Because if you haven't, then there's a few things you should know about this most important of scientific principles. The Surgeon General has recommended that Small Furry FailBears should be pounded wherever they appear, as doing so will confer a number of healthful benefits. It clears skin, counteracts entropy, lowers blood pressure, increases libido, perks energy, spikes happiness, lowers gas prices, mends the ozone hole, and does the shopping. In addition, not pummelling Small Furry FailBears is in fact a Bad Thing for the universe. You see, the FailBears, as physical manifestations of, well, failure, in fact encapsulate your bad breakup, the fact that you weren't promoted at work, that asshat who cut you off on I-25, and the catastrophic devaluation of your investment portfolios. They are a walking disprovement of Leibniz's silly "best possible world" theory, and in fact run the risk of returning the world to a state of Hobbesian chaos, where life is nasty, brutish, and short (especially if you're in the stands at Coors trying to fend off the FailBears' mindless myrmidons). So in short, valiant soldiers, SMITE SMITE SMITE.
Oh yeah, and doing that and getting Matt Cain to lose to the Reds will put you back into a tie for the Wild Card. So there's always that.
Three games into one of these silly Friday-Monday four-game series, and the Rockies -- particularly their bats -- are looking happy to be home. After three shutouts in ten games, along with only scoring one run in another, concerns about the offense were starting to become the predominate question. Well, the Rox have done their best to lay some of those fears to rest, scoring 6 in the opener, 5 in yesterday's frustrating loss, and 11 today, to do their part in ridding the world of the influence of the FailBears. Whether it's home cooking or just the reversion of several mini-slumps, it's working, and in the series finale tomorrow -- Tom Gorzelanny vs. Jorge de la Rosa, 6:40 pm -- they'll attempt to complete a hat trick against the team with possibly the most irritating fanbase in baseball. That second game of the series is going to rankle for a while, as it was entirely winnable and in fact might have been if Milton Bradley hadn't run down Tulo's laser to end the seventh inning. A split wouldn't be bad, but as has been the case for a while, we're in the stage of not accepting "acceptable." As long as the JDLR who shows up isn't the one who tends to show up against the Phillies, then we've got a good chance of hanging another crooked number. (Now that I've said that, they'll get shut out. Sorry about that).
What's been fueling this offensive reawakening? Carlos Gonzalez, for a start. After his slow start, he's come on like absolute gangbusters, raising his season average to .283 and enjoying a 3-for-5 day today. Pairing him and Dexter Fowler on top of the lineup has become a drool-worthy combination, with plenty of speed, a little power, and the best smiles on the team. (Hey, that's a stat, right?) If CarGo has in fact learned the strike zone and is intending to continue like this, then the Holliday trade looks even better for us. Suddenly, that's a pretty good-looking outfield, especially with Seth Smith continuing his reign of terror in the late innings. Was there ever a better pinch-hitter? John Mabry? Steve Finley? Doesn't anyone miss them? Anyone? Anyone? Anyone? Bueller?
There is, however, a component of that outfield that isn't carrying his weight, and that's in some way a bit surprising, seeing as said component had a first half that sent him to the All-Star Game. It may be that Carl Crawford (I like the Rays, but it'll take me a while to forgive him for that) foully stole his mojo when he robbed him of that go-ahead home run but Brad Hawpe just hasn't been himself in the second half. He did have a pair of hits today, but he's been striking out a ton and bouncing ground balls to short, including a double play to kill what could have been a huge first inning today. On second thought, it may be that Hawpe is in fact completely himself, as he's always run wickedly streaky, but his first half was so consistently good that we were hoping that was behind him. Hawpe's defense has always been something of an Achilles heel, so it'll be doubly visible if he isn't carrying his offensive share, but he's still a relatively premier left-handed bat and, theoretically, will hit the next phase of his streakiness and go back to proving it.
In the meantime, let's try to diagnose the problem. He's in a serious power drought -- he slugged .577 in the first half, .392 in the second half, and only has 1 home run, 7 RBI, 3 doubles, and 1 triple in 74 post-break at-bats. His OBP figure is, however, relatively identical -- .396 first half, .398 second half -- and his average, while it's not near the strong .320 he posted for the first half, still isn't too bad at .284. But when 16 of your 21 hits are of the singles variety, that seems to indicate that he's not getting the same drive on the ball as he was. I haven't had time to actually watch too many games this summer, so perhaps someone can enlighten me -- is he trying to pull the ball, is he hacking too much (he's always been prone to a certain degree of hackiness) is his timing off, or is he just being Brad Hawpe and therefore streaky, dammit? With the rest of the outfield suddenly picking it up, it may be that Brad decided he was entitled to a well-earned holiday after doing (along with Helton) the heavy lifting for the first half. Which was all well and good -- for the All-Star break. But Bradley, darling, we're in a pennant race now. I advise you to check back in posthaste.
What about the infield? Tulo continues to tear it up in the cleanup spot, and Todd is Todd, but third and second base have been a bit of a quandary. Ian Stewart has been quietly slumping as well, with only 2 post-break homers, two doubles, a triple, a .380 OBP, and a .254 average. Clint Barmes has hit a terrible slump (he's something like 3 for 47, with all three hits being homers) and was benched for the first two games of the series, but Jim Tracy, displaying his continuing Midas touch, put him in as a defensive replacement and was rewarded with the third of those three homers. Barmes' elite D kept him in the lineup for as long as it did, but after his frustrating showing on the road trip, almost everyone agreed it was time to give Q some of his, oh, 10 innings of allotted playing time per season. Barmes used to be the Row's absolute whipping boy before redeeming himself to some measure this year, but his average is down to .245 and he's starting to show an unnerving resemblance to "Black Hole Barmes." Hopefully a few days off, and maybe some healthy fear about losing his starting job, will help him get back to his earlier form, but he's always been a player who falls off in August/September. If we've got another player (Hawpe) who isn't carrying his weight, then we're going to have to take such things into account. Unlike Hawpe, Barmes' defense is good enough to justify his playing time, but not in a pennant race. In short, pick it up, Clintock.
The starting rotation is continuing to perform relatively well, but it's still something of a concern at the moment. Ubaldo is fine, but JDLR got blown up by the Phillies, Aaron Cook sprained his toe, Jason Marquis had his first bad start in a while, and Jason Hammel is clearly still the weak link. He was frankly lucky today, as he could have been blown up entirely by the Cubs and just managed to weasel out of it. I'd rather see Jhoulys Chacin in his place, but I'm fairly sure that the front office won't want to throw a 22-year-old fresh from Double-A into the middle of a pennant race. Shame, because aside from giving up what proved to be the game-winning homer last night, Chacin's filthy stuff has been on full display in his limited appearances. In my opinion, we can't keep running out a guy (Hammel) who's always a candidate for a nuclear implosion in half his games (particularly the ones at home). Of course, we don't want to move hastily or whatnot, but it bears close watching.
Funnily enough, the top performers of the past stretch have been the bullpen. Matt Daley, Franklin Morales, Josh Fogg, Rafael Betancourt, and Joe Beimel have proved themselves a trustworthy fivesome and then some, finally building a bridge to our lights-out ninth-inning guy (he's named after some road and a city in Texas, not entirely sure). 1-2-3, drama-free ninth innings are a welcome relief after Fuentes' nightly adventures, and the last time we had a closer of this calibre was in 2007, back when Manny Corpas was good. (Seems like a long time, doesn't it?) I'm still getting used to this whole feeling of not cringing when the call to the bullpen is made, but I feel like it's something I could start to enjoy. (Something else that I'm enjoying? Trusting that the manager knows what he's doing).
Once we (ideally) dispose of the FailBears once and for all tomorrow, we've got three against the Pirates to finish out the homestand, before taking to the road for six against the Marlins and Nationals. The Marlins have Cody Ross, so that's always a problem, and the Nationals are doing their best to imitate, well, us, changing managers and suddenly going on a red-hot tear. I for one am a little leery about that series, as it's in Washington and no doubt that they're just getting the hang of this "being a good team" thing, they'll want to pay us back for earlier meetings. It is essential, of course, that they are not allowed to succeed at doing this. Right afterwards, we come home to play the Giants for four, the Dodgers for three, then go back on the road to play the Giants for three more.
One thing is for certain. It's a hell of an exciting race. And it feels pretty good to be in one. After last...
Right. We're not going to talk about that.