And to add another, “well obviously” statement, Juan Nicasio still only throws two different types of pitches. In sports they the term, “on paper” I used a lot to describe how things ought to play out. Saturday night’s game in L.A. was a classic “on paper” game. The Dodgers and their big guns, large payroll, and big arms in the pen throwing a soft-tossing lefty at the Rockies should win. And they did. It felt like a scripted game…even if it could have gone a different direction at several points. But alas the author of last night’s game didn’t want to work against type.
Rockies fans know that, for whatever reason it might be, the team just doesn’t hit soft-tossing lefties. Doesn’t matter if the game is at Coors, Dodger Stadium or Australia. The softer the worst the Rockies hit, and last night was no exception, despite the struggles Paul Malholm had faced this season and historically against the Rockies (entering last night with a 1-8 records and a 6.63 ERA, though the current Rockies hitters were hitting only .286 against him entering the game). But Paul Malhom did his best Tom Glavine impression, keeping the ball away against the righties and with good horizontal movement against the lefties in the lineup. In seven innings he gave up just the 6 hits and 1 walk with 2 runs, and was lifted at the start of the 8th still only having thrown 84 pitches (once again the Rockies were aggressive against a starter hitting a lot of 1st and 2nd pitch pitches, with very little result). With the score 5-2 at the time and the Rockies really not mounting much of a charge, I was surprised that Mattingly lifted him in favor of his already over-worked pen, but following this season’s trend of making complete games something managers appear to fear, Malholm was gone – and the game finally got interesting.
Against Malholm the Rox got: a walk in the first by Nolan Areando (yes, that is not a misprint, a walk by Nolan) followed by a CarGo double-play , a third inning rally thanks to a DJ single, Nicasio bunt, and Barnes single (he was picked off to end the inning when his cleats stuck going back to first on a throw-over), a fifth inning gift run on a “double” on a ball Matt Kemp lost in the sky, Morneau single to score him, Stubbs grounder that he beat out to keep from being a double-play, and then an actual DJ grounded into double-play, and a pair of Nolan and CarGo singles in the 6th (Nolan’s hit streak now at 16) wasted when Tulo grounded out to end the inning. That is the sum total of the offense against Malholm. Typical Rockies effort against a sof-tossing lefty. Malholm joins Wade Miley, Quintanila from the White Sox in shutting down’s the league’s best offense. To be honest, the first 7 innings of the game were crisp and well-played baseball and also quite…boring.
After Malholm left the game changed if not the actual outcomes. Mattingly brought in Chris Withrow, their Adam Ontavino, and their best reliever so far this year. He promptly walked Josh Rutledge to lead off the inning. Charlie Culberson, who had come in during the 5th when Nicasio was pulled in a double-switch, lined a hard ball to the right field corner that many right fielders probably don’t get but which Puig was able to run down. Then Withrow walked Barnes. And walked Arenado (yes, two in the same game, and this one was a hard earned walk by Nolan). So, down by 3, bases loaded, your two All-Stars coming up against a pitcher who has lost the strike zone! Excitement time! No. CarGo strikes out on 4 pitches and looked lost the entire at-bat. Then Tulo….strikes out on five pitches. In defense of Tulo with a 1-0 count the umpire gave Withrow a called strike on a ball well off the plate, which changed the entire AB. But regardless, it was still a great battle between Tulo and Withrow and this time Tulo lost. Bases loaded and 1 out and you get no runs. That hurts! But, then again, the other guys are getting paid a lot because they are good too.
I have not talked about the Rockies pitching so far. You can find my posting about what to do with Juan Nicasio on the website already. The fact is that last night, in a park that is his favorite to pitch in against a lineup he has handle in the past, Nicasio was bad. Not horrible – just bad, again. The entire start felt like the game against the Phillies, where he was able to get out their lesser bats with ease, but didn’t have anything against the big bats after the first 2 innings. In those first 2 innings he threw 39 pitches, but stranded a double in each inning. He was avoiding getting scored on, which is the name of the game, but you never sensed he was in control. Staked to a 1-0 lead in the third, things fell apart. He gave up three runs on a triple, hit-by-pitch, groundout (where Puig, running on the pitch went 1st to 3rd on a ball hit to Tulo – great base running), sac fly, and long fly to Kemp. He gave up another run in the 4th thanks to a walk to the back-up catcher. And then knowing his team needed length after 11 innings the night before, and on the heels of the team making it 4-2, gave-up a 6 pitch homer to Adrian Gonzalez to start the inning. He came back to get Kemp on a strikeout, but then a hard single by Ethier told Walt Weiss Nicasio was done at 97 pitches. In came Tommy Kahnle, who pitched 1.2 innings of 1 hit, 2K ball, continuing to be the great surprise of 2014. In the 7th Chris Martin came in, all 6’5” of him, throwing 95,97,93, and while he gave up a single through the hole between Tulo and Nolan, he looked great for his pro-debut. In the 8th it was Matt Belisle’s turn and…well, once again, Matt just seemed to be missing his spots.
He got the back-up catcher Drew Butera to strike-out to open, but then walked Carl Crawford on 5 pitches, gave-up a hard single to center to Dee Gordon (I will be happy not to see Dee for a while), and then a Yasiel Puig ground-rule double to deep center that Puig trotted around the bags thinking he had hit a homer. The sky seemed to create a lot of vision issues last night, so no blame to Puig there. So, score now 6-2, and things are going south quickly, right? Well…time for great defense. Juan Uribe lined a ball to Barnes in right deep enough to score the runner, but Puig tries to tag to 3rd (in a 6-2 game?) and Barnes throws an absolute dart, quick tag as Nolan comes to the ball and tags Puig 4 feet from 3rd and all this before Dee Gordon races home to score. So, double-play, and Gordon’s run didn’t count because he hadn’t touched home yet when Puig was tagged out. Great play, again. ESPN had an article talking about the Rockies and Braves and how many runs they are saving with their defense. No doubt. And a reminder, this was done in a 6-2 game when many teams just want to get to their hotels. I love how hard this team plays until their final out.
And…it seemed to inspire them. Having left 3 on in the 8th, the Rox didn’t go quite in the 9th. Starting the inning against Brian Wilson Blackmon pitch-hitting walked and went to 2nd on defensive indifference. Then Justin walked. Two on and no out! Mattingly didn’t doddle this time, and went straight for Kenley Jensen, their closer, who strikes out Drew Stubbs (who had some of his best ABs in the game we have seen all season). Then Dickerson just pocked one into left to load the bases. Charlie Culberson hit a slow-roller to first to make it 2 out and 6-3, bringing up Brandon Barnes as the tying run. All you can ask for is to have the tying run up in the 9th, and they had now done so. How much did not getting a few runs in the 8th hurt? How bad did the extra run in the 8th they gave up hurt? In the end, it didn’t matter as Barnes was simply over matched against Jensen who got him swinging on a 96 mph cutter to end it. Again, the other guys are in the major leagues for a reason too.
What had been a boring game for much of the night, closed with a flourish. And the outcome was pretty close to what it should have been on paper when a) the Rox face a soft-tossing lefty (he had one pitch at 65) b) Juan Nicasio is still throwing just a 4 seamer and a slider 99.9% of the time and c) the offense of the Dodgers was ready to explode.
Every athlete hates to lose. If you don’t you are done long before the major leagues come calling. But these guys know they are not going 162-0. This is a game they could have won, but it is also a game that things didn’t set-up well for a win. There were some positives in the game – good pen work by Martin and Kahnle, some good ABs by guys not named CarGo, Tulo, and Rosario, and great defense. You tip your hat to the other guys, get a shower, and prepare to face a hard throwing left in Ryu and win the series. But this team can be proud, they made the Dodgers work far harder than they should have….on paper.