Sunday, July 28, 2013

Colorado Rockies show fight, salvage some respect in disappointing homestand

Nolan Arenado has shown flashes of becoming a star for the Rockies.
In a 5-5 homestand against the most underwhelming teams in the National League, the Colorado Rockies still have some bright moments to build on. The starting pitching has been great, and despite some struggles, Nolan Arenado has shown his ability to get hits in big spots.

The Rockies starting pitching has been the most consistent part of their 2013 season. On Sunday, it was no different. The Rockies came back twice before finally finishing off the Milwaukee Brewers 6-5 at Coors Field.

Jhoulys Chacin was the unfortunate recipient of an no-decision, but once again pitched well enough to notch his 10th win of the season. Instead, Matt Belisle picked up the "W" in relief after giving up the tying and go-ahead runs on a Yuniesky Betancourt two-run homer in the top of the 8th inning.

With the game, and for those with hope remaining, their season hanging in the balance, Arenado stepped to the plate in the bottom of the 8th inning. Belisle had just given up the lead and based on the way the Rockies have been hitting for the better part of the month, it looked like the team was going to end their defining homestand with a pathetic 4-6 record.

Instead, Arenado smacked a 94 MPH fastball just hard enough into center field to plate Michael Cuddyer, who had doubled in the tying run in the previous at-bat. The hit gave the Rockies the win and some momentum heading into a tough four game series in Atlanta, and a 10-game road trip to the east.

For even the most optimistic fans, the reality is, this Rockies team is going to have to do something special in a hurry if they want to remain within sniffing distance of first place in the National League West. Accomplishing that task isn't going to be easy, as the club plays 20 of their next 26 games on the road, a place that hasn't been friendly to them in a long time.

Despite the win, the Rockies failed to impress their critics on Sunday. Facing Donovan Hand, a career minor leaguer, who had spent the majority of his big league time as a reliever, Colorado failed to take advantage. The final line for Hand wasn't indicative of the type of outing he had. He went six innings, giving up three runs on three solo home runs. The Rockies were able to scratch out eight hits against the righty.

Some would argue that complaining against eight hits and three runs on a starting pitcher isn't a bad thing, but the Rockies trend of taking very poor at-bats continued on Sunday. Hand gave up three long-balls, but besides that, the only time the Rockies threatened came in the 4th inning when Todd Helton tripled off of the wall with one out. Arenado and Yorvit Torrealba failed to plate the run.

When looking at the Rockies offensive problems, the answer can be seen in the opposing starters pitch count. In four games against the Miami Marlins, their starting pitcher averaged just over 13 pitches per inning. Same goes for the three games against the Brewers. On Sunday, Hand threw just 79 pitches in six innings.

The Rockies have a huge advantage when a young, or inexperience Major League pitcher comes to Coors Field for the first time. The legend of what the place does to ERA's is well documented. The mental advantage is already on the Rockies side. That means that the Rockies should take advantage. They need to work counts, make a pitcher earn his outs. Instead, the Rockies approach at the plate seems to be simply to hack at the first pitch that they see and see what happens. It often bails out the opposing pitcher.

Despite the negative, there was plenty to be happy about for Rockies fans. The 5-5 homestand essentially kicks the can down the road a little further, but a loss would have essentially buried the Rockies before their long road trip.

One positive was the amount of late inning life they showed. In recent weeks, this team hasn't played with the swagger that they possessed early in the year. When opposing teams took a lead, the feeling was that the team was simply going to roll over and wait for a better day the next day. The Rockies didn't do that on Sunday. They battled back early, and then battled back again late to win.

The other good sign is more confirmation that Arenado may be exactly the guy who scouts believed that he could be. His .248 batting average doesn't suggest that he is a great hitter, but he has a propensity to get big hits in big situations. He is still young and figuring out how big league pitchers are going to attack him. It is easy to forget that he spent about four weeks in Triple-A and was one of the youngest prospects in Double-A a year ago.

The Rockies win puts them on life support instead of the grave. However, that essentially means that they have to suddenly figure out how to hit against a very good pitching club in Atlanta. That could happen, stranger things have happened, and this team is talented enough to do it, but after the failures of July, there is plenty of skepticism for those watching.

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1 comment:

  1. A good example of the Rockies' offensive problems came in Yorvit Torrealba's last (or next to last) at-bat when he waved at the first 2 pitches which were well outside the zone, then waved wildly at the final strike on a pitch that was even farther outside. A 35 year old veteran should know better! They aren't thinking---just going up hoping to be the savior of the day! Instead making a lot of mediocre pitchers look like allstars!