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NLDS: Rockies-Phillies, Game 2
The Rockies broke serve right away in the Cinderella Series as Jeff Francis's bad fifth inning in Game 1 was a run better than Cole Hamels' bad second inning. Mix in a solo homer by Matt Holliday off Tom Gordon for some late-game insurance and you've got a 4-2 Rockies win and a Phillies team desperate to leave their home park with a split.
As it turns out, on an afternoon when many were concerned about the negative effect that the shadows encroaching on home plate might have on the hitters, it was the sun beating down on the pitchers mound that might have helped Colorado. Hamels started the game in long sleeves on a muggy day and had trouble throwing his changeup for strikes in his fateful second inning due to the sweat dripping down his pitching arm. Hamels switched to short sleeves after that inning and retired 12 in a row, but the costume change came too late as the 41 pitches Hamels threw in the second ultimately forced him out of the game in the seventh, when he reached his 115-pitch limit.
While Hamels was burning up in his long red sleeves, the Rockies' young lefty ace Jeff Francis, to borrow a postgame phrase from reliever Brian Fuentes, came "blazing out of the gate," striking out the first four men he faced. Cool and collected in his black vest and short sleeves, Francis cruised through the first four innings before giving up consecutive solo homers to righties Aaron Rowand and Pat Burrell in the fifth, but he didn't falter, nor did the Big Three out of the Colorado bullpen, LaTroy Hawkins, Fuentes, and Manny Corpas. In the words of Bugs & Cranks' Mark Townsend, "What a beautiful thing is it is to have three relievers with closer stuff and slow heartbeats."
That's right, the Rockies can pitch. That they're pretty good at catching the ball has quite a lot to do with that. After I weighed in on the Colorado defense here, a colleague directed me to this partial listing of 2007 Ultimate Zone Ratings (MGL's advanced fielding statistic), which backs me up big time on shortstop Troy Tulowitzki, first baseman Todd Helton and left fielder Holliday, but suggests that the Rockies are clamping down on opposing offenses despite the more dubious performances of third baseman Garrett Atkins and Brad Hawpe.
(The Philadelphia Inquirer's Paul Hagen has a very different theory as to why at least some of the Rockies have been pitching so well.)
Whatever the reason, the Rockies completely stymied the Phillies' big bats, as the top four men in the order went 0 for 15 with nine strikeouts, four of them by Chase Utley, and a lone walk by Jimmy Rollins. Meanwhile, Colorado's MVP candidate crushed a ball just foul down the left-field line in the second inning that sailed clear out of Citizens Bank Park. Holliday eventually struck out in that at-bat, but he kept his chin up and homered in the eighth.
This afternoon, the Phillies try for that split by sending rookie Kyle Kendrick to the mound. Remarkably, Kendrick, who is 22 and has made just 20 major league starts, is the more seasoned of the two starters in as Colorado's Franklin Morales, 21, has just starts on his big-league resume. Kendrick joined the Phillie rotation in mid-June and handled the Rockies well at Coors in early July, but he was roughed up by the Rox in Philly three weeks ago. Keep your eye on Helton, who tripled in his first postseason at-bat in Game 1, and Hawpe today as lefties have hit .321/.374/.549 against Kendrick, a righty, this season.
As I suggested in my piece on the Rockies' defense, Morales, has succeeded due in large part to his high groundball rate and the Rockies' excellent defense. That's fitting as Morales joined the Colorado rotation in late August when Aaron Cook, another groundballer, hit the DL with an oblique strain. The left-handed Morales just might be better than Cook. The only concern is that he's still developing, and has yet to throw as many as 90 pitches in any of his major league starts, which could put an added strain on the Rockies' bullpen. Morales threw five shutout innings at Citizens Bank Park on September 11, the first of three starts in which he didn't allow a run and the beginning of a franchise record 20 consecutive scoreless innings. In that outing, Morales got 11 of his 15 outs via ground balls and strikeouts. Morales had a 2.05 ERA on the road during the regular season and held lefties to just four hits in 31 at-bats (.129/.206/.226). That could be bad news for Utley and Ryan Howard. The Phillies have their work cut out for them.
posted by SI.com | View comments |
'As it turns out, on an afternoon when many were concerned about the negative effect that the shadows encroaching on home plate might have on the hitters, it was the sun beating down on the pitchers mound that might have helped Colorado.'
OK, so how did this help Colorado any more than it helped the Phils? Cause Francis was smart enough to wear short sleeves? Reminds me of Ripken's comment saying the shadows is what was making Francis so good...didn't Hamels have THE SAME shadows?
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