Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Colorado Rockies Have Bullpen Issues

It was one of those days for the Rockies. With an opportunity to sweep the division leading Padres and move three games back, the Rockies threw out a game that was forgettable to say the least. The Rockies failed miserably in their sweep attempt, getting walloped by San Diego 13-3.

Whether or not a line drive off of starting pitcher Jeff Francis' throwing arm in the first inning had something to do with it remains to be seen, but Francis had his first bad outing since returning from shoulder surgery that kept him out of the entire 2009 season.

The lefty lasted just three innings. He was lifted in the fourth inning with two men on base and no outs recorded. His line was not what he was looking for. In three innings pitched, Francis gave up eight runs on seven hits. He walked three and failed to record a strikeout.

To be completely fair, Francis' line was not helped by Jim Tracy's decision to bring in Franklin Morales to finish the inning. Morales promptly gave up a walk and then a bases-clearing double to Jerry Hairston that effectively ended any chance the Rockies had of crawling back into the game.

To Jim Tracy's credit, he had to get Francis out of the game. It was clear that he simply did not have his best stuff. When a starting pitcher fails to get an out in the fourth inning, it is going to be a long day for the club's bullpen. That means win or loss, a middle reliever is going to have to take one for the team and eat up a bunch of innings.

The problem for the Rockies is that the definition of a long reliever is a guy like Josh Fogg. Someone who is beyond his days of being a viable option in the starting rotation, but a guy who will take the mound and throw strikes. It is someone who can throw 40 pitches and get through three innings, minimizing the number of arms the club has to use to get through the day.

Franklin Morales could not be more opposite of that.

Morales had become an enigma for the Rockies. He throws in the mid-90's from the left side and has the ability to throw biting offspeed pitches. However, he simply does not have the proper mindset to succeed in the big leagues. He struggles to throw strikes, and when he doesn't get a close call from the umpire forget the inning may as well be considered a loss.

Morales has thrown 9-2/3 innings in June. In those innings he has given up 10 walks and 11 runs. Putting Morales in a ballgame in which the Rockies are already struggling is the equivalent of fighting a fire with gasoline. All season long he has failed to get his job done.

The problem for the Rockies is that Morales has so much talent that it is tough to give up on him. The fear is that if the Rockies cut bait and trade the lefty, he is going to be the next Jorge De La Rosa, another hard throwing lefty who had seemingly warn out his welcome in big league baseball, only to come to his fourth organization and become a dominant member of a starting rotation.

In defense of Morales, the Rockies probably have not handled him as well as possible. A pitcher with a fragile psyche probably should not be a starter, then moved to the closer role, then made a lefty specialist, then brought back to the closer role, then a middle reliever. Part of his problems are that he simply does not know where he belongs.

The good news for the Rockies is that help is on the way. Taylor Buchholz has been on a rehab assignment and after a small setback, looks like he will be ready to return sometime in early-to-mid July. The obvious choice for a roster move is to send Morales back to Triple-A. The Rockies already have two lefties in the bullpen with Randy Flores and Joe Beimel and simply need Morales only if he is ready to perform at the Major League level.

Until then, the Rockies are going to have to weather the storm and hope that their starting pitchers can go deep enough into games to keep Morales out of the ballgame.

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Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Barmes and Hammel are what the Rockies are all about

The Colorado Rockies are not a team that is built around one or two superstars.

The club won their second straight game against the San Diego Padres on Tuesday 6-3 thanks in large part to two players who few would refer to as superstars.

Clint Barmes and Jason Hammel combined to lead the Rockies to a huge June victory.

Barmes, a popular player for fan criticism, hit a three run home run in the 7th inning to give the Rockies a 4-0 lead. In the 9th inning, with the Rockies up 4-3, Barmes once again came through, delivering a run scoring single that started a two-run inning for Colorado.

Hammel continued his phenomenal run. For his part he pitched six innings giving up three runs on seven hits. The three runs all came in the 7th inning, two of which scored after he was lifted from the game. Through six innings he was extremely impressive. He held a first-place Padres team to just two hits and no runs going into the 7th. In June, Hammel has given up just eight runs in 39-1/3 innings.

With the exception of his last time out against a great hitting Red Sox team, who knocked Hammel around for four runs in four innings, the right hander has been nothing less than dominant.

The Rockies are a team that relies heavily on their role players coming through for them. Their middle of the road play roll does not allow them to fill their entire roster with superstars. The club has done a great job of filling the roster with talented players, but being competitive means many of their top players are young and therefore, affordable.

While those young players develop, the Rockies need a guy like Clint Barmes, who can play second base as well as anyone in the league, to be able to carry the team on his shoulders from time to time. In addition to pulling his weight at the plate, the Rockies also need Barmes to be a guy who can do what he has been doing.

After Troy Tulowitzki went down, the Rockies asked Barmes to slide over to shortstop and help the team stay in the race. Without missing a beat, Barmes has been everything that the Rockies could have hoped for. Hitting primarily out of the eight hole, Barmes is second on the team in runs batted in with 38.

Hammel is another success story for the Rockies. He is a castoff from the Rays after losing out on their fifth starter battle in 2009. The Rockies signed him as an option to be either a long man out of the bullpen or to slide into the rotation if they needed him in that role.

The tall right hander went out and won 10 games for the Rockies in 2009, ensuring himself a spot in the rotation for 2010. Hammel is technically the team's fifth starter. However, the way he has pitched has been far from the type of pitching that is normally expected from a fifth starter. When a club throws their fifth guy out there, his job is basically to limit the damage as much as possible in order to keep his team in the game. Not many people envision winning 1-0 games with their fifth starter on the mound.

The difference is that Hammel does not pitch like the average fifth starter. He mixes an impressive curveball with a fastball that can touch 96 MPH.

Hammel will never be confused with Ubaldo Jimenez, but having a guy at the back end of the rotation that can be depended on for six solid innings every single time he takes the mound is a pretty big luxury for a team to have.

The Rockies go for their first road sweep of the season on Wednesday afternoon in San Diego. A win would put them just three games back of the Padres in the National League West and would be a huge statement about how good this Rockies team actually is.

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Monday, June 28, 2010

Rockies pull out nail biter, Jimenez picks up 14th win

With an 8-0 lead heading into the bottom of the 6th inning and Ubaldo Jimenez yet to give up a hit, it seemed like the Rockies would cruise to victory. That was hardly the case as Colorado held on for a 10-6 victory.

The Padres, acting like the pesky little sister that won't go away, not only notched their first hit of the night against Jimenez in the 6th inning, they scored four runs to crawl back in the game. They weren't done either. In the bottom half of the 7th inning the Padres threatened to tie the game up, loading the bases after they had scored two runs. Fortunately for the Rockies, Nick Hundley, mired in an 0-for-18 slump, rolled a ground ball to second base to end the threat.

The win, as nerve-racking as it was, gave Ubaldo Jimenez his Major League leading 14th victory. Despite giving up four earned runs in six innings, Jimenez's ERA still sits below 2.00, at 1.83.

Jimenez was great for five innings. He didn't give up a single hit. The right-hander quickly squelched all news flashes by promptly blowing up in the sixth. He gave up a base hit to David Eckstein, a walk to Adrian Gonzalez and another base hit to Chase Headley before Scott Hairston launched a fastball off of the second deck facing in left field. Suddenly Jimenez had given up four runs and the Padres were right back in it.

In the 7th inning Matt Belisle, who has logged far too many innings so far in 2010, was literally two inches away from giving Jimenez his second no decision of the season. Scott Hairston struck once again, getting just a bit too much top spin on a hanging slider. The ball hit the very top of the left field wall, scoring one run instead of three.

While it is by no means anywhere close to panic time for the Rockeis with Ubaldo Jimenez, the questions are going to be asked. Have all of the large pitch counts started to effect the Rockies ace? In his last two starts it seems that he is starting to tire early. In the 5th inning on Monday night, Jimenez started to open up, meaning his front leg was flying open. That is a clear sign of fatigue. Instead of using his legs, he is throwing with his arm. At some point the Jim Tracy and the Rockies may need to figure out some ways to save Jimenez's arm.

The fact is, Jimenez has done a season's worth of work before the end of June. The Rockies record for wins in a season is 17. The thought of Jimenez not breaking that record seems laughable. In fact, barring injury, Jimenez should easily become Colorado's first 20-game winner.

The Rockies have their fair share of issues. The bullpen, once a pillar of stability for the Rockies, is in complete disarray. Franklin Morales and Manny Corpas are struggling beyond words. Huston Street is working his way back into a comfort zone, and Joe Beimel is trying to find his control once again. Matt Belisle, by far the workhorse for the early part of the season, has found himself in his first rough patch of the 2010 campaign.

Jim Tracy is in a tough situation. His team is five games out in the National League West. He has no room to give a guy a day off. However, Corpas has already appeared in 37 games, logging 42 innings. Belisle has appeared in 34 games and logged 47 innings. Early in the season it was almost a given that when Jimenez is on the mound the bullpen would get a break. That is not as much of a guarantee anymore.

No matter the difficulty, the win was huge for the Rockies. The pennant will not be won in June, but the Rockies must play well within their division in order to have a chance to win it for the first time in their 18 year history.

The Rockies continue their three game series with the division leading Padres on Tuesday. Jason Hammel looks to get back on track after getting knocked around by the Red Sox his last time out. He will face a tough lefty in Wade LeBlanc for the Padres.

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Sunday, June 27, 2010

Back to business as usual for the Rockies

A three game series victory against the Red Sox had the Rockies and their fans invigorated. Finally this team had learned to battle back and find a way to win a game in the late innings.

Three days later the Rockies were back to their usual sloppy play, losing 10-3 to the Angels in Anaheim.

Once again, the victim was rookie pitcher Jhoulys Chacin. Chacin built on his dominating performance against Boston and struck out a career high 12 Angel batters. He went five innings and gave up just two earned runs. Unfortunately, his defense failed him again.

With two outs in the fourth inning, Juan Rivera hit a ground ball to Ian Stewart, who promptly booted the ball, allowing Rivera to take first base. Mike Napoli, the next hitter for the Angels, launched a three-run home run to left field, giving the Angels a 4-2 lead.

In the eighth inning, Jim Tracy decided to send Franklin Morales, who had just completed a 1-2-3 inning in the seventh for the first time since the American Revolution, back to the mound. Morales did what he does best and gave up a walk and a base hit. That forced Tracy to go to Manny Corpas, who is vying with teammate Matt Belisle for whose arm will fall off first. After getting a strikeout, Corpas gave up a grand slam to struggling third baseman Brandon Wood.

While the defense and the bullpen were less than stellar, the offense has no room for pride. They finish the three game series in Anaheim tallying a total of nine runs. Averaging three runs per game is not the formula for success at the big league level.

To put it nicely, Sunday looked like the Rockies were feeling the effects of a tough series with the Red Sox. They were lifeless on the both sides of the ball. They were missing the spring in their step.

Seth Smith may have been the most clear example. He struck out three times on Sunday and looked horrible in every single at bat. The lefty had a matchup in Ervin Santana that looked like it would be in his favor. The right handed Santana is basically a two-pitch pitcher. He throws a hard fastball and a slider. Smith received a steady dose of sliders, and when he got a fastball to hit he swung threw it.

The epitome of the Rockies game came in the bottom of the sixth inning when a weak popup was hit in foul territory between third base and home plate. Ian Stewart and Chris Iannetta both hustled after the ball, and while it appeared in replays that Stewart called Iannetta off, the two ended up running into each other and dropping the ball. Stewart left the game an inning later, whether it was due to injury or not was unclear.

For the Rockies, the time to quit playing poor, unfocused baseball has come and gone. They sit six games out of the National League West race and the Padres show no signs of slowing down. If they are serious about contending, which at this point is more of a joke than a serious proposition, the club absolutely cannot afford another clunker of a series in San Diego. They must find a way to make up ground or they may as well start planning their offseason.

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Saturday, June 26, 2010

First Inning Dooms Rockies in Anaheim

After two nights of playing games that lasted over four hours, the Rockies played a game that lasted just 2:15. Unfortunately for the Rox, they lost the game 4-2.

Aaron Cook had seven great innings of baseball. Unfortunately, he was in the game for eight innings.

In the bottom of the first inning, Cook gave up a grand slam to Hideki Matsui, a veteran player who is not a stranger to the big slam. It was his fourth in America after he hit eight in his career in Japan.

The slam was set up by an error by Ian Stewart. With one out and a runner on first base, Bobby Abreu hit a soft ground ball that sent Stewart to his left. He gloved the ball and tried to flip it to Jonathan Herrera at second base. The flip was a little high, and right into the sun, causing Herrera to miss the ball. The ball may not have been hit hard enough for a double play, but the error changed the inning.

Torii Hunter stepped to the plate and blooped a soft fly ball into right field, loading the bases. Cook then went to a 3-0 count on Matsui. Anyone who has watched Cook during his career knows that in a situation like that--bases loaded and a 3-0 count, Cook simply throws a fastball in the middle of the plate and hopes for the best.

The best didn't happen, as Matsui hit the ball 10 feet over the fence in center field.

After that, Cook was brilliant. He threw a total of 100 pitches, 67 for strikes in the eight innings that he pitched. The redhead recorded 17 of his 24 outs on the ground.

The loss makes Sunday's game important for the Rockies who are looking to take the series in Anaheim. However, Cook did one very good thing for the Rockies. After two straight games in which the Rockies played extra innings, the bullpen was spent. Manny Corpas had pitched in eight of the past 10 games, Matt Belisle pitched 3-1/3 innings on Friday and Rafael Betancourt had appeared in three straight games. The outing by Cook allowed the Rockies to rest their bullpen, something that will pay off down the road, despite the loss by the Rockies.

Cook's performance, despite giving up the grand slam, was a very good one. With Jorge De La Rosa's return tentatively scheduled for July 7th, the Rockies are going to have to make a difficult decision when it comes to their starting five. Until last Sunday, the weakest link in the rotation was Cook.

The way that Jhoulys Chacin has pitched, and with Jason Hammel's recent success, there was some talk that the Rockies might be making a poor decision by sending Chacin back down and that they should explore other options for the strugging Cook. However, with Cook's recent performance, it has become increasingly clear that despite Chacin's maturity at the Major League level, he will be a victim of having options and will find himself in Colorado Springs on July 7th.

The other tough decision that the Rockies are going to have to make soon involves the bullpen. Taylor Buchholz, who missed the entire 2009 season after undergoing Tommy John surgery, is scheduled to return. In 2008, Buchholz was one of the top setup men in the game. His return means that the Rockies are going to have to create a roster spot for him.

The decision should be easy for the Rockies. The move that needs to be made is simple. Franklin Morales needs to be the one sent to Colorado Springs. Despite having all the talent in the world, Morales simply has not been able to prove that he can get it done at the Major League level. His mechanics are out of whack, but afflicts Morales more than his mechanics is his own head. The 26-year old throws a pitch that he feels is a strike, and when it is called a ball he completely melts on the mound. The snowball effect usually results in several base runners and runs for the opposition.

The Rockies simply do not need Morales. They already have two lefties in the 'pen with Randy Flores and Joe Beimel, so they will not be missing out on having a guy ready to face a tough lefty.

Either way, the Rockies getting both De La Rosa and Buchholz back is a good thing. It will give the Rockies not only fresh arms, but also it gives them more talent to work with.

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Herrera Shows Rockies Depth, Leads The Way to Victory

The Colorado Rockies have proven two facts over the past two nights. First, that baseball is not a game for those who like to go to bed early, and second, that the Rockies have as much depth as advertised.

On Friday night in Anaheim, the Rockies beat the Angels 4-3 thanks in large part to Jonathan Herrera. The second baseman finished the night 3-for-6. He scored the tying run and drove in the game-winning run.

After striking out in his first three at bats of the night the 25-year old did not allow that to affect his approach. He stepped into the box in the late innings and slapped three base hits that kept the Rockies in the game. The three hit night increased the Venezuelans batting average to .314. That is a considerable average considering he started the season 2-for-20.

Herrera is sitting on a seven game hitting streak. That number is significant because that is the exact number of games that it has been since Troy Tulowitzki went down with a broken bone in his wrist. When all seemed lost for the Rockies, they simply slid Clint Barmes over to shortstop and inserted Herrera into the everyday lineup at second base. It would be difficult to find anyone who thought that the Rockies weren't taking a step back, but Herrera has stepped in and made the loss of Tulowitzki far less hurtful.

Something that the Rockies organization prides itself in is their depth. They always talk about how they have someone ready to go when a player struggles or goes down with an injury. They have so much talent stocked away in the minor leagues that they have even been criticized for not trading some of their prospects to fill some holes at the Major League level.

For an example of how deep the Rockies are, consider the fact Herrera would still be playing in a Sky Sox uniform had Eric Young Jr. not gone down to injury. In fact, after having a cup of coffee in the big leagues in 2008 after Tulowitzki injured his quad, Herrera was removed from the 40-man roster because the organization needed to protect some of their younger players from the Rule-5 draft.

Losing Troy Tulowitzki was not a blessing in disguise. A team never wants to lose their captain. Tulowitzki is to the Rockies what John Elway was to the Broncos. Anytime the team is playing a game without him in the lineup it is not a good thing. However, it may have been the wakeup call that the Rockies needed.

Sometimes when things get tough on the field it makes the rest of the team band together and fight a little harder. It forces other players to step it up. That is exactly what has happened for Colorado. Jason Giambi and Todd Helton have found their strokes at the plate and Clint Barmes has filled in phenomenally on defense at shortstop.

In addition to guys on the team stepping it up, the injury has given the team some life because kids like Herrera and Chris Nelson get their chance to prove what they can do at the Major League level. They have just a little bit more motivation to make a great play or get a big hit to show that they belong.

The Rockies investment in depth is paying off in a huge way right now. The club now sits at 5-2 since Tulowitzki went down, with three of the wins coming against good teams in the Red Sox and Angels, the other two coming against a pretty good Milwaukee team as well.

The Rockies look to prove they have turned the corner and win their third straight series on Saturday night in Anaheim.

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Friday, June 25, 2010

Rockies Make Valiant Effort, Can't Sweep Sox

A game for the ages was spoiled by a 10th inning moon shot home run off the bat of Dustin Pedroia, his third home run off the game.

It was a night that reminded Rockies fans, mostly dressed in Red Sox replica jerseys, about the old days at Coors Field. The 10 inning affair featured 33 hits and 24 runs before Boston finally nailed down the 13-11 victory. The heat --game time temperature was 93 degrees--played a large factor in the large number of runs. It seems that the humidor doesn't make an affect when the temperature is hot and the air is dry at Coors Field.

The Rockies lost a chance to sweep one of the best teams in Major League Baseball. They had them on the ropes on several occasions, but failed to convert. Seth Smith nearly ended the game in the 9th when he hit a scaled line drive to the deepest part of the park, only to land in the glove of Colorado-native Darnell McDonald.

In all, the Rockies left the bases loaded three times and combined to leave 31 men on base. However, despite the loss, there is no room to be negative after the series the Rockies had.

Even though the scoreboard after the 4:48 game was not in the Rockies favor, this series was a turning point. There is no other way to say it except that the Rockies have been brutal on offense all season long. Failing to live up to their expectations would be a welcomed way of describing the teams struggles at the plate heading into the series.

There had been no fight in the club. If they got down a run or two the game was pretty much over. Announcers talking about the Taco Bell promo for cheap tacos when the Rockies scored seven or more runs became a ridiculous proposition. At one point it had been three weeks since the Rockies had not scored seven runs, but had scored five in a game.

They broke out of their season long slump against the Red Sox, a team that always fights their way back into games. Jonathan Papelbon, one of the best closers in the game, blew two saves in the series. He had given up just one home run to a lefty all season long and in the course of four batters gave up two.

If the Rockies end up going on a run and making the playoffs, they will certainly look back on their series against one of the most storied franchises in baseball as the turning point. In this series they went from a team that rolls over on their backs when things get tough, to a bulldog ready to fight anyone, regardless of their size.

The Rockies have a tough night ahead of them as they travel to Anaheim for a three game set against the Angels.

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Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Rockies Walk Off With Victory, Look For Sweep

Jason Giambi earned his paycheck on Wednesday.

The slugger was re-signed in the offseason to provide Todd Helton with a few days off and to provide a big bat off of the bench late in games. He has struggled throughout most of the season, but he pulled through Wednesday night, hitting a walk off home run off of Red Sox closer Jonathan Papelbon to give the Rockies a 8-6 victory.

The bomb came two batters after Ian Stewart launched his first home run at Coors Field off of Papelbon. Stewart came into the at bat with just six hits in June so far. The home run was a long time coming.

Both home runs were no doubters. Stewart's bomb was well into the second deck and Giambi's was high above the stadium, yet still traveled all the way to the facing of the second deck. The home runs bring a certain amount of revenge for Rockies fans after Papelbon shut the Rockies down three times in the 2007 World Series.

The fact that the Rockies were in the situation late in the game probably came as a surprise to most fans watching the game. With Ubaldo Jimenez on the mound, it seemed like the score would have been closer to Tuesday night's game rather than the slugfest that broke out.

Jimenez, who was battling flu-like symptoms throughout the outing, was clearly off of his game. After shutting down the Red Sox for three innings, fatigue set in and Jimenez started laboring. He nearly got out of a two-on, one out jam, but he hung a two strike curveball to Daniel Nava, who drove the pitch into the right-center gap, scoring both runs.

In the sixth inning, the pride of Cherry Creek High School, Darnell McDonald launched a two run home run that suddenly tied up the game. After John Lackey smoked a double over Carlos Gonzalez's head, it was clear that Jimenez was batting with his sickness.

This was a night that the Rockies offense needed to bail out their ace. In his only loss of the season, Jimenez gave up only two hits, both of which did not leave the infield. The 13-1 ace showed his character in the clubhouse after the game. He was sporting his standard smile, fully celebrating the Rockies victory. It would have been easy for him to be disappointed in his rough outing. "It's not about me, it's about the team" said Jimenez. "I am happy for them, they picked me up tonight."

Attitudes like Jimenez's are what make these Rockies worth rooting for. He is in the midst of a record setting season and after a setback like Wednesday's he was not hanging his head and thinking about himself, he was thinking about how grateful he is that the team pulled out the win.

The late-night home runs were especially sweet because it quieted the ridiculously large gathering of Red Sox fans at Coors Field. The cheers that David Ortiz and others were receiving when they stepped to the plate was sickening for anyone cheering for the Rockies.

The arrogance of the fans supporting Boston at Coors Field has been ridiculous. Very few venues would allow fans to blatantly disrespect their hometown team, especially when a guy who has been having the season that Jimenez is having is on the hill. Wins like Wednesday night's certainly will have some Denver residents shedding their red and white in favor of black, purple and silver.

How good has Jimenez been? Even with his six earned runs in 5-2/3 innings on Wednesday, the right handers ERA sits at a ridiculously low 1.60. The six runs that he gave up constitutes nearly 50 percent of the runs that he had given up heading into the game.

The Rockies go for the sweep on Thursday night with their hottest pitcher on the mound. Jason Hammel has a chance at breaking Jimenez's scoreless innings streak. If he can get into the fifth inning without giving up a run, the record will be his. The Red Sox send Daiskue Matsuzaka to the mound, fresh off of the disabled list. If the Rockies can pull off the sweep, it will go a long way to jump starting their run to the top of the NL West. They currently sit four games back of the Padres and have a three game set with them next week.

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Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Chacin States His Case For Rockies

The atmosphere felt like October, the weather felt like the beginning of summer.

The Rockies, behind a shiny performance from 22-year old Jhoulys Chacin, defeated the Boston Red Sox 2-1 at Coors Field on Tuesday in the opening of a three game series.

After the game, outfielder Ryan Spilborghs called the stadium "Fenway West" because of the large number of Red Sox fans who infiltrated the home of the Rockies. While there were plenty of Boston fans littered throughout the stands, Rockies fans did a good job of keeping them quiet.

The win was capped off by a phenomenal play by fill-in shortstop Clint Barmes.

Barmes, a shortstop by trade, is the Rockies everyday second baseman because, despite good defense, is a notch below Troy Tulowitzki at the position. With Tulowitzki out for eight weeks with a broken wrist, Barmes has made the transition back to shortstop.

If there was any doubt that Barmes could hold his own as the captain of the infield, it was erased when Barmes laid out on a hard ground ball in the hole off of the bat of Mike Lowell. If the ball had gone through the Red Sox would have had the tying run standing on third base with the top of the order ready to hit. Instead, Barmes got up, made a throw that Todd Helton dug out of the dirt for the out, which secured the win for the Rockies.

With John Lester on the mound for the Red Sox the Rockies knew that they would need a great performance from Chacin. It was clear from the get-go that they would get that much needed performance.

After breezing through the first two innings, Chacin ran into trouble in the third. After loading the bases in the 3rd inning, Chacin looked like he was about to repeat what has been his biggest issue so far, the big inning. Instead, with Victor Martinez at the plate and a 3-0 count, Chacin battled back and got Martinez to hit into a harmless ground ball to second.

In the 7th inning, Chacin once again loaded the bases. With David Ortiz pinch hitting for Lester, Chacin was removed for lefty specialist Joe Beimel. In what has become almost automatic, Beimel got Ortiz to ground out to second base to end the threat and get Chacin off the hook.

In all, the 22-year old Chacin went 6-2/3 innings, giving up just four hits. He dealt with traffic because he fought through control issues. He walked five, and struck out five as well. His changeup was the pitch that made believers out of the Red Sox hitters.

The Rockies are now 3-1 since Tulowitzki went down. In June, without their infield captain the Rockies are 6-1.

Colorado is a club who has shown in the past three years that they rise to the occasion when their backs are against the wall. While the Rockies have not shown signs of that so far in 2010, and winning a game against the Red Sox by no means says that this team is going to pick it up a notch with Tulowitzki out, it was good to see that the Rockies are not folding. They are fighting through their the early stages of the injury. Many thought that they would have simply rolled over and waited for next season.

On Wednesday, the Rockies send their ace and best pitcher in franchise history to the mound in Ubaldo Jimenez. Jimenez left the park before the game started on Tuesday due to dizziness and an upset stomach. The Rockies are saying that he will make his start on Wednesday, the news brings some concern with it.

Will Jimenez have the strength to pitch the way that he has been all season long? It would be a shame for Jimenez to not have his best stuff when he finally gets to face a team with the national exposure that the Red Sox bring with them.

If Jimenez can dominate Boston, it will go a long way to show how good he actually is. Instead of simply writing off Jimenez's success due to him playing in the "weaker National League."

Jimenez takes on the Red Sox big offseason acquisition in the form of John Lackey. Lackey has met all of the team's expectations as far as wins and losses go, but his ERA is a little higher than what the club and their fans most likely expected. He currently sits at 4.53 heading into his matchup with Jimenez.

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With Red Sox in town, Rockies fans need to step it up

Residents of Denver take pride in the fact that they are one of only a few cities in the country that can boast four major sports teams. The pride is much larger when you consider the fact that Denver is considered a small to mid market city.

Yet, despite having under three million people in the metro area, Denver still supports their teams enough to fill the seats on a regular basis, regardless of the sport.

Denver fans are so good that they hold many attendance records. The Avalanche sold out all of their home games for the better part of the first 12 years that they were in the city. The Nuggets draw well and always put a decent number of fans in the seats, even when they were one of the worst teams in the sport in the late 90's and early 2000's. Of course the Broncos sell out every single game, and have since the 70's. Tickets for Broncos games are long gone months before the event takes place. The waiting list for season tickets is years long.

While the other three major sports have always drawn well, the attendance records that the Rockies own will never be broken. For the first five seasons Coors Field was a scalpers dream come true. Wednesday afternoon games in September had Coors Field filled to the brim. In fact, Rockies fans were so dedicated to their team that construction of Coors Field was altered to add a third deck in right field to hold all the fans that were lining up to buy tickets.

However, despite all of the attendance records that Denver holds, the rest of the country does not view the city as more than just a football town with a few other teams that people watch when the Broncos aren't playing.

There is a reason for that.

Take a look around the next time you are at Coors Field. How many people are actually paying attention to the game? Inevitably, there is someone standing up with their cell phone pressed to their ear trying to get the attention of a friend on the other side of the stadium. There is always a few guys who are trying to impress their buddies with how many $6 beers they can drink in seven innings, and there is the guy trying to get fans to do the wave, usually in the most crucial moments of the game.

The only time Rockies fans cheer is when they get to do the catchy "Tulo" chant, and when the scoreboard operator prompts them to make noise. However, the noise always ends when the graphic goes away, quieting the stadium at the exact moment the scoreboard was trying to prompt the fans to be loud for.

Watch a game on TV at Yankee Stadium, at Fenway Park, at Busch Stadium in St. Louis, or Wrigley Field. While there are plenty of people at those games not paying attention as well, they do not need to be prompted to make noise. When their team has a two run lead and their pitcher is trying to get out of a bases loaded one out jam, those fans know that it is time to encourage their team forward. Those fans know to cheer when a hitter moves a runner over with less than two outs, not just when a slugger launches a ball out of the yard.

The other problem in Denver is the lack of loyalty. For years Rockies fans said that they would support the team, if only the owners would show some commitment to winning. Well, despite vastly under performing so far in 2010, the Rockies are just four games out of the lead in the National League West. If they somehow are able to make a run and get to the playoffs, it would be the third time in four years that they will be playing in October, a feat only four other teams in all of baseball can claim.

Despite the fact that the Rockies have put a contender on the field, many fans wait for their real favorite team to head into Coors Field so that they can cheer them on. If you were able to get tickets to the Red Sox series, take a look at the Boston fans sitting near you. Make a mental note of them. Those are the same fans that in two weeks will once again be wearing their purple and black gear to the game and pretending that they love the Rockies.

Imagine if that happened at Broncos games. What if the Patriots came to town and half of the stadium was wearing Tom Brady jerseys at rooting hard for New England, then the next week they were back in their orange and blue rooting on the Broncos. They would hear about it not only from the fans who sit near them, but also their friends and family. That is not the case for Rockies fans however. It is quite alright to live in Denver, be a Rockies fan most of the time, but secretly root for another team in a different part of the country.

In 2007, when the Rockies steam rolled their way into the World Series, the city of Denver faced one of its' biggest embarrassments. Not only were Rockies fans outnumbered by Red Sox fans at Coors Field, it looked like a Red Sox home game. It looked like there were a grand total of 100 Rockies fans that existed. When the Red Sox clinched on the Rockies turf, Boston fans (who most likely were wearing Rockies jerseys during the NLDS and NLCS) gathered around the visitors dugout and cheered. The cheering was loud and long.

So here is my challenge to Rockies fans this week as the Red Sox pay a visit to Coors Field: Wear your Rockies gear. Buy something if you have to. Pay attention to the game. When the situation is tense, cheer for the Rockies. Be loud. Drown out the Boston fans. When they start chanting "lets go Red Sox" quickly turn it into "lets go Rockies." Cheer for only one Red Sox player, Darnell McDonald. Cheer for him because he went to Cherry Creek High School and put in 11 years in the minor leagues to get his chance. Cheer for him when he comes to the plate, but then cheer for the Rockies pitcher on the mound to get him out.

It is time for Rockies fans to establish their own traditions. The Rockies are a team that is a contender. They need fans that support them and cheer them on, even when a team that has been around longer and has had more success comes to play them. If Rockies fans start to rally around their team now, it will set a precedent for years to come. The Rockies could be like the Broncos, a team that everyone in the city is a fan of.

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Sunday, June 20, 2010

Rockies can't sweep Brewers

A day after the Rockies scored eight runs, the offense decided to go back to the status quo, and Jim Tracy went right back to managing his way out of ball games.

The Rockies dropped what at one point was a pitcher's duel, 6-1 on Father's Day at Coors Field. Aaron Cook was good, but once again managed to blow a lead, albeit a small one, one inning after receiving it. After Brad Hawpe homered in the second inning, Cook walked two Brewers in the top of the third inning, including Brewer's pitcher Randy Wolf, which set up a game tying single from Corey Hart.

To be fair to Cook, however, it was not his fault. The Rockies offense made Randy Wolf look like an All-Star, notching only three hits off of the lefty. Scoring one run in a game worked for a win on Friday night, working twice in a series was highly unlikely.

The offense is the biggest enigma for the Rockies. They are not the San Francisco Giants. They have a lineup loaded with players who can hit the ball with authority. They should be scoring more runs than they have been. So why aren't they hitting?

At some point the fingers must point towards the top. Jim Tracy continues to use Clint Hurdle-type lineups. He mixes and matches every single night trying to find the right fit. To his credit, he has to do something to get the team going. However, on Sunday he made some head scratching decisions.

Instead of putting Melvin Mora at third base and giving Ian Stewart a day off and keeping his beloved righty on lefty matchups in play, Tracy decided that since Stewart hit a home run off of Randy Wolf during the opening series of the season, that he should play that card. Then, because Tracy wanted to get Mora's right handed bat into the lineup, he decided to put Mora in left field and take Seth Smith out of the lineup.

Smith is a better hitter against righties than lefties, as most lefties are. Smith is hitting just .167 against lefties so far on the season. At first glance that number looks like it justifies Smith riding the pine a day after driving in three of the Rockies seven runs when he didn't have an at bat until the 7th inning. The only problem is, those numbers don't tell the whole story.

Smith often gets the tough lefty out of the bullpen late in games. He gets the guy who throws from a different arm slot, or fires 96-97 MPH. Those guys are tough for anyone to hit. In addition to that, Smith has just 24 at bats against lefties all season long. Anyone who knows baseball will admit that not getting consistent at bats makes it tough to get in a groove.

Does Jim Tracy not think that if given the proper amount of time to adjust and consistent at bats, that Seth Smith will eventually hit them very well? Anyone who has watched Smith play over the past three seasons knows that he is the type of player, and has the type of swing that will be successful in the big leagues, not just against righties, but against lefties as well.

As for Ian Stewart, who has been struggling of late? He went 0-for-3 with two strikeouts. He left four men on base. Sometimes Jim Tracy plays so many numbers games in his own head that he confuses himself. Just because Stewart hit a home run off of Wolf two and a half months ago does not mean that he is suddenly going to come out of his slump and pound the ball off of him today.

With Iannetta in the lineup on a day game after a night game and Stewart 6-for-34 in June hitting against a lefty, Tracy's lineup card's last four hitters consisted of Iannetta, Stewart, Barmes and Cook. That is not exactly a recipe for success, especially when it is considered that Iannetta has had just six hits since returning from his demotion to Colorado Springs. Overall, the Rockies are just 4-12 when Iannetta straps on the gear. On the other side of the coin, the Rockies are a robust 32-17 when Olivo is behind the plate.

Tracy's other big mistake on Sunday was going to Manny Corpas in the 9th inning. Not because of the fact that Corpas wasn't sharp on Saturday night, but because of the fact that it was Corpas' fourth straight day of work. Corpas is the type of pitcher who needs his arm to be fresh to get the right bite on his sinker. If his arm tires, he starts throwing under the ball, which flattens out his slider, making it extremely hittable.

At some point Jim Tracy has to quit making excuses for why his team doesn't win games and point the finger at himself.

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Rockies Come From Behind, Then Survive Late Brewers Rally

Who would have thought that the magical formula for the Rockies to start playing better would be to lose their best player?

That is exactly what seems to have happened, as the Rockies rallied for the first time all season, beating the Brewers 8-7 at Coors Field on Saturday night.

The Rockies were down 4-1 heading into the bottom of the 7th inning after a disastrous top of the inning spoiled an otherwise phenomenal outing by Jeff Francis. After Miguel Olivo got the Rockies within two runs with his 9th home run of the season, Seth Smith, appropriately nicknamed Mr. Late Night stepped to the plate and delivered a huge 2-run, game tying home run deep to right field.

The Rockies would then go on to get a lead after Jason Giambi took a quality at bat in the 8th inning and hit a sacrifice fly that scored Brad Hawpe. With two outs, Smith struck again, looping a pitch to left field. Chris Nelson, making his Major League debut, rounded third base and never stopped. The throw from Ryan Braun in left field was right on the money, but Nelson lowered his shoulder and knocked the ball out of catcher Jonathan Lucroy's glove. The ball flew all the way towards the Rockies dugout, allowing Ian Stewart to score as well.

The game looked to be wrapped up, but Manny Corpas allowed a three run home run to Corey Hart in the 9th inning, and then a single to Prince Fielder and a double to Braun. After a failed attempt at the final out by Franklin Morales, Rafael Betancourt came in and sealed the win after a long battle with Lucroy, who fouled off eight pitches before lining out to right field.

The game was was a nail biter for Rockies fans, but it gave the Rockies something that they have not seen all season. It was the first time that they found a way to fight their way back into a game and pull out a win. In fact, this was the first game all season in which the Rockies won when trailing at any point after the 4th inning.

Saturday night was also a testament to the Rockies depth. Jonathan Herrera, filling in at second base as Clint Barmes covers shortstop while Tulowitzki recovers, went 4-for-5 out of the leadoff position. Hererra's early chances have been limited to late inning pinch hits and spot starts. It is very difficult to get in the groove at the plate at the Major League level without getting consistent at bats. Starting for the second day in a row, Hererra showed that he can hit at this level.

In addition to Herrera, Nelson showed his ability. In his first Major League plate appearance, the former No.1 draft pick laid down a sacrifice bunt and landed on first base when Brewers pitcher Zach Braddock chose to try and get the lead runner at third base unsuccessfully.

Nelson then showed his speed and toughness when, instead of sliding into home plate, he chose to put his shoulder down and knock the ball out of the catcher's glove. Plays like that will spark a team, especially when it comes from a guy who stepped onto a Major League baseball field for the first time in his career.

Are the Rockies a better team without Troy Tulowitzki? The answer to that question is easy. No. They are far better with Tulowitzki in the lineup. However, if there is one thing that Rockies fans have learned about their team is that when their backs are against the wall, they start fighting. When adversity seems to smack them in the face, their character comes out and they decide that it is time to find a way to win.

This is the Rockies team everyone was expecting. A team that isn't content with a one run lead, instead, they pour on the runs and make it extremely difficult for the opposition to win the game. It is a team that scores eight runs in a game instead of two. If the Rockies can gain a little bit of momentum, the injury to Tulowitzki might not be the worst thing that ever happened.

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