I said on Twitter (@Trevor_Irvine) Friday night after the Rockies defeated the Nationals 5-1, that was their best win of the season. Predictably, they lost last night 4-1 and I lamented their lack of ever pulling out a winning streak. Today, I didn’t hold out much hope as of course, 1) today is Sunday (enough said) and 2) they never win a series, especially on the road. After 7 innings today, it looked like it was going to be another tough road loss, with above average pitching and a below average offense. But then came the 8th and the 9th innings.
The Rockies got on the board first. They loaded the bases with 0 outs but pulled out the 2012 Rockies version of only scoring 1 run on a Wil Nieves sacrifice fly. The Nationals threatened in the bottom of the 3rd inning with runners on 1st and 3rd but Jeremy Guthrie was able to get Michael Morse to ground out into a fielders choice to keep the lead. However, in the 4th inning Guthrie went back to the Guthrie that has frustrated Rockies fans all season long. In the bottom of the 4th, Guthrie gave up a double to Adam LaRoche and that was followed by a Ian Desmond 2 run HR (17 on the year) to left center that suddenly put the Nationals up 2-1. That would be the only runs that Guthrie would give up, however.
Guthrie: 6 IP, 6 H, 2 R, 2 ER, 1 BB, 3 K, 83 pitches.
The Nationals starter Jordan Zimmermann was outstanding only giving up the one run on 3 hits.
Zimmermann: 7 IP, 3 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 2 BB, 2 K, 92 pitches.
Matt Belisle came on in relief of Guthrie and he was not the Belisle that is usually “Mr. Reliable”. After getting 2 quick outs, the 2 out run curse struck again as Roger Bernandina bunted his way on, then stole second, and scored on a Stephen Lombardozzi single. Lombardazzi tried his luck on stretching out his single into a double and was thrown out at second.
Belisle: 1 IP, 2 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 0 BB, 1 K.
Sean Burnett came on in relief of Zimmerman in the 8th. Burnett came in with a 1.42 ERA on the year but with the first batter he saw; Eric Young, promptly hit his first HR of the year to bring the Rockies back to 3-2. Back-to-back singles by Dexter Fowler and Marco Scutaro put them on the corners with 0 out. Nationals manager Davey Johnson then went to Mike Gonzalez who helped the Rockies by throwing a wild pitch and allowing Fowler to score, tying the game at 3 and advancing Scutaro to 2nd. However then he struck out Carlos Gonzalez, Tyler Colvin and Todd Helton to end the threat.
Rex Brothers came on to relieve Belisle and despite giving up a 2 out infield hit to Michael Morse he got out of the inning without any damage. The Nationals closer Tyler Clippard came in the 9th with a 1.78 ERA. Jordan Pacheco led off with a double to left, took third on a sacrifice and scored on Clippard’s first wild pitch of the season.
Rafael Betancourt entered looking for his 15th save of the season. Betancourt has had trouble shutting the door in recent games and again with the first batter, he gave up a leadoff single to Ian Desmond. Danny Espinosa sacrified him to 2nd and 2 batters later he walked Roger Bernandina to have the winning run on base. But he struck out Jesus Flores to end the game and preserve the win.
With this rare win on a Sunday, the Rockies took 2 of 3 from the Nationals and go into the all-star break at 33-52. This is not where anyone wanted them to be at this time however the signs are encouraging. This was their best series played of the season so far. They held the second highest scoring team in the NL to just 8 runs over 3 games and scoring 9 themselves. Nothing pretty offensively but they did enough in 2 games to win.
No doubt the story of the weekend was the starting pitching. A 1 hit start by Drew Pomeranz, 3 hits by Jeff Francis and 6 hits today by Jeremy Guthrie (but only 2 ER) were the keys to winning this series. If you take out the shoddy defense from yesterday we may have had a road sweep. It was nice to see the Rockies bounce back today with a 0 error performance.
Now with the all-star break here it gives everybody a chance to catch their breaths and reflect. It has only taken 85 games but the Rockies are developing a (somewhat) decent starting rotation, with Drew Pomeranz, Jeff Francis, Jeremy Guthrie and Christian Friedrich. Despite the widespread criticism of the 4 man rotation, since the introduction of it the starters have improved their length of starts from 5.1 to 5.3 innings per game. They are also giving up less runs, having cut their ERA from around 6.1 to 3.9. Hopefully this trend can continue after the break because we all know that if the Rockies can get some decent starting pitching, with their offense (#1 HR in the NL) they can compete with anyone.
Today was one of the very few times that the Rockies have trailed after 7 innings and came back and won. Yes, they got some luck with the two wild pitches but this series was a major step forward for this team. They can only go up from here (tied with the Cubs for the worst record in the majors). Now that the pitching looks like it can compete, if the offense can become more consistent and the defense can start playing like the 2007 Rockies (MLB record .998 team fielding percentage), who knows what this team can do in the second half?
A win would be not to lose 100 games!