FREELAND TAKES NO-NO INTO 9th; OFFENSE ROLLS AS AS ROX HEAD FOR BEACH
With the current MLB season heading into its annual mid season intermission, the Colorado Rockies were looking for a win to take a weekend series from the Chicago White Sox and to secure a winning week on the end of a dismal 20 day stretch that dated back to mid-June. Kyle Freeland (9-7, 3.77) had participated in the debacle, credited with 3 of the losses and 14 runs allowed in 17-1/3 innings of work, and was in need of a strong outing with a rotation realignment looming upon Friday’s resumption of play. Freeland was up to the task, and held the Sox hitless over 8 innings and 116 pitches as he headed into the 9th. The rookie left-hander dispatched with Chicago lead-off man Adam Engle on 5 pitches, and with the crowd of 36,541, including girlfriend Ashley Chrisman, on their feet, had outfielder Melky Cabrera in a 2-2 count when the nefarious former Giant lined Freeland’s 121st offering, a 93 MPH 4-seamer, onto the left-field grass in front of Gerardo Parra. “Shit!” exclaimed Ashley with ROOT Sports cameras trained clearly upon her, echoing the sentiments of everybody else on-hand, as history declined to materialize and Colorado manager Bud Black headed to the mound to remove the local south-side hero.
It was nevertheless a delightful afternoon down at the old ball yard for a Rockies squad that despite everything has turned in a remarkable first half of baseball in 2017. The offense got Freeland a modest edge early when Mark Reynolds walked, Parra doubled, and Pat Valaika plated Reynolds with a grounder to 2nd. Parra would follow Reynolds home on a botched pickoff, and the 2-0 lead would have to suffice until the 6th when All-Star Charlie Blackmon led off with his 20th home run. White Sox starter Carlos Rodón (1-2, 4.32) then walked the hobbled DJ LeMahieu, another All-Star, who exited in favor of Alexi Amarista, and after a line-out by All-Star Nolan Arenado, walked should-have-been-an-all-star Reynolds, Amarista stealing 2nd along the way. Parra knocked Amarista-in with a single, then Valaika, who is becoming increasingly difficult to ignore, blasted a 3-run shot into the left-field pavilion to run the score to 7-0, giving Freeland plenty of cushion to go record-hunting with. Colorado would add 3 more in the 7th on a walk to Arenado and singles by Reynolds, Parra, Valaika, and Freeland himself, and a splendid time was had by all as the group headed-off for a 4-day vacation. Even hapless Jordan Lyles had a superior outing, knocking off José Abreu and Todd Frazier to close things out for Freeland.
It is truly bewildering to contemplate that the Rockies have managed 52 wins over 91 first-half tries, especially when you consider they’ve received next-to-nothing from the 5 returning 2016 starting pitchers, have a bullpen containing only 3 relievers you can count on, and a lineup featuring gaping gaps exquisitely spaced in the 4 and 7-holes. Yesterday’s RC+ exposé by Agbayani put some data behind the eye-test judgments everyone’s been making about the thus-far anemic offense. The disturbing conclusion has good fortune playing far too great a role in the unexpected success to-date.
While there was plenty of the old “new hero every night” cliché going on in the run up to late June, more often than not the hero was Reynolds, with a healthy dose of Parra mixed in, along with the emergence of Blackmon into conversations containing names such as Harper and Prior. With Jon Gray and Tyler Anderson turning-up injured, and Tyler Chatwood stinking things up between isolated flashes of brilliance, 4 rookies, Antonio Senzatela, Freeland, and later German Marquez and Jeff Hoffman, were left to pick-up the starting pitching staff, and they did so with gusto. Left-hander Chris Rusin has been an invaluable all-purpose rescue man for a ‘pen that’s been, if you’re nice, ordinary, and if you’re RMH, inadequate, and Jake McGee’s come back to be a reliable set-up guy for All-Star Greg Holland, the game’s top closer so far in 2017.
But all of that can get you only so far once you’ve transformed beyond the point economist Alan Greenspan might have described as Irrational Exuberance, and when Hoffman and Senzatela got lit-up on back-to-back nights June 21 and 22 the wheels started spinning-off in a big hurry. Reynolds and Blackmon suddenly had cooled-off, Parra landed on the DL with a strained quad, and in no time it developed that everybody else was running on fumes with the break still a couple of weeks out. A losing streak ran-out to 8 games, and even when it ended with Gray’s return to the rotation on June 30, reality in the form of the red-hot Arizona Diamondbacks remained, followed by the “average at-best” Cincinnati Reds, who ungratefully still insist on running guys like Billy Hamilton, Zack Cosart, Joey Votto and Adam Duvall out at you despite the fact you’re desperately trying to recover your bearings.
The roll is over and the grind is on, and how well the Rockies manage the grind will tell the tale over the 71 endless contests that remain.
Gray moves back into the no. 1 rotation slot when Colorado returns to action Friday in the borough of Queens, New York City, which I’m told is among other things the birthplace of the President of the United States. They’ll have 3 with the disappointing Mets, then return to Denver for 3 each with the Padres and Pirates before heading back out for 3 in St Louis and 3 in the nation’s capital against the NL East leading Nats, all with the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline fueling the rumor mill. The Rockies are penciled-in as “buyers” who have holes to fill and bullets to fire. Names are already floating about, in fact several of them could be seen strutting around Coors Field in gray and black uniforms over the weekend. On the other hand there’s an argument Colorado is not quite ready for prime time, 2017 being perhaps a year early for a bold splashy move. As noted above, Valaika is making himself nearly impossible to overlook, and what do you know but shortstop happens to be one of the positions he plays. If you’re looking for a left-handed hitting outfielder there are certainly plenty of those on-hand to choose from, including the as yet to perform in 2017 David Dahl. Chad Bettis, slated to lead the rotation before testicular cancer side-tracked his start to 2017, is heading out on a rehab assignment, just as everybody else is taking a break. There’s a great deal of gossip to chew through as the deadline approaches.
Chatwood will follow Gray to the hill Saturday in New York, and Hoffman is now slotted as starter no. 3, getting the call Sunday. Beyond that, no assignments have been announced. Freeland certainly asserted himself Sunday, and Senzatela, who was expected to bolster the shaky bullpen, is now supposedly being stretched-out for a return to the rotation. Marquez has done nothing obvious to make himself the odd man out, so the intrigue is practically unbearable.
As Charlie, DJ, NoDo and Holland bask in the All-Star glow of the no-doubt climate-controlled confines of Marlins’ Park in Miami, Florida, one has to reflect upon one intangible that rox’n’sox, in one of those uncannily cogent comments she tosses out there every now and again, hit upon last week. This guy Donald Trump, entertaining as he is, isn’t proving much better at making me rich than any of the 44 guys who preceded him did. It’s time to drain the swamp: PARRA FOR PRESIDENT!