Well, it's certainly been an eventful week. Seven games into a ten-game roadie, and the results have been mixed. Something bad (I'm fuzzy on the details) appears to have happened at Citi Field, leaving us all in a state of profound amnesia that covers everything except their 4-2 victory in the nightcap of a day-night doubleheader. Matters were improved with their excursion to Cincinnati, where they posted a pair of well-played team wins, 5-3 and 6-2, before finally exorcising their extra-inning hoodoo today with a 6-4, 11-inning win. It didn't come easy, as they blew leads of 3-0 (a Nix brother decided to cause us even more pain) and 4-3 (thanks to a Joey Votto bomb, which shall be briefly discussed below). But Dexter Fowler delivered the tiebreaking triple in the top of the 11th, Garrett Atkins theoretically beat out an infield single for an insurance run, and Huston Street, our brilliant birthday boy, made it look absolutely easy in the bottom half of the frame. Anyone miss Fuentes? I didn't think so.
Pair that with the three days which we don't remember, and that leaves the team at 4-3 on the trip after an 0-3 start, heading off to Philly to face the defending champs. (This road trip, I must remark, seems to have been designed with a scandalous disregard for ergonomics. Wouldn't it have been easier to send us to Philly from New York, then to Cincinnati, then back to Colorado, instead of New-York-Cincinnati-Philly-Colorado? But I digress).
Join me after the jump for further ruminations.
Let's start looking at some high points. Dan O'Dowd has finally mastered the art of acquiring established players for minor-league pitching prospects, as he sent two of them to Washington to pick up LHP Joe Beimel. Notwithstanding Beimel's hiccup today -- giving up the game-tying homer to Joey Votto -- this looks to be a key acquisition. He absolutely stifled the Rockies while with the Dodgers last year, and as Renck pointed out in his Post article, must feel like he's been paroled after escaping from the baseball hellhole that is Washington. Beimel seems thrilled to get back into a team that's genuinely in the race, and we're just as happy to have him (as long as he has more outings like his debut yesterday, where he retired the Reds in order in the ninth). He's already sporting his preferred #97, although it remains to be seen if he'll keep the Johnny-Damon-on-the-Red-Sox caveman look that has also been his trademark. (He, Helton, and Stewart can start up the scruffy club, but if we discover that said facial hair has magical powers, we may have to get them all into ZZ Top).
All jabs about suspect personal hygiene aside, I'm jazzed. Tracy shouldn't have been over-managing in the eighth with the lefty-on-lefty matchup (he's thankfully restrained from doing that to the same degree as Hurdle) and Votto had been carrying a blowtorch all series. I can tell you that I, for one, trust Joe Beimel more than Juan Rincon, and with Rafael Betancourt, a suddenly dominant Frankie, and of course the BBB Huston Street, I'm suddenly feeling a lot better about the bullpen than I have in a long time. I'm also equally pleased with what the Beimel acquisition signifies -- the front office, seeing a chance to pick up a legit middle-relief option at minimum cost that would help the team win NOW, went out and did it. I don't know if everyone's woken up from a trance since the Hurdle firing, but I'm seeing more focus on "winning," instead of "developing," than I have in a long time. And I don't know about you, but I like it.
Other things I like? The fact that Jason Marquis should be up to 14 wins now, even though he's failed to get them. (Well, I don't like that he's failed to get them, but I like that he's pitched well enough to merit them. I also am slightly irritated that he's no longer the MLB wins leader. Stupid Josh Beckett). Both his outing in New York and his outing today have continued to show the sterling performance from his first half, and as everyone seems to be half-waiting for the other shoe to drop and return him to his accustomed second-half swoon, it's nice to see that not happening. The dog days of August are officially upon us, and the Staten Island Stud continues to clock in with quality starts. A little more offense would have been helpful, especially as it would have helped engender a split with the Mets instead of... whatever happened instead, but that's certainly no fault of Marquis's. Pair that with a gritty outing from Cookie, a stellar one from U-ball, and the starting rotation (minus Jason Hammel, who really needs to get himself out of the "except" category) continues to shine. Paired with a revamped bullpen and our customary glittering defense (I repeat, I am always struck by how much awesome the infield is made out of) most of the fraction for championship baseball is present. The question is about the offense -- usually regarded as one of the club's chief strengths. Is it, as Woodrow thinks, currently asleep at the wheel? (After back-to-back shutouts at Citi Field, he may have, unfortunately, a point. AAAH! Erase, erase!) Or is it, as Renck thinks, just a slumbering giant that's already doing well and will be terrifying once it gets a team-wide poke in the eye? After all, there was plenty of power flashed at homer-friendly Great American Ballpark, particularly by a young stud who's having hisself a damn fine roadtrip, damn fine: Troy Tulowitzki.
Now leading the team in homers with 20, hoisting his season average up to .270, with 52 RBI and a .886 OPS, in addition to providing his usual flashy defense at short (example: see his play on Wladimir Balentien's grounder in the first game of the series) Tulo has suddenly started pulling his considerable weight. His eighth-inning homer today promptly untied the game, and although it didn't prove to be the final margin thanks to the Votto bomb, it quite possibly stopped us from losing it (as we didn't score against Cordero in the ninth). Tulo's slugging .525 this year, has a fairly decent 51/76 BB/K split, and currently, his one weakness seems to be in baserunning (Dex needs to give him a few tips on stealing). But as is well-known, Tulo's played on one losing team in his life -- last year's Rockies -- and isn't keen on repeating the experience. I'm not about to assign him all the credit, but it's certainly hard to deny that when he's hot, he's the kind of guy who can put the ballclub on his back and carry them.
Hopefully, he won't be asked to do that. Brad Hawpe is showing signs of emerging from a post All-Star break funk, Chris Iannetta had a mammoth homer in Game 1 to put the Rockies ahead, and most pertinently, Carlos Gonzalez, the much-derided, has jacked his average all the way up to .261 after a 3-for-3 showing today. He continues to flash the leather, but his offensive troubles have led to his benching in favour of Seth Smith. (And can I also point out, Smith too is made of awesome, and provides serious power from the leadoff spot). The trick will be a) hoping that Gonzalez has actually figured something out, and isn't just going to return to his favored modus operandi of giant, Barmes-at-a-slider swings, and b) balancing playing time in the outfield between him, Dex, and Smitty; Hawpe is really the only guy whose job isn't in a state of platoon. But I for one don't mind having an influx of talented players, as it's better than scrabbling around because nobody's doing diddlysquat. I'll reserve judgment on CarGo for a few more series, but man, it would be nice if he did. The offense has all the components to be lethal in spots 1-8, somebody just needs to pull the killswitch.
Which leads me to my concluding point. The Phillies absolutely failed to help us out this weekend against the Giants, and our task is to see that quitting the boneyard of the Phonebooth in favour of the cozy confines of Citizens Bank doesn't make them remember. (If they clobber us, I suggest we turn them upside down and shake them to see if San Francisco checks fall out of their pockets). By contrast, we need to put the screws to them -- perhaps a tall task, considering -- but it's fairly clear that we're going to have to make our own luck. As the race stands, there's just no room for error. After the three games at Philly, we come home to play the resurgent Cubs for four. The schedule afterwards looks moderately easier for a stretch -- Pirates at home, Marlins and Nationals on the road -- but our last ten games in August are against the Giants and Dodgers. Needless to say, there needs to be no letting up on the accelerator. Now that we are, by anyone's yardstick, a genuinely good team (11 games above .500, hello thar) we need to avoid the kind of missteps that marked that... whatever... in Citi Field. I am, however, proud of the guys for recovering from the tough start. Now we need to achieve 5-5 at least. It won't be easy, but it can be done.
We'll be waiting.