Saturday, July 31, 2010

Gonzalez Hits For Cycle With Walkoff Bomb

On November 12th, 2008 Rockies manager Dan O'Dowd frustrated his fan base, trading away club hero Matt Holliday to the Oakland A's for a displaced closer, a fifth starter and a prospect who had struggled in his brief time in the big leagues.

That prospect was some kid named Carlos Gonzalez.

All he has done is make the entire Rockies fan base completely forget about Holliday.

On Saturday night, the Rockies and Gonzalez completed a perfect summer night at Coors Field with a no-doubt home run to the third deck in right field. His second home run of the week to the third deck. This blast landed 462 feet away from home plate.

The walk-off home run completed a 6-5 victory over the Cubs and moved the Rockies to within seven games of the Padres for first place in the National League West.

The home run was monumental for more than just the fact that it completed a huge win for the Rockies, it completed a cycle for the outfielder. Gonzalez hit a single in the first inning, a triple off the top of the wall in the third inning and a double in the sixth inning. To complete the cycle Gonzalez needed Rafael Betancourt to give up a game-tying three run home run to Derrek Lee in the previous inning.

Gonzalez, possibly the biggest All-Star snub, continues to show how much he has matured as a big leaguer. The lefty hits better off of lefties, bucking the trend of traditional baseball. He covers the plate as well as anyone in the game and can pull the ball even when it is all the way off the outside corner. However, when most players pull that pitch they roll over and ground out. Gonzalez is different, he gets many of his base hits up the middle.

Where most fans thought that the A's got the better end of the deal in the Holliday trade, the truth has become extremely evident. The Rockies absolutely fleeced Oakland, landing not only a closer in Huston Street, but a future star in the league in Carlos Gonzalez.

The confidence that Gonzalez shows at the plate tells the whole story. Instead of hoping to accomplish something good at the plate, the slugger oozes confidence. It is easy to tell that he expects to get the job done.

If the Rockies want to climb back into the race they must take advantage on days in which the Padres lose. Going from nine games back two days ago to seven games back after Saturday's walk-off win makes all the difference in the world. The club now has two full months, plus one weekend in October to make the difficult climb.

Suddenly a team that looked like a corpse a week ago is as alive as it ever has been after two energy-filled games at Coors Field.

The Rockies go for a sweep of the Cubs on Sunday, a game that has the potential to get the Rockies off to a good start in August. If the Marlins are able to defeat the Padres again and the Rockies complete the sweep, suddenly six games back seems like a much smaller hill to climb than the Pikes Peak-like nine game deficit Colorado was starring at coming into the weekend.

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Friday, July 30, 2010

Record-Setting Rockies Roll Over Cubs

Who are the Rockies?

After scoring 17 runs over the course of eight games, the Rockies scored 12 runs in one inning on Friday night in a 17-2 rout of the Cubs at Coors Field.

The 8th inning outburst set club records for hits in an inning, 12, and consecutive hits, with 10.

When was the last time a pinch hitter recorded two hits in the same inning? Melvin Mora came in with two outs to pinch hit for Rafael Betancourt. He lined a single to right field and came around to score. Later in the inning, Mora came back up and recorded another hit and run.

The inning came as a huge relief for Rockies fans who have been dealing with frustration that boiled over when the Rockies dropped to nine games behind the Padres with consecutive losses to the Pirates, a team that contains less talent than many Triple-A clubs.

The win, coupled with the Padres loss to the Marlins, gives Rockies fans a small sliver of hope that the 2010 season is not over yet. Rockies fans have learned to hold out hope for as long as possible due to the teams propensity for late season comebacks, despite being far behind the leader of the pack.

Figuring out these Rockies would give professional psychologists fits. Momentum means nothing to this club...or maybe it means everything. Streaks seem to be commonplace for a club that either over performs or under performs every single time they take the field. The Rockies are the only team in the league who everyone is trying to figure out.

Are the Rockies the team that went 8-2 on the final home stand before the All-Star break, or are they the team that went 2-9 on the road trip immediately following the break?

Are they the team that won 92 games in 2009 or are they the team that played nearly .500 ball throughout most of April and May in 2010?

The Rockies are a team that needs to decide for themselves who they are. If they decide that they are the team that showed up at Coors Field on Friday night, then they have quite the hill to climb to accomplish what they are capable of. If they decide that they are a team that plays well at home but cannot win on the road, then they can coast into the off season and start to get some younger guys much needed reps.

If the Rockies do turn things around and go on a winning streak is it too late to think that they can make the playoffs? The problem with giving up on this team is that their history suggests that they can accomplish things that have never happened in big league history.

The answer to that question may be yes, however, the Rockies playoff hopes would require a winning streak at some point as long as their losing streak. With 59 games to go the Rockies must make up an eight-game deficit. The Rockies must close the gap from eight games to four games before the end of August. Then they will have to once again outplay the rest of the division throughout the month of September, possibly winning 18 or 19 games in the month to win it.

Either way, the Rockies can guarantee one thing. Being their fan requires a love for drama. They simply won't commit to winning or to losing. Depending on the attitude, that could be a good thing or a bad thing.

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Thursday, July 29, 2010

Finally! Rockies End Eight Game Skid

On Thursday afternoon at Coors Field, the Colorado Rockies picked up their first win in seven months, defeating the lowly Pittsburgh Pirates 9-3 to avoid the sweep. So it wasn't actually seven months, but for Rockies fans it felt that way.

Ubaldo Jimenez, who, like early in his career had been dealing with the giving up the big inning, finally looked like the pitcher who earned the right to start in the All-Star game for the National League. He went seven strong innings, giving up just one run on four hits. He struck out six and walked three.

The biggest statement Jimenez made was in the 6th inning, with one on and two out, Jimenez threw a 99 MPH fastball past Garrett Jones to end the inning. Throughout the six starts that the Dominican has struggled through, Jimenez was hurt because he was not relying on his fastball to get outs. On Thursday he went back to his strength and was able to pick up his 16th win of the season.

The win represents a slight pulse in the corpse of the 2010 Colorado Rockies. Two weeks after looking like the favorites to make a second half run at the National League West title, the Rockies spiraled into mediocrity after the All-Star break.

Depending on the outcome of the Padres-Dodgers game on Thursday night, the Rockies remain just far enough out of the race to make them feel like they have a legitimate shot at winning the division. However, they are not quite far enough out of the race for the front office to make an easy decision about still being in the race.

What that means is that the Rockies will neither be buyers or sellers at the deadline. Most likely they will be holders. The only player that should find himself in a different uniform before Saturday is lefty reliever Joe Beimel. Beimel is on the radar of several teams looking for a lefty who can come in to face a lefty hitter and keep the ball out of the air.

With Matt Reynolds looking good in Colorado Springs, the Rockies could easily give up Beimel if they are able to get a prospect or two out of him.

Aaron Cook has begun to hear his name circulated in trade talks. If the Rockies were able to pull any deal off involving Cook it would be a major coup in their favor. The redhead right hander has been awful in 2010, and that is putting it nicely. Getting a win out of Cook has been as common as a Jonathan Herrera home run. Moreover, the Rockies are due to owe Cook $10 million dollars in 2011. Getting rid of him would be a major upgrade, even if the Rockies got no one in return.

What the latest losing streak should prove to the Rockies is how important it is to win games in April and May. The club finished April two games under .500, which was acceptable at the time considering their usual struggles early on. The early season struggles made it where a losing streak like the Rockies just ended is nearly impossible to recover from. Had the Rockies even been two games over .500 in April the would now only be four games out of first place, right in the thick of things.

Will the Rockies be able to recover from their struggles and get back in the playoff race? That remains to be seen. However, it is safe to say that they must start a winning streak immediately. They cannot afford to lose a series to the Cubs. If they drop the first game, Dan O'Dowd may be scrambling to rid the roster of expenses.

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Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Rockies Schedule Garage Sale for Friday and Saturday at Coors Field

Time to pack it in. The Rockies are done.

On July 15th, Rockies fans were looking forward to a heated race between themselves and the San Diego Padres for the National League West title. Less than two weeks later, putting the Rockies and playoffs in the same sentence is laughable.

On Wednesday night, Aaron Cook continued showing that his struggles are no fluke. He gave up his league-leading 14th lead. In a whopping 11 of those situations, Cook gave up the lead immediately following his team getting it for him. That kind of pitching is not just bad for a team, it is crippling.

Wednesday was essentially a must-win game. Despite the Rockies two huge runs in 2007 and 2009, the reality is, the odds are stacked high against an under performing club.

Making up an eight game deficit in the final 60 games of the season is not impossible. It is highly unlikely, but still attainable. However, the fact that the club is not just chasing the Padres, but chasing the Giants and the Dodgers as well. Very few times over the course of the next two months will all three of those teams lose on the same night. That means the Rockies have very little room for error.

Getting to the playoffs could become an after thought in the next couple of days anyway. Rumors are swirling around the club about possibly dumping salary and getting rid of key components to the big league roster.

Names like Joe Beimel, Ryan Spilborghs, Brad Hawpe, Jorge De La Rosa and Aaron Cook are being thrown around as possible candidates to be moved.

Frankly, if the Rockies were able to move Cook, even if they got nothing in return, it would be a huge one-sided trade in the Rockies favor. The redhead is awful. The excuse will continue to be that ground balls simply found holes. That excuse might work for one or two games, but any pitcher will say that balls find holes and loopers fall in when the pitcher does not have his best stuff.

The Rockies are not playing good baseball. That goes without saying. However, the sloppy play, which continued on Wednesday, has to fall on someone's shoulders. Good teams do not make the same mistakes over and over and over again.

Troy Tulowitzki was the guilty party on Wednesday as he tried to go from first to second base on an overthrow. Anyone watching the game knew that Tulo had little to no chance of making it to second base in time. At that point the Rockies were down three runs and in desperate need of base runners and Tulowitzki's run would only get them one run closer. He wouldn't tie the game or win it. He should have stayed on first base and waited for another base hit to move him over.

The next couple of days will be filled with something new for Rockies fans. There won't be questions of Ubaldo Jimenez and his chances of winning 30 games, there won't be questions of if the Rockies can catch the Padres. There will, instead, be questions of who will be dealt and who will remain with the club.

To say the least, coming to that conclusion this early in 2010 is a huge disappointment.

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Downfall of the Rockies: Sloppy Play

About four hours after their closer was taken off the field in an ambulance due to a batting practice line drive to the lower abdomen, the Rockies playoff chances took their own shot to the groin.

Coming home was supposed to be a relief. After all, the Rockies finished a home stand 8-2 before heading into the All-Star break. The ability to win at home was a welcomed sight after a 2-9 road trip essentially derailed their playoff hopes.

In as much of a must-win game as there can be in July, the Rockies played with little passion, failing in nearly every situation, and losing to a lowly Pirates team 4-2.

The biggest gut-wrenching move came in the 8th inning when Ryan Spilborghs led off with a double to deep left field. The Rockies had just seen their deficit move from one run to two the previous inning, making Spilborghs double very important.

Instead of being content with a double, however, Spilborghs tried to stretch it to a triple, and was thrown out by a foot at third base for the first out.

The move goes against everything that players are taught from the first day they take the field. Never make the first or third out at third base. The reason is because with no one out, the odds are very good that a runner at second base will score before the end of the inning.

The decision was especially gut-wrenching because of the two-run deficit. Spilborghs run essentially meant nothing. He needed to be on base so that if a player were to homer, the game would be tied. Instead, it changed the course of the inning--which saw the Rockies two best hitters in Troy Tulowitzki and Carlos Gonzalez go down immediately after Spilborghs blunder.

If the play looked familiar it is because on Saturday in Philadelphia, with the Rockies down six runs and in desperate need of base runners, Dexter Fowler made the exact same mistake.

The blunder highlights a deeper issue that has been plaguing the Colorado Rockies for their entire 2010 campaign... Sloppiness.

From the get-go the Rockies, long known for their little league-like emphasis on fundamentals in spring training, have looked more like an undisciplined group of rec league baseball players than a finely-tuned Major League team.

Bad defense has cost the Rockies several games. Going back all the way to the beginning of the season when Jim Tracy continued to choose to use Melvin Mora at second base on the same days he used Jason Giambi at first. The lineup was commonplace when Aaron Cook, at one point a phenomenal sinker ball pitcher, on the mound.

Errors haunted Ubaldo Jimenez in his start in Florida, a mental error from Rafael Betancourt haunted the Rockies in the finale in Philadelphia, and another mental error potentially cost the Rockies the game on Tuesday night against an awful Pirates team,

While the Rockies flirted with contention, the fact is, they have yet to hit on all cylinders yet in 2010. That is because they play an undisciplined brand of baseball that hopes for wins instead of playing disciplined, with a sense of accountability that makes a team play as a group instead of a bunch of individuals.

The Rockies have finally fell to where they belong. They may have the talent to win the National League West, but they do not have the discipline to do it. They continue to make the same mistakes over and over and over again. At some point they have to learn from their mistakes, or deal with the consequences of making them.

In this case, the consequences are finishing in fourth place in a very winnable National League West race.

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Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Are the Rockies done?

It is safe to say that this has been a tough week to be a Rockies fan.

Less than two weeks ago, the Rockies were poised to head into the All-Star break tied for first in the National League West. When the Rockies open their eight-game home stand on Tuesday night, they will find themselves eight games out of first place.

A horrible road trip, the longest of the season, saw the Rockies go 2-9. It was a trip that has long been seen as a hurdle for the Rockies to overcome. The heat and the humidity of Cincinnati, Florida and Philadelphia is tough for any player to play in. The Rockies, however, seemed to whither away in the elements.

The debate is whether or not this was the worst road trip in franchise history. With all due respect to the 1-9 road trip the featured four Brian Fuentes blown saves just prior to the All-Star break in 2007, this one takes the cake.

This road trip featured two walk off wins, three losses in which the Rockies had at least the tying run at the plate, and four come-from-behind victories by the opponent.

In fact, if the Rockies opponent scored at all in any of the games, they won. The Rockies only two victories were a 1-0 shutout of the Reds, one of the few strong performances by Aaron Cook all season, and a 10-0 victory over the Marlins in which Jeff Francis stated his case for staying in the rotation.

Those facts alone make it the worst road trip in franchise history, but because it happened to come on the heels of such an incredible home stand makes it that much more difficult to swallow.

So at eight games back, are the Rockies done?

The answer is not quite as easy as saying yes or no. Not at this point anyway.

However, it will be much easier to answer that question by the end of the weekend.

The Rockies begin a stretch of eight games at home. Six of them coming against teams that they are far superior to. The Pirates come to town starting on Tuesday for three games followed by Lou Piniella's last Coors Field stand with the Cubs. The reality is, the Rockies cannot afford to continue playing mediocre baseball. They rode the roller coaster all through April and May with the idea that they would hit on all cylinders after that. They did. Until they hit this road trip.

If the Rockies wave goodbye to the Cubs on Sunday afternoon and they have won less than four out of the six games, they may as well start planning for Spring Training in 2011.

Eight games in and of itself is not impossible to erase. However, the Rockies currently sit in fourth place in the National League West. That means that even when they gain a game or two on the division-leading Padres, they are most likely simply staying even with one of the other two teams ahead of them. Catching three teams ahead in the standings with just 60 games to go is extremely difficult.

If, however, the Rockies find a way to sweep one of their opponents, then take two-of-three from the other, then win the two game set against the Giants, it is not completely inconceivable to see them back in third, or possibly even second place in the West. That would put them squarely back in the thick of things and looking for their chance to overtake the Padres.

The fact remains however, that it is imperative for the Rockies to stop giving away games like they did on this road trip. They must find a way to put it all together for the remaining regular season games. They have played themselves into a situation where they simply cannot afford to not play their best baseball. They must bring their "A" game to the field each and every single night.

If they falter for even a week, they may find themselves as just another talented team who never figured it all out.

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Sunday, July 25, 2010

Underdog a role Rockies embrace too much

Aaron Cook said it best on Friday night after the Rockies 5-0 loss to Roy Halladay and the Phillies.

"We have run into some good pitching," said Cook. "That happens sometimes in baseball."

That pretty much sums up where the Colorado Rockies currently sit as an organization. The Rockies are a talented bunch, there is little doubt about that. They have the talent to be a great team. However, they don't believe that they can be winners.

Despite making the playoffs in two of the last three years, the Rockies seem to embrace the underdog role. Despite being picked by many of the experts to return to the playoffs for the third time in four years, the Rockies seem to talk and play as if they are the league's little brother.

Cook's statement may be true. The Rockies have in fact ran into some very good pitching. However, so have the Marlins and Phillies. Both of those clubs were not intimidated when they faced All-Star game starter Ubaldo Jimenez. They both made sure to bring their best game. On Sunday, the Phillies were not intimidated by Jeff Francis, who owned them in the 2007 playoffs and was coming off a seven inning shutout of the Marlins.

The problem with always being the underdog is that it makes it alright to fail. When the team isn't the favorite, winning is a benefit, it is not expected.

That makes it easy for the Rockies to fail. If they don't go out and win on the road, they can use the underdog excuse.

If the club ever wants to be a true contender they need to recreate the way people around baseball view the Colorado Rockies. Instead of being the team that consistently lost 85-90 games in the early 2000's, the Rockies of 2010 need to embrace their success and view themselves as a team that expects to be in the playoffs, not a team that surprises everyone by playing in October.

When they face teams like the Phillies and starting pitchers like Josh Johnson and Roy Halladay they need to quit being intimidated. They need to know that runs will be hard to come by, but that they have good enough pitching that if they are able to scratch out a couple of runs, they might just be able to win that ball game.

Instead, these Rockies play intimidated and hope for better results the next day. Playing baseball like that will continue to keep the Rockies on the second tier of the games best teams.

The thing that is frustrating about it for Rockies fans is that the team seems to be turning that corner. They nearly swept the Red Sox at home, then swept the Cardinals in a drama-filled series before the All-Star break. Shades of the team that the Rockies are on paper finally started to show up.

However, as quickly as the Rockies seemed to be reaching their potential, they quickly reverted back to their second-class ways. They become a different team on the road and they play as if they are the junior varsity team hoping to squeak by the varsity team and celebrate a huge upset.

It is still July, and there is plenty of baseball left to be played. However, if the Rockies do not figure out how to become a team that expects to win every night, than they will continue riding the roller coaster that they have been on for the entire 2010 season.

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Nightmare Continues for Rockies in Philadelphia

Ugly. Disgusting. Sickening.

Those are just a few of the words that can describe a Rockies team that ran into the All-Star break at the exact wrong time. The team that took the field before the break looks nothing like the team that is dawning purple after it.

Blame it on being on the road. Blame it on running into some pretty good pitching. Heck, Jim Tracy blamed it on the heat and humidity in the pre-game show. Regardless, there has to be some sort of excuse for this team playing as bad as it has for over a week now.

Stop the engraving, not even once-certain Cy Young winner Ubaldo Jimenez is immune to the Rockies struggles. In fact, he may be the poster boy for a team that seemed headed in the right direction that is suddenly looking more like the Rockies of the early 2000's rather than the late.

Saturday, in their first nationally televised game since April of '09, the Rockies confirmed to the executives at Fox why they should be put back on the forgotten about list. The Rockies, it seemed, never showed up. Ubaldo Jimenez was the only Rockie at the park, so the Phillies just decided to take batting practice and asked the All-Star game starter to throw it to them. He obliged.

After the brutality was complete, the Rockies went home with another loss, this time it was 10-2. The Rockies made Kyle Kendrick, recently recalled from Triple-A look like the newest version of Roy Halladay.

Not that it mattered, the Phillies looked like an offensive team that had their binoculars back, seemingly knowing every pitch before it was thrown.

The Phillies represent what the Rockies are not. They believe that they are good. They know that they can win games, and they take advantage of mistakes. That is what teams who go to the World Series do. Teams that hope to contend, like the Rockies, go on the field and hope for a win. The Phillies figure out how to make it happen.

This road trip may be a deal breaker for the Rockies, who continue to lose ground not only to the Padres, but also to the Giants and Dodgers. Catching one team is hard enough, three is nearly impossible.

If the Rockies do not make the playoffs, the can look back at this road trip as the culprit. They haven't hit, they haven't pitched, they haven't played defense, and they haven't played with a killer instinct. They haven't played baseball the way a team who goes to the playoffs plays. They have played like the underdog who just hopes that they catch a break. When that break doesn't come, they hang their heads and hope for better luck down the road.

If the Rockies want to play in the postseason, they must not play around .500 baseball, they must continue to elevate beyond that mark. They have a chance to prove they can play with the best, but they continue to blow those chances.

They get another shot on Sunday. Rockies fans can only hope for the best.

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Friday, July 23, 2010

Rockies Need To Cook Up a Roster Move

The Colorado Rockies continued their crash and burn tour on Friday night.

This time the road took them to Philadelphia, home to the two-time defending National League champions and their newly acquired ace Roy Halladay.

The Rockies were shutout 6-0 on Friday night, which wasn't a surprise based on the pitching matchup.

No team has ever won a baseball game when they scored zero runs. It has never happened and it never will happen. However, Rockies starting pitcher Aaron Cook showed why this game was essentially put in the loss column before it was ever played.

Despite seven innings of shutout baseball on Sunday, Aaron Cook has gone beyond having a rough stretch so far in 2010. The redhead has managed to pick up just four wins on the season. Only one of those have come on the road.

On Friday night, the box score may show that Cook had just one bad inning, but that does not tell the whole story. Cook was able to wiggle out of trouble in both the second and the fourth innings. He did not have a clean inning and the Phillies were hitting the ball hard, and in the air all night long.

The problem for the Rockies is that they are in no position to hope Cook turns it around. In 2009, Cook started out slow, but was able to return to form. That gave the Rockies hope that he would do the same after starting out slow in 2010. At this point, that hope is turning out to be false hope.

The Rockies, now 5-1/2 games out of first place in the National League West race, cannot afford to wait around for their former All-Star to turn his season around. July is about to turn to August, and Cook pitching anywhere, let alone on the road, is beginning to spell disaster for the Rockies.

So should the Rockies trade Cook? Good luck with that. The right hander is scheduled to earn $10.083 million in 2011 and a buyout of another half million dollars. Right now the Astros are desperately trying to offload Roy Oswalt, a pitcher who would be an instant ace on at least half of the teams in the league. The only reason that he hasn't been dealt is because he is insisting that for him to waive his no-trade clause, the team he goes to will need to pick up his $16 million option for 2011.

If a team won't pick up $16 million for Oswalt, there is not even a small chance a team would pick up over $10 million for a struggling Cook.

Despite not being able to trade the ineffective starter, the Rockies must find a way to get him out of the rotation. Sending him to the minors is not an option, they would have to designate him for assignment and hope that no other team picked him up for the Major League minimum with the Rockies paying the rest. That would certainly happen.

What the Rockies need to do is to find a "nagging injury" that Cook is feeling. That will allow them to move Jhoulys Chacin back into the rotation where he was finding his legs before being thrown back into the bullpen, where he clearly does not belong.

The move would also allow Taylor Buchholz to return from injury without sending Chacin back to the minors.

Cook could then go on a rehab assignment and try to figure out why he can't pitch the way that he was just two seasons ago. Hopefully taking a little bit of pressure off of the veteran would allow him to regain his form and return in September when the roster expands from 25 to 40.

Regardless, the Rockies need to figure something out with their rotation. Making the playoffs is not an option when Ubaldo Jimenez can only pitch once every fifth day. The fact is, Chacin was the third best pitcher in the Rockies rotation before Jorge De La Rosa forced him to move back to the bullpen.

If the Rockies don't figure out a way to patch a decent rotation together, they have better slug their way to the National League West title, because they aren't going to win pitcher's duals.

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Thursday, July 22, 2010

Rockies squander chances, lose series to Marlins

The Rockies were in a good spot. They had chased Josh Johnson from the game and had runners on first and third with only one out in the 7th inning.

As has been the case far too often in 2010, the Rockies failed to tie the game, despite a Seth Smith bullet up the middle with the bases loaded that was snagged by Marlins reliever Jose Veras.

The Rockies did get the tying run home in the 8th inning when Jason Giambi plated Jonathan Herrera on a single to center field. The Rockies then got the next two batters on base. With no one out, Ian Stewart, who had homered earlier in the game, hit into a rally-killing double play.

The situation screamed bunt. But with Stewart swinging a hot bat, bunting seemed like telling John Elway to hand the ball off in the fourth quarter.

It could have been a good end to an otherwise disappointing four-game set in Florida, but Jhoulys Chacin, flailing in his bullpen role, gave up a quick triple to Emilio Bonifacio. After walking the next two hitters to load the bases, Chacin gave up a quick base hit to Ronnie Paulino to give the Marlins their second walk-off victory of the series.

The Rockies road does not get any easier. They head to Philadelphia to play the two-time defending NL Champions, who will begin the series with Roy Halladay on the mound. The Rockies fared as well as could be expected against Josh Johnson, but that does not mean they will light up the scoreboard against the Colorado native.

The Rockies are in desperate need of at least a series split in Philadelphia. Losing three of four, or worse, getting swept could be devastating to a team that has just started to show its true potential.

On the flip side, if the Rockies can find a way to squeak out a win on Friday night, it would put them in a good position to try and win the series. After all the struggles, if the Rockies take three-of-four in Philadelphia, they will come home from the longest road trip of the season with a 5-6 record, something that cannot be complained about considering the pitching that the club faced.

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Tough Road Ahead For Rockies

Ricky Nolasco is not an easy pitcher to beat.

For the Rockies, however, winning on Wednesday night was a big deal. The reason? Starting on Thursday the Rockies face Josh Johnson, then Roy Halladay in Philadelphia on Friday, and there is a strong possibility that the club will be facing Roy Oswalt on Saturday.

All indications are pointing to the fact that the Phillies will acquire Oswalt in the next day or two and have him on the mound on Saturday.

Facing those three in order is the equivalent of facing a firing squad. Getting out alive is not a very realistic possibility.

Revert back to Wednesday and it Jason Hammel giving up five runs in the first two innings becomes an even bigger deal. The Rockies could play well and go into Sunday on a four-game losing streak. With the Padres refusing to lose and two teams in the Dodgers and Giants who will be in the thick of things at the end, could prove disastrous for the Rockies.

On Wednesday the Rockies were one Cody Ross catch away from stealing another victory. However, the center fielder caught Jason Giambi's blast that would have been a home run in nearly every other park in the league. Although the Rockies had the tying run at the plate in the 9th inning, Ross's catch essentially sealed the game for the Marlins.

What do the Rockies do? The only thing that they can do is have confidence that they are a good hitting team and when they get a pitch to hit, they need to drive the ball. With both Johnson and Halladay, they should not have to worry about working the counts. Both of those guys pound the strike zone with both their fastballs and their off speed pitches.

Somehow the Rockies need to find a way to scratch out at least one victory against the two pitchers that they are definitely going to be facing. From there they need to hope that complications come up in the Oswalt deal and require the Phillies and Astros to wait until after the weekend to finalize the deal.

It would seem that at some point the Padres are going to have a setback. Everyone is waiting for them to go away, but teams in first place can be a fluke in April or May, but first place teams in July and August are anything but a fluke. The Padres are a good team. If it were just the Padres, not being successful in the next few days may not be a horrible thing. However, with the Giants and Dodgers lurking, getting behind three teams may spell doom for a Rockies team that has the talent to win their first-ever division title.

This is an important stretch of games for the Rockies. They must find a way to play well, or it could be extremely costly.

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Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Francis puts his foot down, Rockies shut out Marlins

Jeff Francis reminded the Rockies of what they had in 2007.

After four mediocre starts in a row, the lefty was on the verge of losing his rotation spot. Instead of giving in to the pressure, Francis put his foot down. He threw seven shutout innings, giving up just three hits. He struck out seven Marlin batters while not giving up any free passes.

The start does not lift Francis from the hot seat. With Jhoulys Chacin waiting in the wings, Francis will have to prove that the poor starts were the fluke, and not this one.

While Francis may still have something to prove to the Rockies, the start goes a long way to show that the club still has talent all the way through their team. It was easy to wonder whether Francis might be on the downside of his career after a shoulder surgery that kept him out the entire 2009 season.

The fact is, Francis will never again be the pitcher that was the ace of a team that found itself in the World Series. No one in the Rockies organization was hoping for that. What everyone associated with the Rockies was hoping for, however, was that Francis would have some resemblance of the pitcher that he once was.

His start on Tuesday night goes a long way to prove that he still has what it takes to be a Major League starter.

Francis' outing was helped by an explosive offense. Melvin Mora, inserted in the starting lineup in left field because the Rockies were facing a lefty in Nate Robertson.

Mora made Jim Tracy look like a genius, 3-for-5 with a double and his second home run of the season. He drove in a season-high five runs.

The win puts the heart breaker from Monday night out of mind. It was a continuation of what the Rockies were doing before the All-Star break. It was another win that showed how deep the Rockies are. Tracy can throw Mora, essentially the 2010 version of Omar Quintanilla, in to the game in left field and get a five RBI performance.

The Rockies are now 2-3 on their season-long 11 game road trip. With six games to go, the Rockies still have to face both Josh Johnson and Roy Halladay. It goes without saying that if the Rockies can manage to take one of those games, and then find a way to win two other games somewhere in the remaining games, they will come home after a successful road trip.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Walk off loss represents Rockies season

Donnie Murphy ended what looked like the Rockies first late inning win after the All-Star break. He launched a two-run walk off home run to right-center field to give the Marlins a 9-8 victory.

After booting a routine ground ball double play that resulted in a three run inning, Jonathan Herrera redeemed himself in the top of the 8th inning, stroking his first career home run to the seats in right field to give the Rockies a one-run cushion.

Rafael Betancourt was flawless in the bottom half of the 8th inning, but after getting two quick outs in the 9th, Huston Street chose to pitch carefully to Marlins second baseman Dan Uggla. Uggla leads the Marlins in home runs and Street did not want him tying the game up, especially with a career minor leaguer on deck behind him.

With Uggla on first after a semi-intentional pass, Murphy, in just his fifth plate appearance in the big leagues since 2008, took Street deep to end the game.

The loss is a tough one to take. Especially considering ace Ubaldo Jimenez was on the mound to start the game and looked to be sharp. Without the error on Herrera, Jimenez cruises out of the first three innings with less than 30 pitches. Instead, the Marlins walk to the dugout with a three-spot and a one-run lead.

With the game nearly cinched up, Street made a huge mistake. Instead of pounding the strike zone and getting Uggla, a big swing and miss bat, to wave at a few sliders, Street clearly wanted to pass on the challenge and take his shot at the youngster.

The move makes some sense. Uggla is an All-Star who can drive the ball and Street did not want him to tie the game up when he had a young kid who had just been in Triple-A waiting on deck to make the third out. However, putting the tying run on base is usually not a good idea.

For the Rockies, they seem to have success when they play with a swagger. They must play like they could care less who is on the mound for the opposing team, who is in the on deck circle and when they quit worrying about what could go wrong. They start to lose when they try to get the matchups that they want and try to force the game.

While Uggla is a good hitter, he does not deserve Barry Bonds treatment. He does not deserve to be treated like if Street were to put anything anywhere near the zone the game would be tied up, regardless of who is in the on-deck circle.

Hindsight is 20/20, maybe Uggla smacks a game-tying home run. However, the odds would point to the fact that he is much more likely to hit a ground ball to an infielder, or strike out than he is to hit a home run. Especially when Huston Street has his good stuff.

The game itself was not one that the Rockies were supposed to win. They played ugly, something that is starting to overshadow the bright spots. Two errors put them in a very bad spot, and poor clutch hitting kept them from winning the game.

Despite scoring eight runs, Colorado looks like someone forgot to tell them that the All-Star break was only three days long. They look like the shell of the team that won eight of their final 10 games before the break. They are not playing with the same type of swagger.

If they want to keep up with the Padres, who do not seem to be fading away, they need to stop giving games away. If they don't, they will finish somewhere in the middle of the pack in the crowded National League West race and watch the playoffs at home, wondering what went wrong.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Cook steps it up, Rockies avoid sweep

Home is a good place for Rockies pitcher Aaron Cook.

The hometown pitcher finally looked like the pitcher that represented the Rockies in the All-Star game in 2008. He pitched seven innings, shutting out the Reds on six hits. He struck out five and his only walk was intentional.

It has been well documented that Cook has struggled on the road. Until Sunday, he had failed to win a game away from Coors Field since August of 2009.

Maybe he just needed to be in his other home. Cook pitched in front of his family and friends, who made the short 20 minute drive from his hometown of Hamilton to watch him pitch.

Cook was successful because he utilized his sinker more than his four-seamed fastball and curveball. The righty spent the entire first half of the season trying to reinvent himself. It almost seemed as if Cook was trying to prove to himself that he could be a power pitcher. The only thing that he proved was that he is ineffective if he is not relying heavily on his sinker.

Cook was helped out by catcher Chris Iannetta, who launched a two-out, two-strike pitch into the seats in left field to get the Rockies on the board.

With the Rockies up 1-0 in the 9th inning, Huston Street looked like he might falter for the first time in a save opportunity since returning from the disabled list. After getting a quick strikeout, Drew Stubbs poked a slider into center field. Ryan Hanigan then lined a pitch to center field to put the tying run at third with just one out.

Street, however, was able to strike out both Chris Heisey and Brandon Phillips to send the Rockies to Florida with the win.

The win is encouraging for the Rockies. Two guys whose early season performances left the Rockies looking for something more stepped up and helped the team pick up a big win.

If the club wants to be in the postseason again, they are going to need all of their players at full strength, not only physically, but mentally. It seems that both Cook and Iannetta are gaining their confidence on the field. If they are able to be consistent, the Rockies will be able to steal a few more games in the second half of the season.

The road trip does not get any easier, as the club faces both Josh Johnson in Florida and Roy Halladay in Philadelphia. If the Rockies are able to make this road trip a good one, it will go a long way for putting them into position to get to the playoffs.

For more on the Rockies visit RockiesReview.com

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