Thursday, September 30, 2010

Colorado Rockies go through the motions, lose in St. Louis

When the 2010 season began, very few people thought that the Rockies would be looking forward to the 2011 season by the end of September. However, they find themselves in that position in their final series of the season in St. Louis.

Fans talk has already turned to the 2011 campaign and who the Rockies will get, or keep in the offseason. The current Rockies have given the fans nothing to continue talking about with their current play. On Thursday night in St. Louis, the Rockies looked like they were in spring training mode against Chris Carpenter, who pitched a complete game in the Cardinals 6-1 victory.

The Rockies marched Jason Hammel out to the mound, and he continued his struggles. He made it only through three innings, giving up five runs on eight hits. He had no walks and only one strikeout.

The question for the Rockies is simple. Why would Hammel be on the mound when he made it very clear that he was suffering from a dead arm and he has been struggling throughout the month of September?

Were the Rockies hoping that Hammel could string together a few decent starts down the stretch? Even if they thought he would could patch together a decent start last Saturday against the Giants, why would the Rockies still have him pitch in a completely meaningless game against the Cardinals?

The Rockies easily could have simply gone to Samuel Deduno, a September call up, to get his first Major League start. Very similarly to what the club did by giving Ubaldo Jimenez a start in late September of 2006. Why not kill two birds with one stone? It would give the Rockies a long look at a guy who has shown promise, Deduno was named the Texas League pitcher of the year in 2009. The other thing it would do is allow Hammel to be shut down and get an early start at some offseason rest.

Regardless, the Rockies are out of the race and the mood seems to be more about playing the regular season out and looking forward to spending time doing something other than playing baseball.

It would be nice, however, if the Rockies would find a way to bring their "A" game to field on Saturday when Ubaldo Jimenez goes for win no. 20.

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Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Coors Field finale perfectly sums up Colorado Rockies season

The Colorado Rockies lost to the Los Angeles Dodgers in their home finale on Wednesday 7-6.

The one run loss summed up the Colorado season perfectly.

Once again, the Rockies lost the game, the Dodgers didn't win it. With four games remaining in the season, it is easy to look back and see how many opportunities the Rockies had in 2010 and failed to take advantage. On top of that, it is hard to count the number of times the Rockies played themselves out of games.

The extent of the damage the Rockies did to themselves is perfectly summed up by Jhoulys Chacin's line. The 22-year old gave up seven runs on four hits in five innings. He walked three and struck out seven. Then comes the shocker--only two of the seven runs he gave up were earned.

An Ian Stewart error in the third inning allowed Matt Kemp to come to the plate with the bases loaded. Kemp, doing what he does best at Coors Field, deposited the 3-1 pitch into the right field stands for a grand slam.

Later, Miguel Olivo had Trent Oeltjen out by close to 20 feet on a poorly attempted stolen base. However, Olivo airmailed the throw into center field, allowing Oeltjen to take second base, and eventually score.

Stewart, with a chance to make up for the error, came up with the bases loaded in the bottom of the 5th inning. Stewart promptly struck out, ending the threat.

At this point in the season, it is easy to look at Stewart as one of the major frustrations with the Rockies. Despite being extremely talented, Stewart failed to take the next step forward. Whether that was Don Baylor's fault, Jim Tracy's fault, or Stewart's perceived lack of effort, the results are the same, disappointing.

Call it coincidence, but it is hard to ignore the fact that the Rockies season finally turned the corner when Stewart found himself on the bench with a rib cage injury.

Melvin Mora, signed because he brings a veteran presence to the club and the ability to take a great at bat, showed exactly what the Rockies missed in 2010. Throughout the whole season, Stewart never was able to take good at-bats. Even when he was hitting well it seemed like he was simply getting hits when he was behind in the count. All too often he would find himself letting the fastball go by, only to wave at the slider.

Simply put, the 2011 Rockies absolutely need a better year from Stewart. He may never be a .300 hitter, but he must find a way to hit in the neighborhood of .285 with 25 home runs. Even more importantly, Stewart must find a way to reduce the 106 strikeouts through 376 at-bats that he is currently sporting.

The frustration with Stewart is that he can hit the ball a country mile. He possesses all of the talent required to be not just a good player in the big leagues, but potentially an All-Star. His defense shows flashes of brilliance, as does his bat, but more often than not, he simply looks like he wishes he was somewhere else. That may come with age, but the fact is, Stewart has one more year to prove that he is going to cut it in the big leagues or it may be time to acknowledge that his ceiling might not be as high as everyone expected.

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Why the Helton Hate from Colorado Rockies fans?

The Rockies continued their downward spiral on Tuesday, losing to the Dodgers 9-7 at Coors Field. The club showed some fight, but in the end, were upended by the Dodgers, and, for the first time since Jim Tracy took over as manager, lost a homestand.

Since the Rockies are out of the race in the final week of the season, the biggest news came from Troy Renck of the Denver Post. He spoke to Todd Helton and confirmed that he has no plans of retiring and that he will be back with the club next season.

Helton announcing the he will be back is not a huge breaking news story--he signed a two-year extension just seven months ago--however, the response is what is ridiculous.

While anyone who follows the Rockies knows that going to the Denver Post's comments section is one sure way to dumb yourself down, the reaction to the news is somewhat troubling. The fact is, it's not just the Denver Post comment sections either. Take a listen at Coors Field and hear the grumblings directed at Helton.

To be fair, Helton's numbers have dropped significantly from his hay-day. After a 2-for-4 night on Tuesday, Helton is still hitting just .260. He has eight home runs and 36 RBIs. Are those numbers good? No, not even close to good. However, are they really that bad either?

In my experience, what I have found is the first reason everyone wants to see the Helton ship take its last voyage is simple. He makes too much money. The first thing that everyone points to is that he is making $16.6 million in 2010 and that his stats do not justify that kind of money.

The problem with that argument is that it assumes that a player has to earn the contract that he was given after it was given to him. The fact is, Helton might not be earning his contract currently but he earned it before he signed the deal. Ownership and the front office, way back in 1999, saw what a special player Helton was and decided to lock him down.

In the middle of Helton proving that he was worth every single penny that the franchise gave him, most fans who are complaining at this time were busy complaining about how badly the Rockies performed on the field, and frankly, didn't pay enough attention to realize that they were missing out on a legend playing first base at one of the most beautiful ballparks in baseball.

While sports talk stations were busy ranting and raving about the Broncos Super Bowl probabilities from the minute the draft commenced until the Broncos pulled into their all-too-familiar 8-8 run-of-the-mill record, everyone was ripping on the Rockies and missing the spectacular play of one of the best in the game.

Did Helton earn his contract? Does anyone deserve $16.6 million per year? If there is someone who does, it is Helton. Think about this; in 2000, a year in which Helton finished fifth in the MVP race, he hit .353 with 15 home runs, 59 RBIs, and 31 doubles...on the road. Who remembers that? Very few of the fans who are pushing him out the door in 2010.

Is Helton the same player that he was 10 years ago? Of course not. Who is? However, the fact that he signed on the dotted line at the right time should not be held against him, especially considering he never packed it in after he signed his big deal, he continued to reward the franchise, and their few loyal fans, with high-quality baseball.

The other argument that is always thrown around when ripping on Helton is that at a corner infield position, the Rockies simply need more power.

Of course in baseball, people try to project numbers onto certain positions. For example, first and third basemen are supposed to be power guys, hit in the middle of the order and drive in a ton of runs. Same with left and right field. The guys up the middle, shortstops, second baseman and center fielders are supposed to be defensive-minded, while hitting for decent average and little power.

So, when Helton has just eight home runs with six games to go in what has become a disappointing 2010, everyone is quick to say that the Rockies simply cannot have a lack of production from such an important position on the diamond.

The response to that, however, is why does it matter what defensive positions are producing at the plate? Does it count for more runs when a first baseman hits home runs than it does when a shortstop does? Of course not. So if the Rockies shortstop is hitting like a typical first baseman does, while the first baseman is hitting the way a typical shortstop does, what does it matter? The two wash each other out.

The other argument that Helton haters make is that Jason Giambi should be out there everyday, since he can still hit for power. The problem with that argument is that it flies in the face of the reason that fan is disappointed with Helton. Giambi is hitting .246 in 2010, 16 points lower than Helton. While Giambi has six home runs in far fewer at-bats, it is easy to forget that Giambi also has two extra years on Helton. If Giambi was playing everyday it is safe to assume that his body would not be anywhere close to as fresh as it is coming off of the bench one in every five days. His numbers would almost certainly suffer playing every day.

Helton critics are also quick to forget about his defensive play. With all due respect to Troy Tulowitzki, who is an amazing defender, the shortstop would have at least 10 more errors on the season if not for Helton's defense.

How many times does Helton make a jumping catch-and-tag to get a runner going to first base? How many times does Helton pick a ball out of the dirt to record an out? His defense at first base is far superior to Giambi's, and is still better than most first basemen in the league.

Helton's numbers at the plate have dropped, there is no denying that. However, so has his responsibilities of being the guy who carries the team on his shoulders. That torch has long-since been passed on to Tulowitzki. Hitting sixth in the lineup, playing great defense, and hitting a respectable .260 is nothing to be complaining about.

The Helton hate has become a little ridiculous.

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Monday, September 27, 2010

Colorado Rockies remove all doubt

The Colorado Rockies easily could have spent this whole week making up scenarios that most likely weren't going to happen.

They could have talked about how if only the Padres, Giants and Braves would go on to lose all of their games, and the Rockies won all of theirs, then...well, of course, the Rockies are still alive.

On Monday night at Coors Field, with their ace Ubaldo Jimenez on the mound looking for his 20th win of the season, the Rockies removed all doubt, losing to the lowly Dodgers 3-1.

Jimenez looked to be back on track, save a bad first inning that he nearly got out of. He went seven innings, giving up just the two first inning runs. He struck out six and walked out four. He has one more chance to pick up his 20th win, on Saturday in St. Louis.

The Rockies were owned by Ted Lilly, for the third time in 2010. Whether he is a Cub or a Dodger, one thing never seems to change, he owns the Rockies. Besides a Carlos Gonzalez monster home run to deep center field, Lilly was nearly untouchable.

For the Rockies, the offseason is essentially here. They are already making decisions that are leading into the winter. Jason Giambi has been shutdown with sore biceps from his swing on Sunday. If the Rockies were actually still in the playoff race, he most likely would be available.

Is it a disappointment that the Rockies did not make the playoffs in 2010? Of course. Dan O'Dowd and the front office put together a team that was more talented than any team in the history of the franchise. The Rockies looked stacked from top to bottom. The talent was there, but the results took too long to come around.

Despite the season being a disappointment, there are several reasons why Rockies fans should not be completely upset with their team. Despite losing Troy Tulowitzki missing 33 games with a broken wrist in the middle of the season, the Rockies were still in the race in the middle of September.

Despite losing their top left-handed pitcher in Jorge De La Rosa for nearly one-third of the season, the Rockies were able to hang around late into the race.

The progression of Jhoulys Chacin has been more than encouraging. Ubaldo Jimenez, despite regressing in the second half, showed how good he can be. For the first time in their history, the Rockies have a starter who is one of the best in the league.

The Rockies may not be in the playoffs, but the franchise and their fans still have quite a bit to be encouraged about. This team was not thrown together to give them one chance at winning a championship. This team has been built to compete for the long term. They may have fallen short in 2010, but all signs are pointing to this team being very competitive for many years to come.

Five years ago, the rallying cry for Rockies fans was not for a World Series title, it wasn't even for the playoffs, it was for meaningful games in September. Well, Rockies fans got what they wished for. This team is that and much, much more.

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Sunday, September 26, 2010

Matt Cain ends Colorado Rockies playoff chances

The lesson was nothing new for the Rockies. Matt Cain and Tim Lincecum are very tough to hit. They are a huge reason why the Giants are leading the National League West despite having nothing more than an average Major League lineup.

The Rockies were reminded of how good Cain actually is on Sunday as they dropped the rubber match of a three game set that was essentially a must-win for the Rockies 4-2.

In true Colorado Rockies fashion, the club made a late game run, despite being dominated by the Giants righty all day long. Melvin Mora blasted a two run homer two batters after Jay Payton broke up Cain's no-hit bid with one out in the 8th inning. It wasn't enough, however, as the Rockies couldn't beat Cain again in the 9th.

Once again, it was an example not of how losing in September can be costly, but rather how playing from behind in the standings late in the year is a risky proposition.

Count on the fact that everyone in the Rockies clubhouse knows that the idea of winning out in September is not the best strategy to get into the playoffs. However, after late season runs in both 2007 and 2009, there clearly is a mentality in the clubhouse that it is never too late to come from behind.

That is a good mentality for a club to have because it proves that they will never quit. They could be 11 games out of the race, as they were in late August, and still believe that they have a chance to go to the playoffs.

The other side of that coin, however, is a dark one. It also makes the club lose their sense of urgency. Instead of feeling like they needed to win very important games way back in July and August, the Rockies played as if they had all the time in the world to make a run. That mentality contributes to a lackluster mentality, and a feeling on the road of simply getting through road trips instead of winning as many games as they can.

The Rockies are, for all intents and purposes, out of the race. They could win all of their games and still fall well short of the playoffs. They need two teams to essentially run out of gas to have any chance at the postseason.

It is always a difficult thing to realize that a team that is as talented as these Rockies are to fall short and see the final seven games of the year be completely meaningless. The fact is, if the Rockies played to their potential, they would have won the west by four games. Instead, they are making plans for vacations in October instead of postseason plans.

The Rockies still have quite a bit to look forward to. A new spring training home in the Phoenix metro area should go a long way for the Rockies having a better start to their season. Instead of seeing Triple-A pitchers and having starters like Troy Tulowitzki and Todd Helton rarely making long bus rides to play in games, the club should have their full squad available most of the spring.

The core of the Rockies will still be playing at Coors Field in 2011. Carlos Gonzalez and Troy Tulowitzki will be back to lead the charge and only there will only be a few free agent decisions that have to be made.

The Rockies have a bright future. While 2010 was not as bright as the franchise was hoping for, it was a year full of lessons learned and maturing.

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Tulo-git to quit: Colorado Rockies win a wild one behind Tulowitzki

If the Colorado Rockies are out of the race, someone forgot to tell the players.

On Saturday, Troy Tulowitzki gave the Rockies the victory on a double to left-center field that scored Carlos Gonzalez all the way from first base in the 10th inning. The Rockies won 10-9.

Tulowitzki's hit came after he tied the game up with a double in the 8th inning off of Giants closer Brian Wilson. That hit came after Tulo gave the Rockies a 6-4 lead in the 5th inning with a two run home run to left field.

The five-RBI night for Tulowitzki gives him 40 for the month of September. That is three shy of a Major League record set by some guy named Babe Ruth in 1927. He also now has 15 home runs in the month, which is also a Rockies record and ties him for the most in September. The most ever hit in a single month came in 1998 when Sammy Sosa clubbed 20.

While it may have seemed like Tulowitzki did it all by himself on Saturday, the truth is, he had quite a bit of help from Gonzalez. The outfielder was nothing short of phenomenal. He went 3-for-6 with a triple and a RBI to set the table for Tulowitzki. He also showed why he is the definition of a five-tool player when he laid out to catch a Buster Posey line drive destined for the gap in the 6th inning. The catch was nothing short of incredible, Gonzalez caught the ball fully extended and three feet off of the grass. Just to get to the ball was impressive enough, but the catch caused the outfield stands to erupt in cheers.

The Rockies find themselves four games out of the National League West race, which is led once again by the Padres after the Giants loss at Coors Field. They also trail the Giants and the Braves by 3.5 games in the wild card race. Even if the Rockies win the rest of their eight games, there is a good chance that they still won't make it into the playoffs. However, it doesn't seem like that fact is keeping them from trying their best to make a run for it.

The win comes on the heels of a controversy that has been brewing since just before the All-Star break, when Giants radio broadcaster and ESPN Sunday Night Baseball play-by-play man Jon Miller questioned whether the Rockies cheat at Coors Field by having opposing pitchers throw balls that were left out of the humidor. The controversy came full swing when Tim Lincecum was caught on camera throwing a ball back and using an expletive to go along with the term "juiced ball."

At first it seemed to be a fire that was simply brewing among fans, until it came out that the Giants had actually filed a complaint with the league. The complaint came the day after the Rockies and Giants had set a Coors Field record for least combined hits, with five, and a day after the only home run that was hit came off of the bat of a Giants hitter.

The Rockies insist that they have nothing to hide and that they play the game with integrity. However, the fact that the Giants would even question the integrity of the Rockies staff is a slap in the face to everyone within the Rockies organization. It takes quite the intestinal fortitude to file a complaint in the middle of a series in which the executives for both teams will have to look each other in the eye.

If nothing else, the claims seemed to light a fire under the Rockies, which may have helped propel them to victory on Saturday night.

The Rockies may need some help down the stretch to get into the playoffs, but the fun thing for Rockies fans is that they have clearly shown that they have no intention of packing it in. They are going to fight until they can't fight anymore. That is all a fan can ask for.

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Saturday, September 25, 2010

Colorado Rockies playoff hopes all but over

Let's face it. They did this to themselves.

With one swing of the bat from Pat Burrell essentially ensured that the Rockies will finish no better than 3rd place in the National League West. His blast to left field gave the Giants a 2-1 lead in the 7th inning that would hold up as Tim Lincecum dominated the Rockies.

Jhoulys Chacin was phenomenal. He didn't give up a hit until the 5th inning. The 22-year old looked better than any Rockies starter in the last week and showed how far he has come in just over a year of Major League experience. With the exception of the Burrell home run, Chacin essentially went pitch-for-pitch with a guy who has two Cy Young awards on his mantle at home.

The home run came in the 7th inning when Chacin was already well over 100 pitches. Much like Jim Tracy likes to do, he allowed Chacin to hit in the bottom of the 6th, with Seth Smith on second base representing the go-ahead run for the Rockies. Was it a bad move by Tracy, probably. With the pitch count being near 100, it may have been a good time to take a shot at having a big inning. If the pitch count is lower, there is no real problem with letting the righty continue on.

Did that lose the game for the Rockies? In hindsight, maybe. However, the move probably wasn't the worst one that Tracy has made. The run did end up scoring, so essentially all that was lost was an out in the 6th inning. However, if Tracy would have gone to someone else there, the inning could have consisted of scoring more than one run.

That is an easy move to scrutinize after the fact. However, letting a kid who is throwing the game of his life continue on did not seem like such a horrible decision at the time.

Many people will point to the Arizona series as the point where the Rockies season was lost. Many will point to them scoring one run at home against the Giants on Friday. Both of those theories are wrong. Most teams lose when Lincecum is on the hill against them. Most teams are swept at some point by an inferior team.

The difference between the Rockies, and most teams, however, is that the Rockies got themselves in a position where they couldn't afford to be swept by an inferior team, or dominated by one of the best pitchers in the game.

If the Rockies don't come out of the gate and falter, if they don't let pitchers like James McDonald and Vincente Padilla have their way with them early in the season, the situation is much different. If the Rockies take care of business early on, the can afford to lose games against the Lincecum's of the world. However, the Rockies are now in a position where they can't afford to lose to anyone, they spent those losses on pitchers they should have crushed.

That is where the problem lies with these Rockies. It's not a problem of losing five in a row down the stretch, its a problem of not winning more than four in a row for the first four months of the season. It is pretty tough to pack a full season of winning into a month and a half, and the Rockies are coming to that harsh reality right now.

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Thursday, September 23, 2010

Jim Tracy costs the Colorado Rockies when it matters most

Take off the purple colored glasses for a minute. Forget about the magic of 2009. Forget about the past for a moment.

The Rockies had climbed back into the game on Carlos Gonzalez's first career grand slam. With the score 8-6, Joe Beimel allowed Stephen Drew, a guy who seems to only hit against the Rockies, to hit a solo home run to right field to expand the lead to 9-6.

Anyone who follows baseball knows that if there ever was a must-win for the Colorado Rockies, Thursday was it.

Apparently Jim Tracy didn't get that memo.

All of the talk recently has been about the Rockies burned out bullpen. Well, don't ask Huston Street and Rafael Betancourt are out of gas, they haven't pitched since Sunday.

With the closer and setup man comfortably resting in the bullpens, newly acquired Octavio Dotel promptly served up a solo home run to Chris Young to open the bottom of the 8th, giving Arizona a comfortable four run lead.

Hindsight is 20/20, but after the Rockies climbed back to within a run of the Diamondbacks in the top of the 9th, those tack-on runs that Arizona added in the 7th and 8th innings sure seemed important.

Shining brightly on the scoreboard for Tracy to see was the score of the Giants-Cubs game. It was clear that a loss would move the Rockies 3.5 games out of first place with 10 games to go. That means that even a sweep of the Giants wouldn't even put the Rockies in front of them. That means that the Rockies effectively moved themselves from a contender into an extreme long shot in just four days.

When a game means as much as Thursday's did for the Rockies, it must be treated like game seven of the World Series. Instead, Jim Tracy treated it as just a regular season game in May. There is absolutely no sense of urgency from the man calling the shots for the Rockies.

Make no mistake, the bad calls didn't start in the 8th inning for Tracy. Manny Delcarmen was summonsed to pitch the 6th inning for the Rockies after Esmil Rogers had let things get out of hand. Since coming over from the Red Sox, there has been one thing that the right hander has let everyone know, the trade did not effect his ability to miss the strike zone. He does that very well.

Delcarmen walked a man and gave up two hits and a run...a run that ended up being extremely crucial. He did this with Matt Reynolds, the reliever who has been extremely effective for the Rockies since they called him up in August, comfortably resting in the bullpen.

Someone needs to tell Tracy that the Rockies are 3-1/2 games behind in the NL West race. The way he is calling the shots it looks as if he is nursing a four or five game lead.

Case in point is September call up Paul Phillips making the start behind the plate on Sunday with a chance to sweep the Dodgers. Phillips is a good player, he has Major League experience and is not going to be in awe of where he is. That said, he spent nearly the entire season in Triple-A for a reason. He is the perfect example of a journeyman catcher. Maybe it was coincidence, but in that game the Rockies pitchers were charged with four wild pitches. One of those wild pitches allowed the leadoff hitter to get on base in an inning in which the Dodgers scored three runs with two outs.

There is no doubt that players have to rest. Miguel Olivo simply cannot catch every single game. Huston Street and Rafael Betancourt cannot pitch in every game. Todd Helton is another guy who cannot play every day.

However, with Jason Giambi going 1-for-8 since launching a walk off home run against the Diamondbacks on September 12th, a game in which the Rockies were in a must-win situation was not the time to put him in the lineup. The Rockies felt the effects of his poor defense when Jonathan Herrera made an errant throw in the 5th inning when the Diamondbacks put four runs on the board. It was a bad throw, without a doubt. However, Todd Helton most likely at least catches the ball and keeps an additional run from coming across.

There simply is no sense of urgency with Tracy. It was not simply one situation where he could be second-guessed on Thursday, it was multiple times.

Mistakes happen. Every manager makes them over the course of 162 games. However, mistakes like Tracy continues to make are mind boggling. Rockies fans are quickly understanding why Tracy was shown the door in both Los Angeles and Pittsburgh. He makes the same mistakes over and over and never takes responsibility for them.

For the most part, the Rockies postseason hopes are over. They essentially need to sweep the Giants in the weekend series at Coors Field, and then lose only one of the remaining seven games. It can happen, but the odds of that are highly unlikely. In fact, if the Rockies fail to sweep the Giants, they may as well pack it in. They need to gain three games in the standings, not one. Losing a single game to the Giants and their three best pitchers simply is not an option.

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Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Mediocre performance puts Colorado Rockies playoff hopes on ice

Maybe Barack Obama should focus on shutting down Chase Field instead of Guantanamo Bay.

There are terrorists at the prison camp that have sustained less torture than Rockies fans have watching their team play in Arizona since 2008. The culmination of the torture came on Wednesday night as the Rockies suffered a devastating 8-4 loss.

Watching Ubaldo Jimenez labor through four innings was far worse than water boarding. His fastball was there--he hit 100 MPH several times--but his location looked like he was taking pitching lessons from Franklin Morales. The Diamondbacks routinely were standing at the plate with 2-0 counts.

Early on it looked like the Rockies offense decided to show up as they scored four runs before Jimenez took the hill. Melvin Mora drilled a slider over the fence to give the Rockies a 3-0 lead. Immediately following Mora's bomb, Todd Helton hit a fastball into the pool area behind the right-center fence.

Clearly, the Rockies learned nothing from their disastrous loss on Sunday at Dodger Stadium. Once again, the Rockies hitters may as well have not brought a bat with them to the batter's box. After the 1st inning, the Rockies struck out looking seven times. Seven at-bats going down without even a swing. That is frankly, awful.

The same old problem that caused the Rockies to stumble out of the gate and drop in the standings after the All-Star break came back to bite them. With the team down by just one run in the 7th inning, the camera's panned to the Rockies dugout. Looks of bewilderment were running a muck. The body language of the club looked like the team was down by 10 runs instead of one. They were mentally defeated.

The truth is, the Rockies are out of gas. Ubaldo Jimenez is feeling the affects of too many 120+ pitch counts. Matt Belisle is nearing the 100 inning pitched mark, Joe Beimel is the shell of the lefty specialist that he was at the beginning of the season.

With the Giants and Braves losing, the Rockies certainly have not been eliminated, nor close to it. However, the fact of the matter is, when a team is trailing by even a few games with the season about to end, that team cannot afford to drop winnable games.

The Rockies sit three games out of both the wild card race and the NL West race. With 11 games to go, they are most likely going to need to win no less than eight games, and even that might not be enough. To win 8-out of-11, the Rockies are going to need to win on Thursday, then sweep the Giants and win a home series against the Dodgers, then find a way to split the four game set in St. Louis.

All of that is possible with the exception of sweeping the Giants. They are facing three guys who could easily be called aces. The worst of the three is Barry Zito, and he absolutely owns the Rockies.

Maybe the Rockies are not out of the race, but they sure looked like a team that will not be playing in October.

The fact is, the Rockies are one bad loss away from looking forward to 2011 instead of October.

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NL West hole gets deeper for the Colorado Rockies

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Monday, September 20, 2010

Colorado Rockies playoff hopes come down to one thing: Beat the Giants

The Colorado Rockies are in the middle of what seems to be their annual September march to the playoffs.

Once again, the national media is turning its attention towards the team that plays at Coors Field. The team that has been phenomenal at home and less than impressive on the road, is suddenly on fire. On August 22 the Rockies were 11 games out of first place and eying the wild card as the only way to get into the postseason.

Even the wild card was a long shot at that point. The Rockies were just 4-1/2 games behind, but had four teams that they would have to jump in order to overtake the Phillies, who were leading at the time.

After all hope seemed lost on September 2nd, when the Rockies gave up nine runs in the 7th inning to allow the Phillies to win a crucial makeup game 12-11 at Coors Field.

Just as the local media (myself included) wrote the clubs obituary, the Rockies showed why they can never be counted out. After struggling on the road all season long, the Rockies went into San Diego and swept the first place Padres, who were at the tail end of a free fall. The Rockies didn't stop there, they returned home and swept the first place Reds and the Diamondbacks to extend their winning streak to 10 games.

Suddenly the Rockies were right in the thick of things again, looking to make yet another September run for the playoffs.

The run, however, will only be a good month if the Rockies cannot overcome the 1.5 game deficit and capture their first ever National League West title.

With work to be done, the Rockies head into Arizona for three games and then they face the Giants in a three game set.

With all due respect to the Diamondbacks, the Rockies season hinges on the three game set with the Giants. The Rockies, who have had success so far with the Giants at Coors Field in 2010, going 4-2 in their six matchups so far. Winning those three games will not be easy. San Francisco is heading into the series with Tim Lincecum, Barry Zito and Matt Cain on the mound. The Rockies will not counter with their best. Instead of going with Jimenez, Chacin and Hammel, Colorado's rotation falls on Hammel, Jorge De La Rosa and Jeff Francis in the finale.

The Rockies, as long as they can take care of business in the desert, will be looking to the weekend to make their move. If they can find a way to win the series, the will be in a good position to win their first ever National League West crown. If they lose that series, they may not have enough games left to make up the ground.

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Sunday, September 19, 2010

Colorado Rockies miss a chance

There is quite a bit to be negative about after Sunday's heartbreaking 7-6 11 inning loss to the Dodgers.

The Colorado Rockies had a chance to move within half of a game of the lead in the National League West.

In the 4th inning, the Rockies were staked to a 6-1 lead. They had finally found a way to get to Clayton Kershaw. Scoring two runs against the ace of the Dodgers would have been quite the feat, scoring six in four innings off of him constituted a minor miracle.

The game just had that feel to it.

After the Rockies scored six runs, it was like the offense packed it in. The sense of urgency that the team has been playing with for two weeks was suddenly gone. When suddenly-struggling starting pitcher Jason Hammel started to falter, the Rockies were already in cruise mode.

It would be easy to lay blame on many people in this game. Jim Tracy, who failed to have Eric Young Jr. bunt when Ryan Spilborghs led off the 11th inning with a walk. Hammel could be blamed for failing to put his foot down when the game was his to lose. Even Paul Phillips could be blamed. His failure to find a Jay Gibbons strikeout in the dirt allowed him to go to first. The Dodgers scored three runs in the same inning, all with two outs.

Regardless of whose fault it is, the fact is, the Rockies needed this game.

Heading into Los Angeles, the idea was to win two out of three. In fact, most would have thought that it would be incredible for the Rockies to be able to get two of the games at a stadium where they have looked like the Dodgers little brothers for the better part of the past four years.

The problem is, the Rockies had the Dodgers on the brink of a sweep. They were winning 6-1. They had beaten Kershaw and they were cruising. Allowing the Dodgers to crawl back into the game was devastating.

Had the Rockies completed the sweep, they could have gone into Arizona knowing that even if they faltered and only won one game, they still would have had a successful roadtrip. Now, however, the Rockies are forced to go into another venue in which they have struggled and find a way to pick up a series win.

The loss may come back to haunt the Rockies. Regardless of who or where the Rockies are playing, they are in a race against time. They need to win as many games as possible before October 3rd. Having wins snatched out of their grasp like Sunday's are devastating.

By no means are the Rockies done. They still sit just 1.5 games out of the National League West race. They are more than capable of outplaying the Padres and the Giants the rest of the way home, but it would have been quite a bit better to be ahead of the Padres and barely behind the Giants.

What the season may end up coming down to is the three game series against the Giants at Coors Field next weekend. Regardless of what the Rockies do against the Diamondbacks, they are going to have to find a way to win two of the three games.

Looking ahead at the schedule fate would have it that the Rockies are scheduled to face Tim Lincecum, Barry Zito and Matt Cain during those three games. With Jeff Francis forced to take the hill for the Rockies on Sunday, going out and winning on Friday and Saturday will go a long way for the Rockies postseason chances.

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Saturday, September 18, 2010

Troy Tulowitzki continues amazing tear as Rockies route Dodgers

This is officially ridiculous.

Troy Tulowitzki did it once again on Saturday. For the fourth time in the last two weeks, Tulowitzki blasted two home runs in the same game in leading the Rockies to a 12-2 victory over the Dodgers.

Tulo replicated Friday night, when in the first inning he roped a home run to left field with a runner aboard. In the 5th inning, he did it again, this time depositing a home run over the center field fence.

The 25-year old shortstop is as hot as any hitter has been for years. He currently owns 14 home runs and 33 RBIs in the month of September. That is the most home runs by any Rockie in any month in the history of the franchise. The 33 RBIs is the second most in any month in Rockies history. Matt Holliday drove in 34 runs in September of 2007.

Those are numbers for any month in the history of the club. Consider the fact that Holliday's September '07 run nearly earned him the National League MVP award and got his name on the radar. Without that month, there is a good chance that Holliday never signs the deal with the Cardinals that makes him a very wealthy man.

Holliday's month was that productive, and yet, Tulowitzki has already hit more home runs than him and is one RBI short of his record...and it is the 18th of the month.

Think for a moment about what Tulowitzki is doing. In 1998, Sammy Sosa laced 20 home runs in the month of June. It was an incredible feat, something that people thought was impossible. If anyone still has doubts that Sosa was using steroids at that time, they have their heads buried in the sand.

In the post-steroid era, what Tulowitzki is doing may never happen again.

With 11 games to go in September, even if Tulowitzki slows down significantly, he has a chance to put up numbers that will take years for anyone to approach.

It is hard to put into words just how hot Tulowitzki is. There is no doubt that Tulo hitting behind Carlos Gonzalez is playing a large part in the offensive output. With Gonzalez picking up hits and RBIs at a rate that has put him leading the league in batting and RBIs, Tulowitzki is certain to get good pitches to hit.

The strategy is going to have to change for opposing teams. There is no way that they can ignore what Tulowitzki is doing. They are going to have to take chances and try to throw decent pitches to Gonzalez, which is exactly what the Rockies would like to see happen.

What might end up happening, if both players continue on the pace that they are at, is rare situations where Tulowitzki gets walked intentionally, even with Gonzalez on first base, or even with the bases loaded, as Barry Bonds was often treated to during his great home run streaks.

To put Tulowitzki's month into perspective, his 33 RBIs in the month of September is the same number of RBIs that Todd Helton has on the entire season. It is more RBIs than all but six Seattle Mariners have in the entire season.

Tulowitzki is inevitably going to cool down, there is no way to stay as hot as he has been, but the fact is, his run is so well-timed that it may get him some MVP votes. He is also doing it at the exact perfect time for the Rockies. There is no stronger definition for carrying a team on your shoulders than what Tulowitzki has done so far.

If Tulowitzki had not gone down for 33 games with a broken wrist, the talk would certainly be focused on him as the National League's Most Valuable Player.

The Rockies will wait for the results of both the Giants and Padres games, but they took care of their own business and cannot be any further back than they were when the day started on Saturday. The Rockies go for the road sweep on Sunday, facing Clayton Kershaw. The Rockies will send Jason Hammel to the mound, who is looking to rebound from a tough outing on Tuesday night against the Padres.

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