Baseball is weird sometimes. Take what happened to the Cardinals in Monday night's game. They entered the day with only 19 losses on the season, and in those 19 losses, they hadn't allowed an opponent to score five or more runs in any inning. Not only did they go out and lose to the Rockies who just failed to score more than two runs in two of their three games against the Marlins this weekend, but they they served up a five run inning twice in the first four frames.
Yep, baseball is weird. The Cardinals have been nothing short of the best team in baseball for the first two months of 2015, but you never would have known it by watching their performance against the Rockies in this one. Not only did John Lackey make mistakes during what was easily his worst outing of the season, but just about every single mistake he made got pounded.
Most teams would have beaten John Lackey with the stuff he brought to the table in this game, but I'm not sure most teams would have tattooed him for eight earned runs in four innings either. The Rockies flexed their muscle here, and it marked a continuation of several good signs we've seen emerge over the last couple of weeks.
Among the highlights were Nolan Arenado's team leading 14th home run of the season, and three more DJ LeMahieu hits to raise his batting average to .342, but we're going to take a closer look at five more good signs for the Rockies that continued within this game.
1) Troy Tulowitzki remains red hot
Tulo got the party started with a three run jack that drew first blood before Lackey even got an out. This is what Tulo does when he's locked in at the plate and identifying pitch location properly: He's more patient, gets into friendlier hitting counts, and destroys mistakes from the opponent. Check, check, and check.
Since spending the team's scheduled off day on May 28th working on his swing and trying to get back his 2014 stroke, Tulo's hit .515 with five home runs and a 1.586 OPS. He's also raised his wRC+ marker from 68 all the way to 114 in just eight games. Not easy to do after there's 150 plate appearances in the books.
Stay hot Tulo!
2) Carlos Gonzalez continues his steady play of late
Cargo's resurgence hasn't been as obvious as Tulo's, but it is happening. The right fielder has very quietly put together a 19 game on base streak while posting an .879 OPS over that span. He's been especially hot over the last week with 11 hits over his last six games, including two more in this one.
However, the most encouraging sign of all from Monday might have been this diving catch late in a blowout game. This tells you all you need to know about Cargo's health right now and the confidence he has in his game. It's a play we saw from Cargo routinely in 2010 an 2011, but not so much lately.
3) Ben Paulsen is making a case he belongs on the MLB roster
In what is now 133 big league plate appearances (last year and this year combined), Paulsen has a .976 OPS and a wRC+ of 152. These numbers are obviously going to come down, but they also now represent a large enough sample size to tell us something about Paulsen going forward: He's a useful bat to have around.
He hits for average, hits for power, keeps his strikeouts to a reasonable number, and tends to find his pitch within each at bat. We don't know exactly how good he is at this level yet, but typically below average bats don't find ways to post a 152 wRC+ over that many plate appearances. A wRC+ in the 120 neighborhood? Maybe. But not 152 for that amount of time.
Paulsen's single, double, and triple in this game left him a long ball short of the cycle.
4) David Hale looks good in the rotation
I don't love evaluating starting pitchers on nights where their offense backs them up with ten runs early, but one thing I do love is the zero walks Hale's allowed in 19.2 innings of work this season. All this action around the strike zone has made him a bit more vulnerable to the long ball, as evidenced by the two home runs he gave up in this game, but both were solo shots, and that's what they tend to be when you don't hand out free passes.
Hale's an interesting arm. He was largely forgotten about after his oblique injury late in spring training, but since getting a few spot starts here and there for doubleheaders and injuries, he's done nothing to make you think he belongs in Albuquerque instead of Denver. In some ways, I still like his start against the Dodgers last time out better than tonight because he turned what could have been a horrendous start into an acceptable one, whereas tonight he just had such a huge lead all he had to do was not implode. Either way, these are good signs.
He's only made 11 career starts so far with the Braves and Rockies combined, but he's also been very good in them, posting a 2.69 ERA and holding hitters to a .670 OPS against. This is also a guy who's never allowed his ERA to rise above 4.13 at any level in the minors. As long as he keeps pitching like this, he's probably going to keep getting chances.
So for now, the rotation keeps spinning with Kyle Kendrick, Jorge De La Rosa, Chad Bettis, Eddie Butler, Chris Rusin, and David Hale. You probably can't send Hale down after what he's done, so it will be interesting to see if they keep a six man rotation for now until either Rusin or Hale blink. With the lack of off days coming up, giving these guys the extra day for now before their turn comes around isn't a terrible idea.
5) This Rockies team is a resilient bunch
This team is starting to make a habit of responding to very tough loses with wins the next day.
- After losing to the Cubs on a Dexter Fowler home run in the ninth in early April, the Rockies turned right around and went into San Francisco and scored a sweep.
- After blowing a 5-2 lead against the Padres on April 21st, the Rockies came back and won on a Daniel Descalso walk off against the very same Padres the next day.
- After losing to the Giants in extra innings on April 25th, the Rockies went to Arizona and won their next game 5-4.
- After getting walked off by the Reds 2-1 on their last road trip, the Rockies won the next day 6-4 in a game that wasn't as close as the score indicates.
- After serving up a go ahead grand slam up three in the ninth last week against the Dodgers, the Rockies came right back the next night and scored three in the ninth to win in a walk off.
So I guess after that brutal loss against the Marlins on Sunday, we shouldn't be too surprised the Rockies brought their boom sticks to the park for the opener of this series. Bad losses don't get this team to fold. If anything, it seems to energize them and give them an edge the next time out.
Unfortunately, the Rockies don't have enough pieces to prevent these losses from occurring in the first place, but they sure do respond well to them, which is a very good sign about the character of this team moving forward. This group gets pissed when they're dealt a brutal blow, and then they take it out on the opponent the next day.
I like it.