First off, apologies for no pre-game yesterday. There were a number of factors – migraines, flying to England, and not realizing there was a double-header. But truth is…I missed it. Sorry folks ,will attempt to not let it happen again.
And speaking of not letting it happen again. Ouch! That 9th inning of the 2nd game of the twin-bill is going to stick in the craw (what is a craw anyways?) of the Rox even more than the Dexter Fowler 2-out, 2-strike homer in April on a Sunday getaway day.
First off, let’s put it out there. The Rox have been playing well enough that had they not decided losing streaks in double figures was cool, would have them as serious wild-card contender. Ever since the losing streak this team has quietly gone from fighting, to winning the occasional game, to down-right sweeping on the road and getting quality starts left and right. I have not gotten to see many games live of late due to family and health issues, but when I watched the TIVOd games (never look at the score first to see who won) I see a team that is as good as any of the potential wild-card teams. And yes it is early and yes a lot of things have to continue to go right but I have been actually impressed by this team, and that is without still a significant contribution from Tulo (who now has two games where his homers were the important runs in the win – didn’t there used to be a horrid stat called Game Winning RBI?), a still struggling (offensively) CarGo, no Dickerson, no Matzek (don’t give up on the kid yet, as bad as his control was remember his stuff was still good enough to consistently avoid runs), no ZERO (that one still hurts), no Hawk, and no Morneau. And yet this team is playing solid baseball, and without any one player being so over his head that you know it is all coming crashing down (think Bryan Rekar back in 1995).
What has been key to the Rox success of late (and always) is good – not great, but just good – starting pitching. We have seen Chris Russin finally figure out his game (as a former 4th round pick with a mid 4s ERA, can he become a solid #3 starter?). We have seen solid outings by David Hale. And we have seen the great Chad Bettis go from “Oh now Bettis is pitching the 11th, we are sure to lose) to “is he throwing a no-hitter?”
Which is why Monday night’s stinker really hurt. Kyle had a good September last year with the Phils which is probably why the team focused on him as their prize this year (remember this off-season the team had the idea that with young guns Grey, Butler, Freeland and Anderson coming that a veteran like Hendrick is all they needed to compliment Lyles, Matzek and Chacin…sounded good in October).
Kyle had 4 really good starts (for him) from May 12 to May 27, giving up 2,14,4 Earned Runs (sadly the team went just 1-3 in those starts). The biggest thing is he went 7,7,6.1,7.1 innings in those starts, saving the bullpen from overuse. Then on Monday his season long issues with homers came back to get him. In the 6th with the game tied 2-2 (vs. Kershaw) he allowed three straight hits (and why Weiss didn’t pull him then I wonder), and then after a nice pickoff at 2nd was hurt by a Nolan error and then a base-knock by Kershaw. Of course it didn’t help that Christian Friedrich, who still hasn’t found the groove he had last year (much like Matzek) gave up a bomb and then three more baserunners to blow a close-game wide open.
I reiterate that game because knowing they had a double-header the next day using three of your relievers (and in defense of Friedrich, every reliever has one of those days where it just isn’t working for you), but then recently recalled Tommy Kahnle (who had his control issues really under wraps in Alberqurque but has strugled since returning to the Rox) went 1.1 innings (Friedrich threw 18 and Kahnle 19 pitches meaning they were both unavaiable on Tuesday) and Christian Bergman in a two inning 3ER slog threw 44 pitches. So you had three relievers essentially done for the double-header. The starters had to go long (at least 6 perferable 7) and the relievers needed quick innings.
In the opening game the Rox threw out Jorge De La Rosa and against him starting (sort of) was Juan Nicasio. I still think the Rox should have held on to Nicasio. Yes he was going to be owed $2.3 and the Rox looked set in terms of both long-men and relievers in general. Juans’s power sinking fastball and occasionally good slider were not enough as a starter, but as we saw last year after becoming a reliever, he seemed well adapted to that role. But…Jeff Bridich in one of his first surprise moves traded Juan within the division for Noel Cuevas an outfielder who at age 23 has speed and little else in his game. That is still a trade I just do not get.
We know that DLR still hasn’t gotten his game totally correct yet, but still remains (aside from Bettis’s recent streak) there is a sense in his games the team almost always has a real chance to win. His opening game was beyond a stink fest, but since then (granted in limited innings due to long counts with hitters and some physical problems) he has been decent going 5,5,4,7.1,4.1 innings and allowing 2,3,5,0,3 earned runs (the last game on that list he simply had to use too many pitches on too many hitters to go further) in those 5 games the Rox went 2-3. Jorge is going to get going at some point (he went into last night without a single home win).
Last night for 5 of the 6 innings, Jorge was pretty good. His walk count hurt him (4) which equaled his hit total and was one less than his earned run total. He did however strike-out 6 (but did allow a homerun which has not been like DLR, as he had allowed only 2 going into last night’s game – but the one he gave up was a moster http://m.mlb.com/video/topic/6479266/v141589583/ladcol-pederson-crushes-a-477foot-tworun-shot). I still think the CarGo shot in Milwakee was going to be longer if a building hadnt gotten in the way. That home run was in the 3rd and he was solid again until the 5th. In that inning after getting two quick outs DLR then walked one batter, threw a wild pitch, walked another batter (the aforementioned Pederson which with as hot as he is, maybe not a bad idea), then gave up a single to left that loaded the bases. And then…he walked home run 3 by walking Agon. And then he struck out Henricks to end the inning. Where was that K several batters ago?
All in all he still got through 6 with just 98 pitches (34 in the 5th). But without that inning he could have gone 7 with his stuff, or maybe longer. Instead the game was turned over to Boone Logan (who suddenly has found it again) for 1.2 innings of hitless 2K work (20 pitches), then Betencourt for .1 innings (3 pitches) and the 10th save for Axeford on 1 hit and 22 pitches. So you now had two more relievers removed from your group. Making planning for the nightcap difficult.
Oh, and the Rox won the game thanks to strong offensive performances from Fort McKenry with a 2-run shot and a double for 3 total RBIs. He has been very good offensively lately. Ben Paulsen hit another homer to pad the lead, his 4th of the season in just 53 plate appearances along with a 5:10 BB/K ratio and 4 doubles for a current .354 BA and 1.103 OPS (higher than last year’s .920 OPS in 66 plate appearances. One begins to wonder if Justin Morneau may be traded when and if healthy just because Ben Paulsen (especially with a Wilin platoon against tough lefties) is taking over the position. Sometimes you find a diamond in the 3rd round and he is just hitting his prime at 26.
Oh and some guy named Arenado also had 2 hits and an RBI to help. His Gold Glove counterpart also tossed in two hits and scored a run.
The Rox won 6-3, but only 1 of the runs went against Nicasio in his 2 innings of work. Oh and even after that run, his ERA is still a stellar 1.57 with a WHIP of 1.174. Say it again, I do not understand that trade.
So we have now set the stage for the nightcap. The Rox had now won 5 of 6 and were back to within 6.5 games of 1st place. Sweep and its 5.5 games and the old momentum is back. Especially at home where this team has been so bad – while on the road they are over .500. That cannot stay such. So winning 3 of 4 with the Dodgers and a sweep of the rest of the home series was just what the doctor ordered.
And with Jordan Lyles finally heading to the DL the Rox brought back David Hale to be the starter for the game.
As bad as I think the Nicasio trade was this offseason I think the deal to grab Hale was equally savvy. For the cost of 2 minor league catchers (a position of depth and strengths in the farm system) they got a guy who in parts of 2 seasons gave the Braves (a team very good at finding and developing pitching) 8 starts and 39 relief appearances with ERAs of .82 (1.091 WHIP) in 2 starts in 2013 and 3.30 ERA (with WHIP of 1.184). Again, it looked like a steal. In his first game vs. the Giants on the 23rd he went 6.2 innings allowing 8 hits and 2 ER but with 2Ks and 0 BBs. Yes, he didn’t issue a single walk…something that probably caused him to have to be sent to the minors to figure out how to put men on base for free.
Hale wasn’t’ quite as sharp Tuesday night. He gave the team another 6 innings (they really needed 7 though) with just 82 pitches allowing 7 hits and 4 ER while striking out 5 and walking…zero, nada, nil, a big goose-egg. Say what you will about Hale, he gets through is performances with minimal pitch counts and doesn’t walk men. Considering all 4 runs came on homers, imagine the outcome of those homers if he had walked just 3 or 4 men. Homers score runs, but solo homeruns do not start rallies. Two of the three homers went to guys who simply are going to hit it out – AGon for his 11th and the future rookie of the year Joc Pederson for his 16th. Look, its Coors, on a nice day, against good hitters who lift the ball. Homers will happen. But overall Hale did a good job, earning the official Coors Quality Start (or CQS – 6 innings with 4 or less runs).
What is more he outpitched Zach Greinke, arguably among the best starting pitchers in the NL this year. In 11 starts he has allowed 3 or more runs in only 3 games and 2 of which are against the Rox, against whom he was 1-1 and well on his way to 1-2. They got after Greinke for 10 hits and a walk while striking out only 2 times (yes, that is right only twice though the relievers added 3 more vs only 1 walk). When you score 5 runs off Greinke you must win the game.
And indeed the offense tried to do just that. DJ had another 2 hit game, CarGo had a 3 hit day (his average at .226 and yes I still expect him to be close to .300 at the end of the year), as did Nick Hundley (have the Rox gotten great production from that spot this year??? And think there is one Tom Murphy coming to make the position even more dynamic) and 3 hits from Brandon Barnes who didn’t hit well at AAA but has been raking since his recall to the tune of .372. Barnes is just keeping the seat warm for Dickerson but has been a nice bench piece. Hundley also scored 3 times. All told they put up 15 hits (now that is more Coors Field) though only 3 were for extra bases – a double by CarGo and Hundley and a homer by Tulo in the 7th (just his 5th of the year) to give him 2 RBIs. All told the put up 8 runs and score runs in 5 innings. That is not just Coors-like, it is positive sign they may finally be breaking out of their offensive lethargy which is in part why the team has struggled at home. But it wasn’t offense that was the issue in this game.
After Hale got them 6 innings (could Hale with just 82 pitches, 57 for strikes) have gone one more inning? He had a 1-2-3 6th thanks to a double-play with just 5 pitches. He was pulled for a pinch hitter after the Rox took a 5-4 lead with 2 outs and Barnes at 1st. I would have left him in thanks to the fact your bullpen is shot and he still has it. You have the lead.
I have really second-guessed Weiss a lot this year, and sadly I have been right too often. I wonder if during the losing streak Weis would have been fired had it not been for his appendectomy. I love the guy. He would make a good third base coach. But his decision making is very weak and in the end that is really what a manger needs to be measured on (along with wins and losses). You know your pen is shot, you know Hale is strong. With 2-outs and a man on 1st, what are the chances he scores? I don’t know the number but I am betting its close to 15% at the highest. Do you need that 1 more run or another inning from a starter who struck out the side in the 4th after a lead-off single, got through the 5th 1-2-3 with a strike-out and a total of 10 pitches an then that 6th.
Quite simply, David Hale should have been throwing in the 7th, especially as burn out as the bullpen was.
Instead in the 7th Hale lost his chance for a win when Brooks Brown (rested since his amazing work on Sunday striking out the side with the bases loaded) walked Rollins to start the inning (how often does a walk at the start of an inning score? Don’t know again but it has to be high relative to other percentages in baseball) got 2 outs but allowed Rollins to steal 3rd before that man again – and lets be clear – you have to start walking Pederson at this point til he slows down – tripled (his first in his career but I will be all my wealth its not the last Oin Rollins to dead center field (http://m.mlb.com/video/topic/6479266/v142268983/ladcol-pedersons-first-career-triple-ties-the-game ) He took it the to the opposite part of center than Blackmon was playing, but it also highlighted to me why we need more speed in center at Coors. Regardless the game as tied though Brown got out of it with no further damage. Should Brown have been more careful, maybe even give him the unintentional intentional walk? Just things to think about.
But now Brown was added to the list of recently over-used relievers.
The Rox though again scored, giving Brown the chance for a win, as DJ singled and Tulo brought him home in style http://m.mlb.com/video/v142316483/ladcol-tulo-drives-in-lemahieu-with-blast-to-center/?game_pk=414427
Tulo’s homers are usually those line-drive laser shots. This one was long, deep and perfectly crushed to straight away center and was a perfect example of a moon shot. The score was now 7-5. And in the 8th they added another run when with one out Hundley had a nice double to left and then was brought home on a single to center that on the throw allowed Barnes to go to second. They got Rosario to 1st on a walk after that but then the door was shut when Blackmon lined out to left and DJ struck-out.
Okay point blank. You cannot lose a game, even at Coors, going into the 9th with a 3 run lead. The Dex homer was a 1-run lead. But with a 3 run lead? That is at the hard edge of a save. The only time three runs or more is scored in the 9th at Coors is when the Rox do it. But not last night.
One of my arguments is that relievers have bad nights. You have to plan on that. Now getting up and warmed up and not used can make a reliever essentially feel like they pitched. But when you need just 3 outs to win a game you had better have a good plan B. Last night it didn’t seem Weiss did. He decided to go with Betencout who had to leave Sunday because of “flu like symptoms” and didn’t look at all good in that game. He did pitch (sort of?) in the earlier game that day when he got one batter out on 3 pitches. So with all that data (and look, I think at roxwalkoff Betty is loved and adored, but how can you set him up in this situation without a net). Have someone ready to go somewhat if things go south quickly. Losing a 3 run lead game can absolutely destroy a team. And this one may have.
Instead of using Bett? The other choice to close out the game…Scott Oberg, who did a very nice job of just that on Sunday when both Betty and Axford were spent. But Oberg was chosen to get 2 outs in the 8th instead of the th, despite being fresher and right now the best pitcher in the bullpen (last 7 games 7.2 innings, WHIP of .65), plus seems to be in the process of grooming for future closer role (which the 15th rounder in 2012 has been doing for a while). Why not save Oberg for that inning and use either Kahnle or Betencourt for the 8th – there was already 1 out in the 8th thanks to the odd use again of Logan to get Agon. Anyways, choices of when to use relievers, how much back-up and the rest has been a common complain here about regarding Weiss. He just seems to push the wrong button about 70% of the time and those always seem to be instances where the decision was a head shaker to begin with.
First he gave up a single to center to Callaspo (on a 3-2 count). Then almost the same thing, a single to Rollins to center (on a 1-1 count). And then a sharp single to….you guessed it, center, by Chris Heisey (on the first pitch). So now bases loaded. The fact that all three hits were back up the middle tells me that the hitters were directly on the pitches he threw, even if the hits were not line-drives, driving the ball down the center of the field. Weiss decides to visit the mount.
Does he change pitchers? Turner is a righty, so it makes sense to stay with Betty for that batter. And he gets him with a K. So now Oberg?
No. Now remember, you can give up a run, especially if you get an out. They don’t have to be perfect, just not horribly wrong.
Betty does get Pederson to fly out to Barnes in left, not deep enough to score a run. So now 2 outs. Still Betencourt on the mound. Betty has now faced 5 batter, after facing on in the afternoon game. He was pulled just two days earlier with flu-like symptom (I am a wimp, when I got the flu I didn’t move for 5 days, but that is standard I hear, so how can Betty be pitching just two days after the flu).
So get gets to stay in and face the young left-fielder/3rd baseman Alex Guerroro, owner already of 9 home runs in 103 plate appearances. And on a 1 ball 2 strike pitch (yes, again, 2 strikes, 2 outs, with a lead, in the 9th) the bullpen, Rafael Betencourt, and the Rox gave up the lead on a grand slam to center field on the 19th pitch of the inning. It just made it over centerfield. I wonder if Blackmon had been playing deeper (and he should have been in my book because you can give up the single but not doubles or triples and he was already beaten deep on the Pederson triple) Charlie could have caught the ball.
Regardless, it was gone. And so was Betty. Replaced by Tommy Kahnle who promptly walked Agon and then gave up a single to Grandal and a walk to Henrick to re-load the bases before getting Callespo, the guy who started it all, to line-out to center. Finally out of the inning the Rox were a completely deflated team. And why not – you have a 3-run lead. You do whatever it takes to protect it. You have to win that game.
But some credit to the Rox in the 9th. Against a very good closer in Kanley Jensen, they almost tied it. Tulo struck out looking on 4 pitches (while his home runs are back, he still doesn’t seem comfortable with the whole strike zone thing). But then CarGo had his third hit of the night, a double to center that got some help from the left fielder. So now, 1-out, runner at 2nd.
The other night on ROOT they had the discussion on why runner don’t steal in the 9th. I ask the same question. You have a good base runner in CarGo, who yes after the knee surgery is not the same guy, but he should be able to steal around 10-15 bases. With one out, I send him to third. You get him to third you have a lot of way to score the run. But instead he stayed put and Nolan bounced on to short on a 1-1 count. CarGo moved up to 3rd on that, but had he stolen the base (and yes, he can be caught, but with a right-handed bat up and a closer on the mound – notoriously slower in their delivery) then CarGo scores on that bouncer. Instead, 2-outs, runner at 3rd, and you need a hit.
Sadly, Ben Paulsen with the game on the line facing a 2-2 count struck out on a foul-tip.
And with that the Rox saw a promising day end in a nightmare. The joy of winning the opener, of getting a quality start from Jorge and controlling the Dodger bats (aside from Joc Pederson) was lost in one pitch.
But of course it wasn’t one pitch. It was the 34 pitch 5th in the opener that meant that Jorge could not give the team 7 innings and thus save an extra reliever for the nightcap (and I didn’t even discuss why after using Betty for 1 batter in the 8th they didn’t use him in the 9th up 3 runs there instead of Axford). And then there was the decision to use a pinch-hitter with 2 outs and runner on 1st when you already have the lead and your starter is mowing them down, possibly heading for a complete game. And then there was the decision to use Betencourt and Oberg in the order they did. And then there is CarGo at 2nd and not trying to get to third. And oh well, plenty more.
But maybe, just maybe, this all comes back to the injuries to Hawkins and the devastating Tommy John to Zero, arguably the coolest and most dangerous closer in the National League this year. Had those two guys been healthy, both closers, the pen work would have been different. But they weren’t there.
And neither in the end was the victory. The home stand continues. If they go out and win the next game against the Dodgers and with that get back to just 6.5 back, well, maybe they can get past this one quickly. They need to. They need to sweep the rest of the homestand or only lose a single game. The problem with losing a game like this is a team can work so hard to get it back, but you can’t. This loss will be up there for the rest of the season. How much focus it takes from the team….that is the issue for Wednesday night.
But maybe this team can shake it off and just keep winning. Go ROX!