Tagged: Clint Hurdle

Series Recap: Colorado Rockies at Arizona Diamondbacks

Series Recap: Colorado Rockies at Arizona Diamondbacks

April 8, 2009

 

Last year it took seven games before the Rockies got their second win of the season. It took three tries before the team won its first series.

 

2009 is a new story.

 

Using a tough early schedule as motivation, the team got off to a good start in the opening series.

 

Series Recap: The Rockies never trailed Wednesday afternoon, soundly defeating the Arizona Diamondbacks 9-2 at Chase Field and taking the opening series two games to one.

 

What I liked: As a team, the offense was solid, putting up 20 runs on 25 hits in three games.

 

In games one and three, the team scored eight and nine runs, respectively. During Tuesday evening’s game, the team was in the middle of a pitcher’s duel between Ubaldo Jimenez and Dan Haren. Even then, however, the Rockies were able to get productive hits and bring runners around when they needed to.

 

The key hits were something that did not come easy in 2008.

 

Offensive power from the lineup was seen from top to bottom. Even the team’s arguably least powerful hitter, rookie Dexter Fowler, hit the first pitch he saw in game three over the left field wall. In all, seven home runs were hit in the series, including back to back home runs, twice.

 

What was more impressive, however, was the pitching.

 

Jimenez was phenomenal, allowing just four hits and zero runs in seven innings, striking out eight. As a big surprise, No. 5 starter, Franklin Morales pitched six solid innings in Wednesday’s game, not letting a run past the second batter of the game. Stephen Drew’s home run was the only runner to reach scoring position off of Morales.

 

Morales, who was told prior to the start of the season that this was his only chance to prove himself, did everything he could to keep his spot in the rotation. With several off days, Morales will pitch in Triple-A for next two weeks. His next possible start would be April 21. He is competing with newly acquired Jason Hammel and Matt Belisle for the last spot in the rotation.

 

The bullpen struggled a little bit in the first game, allowing three runs in 5.66 innings, but has since been nearly perfect, allowing just two hits and one run in five innings of relief.

 

The team was also perfect in the field, committing zero errors in the three-game series.

 

What needs improvement: Even in the loss, I was impressed with the product on the field. There’s not much to complain about.

 

Aaron Cook, who pitched in the opener, got the hook just seven outs into the game after giving up six runs. This was not the type of start expected from the club’s ace. However, the pitcher has revisited film and knows what he needs to do in order to perform like an ace for the remainder of the season.

 

The base running wasn’t how I had hoped it would be. Although I do agree with manager Clint Hurdle’s plan of being more aggressive, it didn’t work in the series, which included players like Brad Hawpe and Chris Iannetta being thrown out while trying to steal and pitcher Franklin Morales picked off at first base.

 

However, I hope that the early struggles don’t hesitate Hurdle’s aggressive decisions.

 

Overall: The Rockies were 3-15 against the Diamondbacks in 2008. They knew that in order to compete this year, they would have to beat the teams picked ahead of them in the division.

 

It’s still early, but I liked what I saw in the opening series.

 

Series Preview: The road for the Rockies doesn’t get any easier as they open up their home schedule in a weekend series against the defending World Series champion, Philadelphia Phillies.

 

After trailing 10-3, the Phillies scored eight runs in the seventh inning Wednesday afternoon, becoming victorious for the first time since clinching the title last October. The Phillies had dropped their first two games to the Atlanta Braves earlier in the week.

 

The Rockies were 0-6 against the Phillies in 2008, and haven’t beat them since sweeping them in the 2007 NLDS.

 

Probable starters:

Friday:

Phillies’ Cole Hamels (14- 10, 3.09) vs. Rockies’ Jason Marquis (11-9, 4.53), 2:10 p.m. MT

Saturday:

Phillies’ Brett Myers (0-1, 6.00*) vs. Rockies’ Jorge De La Rosa (10-8, 4.92), 6:10 p.m. MT

Sunday:

Phillies’ Chan Ho Park (4-4, 3.40) vs. Rockies’ Aaron Cook (0-0, 23.14*), 1:10 p.m. MT

                *2009 stats

 

 This article is also featured on Bleacher Report.

2009 Brings Optimism For Colorado Rockies Fan

NLCS.jpg

With the 2009 season upon us, I couldn’t help but pull out my personal copy of 21 Days: The Rockies Run for the Pennant.

 

Even today I get chills when I see highlights of Todd Helton drilling a walk-off home run over the right field fence off of Takasha Saito and racing around the bases before throwing his helmet and leaping into his mob of teammates. Goosebumps spread throughout my body as footage shows Matt Holliday diving headfirst into home to score the game winning run to send the Rockies to the playoffs for the first time in 12 years.

 

Reminiscing on those memories will bring a grown man to tears.

 

I don’t care what type of team is put on the field or what anyone says about a team’s chances in a given year. Watching and remembering what the Colorado Rockies did in 2007 gives any fan the optimism that this is their team’s year.

 

The beauty of Opening Day is that it is the only time that your team is guaranteed first place.

 

Everyone is 0-0. It’s a fresh start.

 

The Rockies’ run at the end of the 2007 season will go down as one of the greatest streaks in baseball history.

 

Manager Clint Hurdle later stated, “Man cannot script what sport can create.”

 

It transformed hearts and turned Denver into a baseball town–even if they were bandwagon fans and it only lasted that season.

 

The feelings and emotions accompanied with the run brought more joy to me personally than any other sports moment. It made me concentrate my full attention on the game and lose focus on my schoolwork and everything else going surrounding me.

 

It was an improbable run. Something I will be telling my children and grandchildren about 50 years from now.

 

Ernie Harwell, the narrator of the documentary, said, “In the end, the Rockies’ run for the pennant will be remembered as a band of brothers. Believing when no one else believed, reaching a level that no one thought they could reach, but meeting all challenges with the confidence, resiliency and spirit of a champion.”

 

Many are already writing the 2009 Rockies off. Vegas is giving the Rockies 75:1 odds of winning the World Series–good for fourth worst in all of baseball.

 

Obviously most don’t believe it can happen.

 

I’m convinced, however, that our offense is better than it has been in years. Players will be running around the bases on a consistent basis this season. Our defense will support the pitcher and our base running is improving each day. Our bullpen is rock-solid while our starting rotation has some young arms that have plenty of potential.

 

And what better way to head into the new season than closing out spring training on a three-game win streak and winning seven of their final nine games?

 

21 Days closes with several Rockies’ players reciting an inspirational quote once written by Vince Lombardi:

 

“A man can be as great as he want to be. If you believe in yourself and have the courage, the determination, the dedication, the competitive drive, and if you’re willing to sacrifice the little things in life and pay the price for the things that are worthwhile, it can be done.”

 

Some say I have blind love for the Rockies, but I’m ready for another improbable run.

 

It can be done.

 

 This article is also featured on Bleacher Report.

Don Baylor’s Coaching Brings Power To Colorado Rockies’ Lineup

 

Don Baylor.jpg

Opening Weekend is upon us at last.

 

But baseball season right around the corner brings uncertainties for each ballclub.

 

Heading into his club-leading eighth season at the helm of the Rockies, manager Clint Hurdle has reached the end of his contract.

 

Owners Dick and Charlie Monfort have made it clear that Hurdle’s performance will be judged critically and that no Opening Day contract extensions will be awarded like in 2007.

 

During the offseason, the Rockies cleared out a majority of Hurdle’s coaching staff and brought in veterans like Jim Tracy (bench coach) and former Rockies manager Don Baylor (hitting coach).

 

A couple wrong moves by Hurdle and one of these guys could be getting a promotion.

 

Baylor led the Rockies for their first six years of existence before being fired for Jim Leyland, who had just led the Florida Marlins to their first World Series championship two years prior.

 

Leyland quickly fled, and then Buddy Bell managed for two years and a few games, and then Hurdle replaced him less than a month into the 2002 season.

 

Baylor, whose career coaching record in Colorado stands at 440-469 (.484), has the highest winning percentage in club history.

 

His tenure with the Rockies includes the team’s first trip to the postseason, a 1995 Wild Card berth, and a Manager of the Year award.

 

In his final season with the Rockies, he guided them to a fourth-place finish and a 77-85 record. With this statistic, it doesn’t bother me that he was replaced soon after.

 

What does bother me, however, is the fact that the Rockies have bettered that record just twice in the 10 seasons since, and just one time under Hurdle’s reign.

 

Despite his sub-.500 career record, Baylor is the best manager the Rockies have ever had. He has been so instrumental to the club that he was even selected to be an honorary member on Hurdle’s staff at the 2008 All-Star Game because of his influence to the ballclub.

 

Baylor has brought a noticeable amount of change to the Rockies clubhouse this spring. The team’s offensive numbers are showing evident improvements, with several players giving Baylor the credit.

 

The team’s offense shows a lot of potential with power in the lineup from the top all the way through. It even seems a little bit like the Blake Street Bombers–the offensive powerhouses of Dante Bichette, Vinny Castilla, Andres Galarraga, and Larry Walker during the late 1990s under Baylor’s managing.

 

Even without Matt Holliday in the lineup, the Rockies have known power coming from Brad Hawpe and Garrett Atkins. Todd Helton is showing that his back is healing just fine, while Ryan Spilborghs’ spring says that he can be a multi-tool center fielder, including a powerful bat. Troy Tulowitzki’s determination should help him bounce back from his sophomore slump, while Chris Iannetta’s numbers could top the chart among the league’s catchers. Seth Smith will get some outfield starts and even off the bench the Rockies are loaded, with names like Ian Stewart (hopefully not off the bench), and Jeff Baker.

 

Our pitching may be inconsistent, but the offense should be explosive. Maybe ditching the humidors and bringing back the days of the Bombers isn’t such a crazy thought.

 

Back in Baylor’s days as manager, he would hold The Don Baylor Show, a segment of the postgame show after Sunday afternoon games. Three kids in attendance were able to go on the show and ask the skipper a question for him to answer.

 

I once was lucky enough to get on the show. If I had the opportunity today, maybe I’d ask Baylor to bring back the power at Coors Field.

 

Baylor has been missed. Could his presence in the clubhouse result in the Blake Street Bombers 2.0?

  

This article is also featured on Bleacher Report.

Colorado Rockies Have Dynamic Duo Late In Games

Huston Street and Manny Corpas will pitch in the 8th and 9th innings

It was a difficult decision.

 

One that couldn’t be made until four simple days before Opening Day.

 

But nonetheless, it’s becoming a reoccurring decision for the Rockies organization lately.

 

I’m talking about the Rockies’ closer–the ninth inning guy that goes in with more pressure on his shoulders than anyone else.

 

Much like a pinch hitter, the closer enters the game after sitting for the first eight innings, waiting for his opportunity to shine.

 

When he does it right, he’s seen as a hero, a firefighter, and he’s given the accolade of a “save.”

 

When he doesn’t do it right, he’s often booed, and seen as the reason the team’s failure.

 

The Rockies named Huston Street as the club’s 2009 starter (at least for now) Thursday afternoon. Street was awarded the position over Manny Corpas, who won the hearts of Rockies’ fans during the playoff run in late 2007.

 

Corpas was lights out after taking over as the Rockies’ closer when then-closer Brian Fuentes blew four consecutive saves opportunities in late June.

 

The native of Panama had an ERA of 1.02 after the switch, and successfully saved 19 of his 20 opportunities. His only blown save was in the World Series.

 

After posting these numbers, Corpas was given the opportunity to close the 2008 season. However, once again, a series of struggles early in the season caused manager Clint Hurdle to revert back to Fuentes, who closed the remainder of the season before filing for free agency and signing with the Los Angeles Angels.

 

Corpas then seemed to be the Rockies’ 2009 closer, and even when Street was acquired from the Athletics in a trade for Matt Holliday, many fans believed he would still win the spot.

 

In roughly the same amount of innings pitched in spring training, Corpas allowed fewer hits (seven to 11), fewer earned runs (one to six), more strikeouts (five to four), and a lower ERA (1.00 to 5.23).

 

However, Street’s statistics can be read misleadingly due to the fact that he was still overcoming a quadriceps injury in early March. Take away Street’s first two appearances, and in his final eight, he gave up just one run, a single hit and zero walks.

 

Many fans are upset and have multiple speculations on why Street was given the role over Corpas.

 

One theory is to make the controversial offseason trade sending Holliday to the Athletics look better.

 

The three players the Rockies received in return for Holliday include Street, starting pitcher Greg Smith and outfielder Carlos Gonzalez. Smith and Gonzalez will both be starting the year in Colorado Springs playing Triple-A ball, while some say that Street was given the closer role so that at least one of the players featured in the trade would be seen as a major factor in 2009.

 

Another possibility is Street’s experience.

 

In his four-year career, Street is 21-12 with a 2.88 ERA. In addition, the former A’s closer has 94 saves on his resume. Street has missed time each of the last two seasons, however, due to injuries.

 

Despite the front office’s decisions sometimes, I do believe that this team’s intentions are to put the best group of players onto the field each day and to win ballgames.

 

Both pitchers will still get plenty of experience, with Corpas currently being the set-up man and Street closing it out.

 

The way I see it, the Rockies have two solid late-inning pitchers that are both capable of closing ballgames. Whether it is Street or Corpas that gets it done, having both pitchers in the final two innings of a game should be a very valuable asset to the club and very intimidating to opposing teams.

 

And for you Corpas supporters, having him not being named the opening day closer might not be that bad of a thing. If history says anything, he may regain his role. The last two years, the backup has been the one that ends up closing games by the end of the year.

 

It’s a long, 162-game season. Things can change. But either way, the Rockies have a reliable duo that they can count on.

 

This article is also featured on Bleacher Report.

Colorado Rockies Can’t Focus On Tough April Schedule

It seems like the most recent trend in Colorado sports is to complain.

 

We all are aware of the Jay Cutler saga, but now the Denver sports pages are beginning to be filled with articles about how the Rockies got the short-end of the stick in scheduling in 2099.

 

It’s true, April will be a tough month for the Rockies.

 

Twelve of their first 15 games are on the road, something that does not come easy to the team.

 

They will have to travel to Arizona on two separate occasions, face the defending NL West champs in Los Angeles, and battle against the Cubs, who posted more regular season wins (97) than any National League team in 2008, at Wrigley. Their lone home series is against the defending World Series champion Phillies.

 

It seems like a rough start, sure.

 

And to add to the Rockies’ misery, the team is known for slow starts.

 

Through 30 games last year, the Rockies were already in last place, 10 games out of first, with an 11-19 record. The year before, the same year they made it to the World Series, it was the same situation, sitting at 11-17 going into the second day of May.

 

The Rockies can not use a tough schedule as an excuse for another lousy start, however.

 

Truth is, manager Clint Hurdle needs to use the difficult opponents as extra motivation for his team to be ready from the start, or for him to get his bags packed.

 

Yes, the opening schedule is tough. But that can’t be used as an excuse or a crutch.

 

My school’s football coach recently wrote, “I’ve always said the schedule is like the weather. For the most part, it’s out of your control. You can’t worry about it.”

 

The team opens up conference play against last season’s three top Mountain West Conference teams, all of them ranked at the end of last season, and two of them in the top 10.

 

In baseball, each team plays 81 games at home and 81 games on the road. If the Rockies draw a tough early schedule, than it will lighten up later on in the season.

 

All that the Rockies can control is the product they put out on the field.

 

** This article is also featured on Bleacher Report **

Colorado Rockies Remain Aggressive on Bases

Colorado Rockies remain agressive

They’re not a team made up of speed, but they’re showing aggressiveness.

 

“What you don’t want to see is to have this type of program in spring training and then drop back to Plan B in the regular season,” manger Clint Hurdle said. “We can’t afford to do that. We’ve got to stay aggressive and look to pick up 90 feet whenever we can, with whoever is on base.”

 

In 2008, speedy Willy Taveras led the major leagues with 68 stolen bases. It stands as quite an accomplishment, especially considering he posted just a .308 on-base percentage as a leadoff hitter.

 

His offensive struggles kept him from a spot with Colorado in 2009.

 

Hurdle made it an immediate emphasis this spring to be more aggressive and steal more bases.

 

As of Sunday, four Rockies rank among the MLB’s top 50 this spring in stolen bases. The team as a whole ranks second in the MLB with 36 bags, behind only the young Rays with 38.

 

This doesn’t mean that they are the quickest team out there. The Rockies have been caught stealing 18 times, which is tied for first.

 

What it does mean is that they are being aggressive and attempting to steal more bags than any other team.

 

Despite ranking among the top teams in 2008 with 141 stolen bases, the Rockies were not a team full of speed. The team’s top two players based on stolen bases are no longer with the team (Taveras and Matt Holliday). Out of the rest of the team, only four players successfully stole more than two bases–Clint Barmes with 13, Scott Podsednik with 12, Ryan Spilborghs with seven, and Jeff Baker with four.

 

The Rockies had one player with speed, but not an entire team that could catch an opposing pitcher off guard.

 

Speed can be an essential element to the game.

 

In 2007, Taveras and Kaz Matsui led the charge for Colorado with a strong 1-2 punch. With the two players at the top of the lineup, it became a key component to scoring early runs.

 

There were multiple games where Taveras would get on base to start the game, steal second and then either score on a Matsui base hit, or move over to third on a groundout. This would bring the heart of the order to the plate with just one out and a runner 90 feet away from scoring.

 

Other times, the top of the order was even successfully able to steal both second and third base during the same at-bat, allowing the runner to score on a base hit or sacrifice fly and giving the Rockies the lead two batters into the game.

 

Team speed was something that the Rockies missed last season, and in result, their offense never got going.

 

Let me reemphasize that 2009’s team is still not a team made up of speed.

 

No player on the current team has stolen more than 15 bases in a single season and the team leader for most career stolen bases is Todd Helton, who has a modest 36 in 12 seasons.

 

What this team is, however, is a team that’s willing to take that extra step while leading off in order to get a good jump off of a pitch or maybe two bases on a base hit.

 

If the Rockies keep up their spring pace, they will successfully steal 216 bases in 2009. That stat would rank first among any team this decade.

 

I think Hurdle is on track with being aggressive on the bases. There might be times where it hurts the team, but I think that in the end, it will pay off.

 

Hall of Famer Joe Morgan once said, “Whether you steal or not, you’re changing the rhythm of the game. If the pitcher is concerned about you, he isn’t concentrating enough on the batter.”

 

This article is also featured on Bleacher Report

Several Uncertainties Remain For Rockies In 2009

Coors Field on Opening Day 2008
Just 16 short months ago, Coors Field and downtown Denver was riding purple fever high above the Rocky Mountains. The glory years, more like year (1995), was here again and Lo-Do Magic was back.

Fans were quickly sent back to reality early in 2008, however, when the Colorado Rockies fell off the mountain and couldn’t rebound after a 20-38 start and ended up towards the bottom of an awful National League West.

Spring has arrived, however. The calendar has turned, the weather is slowly beginning to warm up and players are arriving in Arizona for Spring Training. A new season and fresh opportunities.

So as the 2009 season approaches, there is optimistic hope among fans and players alike. But the question of how realistic the goals of turning this season’s team from a 74-88 record in 2008 to the 90 wins and World Series birth the year prior remains with several “ifs.”

It’s not easy to remain positive after losing the face of the franchise in Matt Holliday. In return, they received a couple of prospects (Greg Smith and Carlos Gonzalez) and an established, but also often-injured closer, Huston Street.

The first question regards Holliday’s replacement in left field. Although not a stellar outfielder, his solid .320+ batting average, .530+ slugging percentage and 25+ home runs will be missed. His most likely replacement is Seth Smith. In 67 games last season, Smith hit .259, but his future is bright with the glimpses of power last season.

Gonzalez will most likely start the season in Colorado Springs (the Rockies’ AAA affiliate) while third basemen Ian Stewart will get a few spring looks, trying to make the transformation from the infield to the outfield after the Rockies resigned Garrett Atkins earlier this month.

The Rockies lost most of their speed in center fielder Willy Taveras, but the speedster lacked getting on base last year. A .308 on base percentage won’t cut it for a leadoff hitter. Last year’s backup, Scott Podsednik will get a look, but the favorite is Ryan Spilborghs, who had a breakout season last year, hitting over .300 and getting quality starts in the outfield.

Prospect Dexter Fowler is a name that gets fans excited for the future, but, like Gonzalez, may be better suited starting the year in Colorado Springs until after the All-Star break.

The hot corner seems set with Atkins getting most of the starts, and Stewart, who has gold glove potential and am improving bat, filling in when Atkins shifts across the diamond to first base when veteran Todd Helton needs some rest for his ailing back, which was surgically repaired during the off season.

Troy Tulowitzki, who grabbed fans’ hearts during his rookie season, seems to be back from his sophomore slump, but we won’t know for sure until April.

Helton says he feels good, but how will his surgically-repaired back hold up 100 games into the season in the grind of the hot summer?

The Rockies signed two proven managers during the off season as manager Clint Hurtle enters 2009 in the last year of his contract. One this is for certain, fans won’t let the Rockies ownership give Hurdle an extension on Opening Day this year until he proves himself.

Will Hurdle even be manager of the club in mid-May? Or will an early losing streak promote bench coach Jim Tracy or hitting coach and former Rockies manager Don Baylor to skipper?

And of course, saving the most uncertain for last, the pitching staff. Their 2007 ace, Jeff Francis, will likely undergo season-ending surgery before the season even begins. Aaron Cook (16-9, 3.96 ERA last year) needs to prove himself again this season. With the acquisition of veteran Jason Marquis, the fellow sinkerballers could work well together. Could being a key word.

The team signed Ubaldo Jimenez to four more years last month. With the speed of an ace, the 25-year-old needs to perform consistently and work on his control. And the back-end of the rotation? It seems like the team had an open invitation to Spring Training with Greg Smith, Franklin Morales, Glendon Rusch, Jason Hirsh, Josh Fogg, Greg Reynolds, and Jorge De La Rosa all fighting for the final two spots in the starting rotation.

So the questions remain. Will Seth Smith’s lack of experience fill the shoes of an All-Star like Holliday? Can Helton return to his earlier form? 2008 was the first time in his 11 full seasons without hitting above .300 or hitting double-digit home runs. Has Tulowitzki controlled himself and developed himself into the leader and face of the franchise that he needs to be?

Catcher Chris Iannetta proved himself last year, but can he remain consistent behind the plate? And the biggest questions each year in Colorado remain with the pitching staff. Who will fill the fifth spot? Will Manny Corpas or Street close? Do the Rockies need to trade for a top-of-the-line pitcher for the second half of the season? Will the Rockies even be in contention by the second half of the season?

With the West looking mediocre at best again this year, it could be anyone’s game. If the Rockies can play consistent .500 ball, they might have a legitimate shot. Of course, that is if they can do that.

Grab your erasers because nothing is certain. The beauty of a new season, though, is that there’s always hope.