After his career debut at Coors Field, Detroit Tigers ace Justin Verlander told MLB.com that early in the game, "my fastball control wasn't anywhere near where it should be" and described his breaking ball as "okay." Yet his skills were enough to toss a complete game against the Rockies while surrendering only four hits and one run.
In front of a sellout Fathers Day crowd, Colorado put poor punctuation on an otherwise impressive series.
A nearly 400-foot home run by Ty Wigginton in the fifth inning was the only damage done by the Rockies. Troy Tulowitzki had two singles off Verlander and advanced to second base on a failed pick-off attempt, but was the only Rockie in scoring position all day. Verlander never faced more than four batters in any inning. As he normally does, Verlander got stronger as the game moved on. After hitting 94 mph during most of the early innings, he touched 97 and 98 several times after the sixth.
But the Rockies can hardly be blamed for falling victim to Verlander. He might be the best pitcher in baseball right now. He extended his winning streak to seven games and tossed his second consecutive complete game yesterday.
But while yesterday's game was depressing, it was the only loss in a three game series to a team battling for the lead of the American League's Central Division. On Saturday night, Ubaldo Jimenez got his first win at Coors Field this season, as well as a two-run single. His action on the base paths spurred a right calf cramp that forced him out of the game in the sixth inning, but the injury shouldn't cost him a start. And the Rockies backed up the pitching staff with stellar defense; Tulowitzki threw two runners out at home plate.
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Friday night's game represented a youth movement and a positive change of course for the team's struggling offense. Recent call up Chris Nelson hit his first career home run Friday (he added another Saturday) and fellow rookie Charlie Blackmon recorded four hits in four at-bats, along with two runs and RBIs. He's hitting .378 and has stolen five bases in his twelve games in the big leagues. However, the Rockies were a combined six for eleven with runners in scoring position Friday, an area they have struggled all year.
A look back to last week reveals a growing beast on the Rockies' staff. Last Wednesday, Jhoulys Chacin struck out seven Padres and notched his eighth win -- tying him for second in the National League. As Jimenez struggles and Jorge De La Rosa sits on the DL, Chacin has quietly become the best arm in purple and the only Rockie deserving of an All-Star selection.
He's sixth in the NL in ERA at 2.81 and seventh in WHIP (walks plus hits per inning pitched) at 1.08. Opponents are hitting .196 against him, good for second in the league. Chacin has pitched at least six innings in every start this season.
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For all of the Rockies' frustrating mediocrity, they sit just three and a half games back of the division-leading San Francisco Giants, who have dropped four straight and lost their best offensive player, catcher Buster Posey, likely for the season.
Colorado's three best players, Tulowitzki, Jimenez and Carlos Gonzalez, have underperformed, woefully in Jimenez's case. The speedy Blackmon profiles as a lead-off hitter, which would allow Cargo to drop back to third in the order should Dexter Fowler not make a solid recovery from a hip injury or continue to strike out at a prolific pace. So there is certainly room for improvement, and the Rockies have not fallen too far behind the division leader.
But for how much longer can they keep saying that? After playing the worst baseball in the league in May, the Rockies are painfully average and waiting for their stars to be stars. With each day that passes, the question becomes "if" and not "when" that will happen.
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