Today was a good day for the Rockies. The offense, which had been racking up double-digit strikeouts on a daily basis before Wednesday's game didn't fan once; Michael McKenry extended his team leading WPA with three walks and a go-ahead for good two-run jack in the fifth; Troy Tulowitzki plated a pair of runs; and Brandon Barnes notched a knock in every at-bat and now has almost as many hits in one game as Drew Stubbs has in 56 plate appearances this season.
On the pitching side, Jorge De La Rosa surpassed Ubaldo Jimenez for the top spot on the all-time franchise strikeout list, and the bullpen continued its strong string of performances (1.66 ERA in the last nine games) as five relievers combined to throw 4⅔ scoreless innings.
Good job, Rockies players.
But we're going to put all that aside for a moment to talk about some of the questionable decisions made by those in uniform not on the 25 man roster today. Four decisions in particular stuck out. One by third base coach Stu Cole, and three by manager Walt Weiss. Let's start the second guessing.
1) Why did Stu Cole send Troy Tulowitzki on Brandon Barnes' base hit in the third inning?
When this play occurred, Jerome Williams was flirting with disaster. Five of the first six batters he faced in the inning reached (two singles, two walks, and a hit by pitch), and Brandon Barnes made it six of seven with another single to right field. Carlos Gonzalez scored on the play, and Tulowitzki got a green light from third base coach Stu Cole to try and put a fourth run on the board. However, Jeff Francoeur fired a bullet home and nailed Tulo at the plate.
As far as the final score of this game is concerned, this is a footnote. The Rockies won 7-3 and had more chances to dip into the scoring pool throughout the afternoon. But situations like the one in the third inning perfectly illustrate why this team ranks last in the National League in several important base running categories.
Earlier in the day, manager Walt Weiss admitted to Nick Groke that the team's probably crossed the line in terms of being too aggressive...
"I preach about playing the game hard, but also playing the game right. You have to do both. You can't do one without the other. And we've probably crossed the line and haven't played the game as right as we could."
There's still more work to be done here in terms of finding the right balance. I don't mind trying to be aggressive when the situation calls for it, but what happened in the third inning of this one was just foolish.
- Tulowitzki is not a fast runner at this stage of his career.
- Tulowitzki is probably at the top of the list of guys in baseball you don't want to overextend on a running play in fear of injury.
- Jerome Williams did nothing that inning to show you he could get guys out. Don't give him a change to get a free one.
- Jeff Francoeur has a strong arm in right. It's probably the only dangerous thing about him as a baseball player.
- There was only one out in the inning with the pitcher's spot two hitters away. Daniel Descalso could have scored Tulo on an out if he was still at third base, and De La Rosa's spot could have been cleared for the fourth. Instead, Tulo is thrown out, Descalso makes the last out of the third, and De La Rosa has to lead off the fourth.
2) Why was Jorge De La Rosa sent out to pitch the fifth inning?
This question was actually answered by Walt Weiss post game. He had two reasons. One was a decent, the other was horrendous:
"The fact that Utley and Howard were going to show up that inning, I wanted to allow [De La Rosa] to get through them. At the same time, I wanted to get him a 'W'. I don't really like going to the bullpen before the fifth anyway. The plan was to have him get through that inning. It just didn't work out."
With Chase Utley and Ryan Howard due up first and third in the inning, I can live with with De La Rosa going out there to face the two big lefties even with his pitch count reaching the century mark after just four innings. It's not the move I would have made after De La Rosa took 24 pitches to get the last out in the fourth, which included a walk to the opposing pitcher, but it's a strategy I can at least understand.
Sending De La Rosa out there to get through five so he would have a chance at the "W" however is totally inexcusable. The "win" is one of the most asinine statistics in all of sports. Just last month, LaTroy Hawkins picked one up after giving up two runs and blowing a save in the ninth inning in Milwaukee. This is 2015!
I can't believe we're still having this conversation. We have so many better ways to determine if a guy pitched well and helped his team. Seeing players and managers still care about this garbage makes me think that the music they listen to in the clubhouse after the game should be played on eight-track tapes.
This information is not news to most readers here, but what is news is the number of players and managers who still care about the "win" across baseball. And worse yet, managers are willing to make game decisions based on the apparently "holier-than-thou" pitching "win." This particular decision to try and get De La Rosa, who looked cooked after the fourth, a "win" cost the Rockies two runs and the lead, and if they were playing a better team than the listless Phillies, it may have cost them the game as well.
3) Why did Christian Bergman only face two batters?
Christian Bergman's role in the bullpen is to eat innings when the starter doesn't give the Rockies length. Although perhaps that will change at some point if he keeps pitching the way he has the last two weeks. In any case, with De La Rosa leaving 14 outs on the table for the bullpen to mop up, this seemed like a perfect day for Bergman to bridge a large portion of the gap between De La Rosa and the ninth inning.
Instead, he was lifted for a pinch hitter in the bottom of the fifth with two outs and a runner on third after the Rockies already plated two runs in the frame to retake the lead on Michael McKenry's home run.
Not only is this a total misuse of Bergman in general, but it's even more of a misuse when you consider the schedule the Rockies have surrounding this game. The team is currently in the middle of a stretch where they have to play 17 games in 16 days, including a double header on Saturday. To make matters worse, Eddie Butler only gave the Rockies three innings in Wednesday's game, further stretching the bullpen.
Since Weiss lifted Bergman for Rosario to pinch hit in the bottom of the fifth, he ended up having to use five relievers in this game, which is more than he would have needed to use if he did a better job managing the middle innings.
This brings us to ...
4) Why did John Axford pitch the ninth?
I bring this up because it's connected to everything else we just talked about. Axford pitched the ninth in part because of the way Weiss used Christian Bergman. Thanks to Butler's poor outing on Wednesday, the Rockies had to use Yohan Flande, Ken Roberts, and Christian Friedrich all for at least 27 pitches in that game. This meant Weiss wanted to avoid them today, so once he got through eight innings having used the other four pitchers in the pen, Axford was the last man left for the ninth even though it wasn't a save situation.
This is poor managing. We'll have to see how the weekend goes, but if Axford is needed for a save again Friday, the Rockies will have used him three times in four days, meaning he'll likely be unavailable going into the double header on Saturday. This scenario didn't need to be on the table, but Weiss played his cards in a fashion today that makes this a real possibility, and that's unfortunate.
I don't mean to belabor the negatives because this was a good win for the Rockies. However, this game is also a perfect example of how all the innings and all the games within a season can be connected, and when you make poor decisions, they can follow you around the corner and trip you up at a very inopportune time. Hopefully that won't be the case here, but regardless of what happens, there are lessons to be learned from this afternoon.