, embattled Phillies closer and Denver native Brad Lidge got Troy Tulowitzki to strike out with the tying run at second base, putting the Phillies back in the NLCS to play the Dodgers for the second consecutive season.

The game was a roller coaster of emotions. After being dominated by Cliff Lee the Rockies found a way to command the game, then gave it right back and were forced to watch the Phillies celebrate.

While the season coming to an end comes with mixed emotions, it is easy to forget where this team came from. The loss is by no means what any fan was hoping for, but the fact that this Rockies team found its way to the playoffs defied all odds.

On June 3rd the Rockies were the second worst team in the league, sitting just two games ahead of the Washington Nationals. They had just fired their manager and were looking like a team ready to off load some salaries and cruise into a fourth place finish.

Instead, the Rockies put together an incredible run that included an 18 game stretch in which the Rockies won 17. Their starting pitching found itself, and a rebuilt bullpen was learning their rolls. What happened was the Colorado Rockies became a team. They learned to play with each other, fighting to accomplish one team goal. For two months they had been playing as if winning the game depended on each individual person. It was fun to watch and it was a lesson for anyone who paid attention.

The run in 2009 was the second history-defying run in team history, the first of course, coming in 2007. This time was different though. This was not a run that came so late that it required winning 14-out of -15 just to get in. This was a more sustained run. This run gave the franchise its first taste of a complete season. It was the first time that the Rockies had ever held a lead in the Wild Card race after June without it being the last day of the season.

Before Rockies fan’s eyes, players like Carlos Gonzalez, Jorge De La Rosa and Ubaldo Jimenez grew into dominant Major League Baseball players. Future Hall-of-Famer Todd Helton reached two more milestones in his incredible career, getting his 2000th hit and hitting his 500th career double.

It was a season that despite a stomach-churning loss to close the book, was a good story. It was a season that will have Rockies fans looking forward to what will be an exciting 2010, one in which they have proven they are talented enough to compete for their first ever National League West title.

For now, however, Rockies fans must endure the long, cold off season that accompanies being a baseball fan. Spring Training does not begin until the middle of February and the first pitch of the season will not be until early April. During that time Rockies fans will most likely say their goodbyes to Jason Marquis, Ryan Spilborghs, Brad Hawpe, Omar Quintanilla, and possibly Huston Street.

Players that fans have made lasting impacts are hard for fans to watch leave, but off seasons are consistent reminders of the fact that baseball is a business, and emotions must be left at the door. And when a fan-favorite does leave, another piece of the 2009 season will go with that player.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Rockies Lose Pivotal Game Three In NLDS

When fans thaw out on Monday morning reality may set in. The Colorado Rockies had several chances to take a commanding 2-1 lead in the best of five division series, but ended up on the wrong end of a 6-5 loss to the Phillies.

The Rockies held a 3-1 lead through three innings and looked as if they were cruising. Jason Hammel had retired nine out of ten Phillies hitters and the offense was doing damage to Phillies starter J.A. Happ.

As dominant as Hammel was through three innings, he looked like a completely different pitcher in the fourth inning. He lost command of his fastball, allowing the Phillies to either sit on the off speed pitches, or wait for a walk. The right hander loaded the bases, then walked in the second run of the game. He never made it out of the fourth inning, giving up three runs in 3-2/3 innings.

After battling back, finding a way to score runs, including a game-tying home run off the bat of Carlos Gonzalez, the Rockies could not find a way to get the lead. Don’t blame Gonzalez for the offensive failures. All the Venezuelan lefty did was go 3-for-4 at the plate with a walk. He had the home run plus a double and a single. The NLDS has been a coming out party for the youngster, who has found his confidence on the Major League level, showing the Rockies and their fans that they are watching a five-tool player develop before their eyes.

After a hard-fought top of the eighth in which Rafael Betancourt allowed a walk and then a bloop double to Pedro Feliz with one out, Betancourt slammed the door, getting a Carlos Ruiz strikeout, followed by a huge Matt Stairs punchout. The problem for the Rockies, however, was that the walk and the double allowed the Phillies to turn their lineup over.

When Huston Street came on in the ninth inning with the score tied, instead of having to face the eight, nine and leadoff hitters, he was forced to face Jimmy Rollins leading off, Shane Victorino and Chase Utley. Rollins led off with a single, followed by a sacrifice bunt by Victorino. As Utley stepped to the plate, the Rockies were forced to deal with another aspect of the game that may haunt Major League Baseball after the 2009 playoffs. The umpires.

With the tying run at second base, Utley hit a pitch that acted like a swinging bunt. Street fielded the ball and threw to first, where Todd Helton caught the ball for the out-or what should have been the out. First base umpire Ron Kulpa ruled that Helton was off the first base bag, awarding Utley the base. Replays not only showed that Helton was indeed on the bag, they also showed that the reason the ball was even in fair territory was because it had grazed off of Utley’s leg while he was in the batter’s box and should have been ruled a foul ball.

Instead, the Rockies were forced to face Ryan Howard with runners on first and third and one out. Howard hit a ball deep enough to score Rollins from third and the Rockies night was essentially over. After mounting a small rally in the ninth, Troy Tulowitzki popped out on a pitch that he could have driven. The Rockies had lost the game, and possibly their season.

One of the Rockies strengths is their depth. It seems as if potent bats pour out of their dugout like clowns pour out of a tiny car at the circus. They have great starting pitching and a phenomenal bullpen. However, the Rockies struggle to put teams away.

Jason Hammel was cruising. He was throwing strikes in the first three innings and had a lead. His offense was hitting behind him and it seemed as if the team was on their way to victory. Then the 27 year old found a way to melt down in the mid-20’s weather. He simply could not find the plate, and was forced to throw off speed pitches. He fell behind hitters in the fourth inning and ended up having to give in. The inability of Hammel to put his foot down and squash the Phillies allowed hope back into the visitors dugout. A dugout that realized their prized rookie pitcher did not have his best, or even his second best stuff on the mound. It gave them hope that they could put a few runs on the board and take back home field advantage.

The results will be tough to swallow for the Rockies. They now face an elimination game against Cliff Lee, the same starter who nearly shut them out in game one of this series.

While some may give up hope, this series is not over. If the Rockies can find a way to get to Lee, even to scratch out a couple of runs, and Ubaldo Jimenez pitches the way that he is capable of, this team could win game four and head back to Philadelphia for the do-or-die game five.

Game five, despite being at Citizen’s Bank Park, would be against Cole Hamels, the lefty that the Rockies bashed around for five runs in five innings in defeating the Phillies in game two of the series.

If there is a team in this league who knows what it is like to have their backs against the wall, it is these Rockies. They came from 12 games under .500 and marched all the way back into contention. They were 15-1/2 games back in the division race on June 3rd, but made the race go down to the final weekend before settling into the Wild Card spot. If there is a team that can win two elimination games, it is the Colorado Rockies.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

NLDS Game 3 Postponed Due To Snow

Major League Baseball announced early this morning that Saturday night’s game will be postponed. Game three will be played during the scheduled time for game four, Sunday night at 8:07 Mountain Time.

Game time temperatures were supposed to be in the mid-20’s.

Major League Baseball made a good call with this decision. Baseball is not meant to be played in the extreme cold. Especially in such a pivotal game. With snow flying and temperatures below freezing, the integrity of the game is compromised.

While the decision was smart by Major League Baseball, it benefits the Phillies in a big way. Instead of having to pitch Pedro Martinez in game three, the Phillies have the option of going with JA Happ, the likely NL Rookie of the Year winner after going 12-4. Happ shutout the Rockies in August, and is another lefty that the Rockies struggle with. After Happ, Cliff Lee, game one’s starter, will be on normal rest and ready to go for game four.

It allows the Phillies to hide their shaky bullpen for possibly the duration of the series.

For Rockies fans it would be easy to complain about the bad break. However, the fact of the matter is, if the Rockies want to be the best team they are going to have to beat the best teams and their best pitchers. They have now had a good look at Lee. He has thrown two games against them dating back to early August. His pitches should not be a surprise to the Rockies anymore.

The Rockies must take advantage of their home park, where they play very well, and get to Happ or Pedro Martinez if Charlie Manual elects to stay with the righty, early in the game. Winning game three would allow the Rockies to play more relaxed, knowing that they only need to win one of the next two games.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Rockies Must Score Early To Have Success In Game 3

After much anticipation, Phillies manager Charlie Manuel named future hall of famer Pedro Martinez the game three starter for Saturday night’s match up at Coors Field. Manuel came to that decision after using four of his starters in the first two games of the series.

Cliff Lee went all nine innings in the opener, then after Cole Hamels only got through five innings, Manuel went with Joe Blanton and JA Happ, both of whom had been possibilities to start game three. Now the Phillies are forced to go with Martinez, who has struggled with soreness in his neck and has consistently had arm problems, in a game that is supposed to involve snow and 25 degree weather.

Manuel said that Martinez is expected to throw in the range of 85-100 pitches before his night is over.

With Martinez on the mound it may seem like a tough match up, but the fact of the matter is, Martinez is simply a shell of the pitcher that he once was. He has dealt with injuries for the past four years and was unsigned until early August when the Phillies took a chance on him. He was great in his first few starts, but after a 130 pitch outing, he has struggled to get his groove back.

While Manuel threw Blanton and Happ in game two, Blanton threw only 18 pitches, and Happ just four before being hit in the knee by a Seth Smith line drive.

So the strategy for Manuel is easy to figure out. Knowing that the aging Martinez takes longer to warm up, even when the weather is warm, it does not suit him well to come out of the bullpen. Therefore, Martinez gets as much time to get loose before the game, leaving Blanton to be called upon when necessary. Blanton will still need time to get loose, but should be stretched out and ready to go when called upon.

What that means for the Rockies is that they need to jump on Martinez early and get the lead. If they can drive Martinez’s pitch count up, they will get him out of the game early. If Blanton comes in with the Rockies leading the game, it makes it impossible for his pitching to change the game.

If, however, the Rockies fail to get to Martinez, they could be faced with a bad situation. Instead of getting deep into the bullpen, Colorado could easily see three innings of Martinez followed by six innings of Blanton, leaving them in another situation where they do not get to take their hacks against a very poor Phillies bullpen.

Game three is going to go a long way in determining who will win this series. It is of utmost importance for the Rockies to jump out in front and play with the lead, something that they have done very well in 2009. If they are unable to get the early lead, it may be a long, cold night.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Rockies Even NLDS Series Behind Aaron Cook And Yorvit Torrealba

This was nothing new for the 2009 Colorado Rockies. This Rockies team has had more drama than a junior high sleepover. While the drama was another test on Rockies fans nerves, the results were worth it.

Aaron Cook was phenomenal against a great Phillies lineup. He went five solid innings before tiring in the sixth. In the sixth he found himself getting behind hitters. After giving up a double to Ryan Howard and then a run scoring base hit by Raul Ibanez, Cook’s day was over.

Cook did exactly what the Rockies were looking for. He kept the team in the game long enough for the offense to get a lead and give the Rockies a chance to go home with a 1-1 tie in the series.

The offense got to the scoring early. Carlos Gonzalez, hitting leadoff instead of in the two-hole, led off the game with a single. Phillies starter Cole Hamels threw over to first base to keep Gonzalez close. The speedy outfielder was going on first move and made it to second base before first baseman Ryan Howard could get the ball to Jimmy Rollins who was covering the bag. Dexter Fowler, hitting in the two-hole, laid down a bunt, moving Gonzalez to third base. Todd Helton then hit a swinging bunt up the first base line. Hamels fielded the ball and tried to get Gonzalez at the plate. Gonzalez’s speed was too much and he was in safe, giving the Rockies a lead that they would not relinquish.

In the fourth inning with Helton on first, Yorvit Torrealba put his stamp on the game. He launched a hanging breaking ball deep into the left field seats, his first home run since May 6th. It gave the Rockies a three run cushion and a chance to breathe.

The Rockies added two more runs off the bat of Fowler, who hit two separate sacrifice flies in a sign of his continued maturity. Those two runs turned out to be huge as the Rockies ended the game with the tying run at second base as Huston Street nailed down the final out.

The win was huge for the Rockies. Instead of coming back to Coors Field with their backs to the wall, needing to win three straight games, they now have the momentum in the series, and home field advantage in their back pockets.

While Fowler’s two sacrifice flies ended up being the difference in the game, enough cannot be said about the importance of Yorvit Torrealba.

Listen to the average Rockies fan and all that is talked about with Torrealba is negative. He can’t throw, he can’t call a good game, he can’t hit for power, he can’t hit lefties.

Watch Torrealba play and it is quickly clear why he took over once again as the everyday catcher. He is a gamer. He plays the game hard. Every pitch he is finding a way to make an impact. Watch Torrealba when he is catching one of the Rockies young pitchers. His leadership shines through when he coaches Ubaldo Jimenez to throw strikes, or Franklin Morales to settle down. In the post game press conference Torrealba consistently deferred credit back to the pitching of Aaron Cook.

At the plate Torrealba consistently does what some of his teammates struggle with. He always knows the situation and knows what he needs to get done. In San Diego with the Rockies down by a run with two outs in the ninth inning Torrealba drove a 3-2 fastball into the gap at Petco Park off of All-Star closer Heath Bell, propelling the Rockies to victory. Against the Cardinals two weekends ago, Torrealba came up in the bottom of the ninth with the game tied and the tying run at third base. The catcher found himself in a 0-2 hole. Instead of trying to do too much, Torrealba simply found a pitch that he could hit deep enough to the outfield to score the run and win the game for the Rockies.

His humble, hard-working approach epitomizes the attitude in the clubhouse that has helped this Rockies franchise to two postseason appearances in three years. While Torrealba’s throwing arm makes it difficult to throw runners out, the benefits that the club gets from the Venezuelan cannot be measured.

When looking for a reason why the Rockies are playing baseball instead of dusting off their golf clubs, look no further than Torrealba. Without him this team does not make the playoffs.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Colorado Rockies Drop Game One To Phillies 5-1

The Colorado Rockies opened their postseason in Philadelphia, the same place that they did in 2007. Both teams are essentially full of the same players. Except for one.

At the trade deadline the Phillies acquired Cliff Lee from the Cleveland Indians. Lee won 22 games in 2008 en route to winning the American League Cy Young award. Lee and the Phillies won game one of the best-of-five series 5-1.

Lee showed the Rockies why he won the coveted award in game one. With the wind blowing nearly 30 mph, Lee kept the Rockies off balance. He mixed in sliders on the outside corner to go with hard fastballs that kept the Rockies guessing all afternoon.

Ubaldo Jimenez matched Lee pitch-for-pitch through the first four innings. His 99 MPH fastball was nearly untouchable, and left Phillie hitters flinching on the breaking ball. Then the fifth inning came and the Phillies finally got to Jimenez.

Jayson Werth led off the fifth inning with a walk. Jimenez then got down 3-1 in the count to Raul Ibanez. Ibanez then ripped a change up down the right field line, scoring Werth all the way from first on the double. Pedro Feliz then singled to right field, moving Ibanez to third base. Jimenez gave up another hit to Carlos Ruiz. Right fielder Brad Hawpe get caught in-between on a hop. He was trying to catch the ball, but when he realized that he could not catch it, he pulled up, only to see the ball skip past him. With Ruiz at second base after the error, Jimenez worked a ground ball back to him. He turned and fired to second base and was able to get Ruiz into a rundown. That helped Jimenez get out of the inning with only two runs.

The next inning was more of the same as Jimenez gave up three runs.

With Cliff Lee on the mound for the Phillies a five run lead may as well have been a 50 run lead. The Rockies kept firing early in the count, allowing Lee’s pitch count to remain low. The Rockies finally scored a run off of the lefty after 8-2/3 innings, spoiling Lee’s chance at a complete game shutout in his first ever postseason appearance.

While some Rockies fans may want to panic, and others may want to know why the Rockies did not trade off half of their farm system for Lee in July, it is too early to declare this team dead in the water.

The reality of baseball is that a team needs to win at home and split on the road. If the Rockies win on Thursday afternoon the momentum swings back in their favor before heading back to Coors Field.

Cole Hamels is on the mound for the Phillies in game two on Thursday. He was the NLCS MVP and World Series MVP in 2008, but has been a shell of the pitcher that he was in ‘08. He dealt with an early elbow injury and has only been good enough to go 10-11 on the season. He is still a tough lefty to hit, but the Rockies lineup will be hard pressed to be dominated two days in a row.

If the Rockies can go out early and get a couple of runs it should be enough to make a shaky Hamels feel like he does not have his best stuff. If they can get the early lead it will go very far for the club. The Phillies achilles heel is their bullpen. If the Rockies can get into the Phillies bullpen early they will be in good shape.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Rockies vs. Phillies NLDS Preview

The Colorado Rockies enter the postseason against the same team that they started out with in 2007, the Philadelphia Phillies. The Rockies would love a repeat of the ‘07 meeting, when the streaking Rox swept the Phillies in three games. While the two teams are essentially the same that they were in the first playoff meeting, some things are different.

The Rockies are without slugger Matt Holliday, their undisputed leader in getting them to the playoffs, and eventually the World Series. He was shipped off to Oakland for three players, two of which have helped the Rockies make it back to postseason play.

Carlos Gonzalez suffered through a rough June after being called up. He struggled to hit the off speed pitch and seemed over matched. Those who watched him in the minor leagues knew that his struggles were growing pains rather than an issue of ability. The five-tool player indeed figured it out, quickly becoming one of the most potent bats in the Rockies lineup.

Huston Street has re-established himself as one of the best closers in the game. After struggling through an injury-laden season in Oakland, the righty has found his mechanics, and thanks to a slight move on the rubber, Street’s slider has become dominant again. That, however, is not his only pitch. His changeup is nearly unhitable and his fastball rides in on right handed hitters.

The rest of the Rockies have gained much-needed experience. Troy Tulowitzki has shed the “future” title on his star of the future label. His steady hand on defense, where he made just nine errors while demonstrating the most range of any shortstop, and his hitting, where he finished with a .297 batting average to go along with 92 RBI’s and 30 home runs makes him one of the best shortstops in the game.

On the mound Ubaldo Jimenez has turned into a true ace. His fastball is the hardest in the league and he consistently brings a good outing to the game. He has gone deeper into games than any other pitcher in the game. He set a Rockies record for lowest ERA in a season (3.47), and has drawn comparisons to his boyhood idol Pedro Martinez.

Jorge De La Rosa has also established himself as a dominant force for the Rockies. While his groin injury leaves his status in doubt, the lefty has a fastball that touches 96 MPH and a change up that keeps hitters off balance. After a rough 0-6 start, De La Rosa found his mental strength and became the first pitcher to win 16 games after June 1st.

The Phillies have improved as well. In the offseason they picked up Raul Ibanez from the Seattle Mariners. Ibanez did nothing but become a starter in the All Star game, hit 34 home runs and drive in 93 runs, after only playing in 134 games after hurting his hamstring in early June.

2008’s American League Cy Young winner Cliff Lee also joined the rotation. He was acquired at the trading deadline and has been dominant in the National League. His 7-4 record shows that he has been good, but his 3.39 ERA tells the real story. With some run support he could easily have won 10 games in the National League. That is pretty good considering he did not throw his first NL pitch until August.

Brad Lidge now anchors the bullpen, although he is shaky at best. A year after leading the Phillies to a World Series crown, not blowing a save in 47 chances, the righty has been horrible at best. He blew a league leading 11 saves and has given the Phils anything but confidence going into the postseason.

There is one area where the Phillies have the advantage. Over the course of the season the lefty-filled Rockies lineup was just one game north of .500 when facing a lefty on the mound. Philadelphia has the potential to throw three straight lefties in the series. All three have proven themselves to be very good. In order for the Rockies to win this series they must figure out how to hit the lefties.

The Rockies should bring confidence with them. They were the best team in the National League after Jim Tracy took over and have shown the ability to beat any team. Despite a high-flying Phillies offense, if the Rockies pitch like they know how to they should be able to stay in the game long enough to get into Philadelphia’s weakest spot, their bullpen.

During the ‘07 season the Rockies went just 2-4 against the Phillies. The first three games, however, came in April before the Rockies hit their stride, and when the Rockies were in Philadelphia Aaron Cook was suffering through his toe injury that ultimately caused his shoulder issue due to his compensating mechanics.

Injuries are never an excuse, and the Phillies handed it to the Rockies during the season, but for the most part these two teams are fairly evenly matched up. Rockies fans should not expect a sweep in this series. The goal should be to split the first two games and come home and play like they know how to at home. If the Rockies can do that they should be able to win and move on to the NLCS.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Jason Marquis Is Raising Postseason Questions In Loss To Dodgers

The Colorado Rockies are used to games at the end of the season that don't matter. This is the 15th time in 17 seasons that the Rockies season finale has been a moot point. This time, however, they are not headed out for vacation. On Sunday the Rockies lost to the Dodgers 5-3 while most fans turned their attention towards the surprising Broncos.

After Saturday night's loss, there was no chance that the Rockies could catch the Dodgers in the National League West, ensuring that they would be the Wild Card team, and ensuring that they would head off to Philadelphia to start the postseason on Thursday afternoon.

With the future set in stone, the Rockies could afford to give some of their starting position players a day off. Todd Helton, Troy Tulowitzki, Yorvit Torrealba, Clint Barmes, and Carlos Gonzalez did not see the field. It was a day for the younger players to swing the bat a little before the postseason began.

While the game lacked importance as far as the standings were concerned, it had huge meaning for Jason Marquis, the Rockies starter. Marquis has struggled in the second half of the season. Marquis represented the Rockies in the All Star game after leading the National League with 11 wins. Since the break the righty has won just four games.

Despite Marquis' early success, the second half falloff has led to whispers of Marquis not making the postseason roster. With Aaron Cook proving he is healthy and Ubaldo Jimenez and Jorge De La Rosa dominating, along with Jason Hammel who has been very good of late, the question is legitimate.

On Sunday Marquis did not help his case. In the first inning the native New Yorker gave up four runs. His mechanics were noticeably off, to the point where it would not be too far reached to think that he may be injured. Instead of pitching, Marquis is throwing. His pitches seem aimed. He is not throwing through the ball, but rather simply pushing with his right arm.

The hitters that were hurting Marquis were not limited to the Dodgers sluggers. He gave up hits to Chin Lung Hu, and the first Major League hit to AJ Ellis.

Marquis has been noticeably better when he gets an extra day of rest between starts. That should be to Marquis' benefit, being that if he is to be in the rotation he will probably not pitch until next Sunday in game four at Coors Field.

Regardless, with two days off before the postseason begins, having something to worry about is a very good thing. If someone would have told the Rockies on June 1st that they would win a club-record 92 baseball games, and finish the season as the Wild Card in the National League there is not a member of the organization that would not have been thrilled with that.

The Rockies begin the postseason on Wednesday afternoon. First pitch on both Wednesday and Thursday will be at 12:37 Mountain time. Both games will be broadcast on TBS, on the TV side with the regular radio broadcast on 850 KOA. Ubaldo Jimenez will start game one for the Rockies, followed by Aaron Cook. The Phillies have yet to announce their rotation.

Dodgers Wrap Up NL West Against Rockies, De La Rosa Hurt

The Colorado Rockies lost the division on Saturday night, losing 5-0 to the Dodgers, but that may not have been the worst thing about the game.

Two pitches into the fourth inning, De La Rosa was perfect with his arm, but his groin was not. The lefty grimaced after getting behind Rafael Furcal 2-0. Trainer Keith Dugger and manager Jim Tracy came to the mound immediately. After a brief conversation, De La Rosa walked gingerly off the field.

Tracy was not willing to take any chances with his 16 game winner. Instead of throwing a few pitches to see if he could continue, Tracy wisely opted on the side of caution. With the Rockies already in the dance, there was no reason to push the issue. The Rockies initially called the injury “tightness in the groin.”

That would be good news for the Rockies. After an injury like that, there are two words that fans of a team are rooting against, strain and pull. Tightness, however, can be dealt with. The Rockies can take their time with the lefty, he is currently scheduled to pitch game three of the NLDS at home against the Phillies, but could be pushed back to Sunday if that is necessary.

The Rockies were hoping that they could win the West, but the fact of the matter is, they are in the playoffs and that is all that matters. Winning on the road is something that good teams know how to do. The Rockies are no strangers to winning on the road in 2009, notching a club-record 40 wins away from Coors Field.

There is a silver lining in Sunday’s game being meaningless. With Jason Marquis showing signs of fatigue, the team is not looking for a standout performance from the 15 game winner. To keep him sharp he will probably see the mound for five innings, but he should probably throw no more than 80 pitches. Marquis has been remarkably better with an extra day of rest in the second half of the season.

In his career Marquis is just below .500 on four days of rest at 46-49. On five or more days of rest, however, the All-Star is 45-30. Presumably Marquis will throw game four, next Sunday. That would give him six days of rest, and with a low-stress game on Sunday, Marquis should be well rested for the playoff appearance.

The loss should also be beneficial in giving some other starters a much needed day off. Todd Helton, Troy Tulowitzki, Yorvit Torrealba, and Carlos Gonzalez should find themselves in a comfortable seat in the dugout, giving their legs and back in Helton’s case, an extra day’s rest before heading into a stressful postseason.

After Sunday’s matinee the Rockies will head back to Denver before flying to Philadelphia, a familiar spot to open up a postseason. The Phillies will be looking for payback against a Rockies team that destroyed them in 2007, winning both games in the city of brotherly love before finishing off the sweep at Coors Field.

The Rockies were hoping to face the Cardinals in the first round. They have played them well, going 6-1 against them in ‘09. They were not so good against the Phillies, going 2-4. The problem for the Rockies against the Phillies may be their strong left handed starting pitchers. With Cliff Lee and Cole Hamels, the Rockies will need to bring their best bats to the field. The lefty-heavy Rockies lineup has struggled against left handers, finishing right at .500 against south paws.

For the Rockies, they know that in order to be the best and be the last team standing when all is said and done, they must be able to beat the best teams. That means that they will need to find a way to hit good starting pitchers, or at least have their starting pitchers keep them in the game long enough to get into the bullpen.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Colorado Rockies Not Content With Wild Card, Aim For Division

Forgive Rockies fans if they are not sure how to act this weekend.

The Colorado Rockies advanced unto unfamiliar territory on Friday night and won 4-3.

Never in the 17 year history of the Colorado Rockies, has their been a regular season game that followed the team clinching a playoff spot. The two previous times the Rockies advanced to the playoffs came on the last day of the season, or in 2007’s case, the day after the season ended.

This franchise has never had to worry about giving starters a rest before the beginning of the postseason. It has never been concerned with setting up a postseason rotation to its liking. It has never looked like the team to beat in the National League.

While most fans and even players were concerned most about the Braves and clinching the Wild Card, the Rockies focus has turned to doing something else this franchise has never done, winning the National League West. After a sharp six inning performance that included the standard one bad inning, Ubaldo Jimenez shut down the Dodgers potent, but limping lineup to pick up his 15th win of the season and claim the best ERA by a Rockies starter over the course of a season.

While sweeping a series on the road is never something that a baseball team can expect, the odds became much higher after the Rockies took it to Dodgers starter Randy Wolf. The righty who projects to be the Dodgers starter in their first playoff game on Wednesday got roughed up early by the Rockies. Eight men strolled to the plate in the first inning, the most important being red-hot Yorvit Torrealba, who laced a ball into the right-center gap to plate two runs.

On Saturday the Rockies face another lefty in Clayton Kershaw. Kershaw is coming off of a freak injury in which he ran into the scoreboard during batting practice. He is 8-8 on the season with a 2.89 ERA. He has the stuff to be an ace, but has not figured out how to be an effective pitcher by throwing strikes consistently. He is normally out of the game after five or six innings due to a high pitch count.

On Sunday the Rockies face Vincente Padilla, a pickup from the Rangers who was released due to his bad attitude. The Rockies should be in a position to win the game Sunday with Jason Marquis on the hill for the Rockies.

What that means is that if the Rockies can find a way to scratch out a game on Saturday, they will be in perfect position to finish off the sweep and come home with their first ever division crown. It would also be the first time that a team as far back as 15-1/2 games ever recovered to win the division.

What is fun for Rockies fans is the freedom of knowing that regardless of what the Rockies do this weekend, they will be suiting up for the playoffs on Wednesday afternoon, whether that is at Coors Field or somewhere else. Fans no longer have to live and die with every pitch, or every swing of the bat. They can rest assured that no matter what happens this weekend, they will get to watch their team duke it out with the league’s best for at least another week after the regular season is over.

If the Rockies do pull off the sweep they will most likely finish with the best record in the National League, meaning they would have home field advantage through the Championship Series. That is a huge advantage due to the fact that the Rockies are such a good home team. That would be a huge plus playing any of the other three teams in the National League, especially Philadelphia or Los Angeles because the Rockies struggled in both of those cities earlier in the year.

If the Rockies do end up winning the West it will be in large part to the excellent work of catcher Yorvit Torrealba. The Venezuelan began the year as a backup to Chris Iannetta. As Iannetta continued to slump, Torrealba started seeing more time. That is when Torrealba got hot, finding ways to get the bat on the ball and make good things happen. He single handily won a game in San Diego and at home against the Cardinals due to his excellent approach to every single at-bat. He is a calming influence on the pitching staff and calls a great game behind the plate. He is another example of one of the many contributors to the Colorado Rockies in 2009.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Colorado Rockies Clinch Playoff Berth, Set Sights On NL West Title

Who would have guessed this?

Who would have believed that the Rockies, 12 games under .500 and better than only the Washington Nationals on June 3rd, would be heading to the playoffs. The Rockies defeated the Brewers 9-2 on Thursday afternoon at Coors Field. It was a methodical offensive onslaught and the dominating pitching from resurgent and clearly healthy Aaron Cook.

Cook pitched eight innings, giving up just one run on a Ryan Braun home run. In all, Cook gave up just four hits in eight innings, with one walk and one strike out. He threw just 83 pitches.

The end of the game provided yet another memorable moment for longtime Rockies fans. Todd Helton, normally very emotionally independent, jumped up and down in celebration, hugging teammates while continuing to jump up and down. In 2007 the Helton celebration was one that looked as if he never really expected to get the chance for a champagne shower. On Thursday, Helton’s reaction look as if it was the finish that he had been expecting the whole time.

What Rockies fans might get most excited about was that the celebration seemed somewhat short and to the point. That is exciting for the simple fact that with three regular season games to go, and a two game deficit in the National League West, this Rockies team does not feel like they have completed their goal. They know that a sweep of the Dodgers in Los Angeles over the weekend would give the club their first ever division title in their 17th year in the league.

While a sweep in L.A. seems improbable due to the fact that the Rockies have just three wins in 15 tries against the Dodgers on the season, it may not be as difficult as it seems. The first nine games against the Dodgers came under the command of Clint Hurdle. Anyone following the Rockies knows that this is not the same team that took the field during the first two months of the season.

Since Jim Tracy took over as manager, the Rockies are just 2-7 against the Dodgers, but four of those losses have been by two or less runs. The losses came at the hands of great pitching performances by the Dodgers starters. That is the difference that may help the Rox attain their goal. The Dodgers starting pitchers have struggled for the last three weeks. Chad Billingsley looks warn out, Clayton Kershaw has been hurt and Jon Garland and Vincente Padilla have only done what their talent allows them to do. The fact is, this Dodger team is very beatable.

The weekend series in L.A. will be unfamiliar territory for the Rockies and their fans. Never in their history has the club guaranteed themselves a spot in the postseason before the final game of the campaign. The three game set in Los Angeles has the potential to mean nothing at all to these Rockies.

Even though the goal is to win all three games, the fact of the matter is that the Rockies have punched their ticket to the postseason and can afford to take a deep breath and relax for at least a day or two.

What the Rockies will do in the postseason remains a mystery, but the fact of the matter is, this Rockies team is 159 games into the season and they have ensured themselves a spot to play in games that really matter. That is a position that no one would have thought possible at the beginning of June. These Rockies have shown a perseverance that few teams have ever exuded. They believe in each other and they believe in themselves. There is not a day that arrives that this team does not believe that they are going to win. That is what makes them so dangerous in the postseason.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Colorado Rockies Inch Closer to Playoff Berth

At Coors Field on Wednesday night fall was in the air. The wind blew trash around the ballpark all night long and the temperatures dipped. It was a feeling that the Rockies are looking forward to getting used to.

Behind the wild, and somewhat effective Jason Hammel, the Rockies picked up their 90th victory of the season, winning 10-6, tying a club record for most wins in a season. When they set the record in 2007, however, it took 163 games to reach the mark.

After a crazy turn of events in the ninth inning in Atlanta, the Braves walked off of their home field losers of their last two games, meaning that a victory for the Rockies would drop their magic number to a lone game, and ensure that even if everything goes wrong for the Rockies and everything goes right for the Braves, Colorado would still have to be beat in a play in game on Monday.

It does not look like that is going to happen. The Rockies are in a position to clinch the National League Wild Card with a victory over the Brewers on Thursday. A win would make the three game series in Los Angeles quite a bit less stressful and would give the club an opportunity to rest some of their starters before the postseason begins.

With Atlanta falling apart, winning on Wednesday night was of utmost importance for the Rockies. It became clear that they had no intention of letting this game fall through the cracks when Todd Helton hit a laser two-run home run to right field in the third inning to give the Rockies a lead that they would not relinquish. It was clear by the way Helton swung the bat that he would carry this team on his shoulders if he had to. It would be nothing new to the 36 year old.

Carlos Gonzalez and Troy Tulowitzki later added home runs of their own to make the score double digits and give the Rockies some breathing room. Despite not pitching well, Hammel picked up his 10th victory of the season. While he might not have deserved to win this game, it may have been payback for the previous three outings in which he was dominant, but left the game without picking up the W.

A baseball season is a marathon, there is no denying that. Each team plays 162 games, and while that may seem like overkill, the fact is, very few races are determined before the final week of the season. In the midst of the marathon, it is nearly impossible to reflect on what has been accomplished over the course of the season.

This past weekend for Rockies fans included biting nails, completing win-loss scenarios, rooting for the Nationals, and fighting off pessimistic thoughts of collapse. With just a two game lead heading into Sunday, there was reason for this concern. However, as the Rockies have all but clinched a playoff berth, it may be time to realize what this 2009 season has held.

On May 29th if someone would have told the average Rockies fan that their team would be two games up in the Wild Card race with seven games to play, there would not have been a fan on this earth that would have turned that down. When Clint Hurdle was fired as manager the Rockies were 10 games under .500 and 15 games out of first place in the National League West. Even more, they had the second worst record in the entire league and were just a half game better than the Nationals, a team that has lost 103 games with four more to play.

The Rockies were under performing, both on the mound and at the plate. They could not hit in key situations and their pitching was suspect at best. Jorge De La Rosa, the lefty with all the potential in the world was 0-6. Ubaldo Jimenez, touted as the next Pedro Martinez, had not figured it out yet, and was 1-3 with an ERA in the fives.

The only positive going for the Rockies at the end of May was that the guy who they got in case of emergency with Jeff Francis, was on a tear. Jason Marquis quickly was looking like the real deal. However, Marquis was not supposed to be the lone positive on a team with this much talent.

The Rockies figured out how to play as a team again. That was something that they were so good at in the 2007 season that was capped with the magical run to the World Series. All through 2008 and early 2009 it seemed like the Rockies forgot that magical formula. Then suddenly, with one managerial switch, the Rockies played as a team once again.

Who would have thought that Carlos Gonzalez would emerge into an impact player after struggling through his June call up? Who would have thought that Seth Smith would make such a huge impact on the lineup, and who would have thought that the Rockies would be so deep into the playoff hunt that they would go out and sign slugger Jason Giambi in order to have one more impact bat off of the bench?

2007 gave the Rockies and their fans a great taste of what postseason baseball is all about, it almost seemed fictional, as if the team had matured too quickly and was not ready to be playing at that level. Sure, it was fun and no fan would trade those memories, but 21-out of-22 was something so surreal that it almost seemed fake.

This 2009 team has been fighting since early June. They are showing that their talent was no one month fluke and that they are good baseball players. This run is fun because it has lasted so much longer, and has been more sustained. This run has shown the Rockies and their fans that they belong with the best teams in baseball, and that they are not just on an incredible hot streak, but that they are a very good team, one that is solid throughout all the way through.