Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Diamondbacks resemble who the Rockies should have been

Take a look at the 2011 National League West Champions. The Arizona Diamondbacks.

When the Colorado Rockies and Diamondbacks christened their new spring training facility in late February, the talk wasn't about the local team having a chance to be good, it was all about the re-tooled Rockies and the depth that they possessed that would guide them to their first-ever NL West championship.

Most predicted that Arizona would finish in fourth place, having improved their bullpen, but not making enough of a change to really gain too much ground.

What no one factored in was the most important element. Heart.

Guided by Kirk Gibson, a leader who manages the same way that he played, with energy and scrapiness, the D-Backs have played above their talent level, and with their recent winning streak, they are now sitting six games ahead of the World Champion San Francisco Giants.

Arizona, no doubt has been energized by the Rockies essentially failing to show up.

The party was planned for this Colorado team to be celebrating their first NL West title way back in February, but the team forgot to make the necessary arrangements for that party to actually happen.

The Diamondbacks saw the opportunity to steal the show, and they have done exactly that. It looked like it was going to be a two-horse race between Arizona and San Francisco down to the wire, but right now the scene looks more like a Diamondback team that has a tight-fisted grip on the race and has no intention of loosening.

The disappointment for the Rockies is celebration for the Diamondbacks. The Rockies should take note. With far less talent than the Rockies, and certainly the Giants, Arizona doesn't give in to anyone. They find ways to move runners over, they make great defensive plays and their pitchers find ways to get guys out. They play with a confidence and a swagger that they have something to prove.

The Rockies went into the season thinking that changing one thing would instantly result in a division title. They thought that coming out of the gate strong would solve their issues. As soon as they got over the April hump, they looked as if they thought they could put it on cruise control and win enough games.

Instead, the other teams in the division didn't roll over. They got to work. Those other teams started gunning for the Rockies, and they got them because Colorado wasn't on top of their game.

The Rockies willingly gave away their division title, and the Diamondbacks are taking advantage.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Alex White shows talent, despite two less than perfect starts

The Colorado Rockies were done in by the big inning, something that has been their nemesis in this extremely disappointing 2011 season.

Alex White overcame poor command to keep his team in the game, but barely got through the sixth inning. Fighting through six walks, White weaved and bobbed through the first five innings, giving up just one run. Then, the Diamondbacks got to him.

White's start looked like it was going to be an ugly one early.

Ryan Roberts launched White's third pitch of the game deep into the left field bleachers to give the Diamondbacks a 1-0 lead. It took White 29 more pitches to get through the first inning, but he was able to stop the bleeding with just the one run.

Despite the poor start, his second in a Rockies uniform, White has shown what the Rockies liked about the right-hander. He mixes his speeds extremely well. He pitches slightly different than most pitchers. Instead of relying on one pitch to get outs, White relies on mixing his speeds instead of his pitches.

The fastball the White throws can be anywhere from 95 MPH to 87. That isn't the difference between his fastball and his change up, those are all fastballs. The difference is how much movement he is getting on that fastball.

Much like Jhoulys Chacin, White is very young. He just turned 23-years old. He barely pitched in the minor leagues, getting drafted in June of 2010 and already being in the big leagues. What that means is that he is going to take time to fully develop into the Major League pitcher that he has the potential to be.

The good news for the Rockies, however, is that despite a 5.33 ERA through two starts with the Rockies, he has still shown flashes of brilliance. He isn't getting beat around. On Monday night he struggled with his control, but besides the sixth inning, he was able to work his way out of the traffic.

What that means is that White, despite being young, has a pretty good idea what he is doing on the mound. He isn't relying on trying to throw it past people, he is pitching. That is a good sign for the future.

Whether the trade of Ubaldo Jimenez was justified is far from being an answered question. However, seeing early positives from White, who wasn't the centerpiece of the deal, is a good beginning.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Colorado Rockies hang on to win in Los Angeles, win streak on Sunday now up to two

After an exhausting weekend in unseasonably warm Los Angeles, the Colorado Rockies escaped without being swept.

Barely.

After being staked to a 5-0 lead after the first inning, Jhoulys Chacin did his best to keep the Los Angeles Dodgers in the game. The new ace of the staff struggled with his command. He gave up four runs in five-plus innings worth of work. He gave up six hits, and stuck out six, but he also walked five Dodgers, including all three that he faced in the sixth inning before giving way to the bullpen.

The win is a testament to who this team could have been. Going into the season, they were touted as a team that would walk away with their first-ever National League West crown. They had all the talent to do it. They had a lineup that could bailout a pitcher when that pitcher had a bad day, and pitching that could bail out a lineup on a bad day.

On Sunday, the Rockies, with the help of some Dodger misplays, put up a five-spot in the first inning. They were working counts. Dexter Fowler led off the game with an eight-pitch walk, something that shows his progress throughout the season.

Without the luxury of a home run, the Rockies put seven runs on the board, and they needed each one of them.

Chacin is now the ace of the Rockies. He was thrust into that position by the early struggles of Ubaldo Jimenez, and ultimately officially took over the role when Jimenez was dealt to Cleveland. Being an ace, however, puts a pitcher into a different category. People expect more of their ace.

It is tough to remember that Chacin is just 23-years old. Early in the season he had taken such a huge step forward in his development that he seemed like a seasoned veteran. Lately, the right-hander has started to show his age.

Many young pitchers in the game think that they have to strike out every batter that they face. It seems as if Chacin is falling into that problem. Instead of pounding the strike zone and allowing the opposing batters to hit the ball and let his defense do the dirty work.

Instead, Chacin is looking as if he is trying to be too fine. He is going for the strike out in every at-bat. The result of that is more stress on the mound, with every pitch being overly important, and walking batters because the pitcher is missing his spot by only a few inches.

Chacin is going to mature. He has the pedigree of an ace. He is extremely competitive by all accounts. He wants to succeed and he is determined to succeed. However, it is going to take time before he is the ace that everyone is expecting already. That pitcher has the potential to show up, but at 23, Chacin has time to reach his full potential.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

The dream ends, the Colorado Rockies are done

The reality is, the Colorado Rockies were done long ago. However, a 7-2 homestand, coupled with the collapses of Arizona and San Francisco had some believing that the team wasn't quite finished.

This fact is, this thing has been done for a long time. The Rockies simply aren't a playoff team. It is easy to forget what a playoff team actually looks like. Maybe its the purple-colored glasses for most fans, but this team isn't the same as the 2007 or 2009 Rockies playoff teams.

In both of those seasons, the Rockies started out slow, but came together as a team. They were playing great baseball for a long time. Even in 2007, when making the playoffs took winning 14-out of-15, including a play-in game, the Rockies were playing better baseball than every other team in the National League from May 22nd on.

In 2009, after Clint Hurdle was dismissed with the Rockies 15 games under .500, the Rockies went on an 11-game winning streak starting in the first week of June. From then on, they continued to play great baseball. All five starting pitchers ended up as 10-game winners.

Both seasons, the offense gelled. They were hitting with two outs, they weren't intimidated by great pitching, and they seemed to get big hits when it mattered. The bullpen was nails and in 2009, Jim Tracy put together a lineup day-in and day-out that had some semblance of consistency.

This Rockies team has simply not played to it's potential all season long. They have under performing players in each department. Jason Hammel and Aaron Cook have been disasters, nearly every hitter besides Todd Helton and Seth Smith have performed below expectations, the bullpen has given up more runs than what their talent would suggest that they would.

Beyond that, the team seems to have some clubhouse issues. When Ubaldo Jimenez was traded, Troy Tulowitzki's post game comments were not what was expected. Instead of a somber feeling of losing a friend, Tulo spoke with little disappointment. He talked more about how Jimenez hadn't pitched to expectations and that it cost the team games. It didn't make sense for the amount of benefit Jimenez had brought to the team since being called up in 2007.

The bottom line is simply that the team isn't good enough to be in the playoffs. They may have the talent that suggests that they are the best team in the National League, however, the intangible factors aren't there.

The Colorado Rockies aren't a playoff team in 2011. A late season run would be nice to build some momentum heading into 2012, but the reality is, this franchise must learn to play six months of baseball instead of three or four months.

There are 29 games remaining in the season and instead of the Rockies making a playoff run, they will be looking forward to who can prove themselves for the 2012 season.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Jim Tracy, not umpire, costs Rogers, Colorado Rockies in LA

Bob Davidson made a horrible call.

That is common for him. Davidson is known more for his bad attitude and hot-head rather than his good umpiring. He calls more balks than any other umpire in baseball, and is commonly referred to as the worst umpire in the game.

On Friday night, immediately following a double play in which Dexter Fowler threw out Andre Either at the plate, Davidson called Esmil Rogers for a balk as Aaron Miles, the runner at third base, tried to throw Rogers off by faking the steal of home.

Replays were clear that Rogers didn't even make the slightest sign of a balk. Davidson, a Denver resident, was guilty of committing the deadliest of umpire sins, anticipation.

The balk call cost the Rockies are run, and then as Rogers remained flustered, he gave up a two-run single to Justin Sellers, giving the Dodgers a 3-1 lead. Rogers was a batter away from getting out of a jam and leaving the game after delivering seven shutout innings. Instead, he takes the loss and his line looks pedestrian, giving up a total of four runs in 6-2/3 innings.

It's easy to blame the balk call on Rogers. It was a horrible call, and ended up being the winning run. However, the cause of the Rockies loss goes beyond one bad call. When an offense only puts up five hits, two of which came in the ninth inning, and one run that team doesn't deserve to win.

So was it the offenses fault? No. The answer to that question is the same answer to why the Rockies have struggled all season long. It all comes back to No. 4. Jim Tracy continues to make moves that are completely baffling. The decisions start with the lineup card.

On Friday night, Tracy decided to over-think the numbers once again. It is well-known that lefties generally hit righties better, and vice-versa, however, Tracy takes that theory to a new level.

That reasoning caused Tracy to decide to go with Eric Young, Jr. in left field as opposed to Seth Smith. The same Seth Smith who hit three home runs during the nine-game homestand, four of which games he didn't play in.

What Tracy obviously overlooked was that Young was 3-for-17 lifetime against Lilly coming into the game. That, and Lilly is not exactly an overpowering lefty who is tough for left-handed batters to hit. Coming into the game, lefties were hitting .230 against him, with righties hitting .263. Obviously there is a difference there, but it is not extremely drastic.

Considering Young's numbers against Lilly, his overall abilities, and Smith's recent hot streak, wouldn't it make sense to let Smith hit? The other problem with leaving Smith on the bench is that coupled with an off-day Thursday, Smith has now been off of the field for three straight days. The worst thing that can happen to a hitter during a hot streak is to have days off. Tracy is doing his best to cool Smith off.

The other questionable lineup decision that Tracy made was going with Eliezer Alfonso behind the plate over Chris Iannetta. The presumable reason is that, with a day game on Saturday, Tracy weighed the odds and would rather have Iannetta in the lineup against Chad Billingsley on Saturday.

The problem with that logic is that if the Rockies are still in the race, which Tracy continues to insist that they are, he has to manage as if he cannot afford to lose a game. At some point, if the Tracy wants his team to be in the playoffs, he is going to have to ask his catcher to work through some soreness in order to help put the best lineup on the field. Especially considering he was off on Wednesday and had an off day on Thursday.

Regardless, the head scratching decisions continue from Tracy.

The balk call may have cost the Rockies a few runs, but putting the best lineup on the field to help the team score a few runs would have gone a long way for the Rockies to score more than one run.

Travis Lay of Blake Street Bulletin wrote a beautiful article about Tracy's in-game decisions. At some point, the front office has to have some questions for Tracy. They have to start to wonder about some of these lineup decisions, as well as in-game moves. If they don't, the problem is going to take much more time to solve than it would seem.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Do the Colorado Rockies still have a chance to make a run?

Here we go again.

It is almost getting annoying how predictable these Colorado Rockies are. Under perform for most of the season in nearly every aspect of the game, dig a big hole, make sure every last person who follows baseball has written them off, then suddenly jump out of the grave and come back to life.

The Rockies, winners of five straight and seven-of-nine, are in the midst of that right now. Left for dead one week ago, 12-1/2 games out, the Rockies find themselves just 8-1/2 games out of first place in the National League West race with 33 games to go.

Well, sorry to burst the bubble, but the Rockies are done. There will be no Rocktober in 2011. There will be no amazing run to the playoffs. The odds are stacked too highly against them.

There are a couple of reasons why this team is going to fall short. The first, is the exact reason why everyone is saying that they do have a chance.

With seven games left against the Giants and six against the Diamondbacks, the Rockies seemed poised to be able to make up ground. The only problem with head-to-head games, however, is that if the Rockies lose any of those games, it guarantees that a team in front of them gains a game on them. When teams are playing against other teams, the Rockies could lose, and not lose a game in the standings. Lose to the Giants and Diamondbacks and the odds start to stack.

The Rockies would essentially have to sweep all four of those series to have a shot. While Rockies runs in the past have proven to be historic, does anyone believe that this Rockies team has the heart to beat the Giants seven times in a row, three times at AT&T Park, where they consistently struggle?

The second biggest reason why this team won't be able to overcome the deficit is simply because their starting pitching isn't good enough. Running Aaron Cook out to the mound every fifth day doesn't exactly give a team confidence that they can beat anyone at anytime. If Cook was the number five starter, with four studs sitting in front of him, it might be possible, but the reality is, the Rockies are running on a rotation that features a 23-year old just getting his feet wet in the big leagues, Cook, and an ace in Jhoulys Chacin who seems to have maturing of his own to do.

The third reason, and probably the biggest reason of all, is the guy sitting in the manager's seat. Jim Tracy is a great guy. He is a great person. Everyone loves him. His decisions, however, when it comes to a lineup are baffling to say the least. The Rockies essentially have three starters, Troy Tulowitzki, Carlos Gonzalez and Todd Helton. Beyond that, everyone else shifts around and plays some days and not others.

Mark Ellis was brought in to give stability to the second base position. Instead of becoming the everyday guy, he simply fell into the rotation, meaning he sits at least twice a week. Third base is a revolving door, which is largely the fault of Ian Stewart, but Tracy hasn't allowed anyone to take the spot and run with it. Seth Smith hits a home run anda double one day and finds himself on the bench the next two days.

The Rockies might make a run, and it might be fun to watch how close they can come to actually overtaking the two teams in front of them, but it is very doubtful that they are going to make a run similar to that of 2007.

People are quick to forget, even though that team needed a big run to make it to the playoffs, they had hit their stride long before the All-Star break. They had gelled as a team and were playing well since the middle of May.

The 2011 version of the Colorado Rockies has yet to really gel as a team. They have yet to play as well as they were advertised.

It might be fun to imagine it happening, but the Rockies are done. They have passed up every opportunity to get back into this race, and now that they are finally winning games, they are too far out of the race to make it worth while.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Colorado Rockies heating up at Coors Field

It doesn't matter who the opponent is. A three-game sweep is a three-game sweep.

The way the Colorado Rockies have played in 2011, at Coors Field in particular, a sweep in front of the home crowd was a welcome sight, no matter if they were playing a Houston Astros team that has already been mathematically eliminated from the playoffs.

It is amazing how quickly the mind can forget. The Rockies have won five straight games at Coors Field for the first time in 2011. In years past, five in a row, to go along with three consecutive winning series, was commonplace in the past. This season, however, has been a different story.

What is the difference? Over the five games, the Rockies have averaged 7.2 runs per game. That kind of offensive firepower is going to produce winning baseball at any park.

Seeing the Rockies creep up in the standings is encouraging. It tells fans that their team isn't quite done yet. However, it is also frustrating. If the Rockies simply would have played .500 baseball since the All-Star break, they would currently be sitting three games out of first place in the National League West.

Currently, the club is 8-1/2 games out and making a true run is going to take a winning streak of Rocktober proportion. The odds of the Rockies climbing all the way back into the race is very small.

Part of the issue for this club is that they aren't just chasing one team. If they were in second place and 8-1/2 games back, they would have an easier time hoping to get some help along the way from the team in front of them struggling. Two teams in front of the club means that both teams have to falter, and not just for a week or two, they essentially have to fall apart.

The Rockies are a club that is not unfamiliar with late season runs. Since 2007 they have been a better team after the All-Star break than before it every season.

At this point, it is premature to say that the Rockies are even a longshot to make the postseason. The reality is, any chance that they had to get back into this race has been given away time and time again. They are not a postseason team. If they were, they would have seized opportunities long-since passed.

However, the team playing well is still encouraging. This team, with all of it's disappointments, has been on the verge of the front office contemplating blowing it up and starting over, building around Troy Tulowitzki and Carlos Gonzalez. A late run, however, could convince ownership to stick with a few more of the current players and see if they can make it all come together in 2012.

Improvement is the key at this point for the Rockies. It would be easy for this team to quit and start going through the motions, so to see fight left in them is a good sign for the future.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Colorado Rockies offense carries Alex White in debut

It wasn't pretty, but it wasn't too ugly either.

The Colorado Rockies got their first taste of the second most prized possession that they got for their first-ever ace, Ubaldo Jimenez. Not-yet-23-year-old Alex White stepped to the mound at Coors Field with fans eager to see what this guy might be all about if he merited trading Jimenez.

The results? He didn't fall flat on his face, but he didn't do too much impressing either.

When reality hits, however, it wasn't a horrible debut. The plus-side for the Rockies is that they got a taste of the good side of White. It took him just nine pitches to get out of a perfect first inning. He lived up to his billing by mixing speeds on his fastball to create movement. The board at Coors Field was often confused by whether or not it was an 86 MPH changeup, or fastball.

White was hurt by the longball. At Coors Field, he is going to have to take care of that problem. However, it is worth keeping in mind that the right-hander is barely two years removed from being drafted. He shot his way through the Minor Leagues, and will certainly have a learning curve at the big league level.

In all, White went six innings, giving up five runs on seven hits. He struck out four and only walked one. The numbers don't show anything to be excited about, but there were flashes of why the Rockies were so excited to have him in the deal, especially as a guy who wasn't the centerpiece.

With the focus centered squarely on White, it was easy to miss Seth Smith once again showing why he is not a platoon player. Less than three weeks ago, Dan O'Dowd called Smith out publicly for not hitting for enough power. It looks as if Smith has decided that if the Rockies want to see power, he will show them power.

Despite doing everything in his power to be an everyday guy, Smith will routinely sit the day after tearing the cover off of the ball. He is the one guy who cannot seem to make it into Jim Tracy's good graces. On Sunday, Smith hit a monster home run to help the Rockies pick up their first Sunday victory in 18 tries, and found himself on the bench Monday.

On Tuesday, back in the lineup, Smith hit a 478-foot no-doubter to the facing of the third deck above the visitior's bullpen. A baseball simply cannot be hit any harder than that.

On the night, Smith went 2-for-3 with the homer, two RBIs, and a walk.

Sure, his defense isn't average in the outfield. But at some point, with Dexter Fowler and Carlos Gonzalez manning the other two spots, isn't it worth allowing for one of the outfield spots to be slightly below average in exchange for some offense? Even with below average defense, he still plays a better left field than Eric Young, Jr., whom Tracy is currently platooning Smith with.

O'Dowd has criticized Smith's power numbers, but project his current numbers into a typical 600 at-bat season. He would have a .284 batting average, with 24 home runs 82 RBIs, and 41 doubles. Those numbers aren't going to win any home run or batting titles, but they certainly are good enough to merit a little bit more respect than what Smith has received for the work he has done.

At some point, the Rockies need to see what Smith can do with the bat and give him a chance to prove that he can do it everyday. Most teams would be thrilled to have a guy hitting with those type of numbers in the six-hole.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Colorado Rockies finally starting to roll

Three wins in a row.

To Colorado Rockies fans it feels like 13 in a row. On Monday night, the win seemed as easy as many thought it would be all season long. Instead, it has taken the club until the end of August to finally put things together.

Monday night, starting pitcher Jhoulys Chacin bounced back from a shaky outing against the Marlins his last time out. He pitched seven strong innings, giving up only one hit despite allowing 11 hits to the Astros. He was able to minimize damage by getting three double plays and walking only one batter.

Over the past few days the Rockies have looked like the team that everyone envisioned in February. They have played freely, not panicking when they go down, and getting big pitches when they need them. When one guy fails, another guy bails him out. It has been the definition of team baseball.

It shouldn't take anything away from his outing, but being staked to a six run lead before taking the mound in the second inning makes a huge difference. It gave Chacin the ability to attack the strike zone and not try to be too fine on the hill. The outing allowed the 23-year old to be the first 10 game winner for the club in the 2011 season.

In typical Rockies fashion, the team takes a look at the standings and sees themselves just eight games back. Of course that is a huge deficit to overcome with just over a month of baseball to play, but it would figure that this club, of all clubs, would go on a run to make things interesting.

The sad part for the Rockies is that they have played so poorly throughout the season that they really don't deserve to even be talked about as a playoff team. They have been horribly disappointing by all accounts since week three and very few players have come close to living up to their expectations, and yet, they are still just eight games out.

It begs the question, what could this team have accomplished had they actually played anywhere close to their expectations. If they have been horrible, and already deemed the most disappointing team in franchise history, how far ahead in this National League West division would they be if they had simply had a .500 month of May? If any one of the players who have struggled would have taken the next step?

If the Rockies make a run, which they might, and fall short, they will forever have to look back and wonder what could have been. If this team wouldn't have pressed so hard to hit home runs when singles would have done the trick, if this team would have relaxed and enjoyed the game instead of feeling like they had to win 15 in a row?

Those are questions that a team who should have won the division will always have to ask themselves.

The Rockies might go on a run, but the odds are against them actually crawling back to the top of the division. A run, however, would be a nice pacesetter for the 2012 season. It might be what it takes to gel a team that hasn't seemed to find it's groove all season long.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Colorado Rockies defy the odds, win on Sunday

Shhhhh, don't tell the Colorado Rockies.

Everyone who walked into Coors Field on Sunday knew what day of the week it was. Everyone except the team wearing purple pinstripes. Whether they were told it was Saturday, whether they were simply just due, the Rockies pulled off what has proven to be a difficult task.

They won on a Sunday.

After 17 defeats in a row, dating back to April 17th, when the club nearly blew their eighth inning opportunity against the Chicago Cubs, the Rockies finally got their third victory of the season on a Sunday. It took a couple of two-run shots from Carlos Gonzalez and Seth Smith and a yeoman's like effort from veteran starter Kevin Millwood, but the Rockies finally accomplished the feat.

Despite playing horrible defense, awkwardly sliding for a ball in left field on Sunday, Smith is doing everything he can to prove that he deserves to get a real chance at playing everyday.

Heading into the season, the Rockies were committed to giving Smith a chance to start everyday in right field, with Dexter Fowler in center and Carlos Gonzalez in left. Despite that commitment, manager Jim Tracy, who insists on running a roster as if he has 12 starters, was determined to get Ryan Spilborghs consistent at-bats.

The result of Spilborghs, a right-handed hitter, getting starts meant that Smith, a lefty, rode the bench when the team played against a lefty starter, regardless of how dominant or hard-throwing that lefty may be.

Even in inconsistent playing time, Smith has still put up extremely respectable numbers. Going into Sunday, Smith had put up a .283 batting average, to go along with 13 home runs, 50 RBIs and 26 doubles.

Smith's detractors refer to him as a poor defender, which he probably is, who doesn't hit for enough power for a corner defensive position. The only problem with that statement is that he does hit for power. He isn't necessarily hitting the ball out of the ballpark on a regular basis--although 14 home runs in limited duty is still good--he still has an OPS of .831, a very good number for a guy who isn't the centerpiece of a lineup.

The other problem with that argument is that lately, the person replacing Smith in the lineup has been Eric Young, Jr. With all due respect to Young, who brings his fair share of excitement to the field, he is a downgrade in batting average, defense, and certainly in power numbers. The idea of Jim Tracy using him over Smith against lefties simply doesn't make sense.

With the Rockies in a double digit deficit in the National League West, isn't it time to put Smith in the lineup every single day until the end of the year and really see what he can do with regular at-bats?

Baseball players are creatures of routine. The worst thing that a manager can do is let a guy get into a rhythm for three or four days and then take a day or two off. Smith has been stuck in that role for the entire season, yet he has found a way to be very consistent in that role. He could be that much better getting to play everyday, even if that includes some struggles against lefties.

The rest of the season is about evaluation for the Rockies. It is about seeing who will be back in 2012 and who will be shipped off. The worst thing the Rockies could do is give up on Smith as a guy who can only hit righties, and then watch him thrive in a different uniform because he didn't get the chance to show what he could do while playing at Coors Field.

However, at this point, who plays everyday and who doesn't is the last thing the Rockies are concerned about. They walked away from Coors Field with a Sunday win, which at this point in a miserable season, is something to cheer about.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Dexter Fowler ends marathon game with walk off winner

Dexter Fowler pulled through for the Colorado Rockies on Saturday evening. On the third pitch of his 14th inning at bat against the Dodgers Blake Hawksworth, Fowler singled to left field, plating Mark Ellis, who had nearly ended the game one at bat earlier, with what turned out to be a two-out double to the right-center gap.

With third place in the National League West on the line for the Colorado Rockies, the team potentially gutted out their biggest win of this disappointing season.

Finally, the Rockies didn't quit when they got behind. All too often in 2011, when the defense gives up a few runs early, the team's offense has given up, packing in the bats and hoping for a better day later in the season.

Instead, after the Dodgers scored two runs in the 12th inning, looking like they had wrapped up the game, the Rockies fought back and scored two runs of their own.

The first of those runs came when birthday boy Todd Helton showed that despite being 38-years old, he still knows how to work an at bat. Before doubling for the 552nd time in what should be a Hall-of-Fame career, Helton absolutely wore out Dodgers reliever Javy Guerra. The 15th, that's right, 15th pitch of the at-bat resulted in the RBI double.

If Vin Scully were watching from the Dodgers booth, he undoubtedly would have rattled off the number of times that he had seen a 15-pitch at-bat, but there are probably fewer than 20 times he has seen that in all of his years of calling Major League Baseball games.

Helton's double was followed by an RBI groundout on, ironically, the first pitch of the at-bat to pinch hitter Eliezer Alfonso. the game was suddenly tied, and the Rockies had overcome their inability to come from behind when it mattered most.

Fowler's walk-off is a significant step for the once-promising young star. There is no doubt that the center fielder has kept a positive attitude through the ups-and-downs of his career. Despite being sent down to Triple-A twice over the past two seasons, Fowler has pressed through. His game is still unrefined, but his ability to come up with the big hit on Saturday is a testament to his character.

As good as it was for Fowler, the at-bat from the 38-year old Helton set the tone for the game. It may be Troy Tulowitzki's clubhouse, but make no mistake, it is still Todd Helton's team.

If there is still a reason to go to Coors Field the rest of the season, it is to see the tail-end of a phenomenal career from Helton. Many Denver fans missed out on the opportunity to see Helton at his finest because the Rockies were in the midst of rebuilding. Those fans missed out on a great chance to see the game played the way that it was meant to be played.

There are only a couple of years left to see that player. He may not be the 2000 version of himself, but he still is a dominant bat at the plate and the best first base glove in the game.



Friday, August 19, 2011

Despite Colorado Rockies pitchers struggling, Apodaca has few critics

In his first season as hitting coach, Carney Lansford has critics everywhere.

The former big leaguer who was known for his gritty work ethic and ability to always take a good at-bat stepped into a position that had so much potential. The Colorado Rockies lineup is chock full of talent. It sports two of the league's premier young hitters in Troy Tulowitzki and Carlos Gonzalez.

When the club failed to hit to it's potential, it didn't take long before people were demanding that Lansford was failing and should be let go.

Of course, Lansford deserves his fair share of the blame. The club hasn't responded to his teaching and hasn't gotten the job done, plain and simple.

What is baffling about the Rockies critics is that they are quick to jump on Lansford, but when the team's pitchers are equally as bad as the hitters, nothing is said about Bob Apodaca, the Rockies longtime pitching coach.

Jason Hammel, who gave up six runs and six hits in just three innings of work, is the biggest argument for Apodaca's failures. The tall right-hander was poised to finish the season with double digit wins for the third straight season in April. He has shown dominance in the past, pitching 27 straight scoreless innings in June of 2010.

Yet, as Hammel continues to struggle, with no sign of emerging from his slump, Apodaca takes no blame. Why is the pitching coaches message not being heard, or why is his message not working?

If the only Rockies pitcher struggling was Hammel, there would be no reason to question Apodaca. However, the former Rays farmhand is far from the only pitcher with issues.

Jhoulys Chacin, a 23-year old with ace written all over him, hasn't gotten better since looking like he had taken the next step forward. However, Chacin has begun to struggle. In his last outing, Chacin had a chance to help the Rockies build on the previous night's walk-off win momentum. Instead, he couldn't make it to the fifth inning. He gave up five earned runs on eight hits in those four innings.

His start previous to that came in Cincinnati, he was phenomenal, pitching a complete game in a 2-1 loss to the Reds. However, prior to that start, he picked up a win against the Nationals, but was unable pitch more than five innings as his pitch count rose to 100 pitches. He was staked to a large lead, yet still walked five National batters in the inning.

Beyond Chacin and Hammel is the now former Rockie Ubaldo Jimenez. How can a guy go from complete domination, having the best half season in recent history, and then simply forgetting how to pitch. Jimenez won only four games in the second half of 2010 after winning 15 before the All-Star break. The struggles weren't a product of a tired arm, as Jimenez continued to struggle in 2011. His struggles in 2011, however, included losing four miles per hour on his fastball.

Those three pitchers were not run of the mill pitchers who are lucky to be on a Major League roster. All three of those guys are very good Major Leaguers. Even Hammel, who is the least talented of the three, has shown over the past two seasons that he has the talent to be a dominant pitcher.

Those three pitchers are clear examples of Apodaca's failures, and that doesn't even go into the struggles of former All-Star Aaron Cook.

It only takes six weeks of work before a Rockies hitting instructor starts getting questions. Yet, Bob Apodaca has had his chance to make an impact for almost 10 years as the pitching coach, and no one questions what he is doing. No one says that it is time to go in a different direction. He gets a free pass from the media and from fans. Maybe it's time for him to take some blame.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

O'Dowd's future may ride on the shoulders of Drew Pomeranz

Look for a Colorado Rockies fan who was happy to see Ubaldo Jimenez depart on July 30th. Try and find one. That type of search will come up empty.

There isn't a Rockies fan who was excited to see their first ace depart so quickly after his breakthrough season.

The prevailing thought from most fans was that the team better not have whiffed on this deal. If the Rockies were going to trade Jimenez, they had better get something incredible back in return.

When the trade was announced and there wasn't a single impact big league player coming back to Colorado who would immediately make an impact on the roster, most fans were frustrated and upset. Everyone has seen prospects fizzle out. To take a chance on dealing Jimenez for guys who may never be impact players is tough to handle.

However, it looks like fans are starting to warm up to the idea of the trade. Especially after the last two nights in Tulsa.

With Drew Pomeranz, the centerpiece of the trade, finally making his Rockies organizational debut on Wednesday night, he quickly showed why the club is in love with him. The lefty did nothing short of carry a perfect game into the seventh inning. He mixed a low-90's fastball with movement in with a change up and slider to keep the Double-A affiliates of the Oakland A's guessing all night long.

On Thursday, it was the other big name that the Rockies got back, Alex White's turn. With a huge start to live up to, White did his own dominating, throwing 7-2/3 innings of shutout baseball. He gave up only three hits while striking out four and walking one.

Sure, it is Double-A, but when the Rockies said it would take a huge deal to pry Jimenez away from them, they meant it.

With the recent failures of the Rockies, many people are calling for General Manager Dan O'Dowd's head. They are saying that he is the mastermind of the farm system, and should never have let it get this depleted. Failed high-level draft picks have marred the current group of prospects, and someone needs to be held responsible.

Well, make no mistake, O'Dowd feels the heat. If he didn't, he never would have taken the chance of dealing away this club's first-ever ace. He knows that he needed to restock the current system with guys who are going to make a big impact at the Major League level right away. Jimenez was the only chip that could bring back two players who are going to be Major League ready within the year.

The move that many think should be the final straw for O'Dowd may in fact be the move that keeps him in the position that he is in for years to come. Without trading Jimenez, it would have been easy to see Rockies ownership taking a look at a team that needs to be torn apart, and a minor league system that is void of Major League ready talent. At that point, it would have been conceivable that they thought it was time to go in a different direction.

However, the trade of Jimenez buys O'Dowd time. He gets two pitchers who look like they are going to be fixtures in the Rockies rotation for the next several years, which buys the general manager time to restock the farm system and gives the younger crop of players time to develop, while still allowing the Major League team to be competitive.

The move was bold to say the least. There is no doubt that if this trade doesn't turn out the exact same way that the Matt Holliday deal turned out for the Rockies, that the man who used to be known as Dealin' Dan is going to be looking for work in a different Major League city.

O'Dowd's career with the Rockies rests on this move, and he had no choice but to make it.

Rockies fans are hoping that for a second time since 2008 that they will be eating their words about O'Dowd and the front office.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Offense shows its fire power as Colorado Rockies dominate Marlins

Finally, some positive.

When Jason Giambi launched a three-run walk-off homer to give the Colorado Rockies victory on Monday night, it seemed like a good point for the team to finally gain some momentum. Unfortunately, as the saying goes, momentum is only as good as the next day's starting pitcher.

After Jhoulys Chacin looked pedestrian on Tuesday night, the Rockies made the start of Aaron Cook on Wednesday night a moot point. With 11 runs of support before the start of the third inning, there are few Major League pitchers who would have a hard time keeping their team in the game.

As the Rockies batted around in the first inning, then again in the third inning, the biggest sign of encouragement about the club was that they had scored all of those runs with only one long ball, courtesy of Carlos Gonzalez in the third inning. The reality is, this Rockies offense has the fire power to bash with the best lineups in baseball. However, they are most effective when they aren't launching home runs, but rather singling and doubling the opposing pitcher to death.

It was a complete offensive game for the Rockies. It was good to see for Rockies fans, but bittersweet because it has appeared so few times so far in 2011, a season filled with so much promise.

The Colorado Rockies are not int he race, make no mistake about that. They have squandered chance after chance after chance to get back into the race. However, this team needs to start building on something positive going into the 2012 season.

Players like Dexter Fowler, who went 2-for-5 with a double, and Seth Smith, who went 2-for-3 with a walk, are examples of players who need to show that they have what it takes to be everyday players at the big league level. Smith has made great strides at the plate, but has not given Jim Tracy enough confidence in him to use him against left-handers. Fowler has become a better hitter since a month-long stint in Colorado Springs, but still has flaws in his game.

The Rockies must not quit moving forward. They must find a way to win games that at this point don't matter. This season may go down as the biggest disappointment in the history of the franchise, but the team has a chance to make a difference. They need to use the opportunity to get better and figure out how to be contributors at the Major League level.

In the meantime, watching the Rockies put up big runs makes fans wonder what might have been if only this team had cleared the mental hurdle that seems to be holding them back.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Giambi delivers two-run homer...with Colorado Rockies down by three

One night after Jason Giambi delivered a walk-off, no doubt home run to right field, manager Jim Tracy decided to play that card again.

This time, however, Tracy forgot that the club was down by three runs when Giambi stepped to the plate instead of Chris Iannetta in the bottom of the ninth inning.

The logic of the move is the latest in a long list of head scratching moves from the Rockies manager, who got a free pass from fans in 2010 after leading the nearly lifeless Rockies of 2009 to the playoffs.

With the Rockies down by three runs, Todd Helton led off the ninth inning with a single to left field. That was followed by two outs, one on a long drive to center field off the bat of Seth Smith, and then a strikeout from Jonathan Herrera.

With two outs and Helton still at first base, Tracy decided to use Giambi in place of Iannetta. The move was questionable for more than one reason.

First, Iannetta has been one of the best hitters for the Rockies since the All-Star break. Despite going 0-for-3 in the game before being pinch-hit for, the catcher still is one of the club's best options for the team at that point.

The second reason it was a bad idea is because Giambi is in the game for one reason. He did exactly what he was in the game for, and that was to hit a ball over the fence. The problem is that the home run didn't tie up the game, it only put the club within a run.

There is no guarantee that Iannetta would have continued the inning, but with a base hit, or even a home run from the catcher would have put the Rockies in a position to use Giambi in a spot where he could have tied the game with a long ball. Instead, he was wasted in order to bring the game to within a run.

The confusing moves continue for Tracy, who is clearly doing anything he can possibly think of to get the Rockies some wins. The problem is that his strange moves end up costing the club more than they help.

It seems to be all negative for the Rockies lately, but in a tough season like the team is in the midst of, there simply isn't much to be positive about.

On Tuesday night, Jhoulys Chacin, the Rockies new ace, struggled once again. He wasn't locating any of his pitches and didn't seem prepared. As the Marlins batted around in the first inning, Chacin clearly didn't have his best stuff. As a 23-year old pitcher, he isn't expected to be in the best form every time he takes the hill.

However, Chacin should be taking steps forward. He should becoming a more mature hitter. Instead, he seems to be regressing as the season progresses. The league is bound to make adjustments, but the problem is, Chacin isn't making the adjustments on his side to keep the opposition on their toes.

At some point, looking at the starting pitching, Bob Apodaca's practices have to be called into question. For years he has been able to play the card that he has the toughest job in baseball, trying to get results from pitchers at Coors Field. That excuse, however, is long since been obsolete. The humidor has greatly reduced the Coors Field effect. It is still a hitter's park, but there are parks in the big leagues that both give up more hits and home runs. The Coors Field effect has been greatly neutralized.

Under Apodaca, the Rockies have seen regression from Aaron Cook, Jason Hammel, and specifically Ubaldo Jimenez. At some point, the club has to question what is being taught from the man in charge of the pitchers.

The Rockies have so many issues. They cannot blame injuries for their problems because they have had plenty of opportunities to overcome injuries. There isn't a single answer for their struggles in 2011, but one thing is for sure, the struggles have been hard to live through.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Giambi delivers walk-off blast in Colorado Rockies win

That was different.

A wild ninth inning, highlighted by Dexter Fowler nearly running into an out, followed by Carlos Gonzalez hitting the ball as hard as humanly possibly, followed by an intentional walk to Troy Tulowitzki, led the Colorado Rockies to Jason Giambi's turn in the lineup.

After fouling off two pitches, Giambi launched a no-doubter to right field, giving the Rockies their first walk-off home run of the season.

The team surrounded Giambi at home plate, celebrating the win. It was a relieving sight to see in a year full of failures and misery. Finally, things went right for the Rockies. Finally, the team didn't simply fade into the night. They fought back and found a way to win, even when they weren't getting it done all night long.

Up until the ninth inning, it was more of the same for the Rockies. Get a few guys on base, fail to get them across the plate. Take a few good at-bats, then take a bunch of bad ones. Make the starting pitcher look terrible, then let him wiggle off of the hook.

The Rockies ended the night 4-for-16 with runners in scoring position. That number is acceptable, but consider that before Gonzalez's shot and Giambi's blast, the team was a mere 2-for-14.

In the fifth inning, the Rockies had a chance to tie the game. Fowler had just lashed a triple into the gap and was poised to score the game-tying run with just one out and Gonzalez and Tulowitzki coming to the plate. With the infield draw in, and Gonzalez simply needing to hit something in the air, the lefty fouled out to the catcher for the second out. Immediately after Gonzalez, Tulowitzki seemed to swing as hard as he could, looking for his second home run of the night instead of looping a ball into the outfield for an RBI single to tie up the game.

However, maturity started to show through. In the bottom half of the eighth inning, Tulowitzki, worked an eight-pitch at-bat into a walk. Walking never seems to be part of the Tulo agenda at the plate, but on this particular at-bat, the shortstop exhibited patience, didn't expand his zone and found a way to get on base.

At some point, the talent of the leaders of this team is going to show through. There are flashes of brilliance. Gonzalez's game-tying double showed his calm demeanor at the plate. He jumped on the first pitch, knowing that he could do damage with that pitch and found a way to tie the game. Tulowitzki's walk in the eighth inning was another sign. Those two guys are eventually going to have to relax at the plate and be themselves, rather than trying to put the team on their shoulders and carry them.

Monday night's game could be a big step for both of those guys.

While the two future heroes of the Rockies showed maturity on the field, a former hero, a guy not unfamiliar with the spotlight, showed that the tank isn't empty quite yet. Giambi's maturity and patience at the plate could go a long way to help the younger stars on this team figure out how to refine their game.


Sunday, August 14, 2011

Down on the Farm with Rockies Review: An exclusive interview with 45th overall draft pick Trevor Story

Thanks to his agents at Xclusive Sports Management, I had the opportunity to talk with Trevor Story, who the Rockies drafted in the supplemental first round in June with the 45th overall pick.

Story is 18 years old from just outside of Dallas, TX. He was committed to LSU, one of the nations premier baseball schools before the Rockies persuaded him to skip college baseball and begin his professional career.

Story is currently playing in Rookie ball in the Pioneer League with the Casper Ghosts, where he is hitting .286 with two home runs and 11 RBIs in 95 at-bats. The Pioneer League is known for its good pitching and tough ballparks to hit in.

At 18 years old, Story is about two years younger than the average player in that league, he is well-known for having a great glove and a strong arm. In high school, reports have him hitting 96 MPH on the radar gun.

Rockies Review will be doing a continued feature with Story as he progresses through the Rockies farm system. Keep your eye out for follow up interviews and updates on the future Rockies’ progress.

Here is the interview:

Rockies Review: Tell Rockies fans a little bit about who you are as a person.

Trevor Story: I would say that I am a very hard worker. I am a proud Texan who loves country music. I enjoy hanging out with my family and my friends.

Rockies Review: You had a great opportunity to play college baseball for one of the best programs in the country (LSU). What about the Rockies made you decide to start your pro career early?

Trevor Story: My whole life I have wanted to play in the big leagues. The Rockies gave me an opportunity to pursue that dream. I really feel like I can develop quickly in their organization. I have enjoyed every minute of it. I don’t regret the decision one bit.

RR: For Rockies fans out there who don’t know too much about you, what big league player would you compare yourself to?

TS: I would say Troy Tulowitzki. He plays the game hard and with determination. He takes pride in the way that he plays the game.

RR: I saw an article when you were in high school where you said that your two favorite players are Derek Jeter and Josh Hamilton. Explain why you really like those guys.

TS: I grew up watching Derek Jeter play shortstop. He is one player who I really try to emulate. He plays the game the right way. It speaks to his talent that he recently got his 3,000th hit. Josh Hamilton is a guy whose story really amazes me, that sold me on him. Both of them are great ambassadors for the game.

RR: What did you know about the Rockies organization before they drafted you?

TS: They really caught my eye during their 2007 run to the World Series. I loved the high energy. I loved watching them. They are a class act organization. I love the way they do things.

RR: You have obviously heard about Coors Field being a very hitter friendly park. Have you had a chance to see Coors Field yet, and what were your thoughts?

TS: I got to take a tour of the field. The team was on a road trip, so I didn’t get to take batting practice like some of the other draft picks had the opportunity to do, but it was a beautiful park. I loved the batter’s eye with the ivy growing up the wall. It is a beautiful park.

RR: What has been the biggest surprise jumping from high school baseball to professional ball?

TS: The speed of the game. The breaking balls break sharper and the fastballs have more velocity. We play nine inning games in the same amount of time that it took to play seven inning games in high school. I feel like I am getting more comfortable and progressing everyday.

RR: Keith Law of ESPN mentioned that you were one of the top fielding high school prospects available in the draft, but that your bat may not have what it takes to play at the big league level. How do you handle critiques like that?

TS: It motivates me. I have definitely heard some of the things that people have said, but I don’t let it bother me. I know that people are going to talk. I know myself as a player, and I know that I will develop as a hitter.

RR: There are several scouting reports out there about you, and they all say the same thing, that you are an extremely hard worker. Talk about how important that is to you.

TS: Playing baseball is a privilege. We have people in this country who are risking their lives for our freedom everyday. The least that I can do is play a game hard everyday. I have an opportunity to play a game for a living. I feel like if I didn’t take advantage of this opportunity that I have every single day that I would be cheating myself and my family.

RR: Have the Rockies talked to you about a plan as far as your development? Where they would like to see you this year, and over the next few years?

TS: No, they are letting me develop at my own pace. Wherever they send me, I will play as hard as I can and do my best to develop into the player that I know I can be. I don’t really have any goals as far as statistics go, I just want to go out and play the game hard every single day.

RR: Talk about the excitement of getting drafted and playing professional baseball.

TS: Since I was a little kid I wanted to play baseball for a living. Coming out of high school I realized that it could actually happen. It was the best feeling of my life so far. Getting out here and finally witnessing the life in pro ball I couldn't be more blessed to have this opportunity.

Talking to Story I was extremely impressed with his maturity. He is very focused on baseball and developing into not just a good player, but the best player that he can be. He is a smart kid who isn’t going to get distracted by the things that a typical 18 year old kid would let get in the way. His focus and determination is far beyond his age. It will be fun to watch Story develop and follow him in his journey to Coors Field.

I would encourage Rockies fans to keep their eye on this prospect. He seems to have his head screwed on right and will eventually make an impact at the big league level.

Sunday slump hits 17 games for Colorado Rockies

Well, scratch off being tired as the reason why the Colorado Rockies continually lose on Sunday.

For the first time in a long time, the Rockies were the Sunday Night game of the week on ESPN. It was a chance for the team to play a night game on Sunday for the first time all season, perhaps tricking them into thinking that it might have just been a regular weeknight game.

The only problem with that is that it's not like the team plays all the well on every other day of the week. The Rockies game on Sunday night was a microcosm of the entire season. They had opportunities in nearly every inning, including the first after they had scored their only two runs, and they blew every chance they got.

The biggest opportunity came in the seventh inning when lefty specialist Arthur Rhodes was called in to face Carlos Gonzalez with two on and one out. CarGo worked a walk, loading the bases for Troy Tulowitzki with one out.

Make no mistake, Tulowitzki is a premier player in Major League Baseball. He is the type of player that teams are desperate to build their franchise around. He plays phenomenal defense and does amazing things at the plate. He is a competitor and pushes himself to be the best.

The only problem for Tulowitzki, is his desire to be the best often gets in the way. In the seventh inning, facing Octavio Dotel, Tulowitzki had the opportunity to tie the game with a single. He could have looped a ball into the outfield and scored two runs. He even could have hit a fly ball that would have scored a run and gotten the Rockies within one.

However, he is desperate to be the hero, and swung for the fences. The result was a strikeout.

Todd Helton came up behind him, and with two outs needed to get on base to do damage. He was frozen on a two-strike curveball and the Rockies threat was done.

Much like the season has gone for the Rockies, the team simply hasn't made it happen when it counts. The problem has to be between the ears. On Sunday night, they quickly went out and put two runs on the board, but when the Cardinals answered with four runs of their own, it seemed as if the Rockies packed up shop, hoping for better results tomorrow.

Instead of going out and pouring the runs on the board, the Rockies failed to counter punch. It's a common story. The problem continues to get the best of the club. They cannot find their way over the mental hurdle. It is the reason the Diamondbacks are surprising everyone and remaining in contention well into August. It is the reason the Giants losing skid hasn't removed them from the race. If the Colorado Rockies could have found a way to figure out how to simply counter punch and fight their mental doubts, they would be running away with the National League West.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Jason Hammel finally shines as Colorado Rockies win

It seems like a long time ago the last time Jason Hammel put in a performance that was worthy of positive comments.

At one time, the tall right-hander was considered one of the best pitchers on the Rockies staff. He finished April with an ERA in the low threes and was looking to build on his first two successful seasons in Colorado.

Instead, he took a nose-dive. It was as if he had forgotten how to pitch. His patented 12-6 curveball didn't seem to exist, and his fastball stayed flat and in the hitting zone. Loss after loss after loss started piling up, to the point where the Rockies had started to eliminate him from their long-term plans.

On Saturday night, however, Hammel was phenomenal. He pitched 6-1/3 innings, giving up just five hits and one earned run. He struck out one and walked three, but he was effective for the Rockies, continuing to find ways to get outs. The lone run came when Lance Berkman hit what would have been a double play ball, but Mark Ellis was playing so far towards first base that the ball skipped into right center, creating a first-and-third situation in which David Freese took advantage of in the next at-bat.

The Rockies are down and out. There is no way around that. They are a bad series away from being in dead-last in the most winnable Western Division that they have ever been a part of. The Diamondbacks have taken advantage of the Rockies apathy and may parlay their success into a playoff berth.

However, with Hammel's success, the Rockies can at least feel like he is gaining some momentum back in the right direction. Instead of going the other way, Hammel is showing that he can right the ship and be a dependable member of the big league rotation.

The reality is, Hammel was probably due for an off-year. He has enjoyed success over the past two seasons in the National League. This is about the time when scouts would catch up to what he has to offer. He needs to take the next step and adjust his game to keep hitters off balance to stay competitive. He is a good enough pitcher to find a way to do that.

The Rockies take the field again on Sunday, looking for their first Sunday victory since mid-April. It is sad to think that it really has been that long, but this team just can't seem to shake that monkey off of their backs. A win would give them a series victory in St. Louis and a winning road trip, a huge morale booster in a clubhouse that seemingly could use a boost.