The big question going into this Rockies season, for me anyway, was this: Could the pieces come together? Could all of these players, who look like a complete team on paper, execute when the time came? Or would they fall apart, and once again fall short of expectations?
Well. Let’s not draw any concrete conclusions from a game played against the Astros. It would be too easy to get excited about what we saw last night, when the truth is that much tougher teams wait on the horizon, including those in our own division. I don’t want to be too much of a Debbie Downer though; a win is a win, and an opening day win is always worth celebrating.
And I think it’s fair to say that the pieces did come together last night. That’s what I’m most encouraged by: generally speaking, everyone did their job. Let’s start with ace-ish Jeremy Guthrie. Guthrie was given the opening day call weeks ago and struggled in his spring training starts following that decision, so I wasn’t sure which version of him would show up at Minute Maid Park. It’s fair to say that this was not a dominant performance, but it was solid. He went 7 innings, which I think is the minimum we ought to be able to get out of him most of the time. He walked 3 and only struck out 1 (the opposing pitcher), so certainly that ratio needs to improve. Least impressive was the fact that he gave up back-to-back home runs in the 4th inning, to Carlos Lee and Brian Bogusevic. Both were 91-mph fastballs, which is less than what he’s capable of. The Lee home run was a right at the belt, and if you’re going to throw it there you’ve got to throw it faster so he’ll swing through. Still, Guthrie got 3 flyouts to 11 groundouts, so he mostly kept the ball down. In general, I’m satisfied with this start. He’s not an ace on par with any of the others in the division, but he’s steadier than Jhoulys Chacin and not a total head case like Ubaldo Jimenez.
Offensively, I think 8 hits is a little less than what this lineup can put together, but what matters is that hits happened when they were useful. The first two innings passed with men left on base, and that’s a habit these guys must break. They found their groove after that, though, and the 3rd inning was a thing of beauty. Marco Scutaro, who I hope will be leading off indefinitely, started things off with a single. That set up Dexter Fowler for a sacrifice bunt; since he can’t bunt for a base hit to save his life, he needs to be able to come to the plate with a man on already. Pitcher Wandy Rodriguez threw the ball away trying to get Fowler, and just like that there were two men in scoring position with no outs. This would have been a perfect opportunity for a complete choke, but that’s not what happened.
After a Carlos Gonzalez groundout, Troy Tulowitzki hit a sacrifice fly, which he never does. He was probably trying to hit a home run, but what matters is that he got the ball deep enough to score Scutaro and move Fowler to 3rd. Then Todd Helton hit a beauty of a double the opposite way to score Fowler. Michael Cuddyer drove in Helton with a single and then stole 2nd. Ramon Hernandez singled to move Cuddy to 3rd. The rally died when Chris Nelson came to the plate and grounded int a forceout. But every inning has to end some time, and this one went just about exactly how I’d have wanted it to. Nearly everyone waited for a pitch he could hit, and then he hit it to the part of the field that would allow the runners a chance to move up. That’s good small ball. Let’s have more of that.
Nelson, of course, went 0-for-4 on the day and his struggles at the plate are the reason I don’t love the idea of him starting at third base. It’s too bad his defense is so good and Jordan Pacheco‘s is so mediocre. If there was a way to splice those two together … but this is the situation in which we find ourselves. Hopefully Nelson can find a way to approach his at-bats better so he doesn’t kill the rally every time.
Guess what else? Fowler stole a base! Which means he’s 1-for-1 on stolen base attempts this season! I can’t say for sure how long that will last, but when he bunts successfully and doesn’t get tagged out on the basepaths in the SAME GAME, I feel encouraged. Eric Young Jr. also stole a base, though if we’re honest, he very nearly got caught in a pickle, which is exactly what needs to stop happening. Luckily, Jason Castro made a crummy throw and EY was able to score on the play. I’m tempted to scold his indecision, but I’ll forgive him because he has great speed and he took advantage of the bad defense.
The Astros made 4 errors in the game, which is terrible, and 4 of the Rockies’ 5 runs were unearned. You know what though, a win is a win even if it’s ugly. And if I remember correctly, last year’s late-season Rockies-Astros series featured awful fielding on both sides, so at least Houston is the only team that’s carried that over to this year.
A couple of other things worth mentioning: in the 9th inning, Tulo positively hammered a Fernando Abed fastball onto the train tracks above the stadium. You like to see that, especially since it took him several days to get any hits at all last season. I hope he’s starting to understand that he’s not going to murder a ball like that in every single game, but any time he does it successfully you won’t hear me complaining. And he made a great leaping catch to remind everybody just how good his defense is. Also, a nod to the pen for their fine work after Guthrie left the game. Rafael Betancourt gave up a double and a walk en route to his first save as the Rockies’ closer, but he did what he had to do to keep a run from scoring. And how about Rex Brothers? An 11-pitch 8th inning, 1-2-3 with a pair of K’s. The closer job might be his sooner than we thought.
The second game of this 3-game series will feature Jamie Moyer on the hill for the Rockies. If he wins tonight, he’ll be the oldest pitcher in baseball to do so.