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Winning close games key to Rockies competing

Stephen Dunn

While blowing out the Giants 8-2 on Monday was fun to watch, the Rockies have had to deal with most games being close contests of late.  In their last ten games they have gone 5-3 in contests decided by two runs or less and is a big reason for their place near the top of the NL West.  It is also a much better record in close games than the 2-5 mark they had through the first fourteen games of the season.

With their productive offense, the Rockies have averaged nearly one blowout win per series so far this season (six in seven series).  That same productive offense also is able to change the course of a close game with one swing of the bat as seven of the eight Rockies regulars have at least three home runs and three Rockies are tied for 16th in MLB with five home runs.

In addition to the offense, the starting pitching has been doing their job with four Rockies starters averaging six or more innings per start.  If they continue their success, Rockies starters should be able to lengthen out to closer to seven innings per start like Jordan Lyles did last night.  This is why early bullpen struggles have been frustrating for Walt Weiss and fans as it has been the weak link that still has the Rockies under .500 in close games this year (7-8).

It is encouraging to see the team try to fix this issue though, and offseason moves that have shown up in other parts of the team's success may soon begin showing in the bullpen.  Chris Martin, brought over along with Franklin Morales from Boston, will now get a chance to help the big league club.  His promotion to replace Chad Bettis is only really possible due to the starters pitching deep into games and not having the need for as many long relievers.

Speaking of Franklin Morales, he may be soon helping to settle down the bullpen as well.  With Lyles continued success and Chacin set to return in the next week, he can replace Bettis as the long man as well as giving another left-handed option who can also get right-handed batters out.

Another new Rockie who may gain more chances is Tommy Kahnle.  His early season success (1.59 ERA, 11 Ks in 11 1/3 IP) should force Walt Weiss into using him in higher leverage situations as pitcher like Matt Belisle continue to struggle with consistency.  With Lopez and Bettis gone, Belisle's 6.30 ERA is the only relievers' ERA above 3.40.  Matt has showed some success after a bad start to the season, seven scoreless outings, but followed that up with two games in which he gave up late inning runs.

The final new/old bullpen Rockie to speak of is LaTroy Hawkins.  While he has given up runs, his perfect record in games saved has been great for Colorado this year.  His seven saves ties him for fifth in MLB and his veteran savy has been mentioned by many as helpful for other young pitchers.

Overall, the Rockies have played exciting, if sometimes frustrating, baseball in 2014.  If their rising success continues in close games and the bullpen continues to improve, this will be a fun summer of baseball.