Sunday, June 9, 2013

Fowler wins it with a walk-off again, Colorado Rockies have tools to make up for pitching

Dexter Fowler had his second walk-off hit in 8 days on Sunday.
Walk-off wins are fun. The Colorado Rockies are well-versed in those in 2013.

On Sunday, eight days after his last walk-off winner, Dexter Fowler delivered a big single back up the middle with two outs in the bottom of the 10th inning. It was the fourth hit of the day for Fowler, bumping his average up to .304.

The walk-off winner came after Carlos Gonzalez delivered a two-run double in the bottom of the 9th inning to tie the game. The double was a classic Gonzalez swing, drilling a pitch on the outer half of the plate down the right field line.

CarGo's only hit of the day was hardly his lone contribution. The left fielder flashed his leather on more than one occasion. He robbed a Kyle Blanks home run in the 5th inning, then in the 6th made another phenomenal catch with the bases loaded and two outs when Wil Venable hit a ball to deep left field, only to have Gonzalez drift all the way back, leap and grab the drive, saving Juan Nicasio and the Rockies at least two runs, and likely three.

Nicasio looked much like the pitcher that the Rockies have seen over the past month. He was great through five innings, then got very lucky in the 6th with Gonzalez's great catch. With the bases loaded, the game easily could have been tied at four, or even worse. The wheels fall off for Nicasio when he sees the lineup for the third time. His two-pitch repertoire doesn't cut it for more than five innings. That is becoming very evident.

The win was a big one for the Rockies. They earned a split of the series with the Padres, but they had to work for it. Both games they won came on walk-offs. More concerning, both wins came after the pitching staff blew big Rockies leads.

The Rockies have become far too acquainted with blowing three and four run leads. Sometimes even bigger leads have been blown. The offense cannot be expected to continue to produce night-in and night-out, let alone inning-in and inning-out.

On Friday night, the Rockies had a commanding five run lead. Even with De La Rosa not having his best stuff, the offense had given him a lead of 9-3. After five innings, that type of offensive output should be plenty to lock down a win. Instead, the Rockies gave it all back, and nearly more, before Nolan Arenado gave the Rockies the win on his first walk-off homer of his career.

On Sunday, the bullpen blew it again. This time it was Edgmer Escalona, who gave up two home runs in the 7th inning, then Matt Belisle giving up two more runs in the Padres half of the 8th.

Both Belisle and Escalona have been very good so far in 2013. Their struggles may be a direct reflection on how the injury of Rafael Betancourt has hindered the Colorado bullpen in general. Instead of pitching in their normal roles, pitchers like Belisle and Escalona are hearing their names called not only more often, but in different situations. That is usually a bad thing for relief pitchers.

The bullpen has had some issues with Betancourt's injury, however, there is no excuse for the Rockies struggles. This is a team that must find help from their pitching staff. The offense, despite some scoring issues in May, has shown that it will continue to hit and do it's part to win games for the Rockies.

Troy Tulowitzki, who barely gets mentioned in Sunday's hero list, quietly went 2-for-3 with a homer, a double and two walks. Gonzalez, who only had one hit, came through when he absolutely needed to and made his impact of defense.

Just between those two guys, the Rockies are going to give plenty of games. However, the emergence of Dexter Fowler, who is proving that 2012 wasn't a fluke, Nolan Arenado both in the field and at the plate, Wilin Rosario's power, and many other weapons that the Rockies have give the Rockies a chance to win every night.

With that in mind, the Rockies simply cannot survive depending on their offense every night. They are a talented bunch, but they are going to need better performances as a whole from the pitching staff.

As good as the Rockies have been in the early going, they are starting to show that the performance they got from their starters and some of their long-men in the bullpen were probably more of a mirage than reality. They must improve, and they must get better in a hurry if they want to stay in the race for the long-term. The starters must go deeper, the bullpen must be even more lock-down.

As mentioned, their can't be too many complaints about what the Rockies pitching staff has done in the early going. They are better than anyone expected. This was a pitching staff that was supposed to be historically bad. They aren't to that level. They are much better. However, the cold, honest truth is that they aren't as good as they have been either. At some point, the regression will hit. In fact, if the Rockies don't get help, the offense should probably get accustomed to trying to win games after they already gave their pitching staff a four-run lead, only to gave that lead given away.

The Rockies are good. They have come a long way on their journey. However, that journey isn't complete, and it isn't anywhere close at this point. If the Rockies want to go to the playoffs, they need better pitching. Frankly, they need it quickly. Offenses tend to start pressing when they know that they are going to have to have the pedal to the metal the whole game.

The fact is, a team that has the firepower that the Rockies have will win plenty of games. They will win enough to convince themselves that they are in the race. However, if the Rockies want to be more than a mirage, they have to get better pitching.

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  1. Injuries are becoming a real concern. Escalona leaving yesterday was ominous. I don't understand why Scahill is still here. It seems like he throws nothing but "wood seeking" fastballs. In my humble opinion, coddling the starters by letting them believe that they are doing their job by simply getting into the sixth inning will burn up a bullpen in short order. I think we're starting to see that now. Betancourt can't get back fast enough.

  2. Why is it that Nicasio pitches great for 5 innings and then implodes in the 6th?