It's hard to win baseball games when you aren't sharp. Sometimes it will happen, usually because the opposing team also has a bad day. But you can't count on that. You especially can't count on it when the opposing team is the St. Louis Cardinals, and the opposing pitcher is Carlos Martinez. The Colorado Rockies lack of sharpness and essentially flawless Cardinals baseball led to a 4-2 loss at Coors Field that prevented the Rockies from cashing in their first series sweep at home.
Colorado starter Chad Bettis has been sharp as a knife since his call-up, but his effectiveness was blunted today. Bettis gave up three runs on six hits, with six strikeouts and a pair of walks. He only went five innings as his pitch count ballooned to 91 pitches. "I felt a little rushed in my delivery through the whole game. I felt out of whack the whole day," Bettis said.
"You get to two outs and you need to stay focused. I left some of those pitches up, especially on 0-2, 1-2 counts."
In the third inning Bettis retired the first two batters he faced, and had to retire the pitcher for a clean 1-2-3 inning. But Martinez slapped a single up the middle on a 1-2 count. The top of the order produced two more singles after that, plating a run. Bettis then uncorked a wild pitch, turning what could have been a smooth frame into a two run debacle.
In the fifth, Bettis had a runner on first while facing Mark Reynolds. He threw a get-me-over fastball on the first pitch that Reynolds clobbered into the gap for a run-scoring double. Bettis would escape the frame, but that ended his day.
Martinez, while not dominant, did a better job of limiting damage than Bettis (with the help of some great defense behind him). He allowed eight hits in the game, though seven of them didn't hurt him. It was the eighth hit, a Ben Paulsen home run, that chased him from the game in the seventh inning. Daniel Descalso had reached on a walk before the dinger, so the Rockies had cut the deficit to 3-2 and were back in the game.
Paulsen came in to pinch hit, and ripped it out to left field, one of the deepest parts of the ballpark. "He kept throwing me changeups and I finally stayed on one."
But at the end of the day, a lack of timely hitting sunk the Rockies. With the pitching-rich Cardinals, the only way to win is to take advantage of opportunities when they arrive, and the Rockies couldn't quite do it. For example, with DJ LeMahieu at second after a double, Carlos Gonzalez ripped a liner to second, almost surely a base hit--until soon-to-be-All-Star Kolton Wong corralled the ball on a sliding stop and threw out Gonzalez, ending the frame. Regarding how the play changed the complexion of the game, Walt Weiss said, "That's what it takes with a club like that. You aren't going to get a lot of opportunities." The Rockies were 0-7 with runners in scoring position.
Randal Grichuk's eighth inning moon-shot off Tommy Kahnle basically ended hope for the Rockies. Lock-down closer Trevor Rosenthal had no trouble closing out the ninth.
So the Rockies experienced a snoozer of a loss on getaway day. The ten game home stand ended up 5-5. In one sense, it was a lost opportunity to boost an uncharacteristically lousy home record. On the other hand, the Rockies split a series against the fearsome Los Angeles Dodgers and won a series against the Cardinals, possibly the best team in baseball. The Rockies are back to four games below .500 at 27-31.
There's lots of baseball left to be played in 2015. The Rockies weren't sharp today, but they've been sharp more often than they've been dull in the past three weeks or so, and that's something to be thankful for. The games still feel important. If they maintain their solid process over this upcoming road trip, perhaps .500 is the next rung on the ladder back into the playoff picture.