Monday, May 31, 2010

Jimenez continues writing history with complete-game shutout

Who would have ever thought that the Colorado Rockies would have a pitcher who was writing his name into the history books?

The answer to that is most people. However, most people would think that the Rockies pitcher re-writing the history books would be for something bad, like highest ERA after 10 starts, or most home runs given up in a season. That is not what Ubaldo Jimenez is doing.

After shutting out the San Francisco Giants and two-time defending Cy Young winner Tim Lincecum on Monday at a sold out AT&T Park 4-0, Jimenez continues to make his fabulous start turn into more than just a great start. The question now is how long he can continue his dominance.

Through 11 starts, Jimenez has notched 10 wins. He lowered his 0.88 ERA to an incredible 0.78 ERA with his complete game. There are two other pitchers who have had that good of a start in the last 100 years. One is Zach Grienke, who won the AL Cy Young award in 2009, and Hall of Famer Juan Marichal.

Jimenez's critics are suggesting that he is due for a collapse. That is an easy prediction to make when Jimenez is putting up such incredible numbers. Will he finish the season with an ERA under 1.00? Odds are against him. The fact is, Jimenez will most likely not be able to keep up this pace. However, that does not mean that he cannot stay as dominant as he has been.

The pessimists are suggesting that his BABIP (batting average for balls in play) will not be able to remain under under .200 when the league average is around .300.

Those critics have not seen Jimenez pitch. The Baseball Tonight crew highlighted an at bat Jimenez had against Aaron Rowand on Monday. Jimenez threw two 98 MPH fastballs that moved 10 inches from the inside of the plate to the outside. The fact is, Jimenez's low BABIP is not due to luck, as some would suggest, it is more due to hitters not being able to get good wood on the ball.

If Rowand were able to hit the ball, it would have been a weakly hit ground ball somewhere in the infield. It would have been extremely difficult for Rowand to hit the ball hard enough for it to make it out of the infield.

Two days after Roy Halladay logged the 20th perfect game in major league history, Jimenez and Lincecum had an opportunity to show that they were every bit as good as Halladay. In their first battle of the season, Jimenez looked like the better pitcher. Lincecum continued his struggles, in just 5-2/3 innings the Cy Young winner had walked five hitters and struck out just three. He gave up six hits and four runs, three of which were earned.

Many good things have been said about Jimenez. He deserves every single word of it. Being a 10-game winner in the big leagues will make a starting pitcher a millionaire. Jimenez has won his 10th game before the calendar turns to June. The 26-year old Dominican still has four months to continue his dominance.

If Jimenez can stay healthy, his season may be remembered for years to come as one of the best seasons by a major league pitcher.

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Sunday, May 30, 2010

Rockies drop finale to Dodgers

The Dodgers own the Rockies. Plain and simple. There is no other way around it.

On Sunday the Rockies had a chance to win a three game series against the Dodgers for the first time since late September of 2007 when the Rockies swept Los Angeles in Chavez Ravine in route to the World Series.

Since then, however, the Dodgers have simply pummeled the boys in purple. Sunday was no different as the Dodgers won a hard-fought game 4-3 at a sunny Coors Field.

Rockies rookie starter Jhoulys Chacin did a formidable job in keeping the Rockies in the game. He went 5-1/3 innings giving up four runs on seven hits. The wheels fell off for the 22 year-old in the sixth inning. He gave up three hits and two runs and recorded just an out before getting the hook.

The Rockies battled throughout the game. In the fifth inning catching castoff Chris Iannetta had a chance to prove he belongs at the big league level. With two outs and the bases loaded, Iannetta smoked a pitch that looked like it would score at least two runs. Instead, Dodgers center fielder Matt Kemp made an incredible diving catch to end the inning. That play was the turning point in the game.

The Rockies dropped another series to the Dodgers, but walked out of a six game home stand with a 4-2 record. It shows why it is so important to beat bad teams. If the Rockies had been content with their series victory over the Diamondbacks and given in to Dan Haren on Thursday, the team would have flown to San Francisco with a .500 home stand, something that will not get them to the playoffs.

Despite the series loss to Los Angeles, it is becoming clear that the Rockies are figuring it out. They started out slow, but the fact of the matter is, 2010 has been the club's best start in four years. Even though they sit just two games above .500, they are in a far better position than they were in either 2007 or 2009 when they found themselves in the playoffs.

If the team can continue to gel and find ways to stay in ballgames, they will find themselves climbing in the standings.

It could be scary to see what the Rockies can do if they get on a roll and find all of their cylinders firing at the same time consistently.

Monday's Memorial Day game might be memorable for one reason in particular. Ubaldo Jimenez is taking the mound against Giants ace and two-time defending Cy Young winner Tim Lincecum. Jimenez enters the game at 9-1 with a 0.88 ERA. He has a statement to make after Roy Halladay stole some of his thunder on Saturday night by throwing a perfect game.

Lincecum has struggled in his last two starts, but that should not be a good sign for the Rockies. It is hard to find a stretch of three straight games in Lincecum's young career in which he struggled.

Both the Giants and Rockies will be wearing white hats with red bills and stars in the middle of their logo on Monday in honor of Memorial Day.

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Ubaldo Jimenez can forget winning the Cy Young

On Saturday night, Ubaldo Jimenez lost his bid to become the first Colorado Rockie to win the Cy Young award.

What is interesting about it is that Jimenez hasn't pitched since Wednesday, and won't pitch until Monday when he squares off against Tim Lincecum and the San Francisco Giants.

2,000 miles away, in Miami, Colorado native Roy Halladay pitched the 20th perfect game in major league history. It was a 1-0 gem over the Florida Marlins. Halladay did not rely on any big defensive plays, he simply sliced and diced the 27 consecutive Marlins into oblivion. It may have been the only way that the Phillies, who seemingly cannot buy a run, could win.

When something has been done 20 times in major league history, it is great. There is no way around that. Halladay deserves all of the accolades that come with throwing a perfect game. There is no doubt that he is one of the best pitchers in the game, and he has been for years.

The only problem with the perfect game thrown by Halladay is that, for all intents and purposes, it eliminated budding star Ubaldo Jimenez's chance at winning the National League Cy Young award.

Rockies fans have seen it far too often in the past. In 1998, a young first baseman named Todd Helton was showing the league why the Rockies had spent their first round draft pick on him. Helton led all rookies with a .315 batting average, he hit 25 home runs and had 97 RBI's. His OBP was a robust .911. Finding a rookie with similar stats to Helton's was impossible.

Unfortunately for Helton and the Rockies, a kid named Kerry Wood had two phenomenal games back-to-back. On May 3rd, Wood struck out 20 Houston Astro's, tying a major league record. In his next start in Arizona he struck out 18 Diamondbacks. The 38 strikeouts set a record for back-to-back starts.

Wood was impressive, going 13-6 with a 3.40 ERA and 233 strikeouts in just 26 starts, but the 20 strikeout game put him on the map and engraved his name on the Rookie of the Year trophy.

In 2000, Helton once again found himself missing out on national recognition. He led the league in two of the three triple crown categories, winning a batting title with a .372 batting average, and driving in the most runs with 147 RBI's. He also hit 42 home runs and had an OPS of 1.162. Anyone else with numbers like that would win the Most Valuable Player award in a landslide. Instead, Helton finished in 5th place, receiving just one first place vote.

In 2007 the Rockies experienced their biggest disappointing losses. In a year in which the Rockies found themselves in the World Series, their leader at the plate, Matt Holliday, led the league in batting average, with a .340 mark. He also led the league in RBI's with 137. Holliday notched a league leading 216 hits, 50 of which were doubles and 36 of which were home runs. His OPS was 1.012. He lost the MVP award in a close race to the Phillies Jimmy Rollins.

In the same year, Troy Tulowitzki set a National League record for home runs by a rookie shortstop with 24 long balls. He drove in 99 runs and batted .291. All of those numbers are incredible from the shortstop position. On defense, Tulowitzki did nothing more than lead the league in chances, and fielding percentage. He seemed nearly a sure bet to win the National League Rookie of the Year award.

Instead, Ryan Braun of the Milwaukee Brewers took home the prize. Braun hit .324 and drove in 97 runs while smacking 34 home runs. A phenomenal season, but especially great considering Braun did not arrive in the big leagues until May 28th of that season. Because of his late arrival, voters turned a blind eye to the .895 fielding percentage at 3rd base. Braun committed an incredible 26 errors in just 248 chances. Braun's WAR (wins over replacement) was 1.5 in 2007, while Troy Tulowitzki sported a rookie leading 5.6 WAR and helped lead his team to the playoffs.

So while Halladay and Tim Lincecum struggled over the past week, Ubaldo Jimenez was starting to see his national credibility go up. However, just like in 1998, 2000, and twice in 2007, most voters are going to forget about the pitcher who plays for the only team in Mountain Daylight time.

Instead, just like always, they are going to remain focused on the games that happen before most of the voting sportswriters find themselves in bed. Most Colorado Rockies games are played in Mountain time or Pacific time, meaning the majority of East Coast sports writers have already watched the Yankees, Red Sox, Phillies and Mets play and have called it a night.

When those writers wake up in the morning, they may take a look at the box scores, but what is resounding in their mind is what they witnessed the previous night. They will never see that Jimenez has lightening stuff and that he throws up to 101 MPH but does not just throw heat, he makes it move as well.

When sportswriters cast their votes at the end of the season, Jimenez's no hitter will look like a junior varsity game compared to Halladay's perfect game. Writers will point to Jimenez's six walks as reason not to vote for him.

One thing that will undoubtedly happen is for the writers to completely forget where Jimenez plays half of his games. The reason why that is so important is because where the Rockies play their home games was the biggest excuse for all of the other Rockies not winning the awards in their respective years.

Everyone pointed to the fact that Helton only did what he did in 2000 because of Coors Field. They all talked about Matt Holliday only being a great hitter because of Coors Field. Troy Tulowitzki could not have been as much of an impact player had he been playing at sea level. The altitude of Coors Field was a driving force behind those awards not finding their way to Denver.

So the natural response when a pitcher is dominant at Coors Field is for the media to acknowledge that not only is that pitcher dominant, but that pitcher is dominant in what many have considered the greatest hitter's ballpark in the history of the game.

If Coors Field added so many positive statistics to Helton, Holliday and Tulowitzki, it would make sense that Jimenez is having to pitch against hitters who have a huge advantage half of the time because they are playing at Coors Field.

Instead, Rockies fans should brace early for the fact that even if Jimenez cruises to win 23 or 24 games, Halladay will be taking home the honor because, well, he threw a perfect game.

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Saturday, May 29, 2010

Aaron Cook must put his foot down against Dodgers

The Los Angeles Dodgers are becoming the Atlanta Braves of 1993, '94, and '95. The Rockies simply cannot find a way to beat them.

Riding a season-high four game winning streak, the Rockies looked like they might break through and put themselves in a position to win a series against the Dodgers. With Jeff Francis looking solid on the mound, the Rockies put four runs up against their rivals.

All the Dodgers needed was a four run sixth inning, which saw Manny Ramirez hit a two-run home run to deny the Rockies a chance to move into second place in the National League West.

Francis looked good early, but the wheels started to come off in the fifth inning when he allowed a run. The job was finished in the sixth when he could not navigate his way through the heart of the Dodgers order for a third time.

In all, Francis pitched 5-1/3 innings, giving up five earned runs on five hits. He struck out two and walked one.

The bullpen, a group that has exceeded expectations ten-fold, did another phenomenal job of stopping the bleeding. Matt Daley, Matt Belisle and Joe Beimel combined to pitch 3-1/3 innings of one-hit baseball. The performance of Belisle in particular has been a pleasant surprise for many Rockies fans.

The ninth inning featured a frustrating moment, as Clint Barmes, the player who seems to be so polarizing, failed to move pinch runner Dexter Fowler, the tying run, to 2nd base with no one out. With Fowler's speed, Barmes simply needed to bunt the ball in play, there is very little chance that Fowler could have been thrown out at 2nd base.

Barmes had hit a home run earlier in the night, putting the Rockies up 4-0. Once again, however, instead of being the hero on a night when he hit a home run, he becomes a goat. The failed bunt attempt and eventual strikeout, allowed the Dodgers to keep their outfielders at "no-doubles" depth, meaning they were playing extremely deep. When Melvin Mora lined a Jonathan Broxton pitch down the right field line, it most likely would have fallen had Fowler been at 2nd base. Instead, it was caught for the second out of the inning.

The loss was a heart breaker for the Rockies, but the key is to take the game on Saturday. Winning on Saturday boils down to one simple thing. Aaron Cook must turn the corner and start pitching the way that he is capable of. He must go back to what has put him on top of the all-time Rockies win list. He must throw his sinker early and often.

Cook's season has been downright pathetic. Through nine games, Cook sports a 5.40 ERA and just one win. He pitched well in Chicago while picking up a loss. However, the most recent start for Cook was one that is extremely worrisome. Heading into the fifth inning in Kansas City on Sunday, Cook was staked to a 9-0 lead. The game was over. All he had to do was throw strikes.

Two outs and four runs later, Cook was walking back to the dugout, with no chance of picking up a win and looking extremely foolish.

For some reason, the redhead has seemingly tried to reinvent himself. He has had success in the big leagues because he throws a great sinker. However, through the first quarter of the season in 2010, Cook has been experimenting with a curveball and a four-seemed fastball.

The curveball has been extremely hitable, if he gets it across, and the fastball lacks the movement or velocity needed to be a viable Major League pitch.

Saturday is the day that Cook needs to go back to what made him so good in his career. He needs to go back to what got him to the All-Star game in 2008. He needs to go back to pounding the lower half of the strike zone with his sinker. The curveball needs to be abandoned altogether. Frankly, it is a terrible pitch.

A sinkerballer like Aaron Cook is not into deception. Someone with a sinker like his should throw the pitch even when everyone in the stands knows that it is coming. With the movement that he gets on it, the best most players can do is hit the ball into the ground, which is exactly what Cook should be looking to do.

If Cook goes back to the sinker he will be in good shape. If he decides to continue down the road of reinventing himself, it could be a long night for the Rockies.

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Thursday, May 27, 2010

Back-To-Back-To-Back a theme for Rockies

This is the Rockies team that everyone was expecting.

After hovering around the .500 mark all season long, the Colorado Rockies broke through during a three game sweep of the Arizona Diamondbacks which finished on Thursday afternoon at a sun drenched Coors Field.

The back-to-back-to-back wins over the Diamondbacks was the first sweep of the season for the Rockies. The final game was capped off by back-to-back-to-back home runs off the bat of pinch hitter Seth Smith, out of the starting lineup with the flu, Carlos Gonzalez and Ryan Spilborghs.

Not only were the three home runs hit in succession, the home runs were hit on back-to-back-to-back pitches from Diamondback ace Dan Haren.

The feat was so rare that the last time it happened for the Rockies was way back in 2004 when Charles Johnson, Jeromy Burnitz and a young kid named Matt Holliday combined for three straight bombs.

Fifth starter Jason Hammel was impressive. He pitched 5-1/3 innings, giving up two runs on seven hits. He struck out eight and walked two. The righty was smooth sailing, throwing a shutout through five innings until theDiamondbacks got to him in the sixth inning.

The reason Hammel is a fifth starter is not because his stuff is below average. In fact, he has a very good curveball that fools hitters on a regular basis. The reason that Hammel is a fifth starter is because instead of getting stronger as the game goes along, the wheels tend to fall off later in the game. In his last start in Kansas City he had the same issue. Besides giving up two home runs to Jose Guillen, he was throwing a great game. Then the 7th inning hit and he looked like he forgot how to get an out.

The Rockies are in the middle of a 12-game stretch against the National League West. They have a very good opportunity to make a statement that they are no longer going to be the punching bag for the rest of the division. In 2009, despite going to the playoffs as a Wild Card team, the Rockies were eight games under .500 within the division. If they have any desire to win their first ever NL West title, that number must change.

The club did a good job of turning it around with the three game sweep of the D-Backs. The team is finally starting to hit on all cylinders. With the return of Jeff Francis, the rotation is anchored down solidly, and much-maligned offense has seemingly found it's stroke.

One of the biggest signs of the Rockies offense breaking through came not on the three straight home runs, but rather in the bottom half of the sixth inning. After the Diamondbacks pushed the score to 3-2, the Rockies answered back, putting up a run of their own. It came when Carlos Gonzalez once again victimized his old team, leading off the inning with a double. He eventually scored on a Jason Giambi sacrifice fly.

Giambi's at bat was a great example of a professional at-bat, and is the exact reason why the club signed the aging slugger. He took the first pitch he saw and lifted it to the outfield, deep enough to score the run. Instead of trying to hit the ball out of the park, he knew that he simply needed to score the insurance run that sat at third base.

The Rockies run into the Dodgers, the team that gave them the most struggles in 2009, for a three game weekend series. It would be a great chance for the team to prove that they are not going to roll over when they face the team from tinsel town.

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Ubaldo The Great; Jimenez improves to 9-1

Wednesday night at Coors Field, Ubaldo Jimenez wrote the latest chapter of a story that looks as if it is going to have a very happy ending.

Heading into the game, Jimenez sported a record of 8-1 with an ERA of 0.99, the best in all of baseball. By the end of a 7-3 victory over the Diamondbacks, the lanky right-hander had notched another win and lowered his ERA to 0.88.

Jimenez pitched eight scoreless innings, giving up six hits. He walked just one hitter and struck out three. He was helped out by several great defensive plays, one in particular in the first inning as centerfielder Carlos Gonzalez made a running catch on a ball into the left-center gap hit by Conor Jackson.

The reason Jimenez was impressive Wednesday was for a different reason than his previous nine starts. From the get-go, it was clear that he did not have his best stuff. Kelly Johnson ripped the third pitch of the game to the right field wall for a double. He would have scored if not for Gonzalez's amazing catch.

The reason the start was so impressive for Jimenez is because without his best stuff, he was still able to carve his way through the Diamondback hitters. His fastball, normally in the 98-99 range was sitting around 96 MPH, still impressive, but it lacked the typical tailing action that makes it that much harder to hit. His offspeed pitches were not quite as crisp and several pitches were left a little too high for comfort.

However, without his best stuff, Jimenez still managed to keep a good-hitting Diamondbacks' team from crossing home plate in eight innings. It was a huge sign of maturity from Jimenez, who, in his first three seasons in the big leagues struggled with giving up one big inning. On Wednesday he showed how far along he has come. Without his best pitches to rely on, Jimenez showed that he can still get outs, and be dominant in doing so.

His success goes back to the fact that he is a power pitcher who pitches like a guy who does not throw that hard. Instead of seeking strikeouts, Jimenez pitches to contact, allowing the fielders behind him to absorb outs. A hard-thrower would have struggled in Jimenez's shoes on Wednesday because a flat fastball with a little less velocity is generally something that causes Major League hitters to salivate over.

Instead, Jimenez is still able to keep the ball low in the strike zone, which keeps him from getting hurt by the long ball.

Through 71-1/3 innings pitched in 2010, Jimenez has given up just seven runs. He has also given up just 42 hits. In his one loss on the season Jimenez gave up just two hits, one of which never left the infield. His dominance has been incredible.

If Jimenez wants to look around to see who is near him in the National League Cy Young race, he is not going to find anyone nearby. Three weeks ago it was a three horse race between Jimenez, Colorado native Roy Halladay and San Francisco's two-time defending Cy Young winner Tim Lincecum. However, as Jimenez has gotten stronger, those two have faded. On Wednesday Lincecum did not get out of the 5th inning against the Nationals, giving up six earned runs. Halladay has dropped to 6-3 and his ERA has climbed to 2.22, normally phenomenal, but compared to Jimenez it looks like Pike's Peak.

No Cy Young has ever been won in May, and no one has ever been declared the starter of the All-Star game in the second month of the season, but Jimenez is putting together a season that is going to be hard to ignore when it comes time to start shelling out praise.

If the flamethrower can stay healthy, the Rockies could put themselves in a very good position by the time summer turns into fall.

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Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Colorado Rockies hitting their stride

The Colorado Rockies have something that they have never had before. Pitching depth.

On Tuesday at Coors Field, Jhoulys Chacin, in the rotation because of Jorge De La Rosa's injury, showed that the Rockies have more than five capable starters. The 22 year-old Venezuelan led the Rockies to a 3-2 victory over the Diamondbacks, extending the Rockies winning streak to three games.

Chacin pitched six strong innings. He gave up two runs on four hits, while striking out five and walking two. A sign of maturity happened early in the game. After walking Diamondbacks leadoff hitter Kelly Johnson, it looked like Chacin might fall into the one trap that has plagued his young career, failing to throw strikes.

Instead, Chacin did not allow the inning to snowball on him. He retired the next three batters, leaving Johnson on first base. From then on it was as close to smooth sailing as can be expected for a 22 year-old making his sixth career start. Chacin faltered in the 6th inning, giving up two runs, but was able to strike out Mark Reynolds with the tying run at second base to preserve the lead, and ultimately the victory.

The game featured another home run off of the bat of Troy Tulowitzki. The Rockies shortstop is starting to heat up. It was his third home run in as many days. Tulowitzki is in one of those grooves where even when he makes an out it seems as if he just happened to hit it right at someone.

Todd Helton, criticized in the Denver Post on Monday for his early struggles at the plate, showed why he is, and should be, starting every day. As he showed signs of during the seven game road trip, Helton broke out of his slump on Tuesday, gathering three hits. All three of his hits were vintage Todd Helton, meaning he fouled off several good pitches before getting a pitch that he could line into the outfield.

Ian Stewart also has been showing signs of life at the plate. On Tuesday he went 2-for-2 at the plate with an RBI and a walk. What is most encouraging about Stewart at the plate has been that he is hitting the ball to the opposite field. When the third baseman struggles, he looks as if he is trying to pull every pitch, regardless of location. This causes him to roll over outside pitches, grounding out weakly to the right side.

After 45 games and a 23-22 record, the Rockies finally start to look like they are turning the corner. Despite only scoring three runs on Tuesday, the feeling from the team was entirely different. Simply watching the game it looked as if the Rockies were in control of the game. During last week's road trip, the feeling was quite opposite. Even when the Rockies held a lead, it almost seemed as if they were waiting for someone to blow it.

As May comes to an end, the Rockies may be picking a good time to get hot. They sit just four games out of first place in the National League West and play a three game series against the Dodgers starting on Friday.

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Monday, May 24, 2010

The case against Mark Kiszla

Much like Major League players, baseball fans often enjoy a day off every now and then. With baseball's grueling schedule that sees a team get three days off per month, it is nice to take a breather.

Off days are not spent wondering how the Rockies offense is going to step it up, or if Ubaldo Jimenez can continue his dominance, or how a the team can turn the corner and play like the contenders that are talented enough to be. They are days to enjoy the warming weather and for take care of the things that get neglected when three hours of each day are dedicated to watching a game.

So it was perfect timing for the Denver Post's Mark Kiszla to step in and get everyone's attention. On Monday morning, his most recent article hit the newsstands.

Kiszla is well known for his controversial writing style. There isn't a sports star in Denver that hasn't been on the receiving end of a vindictive article that was penned by Kiszla.

One of Kiszla's most famous incidents happened in 1998 when Mark McGwire was on his way to shattering Roger Maris' record of 61 home runs in a season. In August of that year a member of the media brought out the fact that McGwire was using a substance called Andro, short for Androstenedione, a type of natural steroid. At the time, the substance was legal both in the United States and in Major League Baseball's lax drug policy.

A week after the McGwire story broke, Kiszla found himself in hot water. He took the liberty of digging through then-Rockies slugger Dante Bichette's locker, finding a bottle of Andro. He was caught, causing a huge stir in the baseball community. Kiszla had his media credentials revoked, and was reportedly roughed up when he was caught rummaging where he did not belong.

That is the type of reporter Kiszla is. Instead of being ethical and reporting the truth, he goes to great lengths to create a story.

If Bichette was doing something that was illegal or even controversial, there are ways to bring that out. Rummaging through someone's locker is the equivalent of a police officer breaking into a house to gather evidence without a hint of a warrant.

In Kiszla's most recent article he hits on one of his favorite targets, Rockies first baseman Todd Helton.

The first quarter of the season has not been entirely friendly to Helton. That is a well known fact. In 39 games the first baseman is hitting .269 with a .393 on base percentage and just a .343 slugging percentage. All of those numbers are well below Helton's career numbers.

Kiszla, citing Jason Giambi's 415-foot home run on Sunday, declares that Jim Tracy and the Rockies need to sit Helton on the bench in favor of Giambi.

The article shows one of two things. Either Kiszla knows nothing about baseball, or he knows that the majority of the people who read his articles are Broncos fans first, Avalanche fans second, Nuggets fans third and Rockies fans when those sports are not in season.

My theory is that it is a mixture of the two. The average fan, the guy who catches a few innings of every fifth Rockies game while flipping back-and-forth between whatever is on ESPN and the Rockies game, will find him or herself completely agreeing with Kiszla. His arguments make perfect sense to that fan. After all, the last time that fan paid attention to the Rockies on a consistent basis was during the Blake Street Bomber days, when Bichette, Walker, Castilla, Burks and others were lacing the ball out of the park and winning games with football scores. That was right when Helton broke into the league. The clean-shaven kid from Tennessee joined right in, knocking the ball out of the park and racking in RBI's.

However, when those teams faded away and the Rockies new plan was enacted, the team lost the average fan. They also lost Mark Kiszla.

Ever since those days, Kiszla has been railing on ownership for not going after fill-in-the-blank big name prospect. He had zero patience for the farm system to develop while the Major League team floundered. When Matt Holliday, Brad Hawpe, Jeff Francis, Garrett Atkins, Clint Barmes, Ubaldo Jimenez and so many more Rockies players were developing their talent in the minor leagues, Kiszla was pushing for the Rockies to abandon their plan and trade away "prospects" for a one-year rental player in hopes of winning now.

This theory resonated with the average fan. The average fan does not want to sit around and watch their team lose 92 games three years in a row. They want to win now. They do not care how much talent the guys on the farm might possess, they see highlights of players on Sports Center and they feel like the Rockies should not hesitate to trade three or four of those prospects for one year of "Player X."

So now, after the Rockies have regained attention, reaching the playoffs in two of the past three seasons, the average fan is interested again. Only now, the slick-faced Helton has a grizzly beard and is in his late 30's. The average fan remembers Helton as a kid who had the potential to hit 50 home runs every year. When he isn't that same player, the average fan doesn't understand what happened.

Kiszla, instead of educating the average fan about who the new generation of Colorado Rockies are, preys on the ignorance of the average fan. He tells them that all of their thoughts about the aging Helton are correct, that he isn't the player that he once was and that he should retire.

The only problem is, because Helton is still a huge contributor and leader on the Rockies, Kiszla's words don't ring true to those who follow the team. Kiszla's article is so miss-timed it is almost comical. The article was written the day after a seven game road trip in which the only Rockies players who hit the ball well were Troy Tulowitzki and Todd Helton himself. In fact, Helton's numbers were reminiscent of the Helton of old. In the seven game road trip that saw the Rockies score more than four runs only once, Helton had hits in five games, multiple hits in four. He recorded a home run and three doubles.

Still, Kiszla points to one Jason Giambi home run as the reason Helton should sit.

The fact is, using Giambi's Sunday performance alone does a huge disservice to Helton and the Rockies. Kiszla is quick to forget that failures of the older Giambi so far in 2010. Brought on to give Helton more time to rest, Giambi went into Sunday's game with a piddly .205 batting average in 52 at bats. He had recorded just one multi hit game before Sunday's showing.

Anyone who has been paying attention to the Rockies on a regular basis knows that Giambi has struggled at the plate. Anyone who has been paying attention also knows that when Giambi has taken a mit with him to play first base, it has been more for show than anything. His defense has never been good. In fact, his defense has been so bad that it could be argued that he himself has already cost the Rockies three games due to poor defense at first base.

To the average fan, however, who was only paying attention when Giambi, a guy who they had heard great things about in New York, was delivering clutch hit after clutch hit for the Rockies down the stretch in '09, right when they started paying attention. So when Kiszla says that Giambi should be starting, the average fan does not realize what a ridiculous statement that is based on this year's stats.

The fact is, Kiszla wins. His job is to sell newspapers. When people get angry and upset about what he writes, it is a win for the Denver Post because they sell more newspapers. However, it is disappointing when someone lacks the talent to be a decent sports writer, so they have to create controversy just to prove their worth.

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Sunday, May 23, 2010

Rockies reunite with offense; shell Greinke and Royals

On a road trip that saw the Colorado Rockies make several mediocre pitchers look like Cy Young winners, the Rockies made the reigning American League Cy Young winner look very mediocre.

The Rockies broke out the bats on Sunday, winning a slugfest 11-7 over the Royals and Zach Greinke.

The club comes home after wrapping up a seven-game road trip that saw them go 3-4. The Rockies took the final two games of the trip in Kansas City to make an otherwise miserable trip look respectable.

Jason Giambi got the offense started, launching a three-run home run 415 feet to center field. It was his fourth career home run off of Greinke, the most of any Major Leaguer.

If the game Sunday went the way most games in May have gone for the Rockies, the home run would have been the extent of the offense. Instead, the club broke out of their slump and took good at bats against the Cy Young winner, waiting for him to make a mistake.

A major key to the offensive turnaround was the production from the bottom of the lineup. Ian Stewart, Clint Barmes and Paul Phillips combined to go 7-for-15, knocking in five runs and scoring five.

For Stewart and Barmes it was much needed.

Barmes had entered Saturday's game with a 2-for-18 mark on the trip. Pitchers were finding success getting the 2nd baseman to wave at sliders off of the plate. Instead of laying off of the pitch, or driving it the opposite way, Barmes was way out in front of the pitch, which resulted in a looping pop up or a weak ground ball.

Stewart's struggles were different. The lefty had several at bats on the trip with runners in scoring position and less than two outs. In Chicago, with the Rockies down by one run in the 7th inning, with the bases loaded and one out, Stewart struck out. He came up again with the same situation in the 8th inning and bounced into a rally-killing double play.

In Houston, Stewart struck out in a one-out, runner at third base situation.

The situation for the power hitting third baseman is frustrating because of the power that Stewart possesses. In those situations, the only thing that Stewart should be trying to do is to lift the ball. If he hits the ball out of the park, great, but if he fails, he has scored a run from third base and given his club a better shot at winning the game.

For both Stewart and Barmes' failures in the first six games of the trip, they looked like they may be turning the corner on Sunday.

With yet another home run off of the bat of Troy Tulowitzki and the production from the bottom half of the lineup, the Rockies showed what many people had been expecting from this team. When they are hitting the ball well they are going to be a team that is feared by the best of pitchers. They have power from top to bottom of the lineup. They have good speed, and they can put up runs in bunches.

For all of their early season struggles, the Rockies sit at 22-22, miles ahead of where they were a year ago, and are just four games out of the race in the National League West.

It would be nice if see the Rockies officially turn the corner and turn a good series in Kansas City into a decent sized winning streak, hopefully giving the club a boost of confidence and jump starting them on a season that has yet to see them play as well as their talent would suggest that they can play.

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Saturday, May 22, 2010

The Impact of Jeff Francis

The Rockies won on Saturday 3-0. While the offense scored when they needed to, the game was won on the mound.

Jeff Francis reminded everyone what they have been missing since he led the team to the World Series in 2007. The lefty, back from injury and pitching in just his second game since an ill-fated attempt at finishing the 2008 season, threw 6-1/3 shutout innings on Saturday. He gave up just five hits, while striking out three and walking two.

Through 13-1/3 innings so far, Francis has given up just one run, and that came in the first inning of his first start, where the butterflies were undoubtedly flapping inside his stomach.

There in no such thing as a must-win game in May, but after dropping Friday's opener and facing reigning American League Cy Young winner Zach Grienke on Sunday, the Rockies and their sputtering offense needed a boost on Saturday.

Francis provided more than a boost.

What was evident as the Canadian sliced and diced his way through the Royals lineup was why Francis is effective. He does not blow anyone away. He hit 91 MPH on the radar gun just once. His changeup and his slider are both good, but there are other lefties who throw better. The reason Francis is successful is because he knows how to get outs-plain and simple.

The tall lefty threw 90 pitches, 58 for strikes. He lived near the bottom of the strike zone, making sure that when the Royals made contact they hit the ball on the ground, or hit weak pop ups. He nibbles on the corners of the plate, but has enough control to be able to throw a strike when he needs to.

On Saturday, Francis only had a three ball count on three occasions. That is a sign of a pitcher knowing where he is throwing the ball and having a plan of attack. He isn't afraid to throw strikes, knowing that he has a pretty good defense behind him.

Twice on Saturday Francis picked off runners at first base. In the fifth inning Francis picked off David DeJesus. DeJesus was running on first movement, but what was important about it was that right before he was picked off, Francis toed the rubber and held the ball until the batter called time out. He knew that DeJesus would assume that was his attempt to keep him off balance, allowing him to go on the next pitch. Francis foiled that plan, however, and picked him off.

Francis' impact on the Rockies could be huge. With the offense in a month long slump, the pitching staff has had to shoulder the weight of the team. They have done as good of job as possible, but Jorge De La Rosa injuring his finger and Jason Hammel struggling with groin issues have made the back end of the rotation look like patchwork.

With Ubaldo Jimenez leading the league in both wins (8) and ERA (0.99), the Rockies have been able to keep their heads above water. However, with Francis returning the club can take a deep breath and be patient with the bats, knowing that eventually a team with as much talent as they possess will eventually turn the corner and start scoring runs.

While Jhoulys Chacin and Esmil Rogers have done decent jobs keeping the club in games, the fact is, they are young and finding their way in the big leagues. They need time to develop what Jeff Francis already has in his arsenal. Those young pitchers have a ton of talent, but they lack the big game experience and the confidence that the Rockies get with Francis.

With Jeff Francis back in the Rockies rotation, this club might just get the confidence boost that it needs to get right in the middle of the race as summer heats up.

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Friday, May 21, 2010

The curious case of the Colorado Rockies

The Colorado Rockies 2010 season was filled with promise.

The rotation was strong one through five. The lineup could gave opposing pitchers no breaks. The defense was as good as any in the league.

However, with one quarter of the 2010 season complete, there are only two words that can be used to describe the teams success.

Ubaldo Jimenez.

While the ace has been phenomenal, his great season was hardly the only success that the Rockies thought that they would have.

On Friday, the Rockies continued their struggles, losing the the Kansas City Royals 9-2. The story has been written time and time again so far in 2010. Those still paying attention to the frustrating team can be described as nothing less than gluttons for punishment.

The offense, full of power from one through eight, has just 38 home runs. Cleanup hitter Troy Tulowitzki has just long balls. Catcher Miguel Olivo leads the team with eight home runs. The team batting average heading into Friday night's debacle was .259, good enough for ninth in the National League. The Rockies rank no better than seventh in any major offensive category in the NL. Mediocre was never a word used to describe the Rockies in spring training.

Colorado has two starters who own batting averages of less than .230 in Dexter Fowler with a .228 average and Clint Barmes, who is sporting a .210 average. Carlos Gonzalez, the team's leadoff hitter, leads the squad with 28 RBI's. Second on the list is a tie between Ian Stewart and Miguel Olivo, who both have 20 runs batted in.

The Rockies offensive struggles go beyond simply a team-wide slump. Colorado has not scored more than six runs since May 8th in Los Angeles when they posted six runs in the first inning on knuckleballer Charlie Haeger.

Even that night the Rockies were nothing close to impressive offensively. Haeger could not find his knuckleball and walked three hitters before allowing a three run triple to Carlos Gonzalez. While patience a the plate is a virtue, the Dodgers essentially gave the game to the Rockies, the offense did not win it.

This team was supposed to strike fear in opposing pitchers. Instead, their is a consistent theme from Jim Tracy's post game press conferences. Much like a broken record, Tracy spouts off the same line day in and day out after his powerful offense once again put up just two runs. His statement? "We ran into good pitching tonight. (Fill in the blank) mixed his pitches well and had our hitters off balance all night."

Frankly, for a guy who says that his team will never make excuses, it sure seems that Tracy has a plethora of them. At some point he needs to take some of the blame. He needs to make it clear that the way his team is performing at the plate is nothing short of pathetic and unacceptable. Instead, he makes excuses for his under performing team and tries to chalk up another loss to great pitching by whoever the below-average pitcher on the hill for the other team was.

Watching this Rockies team is frustrating. Most fans continue to wait for the offensive explosion that seems inevitable. At this point, however, it must be wondered whether or not that explosion is ever going to happen.

When the results have been as bad as they have been, most are left looking for a sign that things are changing. Most look for at least one positive.

The only problem is that the way the Rockies have been playing, it seems like the fans care more than the team does.

Ian Stewart seems more concerned about updating his Twitter account with the latest item on the menu at Morton's rather than improving his swing with the bases loaded and less than two outs. Instead of being upset about his personal struggles as well as the team's inability to win games.

While fans are boiling over with anger, the struggling players have already shaken off the latest loss. While that is something that professional athletes must find the ability to do, it would be nice to see some emotion from this team. It would be nice to see that the Rockies actually care that they are under achieving and on their way to an extremely disappointing season.

Unfortunately, two of the past three seasons have given the Rockies and their fans a false hope that no matter the deficit, the Rockies can overcome it. The only problem with that line of thinking is that both of the latest playoff runs is that both of them were completely unprecedented in their own respects. The idea that the Rockies can recreate a huge turnaround simply is not realistic.

Until the Rockies figure out how to quit making excuses and find ways to win games, the only two positive words that the club will be able to use when describing the season will remain: Ubaldo Jimenez.

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