It was a close thing. At one point, it looked as if the Giants might have cut our legs off, but instead, denial worked, the leg came back, and we sprang to our feet and ran the sword through that annoying black-and-orange entrant in return. Now we have to see if it'll finally knock them down for good. (Answer: not likely). But being in this position at all is highly preferable over just 48 hours or so ago. What was shaping up as a truly craptacular road trip was redeemed today by a number of complex scientific factors, such as the skyrocketing graph of Yorvit Torrealba's awesomeness, the angular momentum of a pair of Golden Thongbombs, the square root of Tulo's clutchiness and CarGo's speed -- even the gentle breezes of Stewart's K's and the lovely calculable parabola of a Barmes popout. Or, in layman's terms, Good U-ball returned today after an unfortunate hiatus in San Francisco, the Rockies finally figured out Danny Haren, and they escaped the desert with a 5-1 win, to take 2 of 3 from Arizona and close out a difficult road trip at 4-5. Not exactly what they were looking for, mixing in a pair of tough losses against San Diego, a pair of total blowouts in San Francisco, and a blown lead in Arizona. But, remarkably, the Giants, Marlins, and Braves all lost today as well, pushing the Rockies back to 4.5 games clear in the wild card -- just where they were before all the pain began.
And so, if they can shake off the offensive rust (which showed signs of happening in hitter-friendly Chase Field and should be aided by finally heading back to Coors) they ought to be nicely assured of a playoff spot. Knock on wood.
Join me after the jump to examine top performers, the upcoming chess games, and sundry other factors to aid in the Rockies' ambition of having the Giants arranging tee times a few weeks from now.
First of all, whoever spiked Yorvit Torrealba's Gatorade: we owe you a debt of thanks. Yorvit has held the dubious honor of being the Row's biggest punching bag almost from the moment he got here, and for the most part, it's been deserved. Not so in September. I don't know if Yorvit just woke up one day and decided to Be Good, or if it's a fortuitously timed hot streak that we need to ride like a rented mule, but Yorvit is hitting .739 (17 for his last 23) with runners in scoring position. Likely this is because he isn't worrying about hitting home runs, as it seems the rest of the lineup is, but whatever it's doing, if his planets are just in order or what, long may it continue. I am quite at a loss for how useful he continues to make himself (I mean, it's Yorvit! This needs some time to process!) but Yorvit, you just carry on with your bad self.
Fortunately, catcher isn't the only position that's stepping up in the playoff race. Tulo, as we've always expected and known about him, is proving himself a leader who wants to win baseball games more than just about anything else in the world, and is responding accordingly, putting together a 4-game homer streak before it was snapped today. Nonetheless, his contributions didn't go lacking, as he scored the tying run. Tulo has already set a career high of 29 homers that seems almost certain to tick over into the 30's, and although he isn't quite near his rookie-year high of 99 RBI, he's surely making his presence felt down the stretch. Tulo is really the rock of this team, and as has often been remarked, you can judge how the Rockies are going by how #2 is going. I doubt it's just chance that the upswing at the end of the road trip coincided with Tulo's power surge. Reminds me of Matt Holliday going nuts in September two years ago, hitting homers left and right as the Rockies geared up for their mad-dash surf into the delirium of Rocktober. Except that was a last-minute hot streak that came out of almost nowhere. The 2009 Rockies, ever since handing the reins over to Jim Tracy, have been one of the best teams in baseball. (This week's hiccup excluded).
And they do that by continuing to benefit from his Midas touch. Yesterday, Tracy put in Ryan Spilborghs to pinch-hit for Brad Hawpe, and was rewarded with a run-scoring double. (Spilly stayed in the game and added another one later). Not to mention, Tracy has one of the best new (except not really new) toys to play with that I've ever seen: the recently rejuvenated thong-powered entity otherwise known as Jason Giambi. Almost everyone, myself included, was openly skeptical that an aging ex-roider hitting a buck ninety-nine was going to bring anything meaningful to our playoff chase. Boy, were we wrong. Giambi introduced himself with a pair of game-winning hits, and now that he's become Tracy's favored late-inning replacement bat for Clint Barmes, he just continues to produce. He hit a bomb to break the game open in yesterday's 10-4 win, and hit another one today to widen a 3-1 lead to a 5-1 lead (somewhat more comfortable, I believe we all agree). Not to mention, he apparently is in complete love with the organization, enjoys being around the guys, and admires Tracy's acumen as a game and player manager. As was mentioned in the game thread, it seems that getting out of the black hole of Oakland earns any slugger a mulligan. We're lucky to be benefiting from the latest proof of that theory.
Props also go to Jason Hammel, who's developed into an outstanding #4 starter, and Rafael Betancourt, for pitching possibly the biggest inning of the road trip: the bottom of the ninth in the last game in the San Francisco series. After getting thrashed like the proverbial red-headed stepchild in the first two games, the Rockies' lead had been whittled down to a slender 2.5 games, and they'd lost their last six games in the Phonebooth. In the third game, after receiving an absolutely brilliant start from Jorge de la Rosa, they entered the bottom of the ninth with a 4-0 lead. But trouble ensued when Franklin Morales started off by allowing the Giants three straight singles. He was yanked in favor of Betancourt, and Betancourt entered with the Giants having already cut into the deficit and hungry for a possibly season-breaking sweep. No pressure, right?
Betancourt got a ground ball from Uribe that turned further heart-breaker when Tulo threw the ball away. 4-2, still no outs, Giants on second and third. Shaking and pacing from Rowbots. Betancourt got a popout from Edgar Renteria -- the same guy that had hit the go-ahead grand slam off him in the third game of the last Giants/Rox series. Then he got Randy Winn to ground out, bringing home the third run. The tying run stood on third with two outs. Betancourt engaged in a protracted battle with Nate Schierholtz, and ended it by striking him out swinging, in possibly one of the biggest emotion swings that is possible to fit into fifteen minutes. Betancourt has solidified his place as the eighth-inning guy and enjoys a remarkably high level of trust for a guy that joined the club just recently. He has the much-desired "veteran presence" and has been through the rigors of a stretch run with the Indians before. We're glad to have you, Raffy. Stick around for a while, willya?
But if there are plenty of golden stickers to hand out, there's certainly a few, um, not-so-golden stickers as well. To use the technical term, looking like crap. Jason Marquis, Brad Hawpe, Ian Stewart, and Clint Barmes, for a start. The first two of those four were our first-half All-Stars, but have recently hit a slump like nobody's business. Marquis is struggling to replicate the form that made him so effective, putting together a string of rocky starts and losing the good will he had built up. He did look better in his start against the Dbacks, but got horrifically squeezed by the home plate umpire and it got into his head. As before, pitch selection is proving a major stumbling block -- he threw a slider to Brandon Allen, the Dbacks' #8 hitter, when fastballs were working, and was rewarded with a game-tying, two-out homer. Watch more film, Jason. Stat.
But Marquis isn't alone in his struggles. His fellow All-Star, Brad Hawpe, is just flat-out awful right now. He can't hit (although he can occasionally walk) he can't field (a horrendous gaffe in the field led to two runs for the Dbacks and our loss in the first game of the series) and in general, that theory that Carl Crawford stole his mojo may have something to it. Hawpe, who has characteristically been a streaky player, decided to divide his hot and cold streaks by halves of the season, instead of by weeks. You know, I think I liked it better the other way. As we said when it happened, Daaaaaaamn yyyyooooou Caaaaarl Craaaawford! (Speaking of mojo, will Todd Helton's new beardless look result in a) success, b) failure or c) Benjamin Button? Please write your answer in #2 pencil and remember to cite proper examples).
While Stewart and Barmes have retained their ability to field, their hitting has not followed suit. Barmes can't buy himself a hit right now, might have diddled himself out of one by failing to run on his suicide squeeze today, and in general has been deeply infected with the Popoutitis disease. Stewart, as Lodo Magic Man likes to point out, is doing his best to live up to his middle initial (K). However, he did have the tiebreaking single today, so credit where credit is due. But when the main competition at your position is Outkins, you're, uh, gonna be staying in the lineup a lot. Stewart did briefly seem to get the hang of hitting home runs, but that was also the phase that Barmes went through (and now Barmes doesn't even hit home runs). Stewart was emblematic of the Rockies' offensive woes on the road trip: don't try to hit a bomb when a single will do. At times they all looked as if they were well aware of the problem and had started to press, which only makes it worse. It showed signs of perking up in Chase Field, so maybe it'll be alive and well by the time the Rockies start their final regular-season homestand on Tuesday.
Proceedings begin with a second look at the Padres, and the three starters they faced last time -- Edward Mujica, Tim Stauffer, and Clayton Richard. The Rockies were stifled by each of the three, so they'll need to correct that oversight posthaste. Jorge de la Rosa will be starting the first game, Marquis the second, and Hammel could take the third, or the rehabbing Aaron Cook/Jose Contreras could do the honors instead. There really is no excuse for losing a series to the Padres at home, and if this mini-swoon really is over, the results should reflect that. Fortunately, the Rockies' lapse ultimately didn't cost them ground, but it was a lucky thing.
The big test will come after the Padres depart, in the form of a three-game set with the NL Central champions (hopefully by the time they get there) St. Louis Cardinals. The Rockies will get to cut their teeth against a legit championship contender, including the chance to face both of the Cards' Cy Young candidates, Chris Carpenter and Adam Wainwright. Just as big a story will be the return of Matt Holliday to Coors Field. Hopefully we show him what the purple-and-black September magic looks like from the other side of the mirror.