Anatomy of a sweep: How the the Rockies stunned the Giants three games in a row in San Francisco

Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports

Was this series more about the Giants or the Rockies? Or was it just a wild weekend that won't mean anything in a couple of months?

If you were expecting to wake up this morning only to realize that the Rockies' sweep over Giants this weekend in AT&T Park was a dream, nobody would blame you.

But here we are, a day later, and it still happened. The Rockies swept the Giants - In San Francisco - On three improbable late inning come from behind victories. Each part of that statement just gets more and more unlikely.

/Pinches self.

Yep, it still happened.

Let's take a closer look at how, and what it may mean going forward.

1) Slow starts

Perhaps the easiest way to put this series into context is to note where the Rockies didn't outplay the Giants. In three games, Colorado starters pitched a grand total of 11 innings and gave up 17 hits. By some miracle, the Rockies have now played three games in San Francisco this season where their starting pitcher had failed to make it past the third inning, and they've won all three games (the other coming on a 1-0 win in April in the game Brett Anderson broke his finger).

Winning and losing in baseball almost always traces back to how your stating pitcher fared, which is why this series is so shocking. The Rockies taking these games had nothing to do with the starting pitching. Granted, this should be obvious since all of the victories were late inning come from behind wins, but it's an important distinction to note, because if the Rockies want to manufacture this sweep into a turning point on the season, they're going to need to get considerably more out of their starters than they got this weekend. (Fortunately, they've got three pretty good arms going this weekend in Los Angeles)

2) Terrific bullpen work

Taking out Franklin Morales' performance yesterday, because he also pitched terrible, the Colorado pen picked up 13 innings over the weekend and posted a 2.07 ERA. Most importantly, the Giants did not score in the last two innings of any of the three games, which is exactly the point where the Rockies were doing all of their damage. Without this work from the pen, the Rockies don't come close to sweeping this series.

The bullpen work is also one of the reasons why this series was so stunning. Throughout the season, the Giants bullpen has been excellent (significantly better than expected) and the Rockies bullpen has been extremely unreliable (significantly worse than expected). What's going to be interesting to watch going forward for both teams is if this weekend was just a blip on the radar or a clear warning sign that San Francisco's bullpen is not that much better than Colorado's.

Coming into this series, the Giants were 34-1 on the season in games they led after seven innings. The Rockies meanwhile were 0-23 in games they trailed after seven innings. So the idea  of the Rockies taking three games in San Francisco - especially in San Francisco - where they trailed after seven innings just seemed totally absurd. Your chances of winning the lottery were probably better.

I also wanted to highlight a few pitchers in particular.

LaTroy Hawkins

I don't know how this guy keeps doing it. There has not been a single game this season where the Rockies have lost because of LaTroy Hawkins, and it's mid June. He's getting somewhat lucky as opponents only have a .264 BABIP against him, but I honestly would have expected it to be even lower than that since he strikes out hardly anyone.

Rex Brothers

Lost in all the craziness this weekend was the immaculate inning from Brothers on Saturday. Nine pitches, all strikes, three strikeouts. It could be part of something much more important however. Since his awful outing against Arizona at the start of the last home stand where he game up five runs in about five seconds, Brothers has somehow posted six consecutive scoreless outings and looked really good in five of them. If this is the start of a turnaround to his season, it would be a monumental lift for the Rockies. Then again, Brothers also had a really strong nine game stretch to open May, so maybe this is nothing.

Matt Belisle

Mr. Under-appreciated just completed his 11th consecutive outing out of the pen without walking a batter. During this same time frame, he's also fanned nine. For the season, Belisle has given up 15 runs, but nine of them came in two awful outings against Miami and Arizona. In his other 27 appearances, he has a 2.08 ERA.

Juan Gutierrez

This was a ticking time bomb for the Giants. This is a "whatever" piece they picked up in the bargain bin during the off season who before yesterday's eighth inning had a 2.61 ERA. I'm not going to dance on his grave yet, but he was pretty overdue to have an outing like the one he had yesterday. I'm just glad it came against the Rockies.

Sergio Romo

Do the Rockies have this guy's number right now or what? In his last four outings against Colorado, he's allowed 11 runs while getting nine batters out. He's actually been really good against almost everybody else though, so it will be interesting to see if San Francisco stays with him as their every day ninth inning man or if they turn to the suddenly unhittable Jean Machi.

Santiago Casilla

Remember when Casilla landed on the DL after trying to leg out an infield hit against the Rockies at Coors Field a couple of weeks ago? That came back big time in this series. The Rockies don't sweep it if he's still in that pen. (He should be back very soon though.)

3) Giant mistakes on defense

In every single rally this weekend, Colorado was helped immensely by some very poor play (both mentally and physically) by the San Francisco fielders, mostly Angel Pagan though. On Friday, Pagan threw to the wrong base on a Wilin Rosario fly out which allowed the tying run to move into scoring position and then later in the collapse bobbled a ball which exacerbated things for San Francisco. Then on Saturday, Pagan turned what should have been a Brandon Barnes single into an inside the park home run. By Sunday, it was Brandon Crawford's turn, as he made an error on a Michael McKenry ground ball and failed to turn a double play off the bat of DJ LeMahieu in the crucial eighth inning.

The Rockies defense wasn't outstanding either in this series as they made five errors in three games, but amazingly, they didn't end up costing Colorado any games, which they almost always do in this park.

4) Walt Weiss had the Midas touch

It seemed like every questionable move Walt Weiss made this weekend worked out; from Morales getting out of a bases loaded nobody out jam in the third on Sunday to turning to Chris Martin to get two huge double plays (one in the seventh on Friday and another in the sixth on Sunday) that kept both games manageable.

Perhaps his two biggest wins however came with pinch hitters. On Friday, he used Ryan Wheeler to pinch hit for Josh Rutledge with the bases loaded, one out, and the Rockies down 4-2. What was particularity risky about this move was that Wheeler is a big double play candidate while Rutledge has only hit into two double plays in 64 opportunities since the start of 2013.

However, Sergio Romo, who Wheeler was facing, has not been nearly as effective against lefties this season, so the move made sense from that standpoint. Still, if that sharp ground ball that went through for a base hit is at an infielder, I'm sure the comments section here would be killing Weiss for that move.

The other thing Weiss did that miraculously worked out was pinch hit Justin Morneau into a situation where he was obviously going to be facing a lefty (Javier Lopez) in the most important at bat of yesterday's game. Morneau has been anemic against southpaws for several consecutive seasons now, but in Walt's defense, he had no choice but to play a lefty on lefty card in the eighth after burning his Josh Rutledge card in the seventh. Still, if Morneau doesn't deliver with a huge double against Lopez, there's probably people wondering why Dickerson didn't hit in that spot, even though he hasn't fared too well against lefties this season either.

5) Opportunities missed

Juan Nicasio and Franklin Morales had nothing working yesterday. Nothing! They were getting smacked all over the ballpark. The Giants had a million opportunities to bury the Rockies early, and just never capitalized. Here's what they left on the table in the first six innings on Sunday.

  • With two on and two out in the first, Michael Morse struck out swinging
  • After putting three runs on the board in the second and having the first six batters reach, the Giants got no more runs despite having the bases loaded with nobody out. (Immediately following this exchange, Troy Tulowitzki hit a two out, two run home run in the top of the third. This went from looking like a five run game to a one run game in a matter of minutes)
  • In the third inning, Juan Nicasio loaded the bases with nobody out again. Franklin Morales came into the game and the Giants didn't get any runs from this opportunity.
  • After two solo home runs in the fourth, the Giants had two on and two out but couldn't get another run across.
  • Franklin Morales left the game with two on and nobody out in the sixth, but Chris Martin came in and got out of that jam without allowing a run. The Giants wouldn't score another run for the rest of the game.

While it's almost impossible to blame the offense on a day where a team scored seven runs, nobody who watched this game could possibly walk away thinking the Giant should have had any less than ten runs on the board. The Giants may have led by four after six innings, but it felt like the smallest four run lead the Giants have ever had against the Rockies at AT&T Park with all those missed opportunities.

6) The Giants actually got unlucky

Since I like to point out all of the places where the Giants get lucky, it's only fair to point out a couple of points where they got unlucky this weekend. If three balls where hit in ever so slightly different directions, the Giants probably sweep this series.

First, the bases loaded ground ball Ryan Wheeler hit to tie the game on Friday would have been a game ending double play if it was at an infielder.

Second, the ball Angel Pagan hit on Saturday that turned into a game ending double play easily could have given the Giants a first and third, nobody out situation as hard as it was hit. After Rutledge and Culberson collided to drop an easy popup, it just seemed inevitable that this inning was going to end poorly for the Rockies. This stroke of luck is all that really saved them.

There was also the fine detail that Pagan was probably safe on the play. Either way, as a Colorado fan there was no part of me that wanted to see Hunter Pence come to the plate against LaTroy Hawkins. I don't think that would have ended well.

Finally, with all those missed opportunities I mentioned on Sunday, the Giants were unlucky not to have any of those balls sneak through. This was especially true on the double play Morales got Blanco to hit into in the third inning. That thing was hit sharply the other way. If that finds a hole, the Rockies might lose the game by six or seven runs.

* * * * *

At the end of the day, I think this series was more about the Giants having some holes exposed than it was about the Rockies playing complete baseball. There were some pretty big red flags for both sides in this series, the Giants just paid for more of them.

There are however two places where you can't sell Colorado short for what they did. One is the work of the bullpen, because if this is any indication of what we're going to see going forward, then this can absolutely be a turning point on the season with just a little better starting pitching. A week ago, you didn't trust anyone in that pen. Then they have this series where everybody who pitched got at least one huge out. It was really impressive.

The other thing we know about this team is that they tend to fight until the very end. Even in that losing streak, there were games where the offense came back against Cleveland and Arizona before the bullpen blew things for good. Unless you have a shutdown pitcher on the mound, this group just keeps coming at you, and the more games they have like to ones this weekend, the more confidence they are going to have going forward, especially when Nolan Arenado and Carlos Gonzalez return.

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