Wednesday, September 22, 2010

NL West hole gets deeper for the Colorado Rockies

The Colorado Rockies suffered a huge setback to their playoff dreams on Tuesday night in Arizona.

After sweeping the Diamondbacks 10 days ago at Coors Field, the Rockies fell victim to Joe Saunders, the same pitcher who couldn't make it out of the third inning the last time the Rockies face him. The Diamondbacks bested the Rockies 3-1 in what has become an all-to-familiar scene on the road for the 2010 Rockies.

The loss hurts even more because both teams in front of Colorado, the Padres and Giants, won in their games against teams that have already made their October vacation plans. The Giants beat the Cubs at Wrigley Field thanks to a great pitching performance from Matt Cain and one swing of the bat from wonder-kid Buster Posey. The Padres beat the hapless Dodgers 6-0 at Dodger Stadium.

The loss puts the Rockies 2-1/2 games out of the NL West race. That is not a lead that the Rockies cannot overcome. However, what once looked like a promising road trip for the surging Rockies is now hanging in the balance of the final two games at Chase Field.

Once again the Rockies were done in by 2-out runs. After retiring the first two hitters in the 3rd inning, Jorge De La Rosa gave up a double, and single and a home run to Kelly Johnson, giving the Diamondbacks all the runs that they would need.

With two outs in the 8th inning, Carlos Gonzalez had a chance to get at least one of the runs back. He, however, was fooled by a slider on the outside half of the plate and swung through it to end the threat.

The Rockies are by no means out of the race, especially considering they play the Giants in a three-game set this weekend at Coors Field. However, the wind sure seems like it has left the sails.

The fact is, the Rockies are going to need some help if they want to keep their postseason hopes alive. They are going to need to take care of business in the final two games of their series in Arizona and then come home and stick it to the Giants over the weekend. If the Dodgers and Cubs could find a way to steal a game from their opponents, it would go a long way for the Rockies.

If the Rockies end up falling short, it would be easy to look back on Sunday's meltdown against the Dodgers as a reason why the team ends up watching the playoffs from their couches. However, the reason cannot be pinned on one or two games.

Unfortunately for the Rockies, they are feeling the affects of not playing well early in the season, and of course, immediately after the All-Star break.

Often times in a single game a team will get down by several runs, only to march back and tie the game, or come within one run of being back in it. Then, the opponent will get the bats back out and score a few more runs and seal the win. In basketball, often times a team will be down by 15 points and come back to tie the game, only to have the other team go on a run of their own once they are back in it.

This may be the case for the Rockies. They were so far out of the race that when they were able to claw their way back into it, they used every drop of energy just to get close. A 10-game winning streak took so much out of them that there simply may not be enough left in the tank to get over the hurdle.

Winning 10 games in a row was difficult enough. The ball had to bounce the Rockies way several times. Now they are in a situation where they almost definitely need to go on a similar run. It may not take a 10-game streak, but it certainly is going to take at least a couple of four game winning streaks with only a couple more losses for the comeback to be complete.

The sad thing about the Rockies is that they should not be in this position at all. The reason that they were picked by so many experts to be in the postseason was because of their wealth of talent. They can hit the ball from the top of their lineup to the bottom. They have good pitching, anchored by Cy Young candidate Ubaldo Jimenez, and their bench might be the best in baseball. However, they have failed to play consistent baseball until September.

If the Rockies would not have stumbled over their own feet so many times throughout the early part of the season, they almost certainly would be in a different position. Instead of looking at the schedule and wondering how they can pull off eight or nine more wins in 12 games, they would be looking at a magic number and wondering how quickly they could wrap up the division and look forward to the NLDS.

It is amazing how quickly hope can fade, as the Rockies now look like a long shot once again to pull off a miracle finish. However, if there is one thing to be sure about, the Rockies can never be written off. If there is a team in baseball that has shown that it can finish, it is the Rockies.

Winning the next two games in Arizona would give them a 4-2 record on the six-game road swing. Going into the trip, there isn't a fan out there who wouldn't have taken that. At worst, it would put them a sweep away from overtaking the Giants in the West and within 1.5 games of the Padres, assuming San Diego also swept their weekend series.

The problem is, the Rockies are back to the point where they need to do something that is very difficult to do. Instead of winning a tough series against the Giants, they are a couple of San Francisco wins away from needing to sweep a team that will put Tim Lincecum, Barry Zito and Matt Cain on the hill against them. Expecting to win all three of those games, at Coors Field or not, is a tall order.

If the Rockies would like a chance to prove that they are up to the task, they need to beat teams like the Diamondbacks. On Wednesday night, the Rockies put Ubaldo Jimenez on the mound with a chance to become the teams first-ever 20 game winner against Rodrigo Lopez, who handled the Rockies well at Coors Field two weekends ago, but is far from a dominant pitcher. The Rockies should have no problem picking up a win. Then they will send Jeff Francis to the mound in what would be an all-important rubber match.

Regardless of what happens with the other teams around them, the Rockies have one thing that they need to do. Simply win. If they can find themselves on the winning end of eight or nine more games, they still have a decent shot at making the postseason.

Winning the final two games against the Diamondbacks would certainly go a long way to help.

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  1. With every game that remains a near must win, you gotta wonder if that fact makes the Rocs post-season prepared or post-season burned out? (Sure wish we had August over.) What makes a talented team underachieve--lack of consistent motivation/focus or questionable coaching?

  2. fundamental baseball-protect the plate with 2 have to play fundamental baseball if you want to is the most important function in have to play to win.

  3. and that is why I cringe every time De la Rosa or Francis start (and, lately, Ubaldo too--although he's really just fried). Can't consistently get behind in the count. But the Rocs need to figure out a way to generate more consistent offence too (can't just blame the pitching).