All things considered, this week has been about as good a week as a Rockie’s fan could realistically hope for from this team. When you go 7-0, win a Sunday daytime game on the road, win a double-header, have a come-from-behind win when down 6, and win two straight against your inter-division foe. That is a pretty good week.
Last week I pointed out that getting swept by the Giants was not the end of the world. It meant the team had a 3-3 week, but unlike past year’s the Rox really could and maybe should have won 2 of those Giants’s games. But getting swept by the World Champs is not the end of the world. The Rox went to SD and won the last 2 games of last week to set-up the best week in baseball. But just like we could easily have won 2 of those games, you can make a good argument that the Rox easily could have lost 3 games this week. The Sunday game was a 0-0 time until Todd proved their life in his bat. Both of the ice-bowl Mets’s games could have gone the other direction. So, just like we should not get too low when you loss 3 to a team like the Giants, likewise we cannot get too high on a 7-0 week. We know that this team is going to lose at best 30% of their games. More likely 40%. So, we all have to balance excitement about this week with reality of how hard baseball is over 162.
One big thing for me (not going to follow my advice, going to make a big deal about the week anyways) is that this team has to show it knows how to win games when they are close. In other word, they need to just show that you cannot relax because the Rox are going to keep coming at you and make you fight for all 27 outs. I made the allusion last week to Baltimore from last year. That team won the WC because they won a lot of close games. And no, I dont buy into the luck thing. I buy into fighting and scraping harder than the other team. If you have signifiantly less talent, then yes, winning a ton of close games probably is a sign of luck. But Baltimore had some good players going into last year and then had some players make a big-step forward finally, players everyone thought would become good big-league players (thinking here of Wieters and Davis). Sounds a bit like the Rox this year as at least 17 games in the team has seen Dex and Willin take huge steps foward and seen Chacin make an argument that he is the #1 that some scouts thought he was coming up. I keep making this point but they are winning games they would have lost last year (and in 2011 after May 1 when the injuries piled up and the wheels came-off). They earned all 7 of those games last week. They earned them by matching-up, by keeping the pressure on, and by doing whatever it took to win. Great week! Week 4 should be interesting as we finish-up with the DBacks, tackle the best team in baseball right now in the Braves and then head out on the road to face the DBacks and then Dodgers.
After seeing DLR look tough in his last 5 innings against SF (one of the two games they have lost after getting a QS, the other opening day), you had the hope that maybe DLR was on his way back. Against the Pads (yes, its the Padres, okay, okay) he looked fantastic. As a number of analyst have pointed out, he was in the 91-93 range on the fastball, which is still a bit off his pre-TJ level of 2009-2010. But I don’t remember his non-slider pitchers having such good movement. I remember his struggling more against right-handers (like he did in Milw against Braun). He moved the ball around fantastically. He was fanastic in the few stressful situations. Only 2 hits and 2 walks to go with 7Ks and his GO/FO was a 6/3. You felt awful that he wasn’t going to get a win out of that and then….Nelson works a great walk and then some old guy hits a pinch-hit home-run. DLR was out after 6, and Betencourt struggled in the 9th, but the team had an amazing time in SD and headed home having won 3 in a row on the road.
Snowout – Happens about once every other year here. Its Colorado.
I really didn’t think they would play Tuesday. It was brutally cold but after clearing snow for hours beforehand, the Rox went out and simply were a bit better than the Mets throughout the game. Nicasio gave up a 2r homer to Wright to start the game, and another later in the 5th. He only made it through 5, giving up 4 ER, walking 2 with 5Ks, and never seemed sharp. But he did the thing you have to do in Coors – pitch a little better than the opposition. He needed 97 pitches to get through those 5 innings, and continues to be just good enough in his outings (a similiar outing to SF actually), but unlike SF, the pen was dominant with Escalona, Lopez and Betencourt only giving up 2 hits (all by Lopez) the rest of the way. It was the offense that was really impressive. As has been talked about at this site a lot lately, the Rox have not let-up on the offense after scoring early. They scored in 5 of the 8 innings, getting 3 in the fifth to make Nicasio the winner and then adding 1 in the sixth and a 2 spot in the 8th to ice it (sorry, bad pun). A game that just felt like grinding it out, and the Mets aside from Wright really didn’t want to be out there it seemed.
I admit to watching this game while working but always being on the verge of tuning it out. Watching it made me cold. Jeff Francis, looking to bounce-back from that disaster he had in SF didn’t. Is this a sign that Francis is done? Have read a lot of folks saying he is. But in spring training he looked great, not in the sense of outcomes (those matter little) but in hitting his spots every outing. He has to if he is going to win at this level anymore. I am giving him a pass because of the cold, because it was hard to grip the ball, and because the D didnt help him out and being just a little off is all it takes. After the 5 spot in the 5th made it 8-2, I really thought it was over. At that point if I was those guys I just take my hacks and get back into warmth of the dugout and lockerroom. They didnt. The ground-out ABs, got help from a bad Mets D, and slowly fought back to get the bases-loaded in the 7th with Tulo at bat. And Tulo struck out. Game-over of course. But no, we see them put the ball in play, get some errors from the Mets to tie it in the 8th and then that wonderful single by Pacheco in the 10th. Truth is the pen and the Mets D won this game but who cares. It felt like 2007 or 2009, where the Rox just did whatever it took to come-back against some good teams. Great win. Can you imagine how bad it was to be in Mets locker-room after that doubleheader?
Cold and Snowout – Really, it is spring here. And April is our 2nd snowiest month.
While Tuesday was a lot of fun, I have to admit that I was getting a little worried about starting pitching. I have said here that I want Nicasio to make it as a starter and that you can win consistently here with just a fastball and slider, but both have to be thrown for strikes, but good strikes (ie, not catching so much of the plate). And I like Francis and still think he will end up winning 10 games this season. But we need more than 5 innings from our starters if the pen is going to have anything left come August. So even with the two off days I just wanted a good start from Garland. He gave them more than that. The first pitcher to go 7 innings, he did what he does. He gave up 6 hits but walked none and even got the 4Ks. But the 9/3 GO/FO is why this team signed him. He could have gone out in the 8th (only 83 pitches) but the team put up a 6 spot to blow it open. Again, they kept the pressure on, not sitting on a lead. They added 2 homers in the 8th. Again, we had some pen issues, as Volstad in his final outing I think as a reliever here gave up a run. But it was a great game. People doubt whether this is what Garland can continue to do, especially a year back from shoulder surgery. But he is playing with an excellent and fast defense. He has always been around a 4 ERA guy. His accuracy seems already back (that was Francis’s big issue coming back). This is who he has been, but with a better defense and a better offense, he can just sit back and throw his stuff. Betting that the Mariners wish they had him back. If they get 10-12 wins and 15 quality starts, that would make his the team’s MVP of the rotation.
I picked the Dbacks to win the West. Clearly that is the choice from my head (my heart picks the Rox every year, and every year its disappointed). They have the best combination of pitching and hitting. They have a home park they are built around. I think they have the same kind of, compete-to-the-end mentality and, as they themselves say a ton a grit. Originally I had picked the Dodgers but by the end of ST I had my doubts. I think the Giants are going to be dealing with the issues around a lot of innings, stressful innings, for their rotation, their pen, and their rather older lineup. So this is the team I think is going to be there til the end. This was the series I circled to see how this team really was doing. And what a first pitching match-up. Ian Kennedy was a top 5 CY pitcher two years ago. Last year was not quite as good, but this guy is a real #1. And did we see it. Kennedy gave up only 3 hits over 6 innings and the excellent pen in Arizona pitched 2 innings of perfect ball (remember in 2010 the DBacks had an almost historically bad pen but Towers has built a great pen the past few years). The good news is that one of those hits was a Tulo homer after a Rutledge walk. And Chris Nelson added a nice triple and was brought in by a pitcher using the bat to get a sac. The three hits is a sign of what can happen when you face the aces of the West, but the key is what you do with those hits and working a few walks (3 off of Kennedy).
And then there was Chacin. I felt all off-season that what we saw in September was the kid who some scouts said could be a #1 and who in his rookie year could have made an AS in the first half of the year. Yes, his spring training pitching made me nervous. I was convinced he was hurt. He said he was working on things. He has been a stud since opening day. And last night he was all stud. Just 3 hits, one walk and 5Ks. The one tough inning he gave the 8th man the walk, and then did what #1s do but what our pitches all too foten the past few year have not – he got the pitcher to get the 3rd out. A nice shut-out until…..the pull. Just heard on Root – it is just back spasms. That is still not good. It may have been the cold. But at this point you have to think they will be careful with his next start. Jim Wright has seemingly already ruled out bringing up Pomeranz, with the idea that when he is brought up he will be here for good and you can read in the subtext…he still is not repeating the delivery like they would like. Lets hope they dont need anyone. Lopez had I think easily his best outing since coming here as he overpowered both hitters to get 2Ks. Rex Brothers gave up 1 hit but got the nice double-play. Then Betencourt struggled a bit, giving up an unearned run thanks to Nelson’s throwing error. But he gave up a big double as well. I am worried they are pushing Betencourt out there a lot right now. He is over 35 and making a lot of throws. We know that as the season goes on he will get his control back even more. So not worrying a lot but watching the innings there. How often have the Rox won a game when giving up only 5 hits? And how many of those games did they only get 3 of their own? That is what I mean by a team that knows how to win.
Another great pitching matchup, and another great pitching game. Trevor Cahill was a great pickup for the DBacks. A really good pitcher who should do well in the West as the DBacks #2. And then there was DLR coming off of 11 straight shut-out innings since the Hunter Pence homer. How would he do in his first game at Coors this year? Need we ask? Jorge was outstanding, giving up just 2 hits. The first inning was a little stressful, with a walk and 27 pitches. After that things never seemed at issue for him. The 4Ks and 2BB were solid as was the 6/2 GO/FO ratio. They pulled him after 82 pitches, a little surprising but its still April, he is coming off of TJ and it was Coors. With 4 run lead you figure hand it to the pen and keep DLR fresh. The pen was not as sharp tonight. Escalona had a great first inning but as he did last week in SD, the 2nd inning he was lit up for a big homer by Eric Chavez. I really like Escalona, and that arm is big. Giving him the 7th shows the growing confidence, and had he not gotten hammered by Chavez, on what was not a bad pitch as the Frazier pointed out on ROOT (I know there is no love for the coverage on the site, but I try to remember that broadcast is not for folks like us but for the casual fan). The pitch was low but got a bit more of the plate than was good. If Escolana has gotten the confidence of Weiss and Jim Wright, that is one more guy who can keep the others fresh. Brothers was okay. Betencourt…tonight was a Jiminez kind of save. You remember him right? Seemed like he was always giving up a run or loading the bases with a walk. Yea, he had big save numbers, but it was never easy. The past 2 nights felt like that. But it was a win. Guessing tommorow afternoon he and Rex are sitting, so probably Lopez and Belisle to close if it is needed.
Two straight nights the offense struggled. Again, those are two very good pitchers in Kennedy and Cahill. And that is a good pen. On the positive side, they got runs when they were not hitting. Loved how Josh Rutledge didnt just give up when he was hung-up at 3rd. He made them work, and they threw it into the OF. That is again a sign of this team working much harder every play, not giving up outs, and making the other team make plays. Loved the EYJr triple, steal by Dex (2 more steal tonight for 16 for the year), and just getting the ball where needed (right side to move over the runner and score one and the sac to score the other). Yes they got the homer from Cuddy, but I guess I loved the other runs because you are not always going to get homers, especially on the road. A very well played game for the Rox. And that is two non-Coors field type games in a row against the DBacks and both have ended in wins. Sooner or later the national media will stop focusing on the homers and start realizing this team is doing a good job in every aspect of the game.
What can you say – that is 8 in a row, 8-0 at home to start the season. The best start in club history. They are second in the league in homers. First in steals. They are getting timley hitting. They are getting solid pen play overall. Their starters have given them 11 Quality Starts in 17 games – 3 by Chacin, DLR and Garland. A great week.
What to Worry About – What to Watch – Even after playing the best baseball this team has ever played to start the season the Giants are still only 2.5 games back! And Timmy Lincecum had a great game tonight (against the Pads). Their pen is still putting in a lot of innings – how will they hold up over the next 10 days? Can they close out the DBacks for the sweep and then how do they pitch to the Braves, the only team with more power than their own? Are the bats going into a slumber? Every night it seems likes its another guy with the big or even little hits, which has made the occasional slump by Rutledge, Fowler, and Helton less serious than it might otherwise be. Will Nicasio and Francis get back on track?
Who am I kidding? You celebrate a week like this. Yes, there are always issues. The other teams have great players too. But enjoy this third week and lets see if we can keep it up against the Braves, DBacks and Dodgers!