A myriad of walks by the starters, a host of errors by the defense and some poorly executed pitches from the closer cost the Colorado Rockies a win in their debut series at Coors Field in 2015.
Despite the offense putting five runs on the board in each of the team's three games against the visiting Chicago Cubs over the weekend, the Rockies walked away from 20th and Blake with a bad taste in their mouths following a 6-5 defeat that was punctuated with a game-deciding, two-run homer off the bat of former purple pinstriper Dexter Fowler. LaTroy Hawkins, who blew his second save in as many opportunities this season, deserves some blame. But not all of it.
First, let's start with Hawkins. Always reliant on his fastball, the 42-year-old veteran has become especially dependent on the heater in the early going this year. His first 15 pitches of the ninth inning on Sunday were fastballs, and not many of them were located well. Cubs catcher Welington Castillo should have been shown a different offering when he sat on a 13th consecutive heater from Hawkins and lined it into center field for a two-out RBI single that allowed Fowler to step to the plate.
Hawkins and Rockies catcher Michael McKenry seemingly learned a lesson from Castillo's at-bat, electing to go with a slider after getting ahead of Fowler, 0-2. McKenry clearly wanted the slider down, but Hawkins left it just about belt-high, and we know what happened from there.
Perhaps throwing so many fastballs in a row prior to that pitch affected Hawkins' ability to execute it? Who knows, but until Hawkins threw three consecutive changeups to end the next plate appearance against Anthony Rizzo, 40 of his 42 total offerings were fastballs. I'm no math whiz, but I think that's a 95 percent fastball usage rate. All the while, Hawkins' fastball velocity is down a tick from last year in the early going.
Simply put, Hawkins was too predictable in his outings against the Brewers and Cubs, and when he did try to mix it up, he failed to execute. Still, the Rockies and their veteran closer might not have even been in that position had it not been for other problems that plagued the team on Sunday and throughout the series.
"Cardinal sin -- I walked the leadoff hitter," Hawkins told MLB.com's Thomas Harding after the game. "That's something I've lived by my whole career, not walking the leadoff hitter, not walking guys."
The Rockies walked a lot of batters over the weekend. That was a problem on Friday for Tyler Matzek, who threw 44 of his 84 pitches for balls and surrendered three free passes. Fortunately, the wildness didn't hurt the Rockies on that day.
It certainly did on Saturday, though. Noted contact pitcher and innings eater Kyle Kendrick gave up five walks in five innings. Eight hits -- including three homers -- didn't help, but at Coors Field, you can live with some of that as long as traffic on the basepaths isn't a consistent problem.
Walks have long been an issue for the Rockies, though. Trying to shy away from hard contact is one thing, but not even giving the hitter a chance to get himself out is another. Jordan Lyles and the Rockies' relievers actually did a pretty good job at the latter thing on Sunday, but a normally strong defense didn't do its best work behind them.
A scheduled day off for Troy Tulowitzki resulted in Daniel Descalso starting at shortstop. As has been the case throughout most of his career (-19 DRS at SS in six seasons), it didn't go well for Descalso. The former Cardinal made a pair of errors against his old rivals, contributing to one of the Cubs' two unearned runs against Lyles.
Michael McKenry, dealing with wind and sun, dropped a foul pop up in the fifth in the same at-bat that Rizzo plated a run with a sacrifice fly. And DJ LeMahieu, the Gold Glove second baseman who also drove in three of Colorado's five runs in the game, booted a grounder that didn't end up causing any damage.
The Rockies' fast start was nice, and it's one that the team has the talent -- offensively, at least -- to keep up as long as the key components remain healthy. But sooner or later, manager Walt Weiss is going to have to make a cold, hard decision about what to do with the back-end of his bullpen if Hawkins can't find his groove. And all of this might not matter, anyway, if the rotation continues to have issues with walks, particularly at Coors Field.
Things don't get any easier this week for the Rox. Trips to AT&T Park in San Francisco (where Colorado actually went a respectable 5-4 last season but is 48-87 all-time) and Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles loom. If the offense holds up like it has, the doom and gloom might be delayed for a while longer, at least. Otherwise, the mood surrounding the team isn't going to be fun by the time the San Diego Padres come to town on April 20.