Colorado Rockies: If they want to prove they're baseball's best, they've got to school the Giants
Just to provide a little perspective on the Rockies having the best record in baseball: Their opponents are a combined 25-36 this year. But they've set a 12-3 mark without any meaningful contribution from ace Ubaldo Jimenez and even less from veteran pitcher Aaron Cook. Fresh off a 2-1 series victory over the Chicago Cubs, Colorado will take on the defending World Series champion San Francisco Giants, who are in Colorado for the first time since the team filed a complaint with the MLB about the Rockies' humidor last season.
The series versus the Cubs wasn't perfect. On Saturday night, the Rockies did most of the things they had avoided so far in the season -- namely whiffing with men on base (Colorado was 0-12 with runners in scoring position, stranding thirteen), allowing a bullpen meltdown (reliever Felipe Paulino gave up five runs in the seventh inning while recording just one out) and losing in nine innings for the first time this year. The team's other two losses were both in extra innings -- to the Arizona Diamondbacks on opening day and the Pittsburgh Pirates on April 8.
The Rockies returned to form on Sunday, when a string of two-out hits by Dexter Fowler, Jonathan Herrera and Carlos Gonzales fueled a four-run eighth inning to seal the win. Fowler's two-strike double opened the flood gates and the Rockies' bullpen tossed five innings of shutout baseball after emergency starter Alan Johnson, who was called up from Triple A, weathered the first four innings.
Johnson exemplifies why the Rockies own the best record in the majors. Almost everyone on the team is doing his part.
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Jhoulys Chacin has stepped up with a 1.64 ERA in three wins against no losses. Pint-sized defensive specialist Jonathan Herrera is hitting .400, has an on-base percentage of .543, ten runs in ten games and even launched a home run on Friday. Left-handers Todd Helton and Seth Smith are providing balance to the lineup as they are batting .342 and .313, respectively. Huston Street has made ten appearances and captured six saves. And down the roster it goes.
Oh yeah: Troy Tulowitzki has been everything the club hoped he would be when it inked him to a monster extension over the off-season. Traditionally a slow starter, Tulo leads MLB in home runs, slugging percentage and OPS (on-base plus slugging percentage). Even after going hitless in his first two games, he's batting .364, and he mashed a home run in each game against the New York Mets last week. I won't get too geeky with the stats, but he covers more ground than any shortstop in the game, and it's not up for debate.
Just in time for the showdown with division-rival San Francisco, a major reinforcement is on the way. Jimenez will return from a thumb cuticle injury on Tuesday night. He could have taken the mound tonight, but starting him tomorrow sets the rotation as manager Jim Tracy would like it, with Jimenez as the ace pitching before Jorge De La Rosa. Jimenez made a rehab start last Wednesday in which he averaged 94 mph on his fastball and topped out at 97 after struggling to hit 95 in his only start on opening day.
The Rockies receive no breaks against the Giants as they will face the torrid starting pitching trio of Tim Lincecum, Jonathan Sanchez and Matt Cain. Colorado holds a four game lead in the division and it's still April. But the Giants have everything the Rockies want -- a division and World Series title -- so this series matters.
The standings say the Rockies are the best team in baseball, but the Giants' trophy case says differently. If Colorado wants to reverse that, it should start doing it tonight.
More from our Baseball archive: "Colorado Rockies: Top five storylines heading into the season."
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