The Rockies' lineup is starting to look more like the one we all remember, with Garrett Atkins and Brad Hawpe back to full health. Hawpe was locked in for the game I attended tonight, hitting a four-run homer in the first and adding a single and a walk later. Greg Reynolds worked into the seventh and only gave up two runs on four hits and two walks. Reynolds only threw 73 pitches in the game. That's encouraging on two different levels. First, that the rookie could work that far into the evening so efficiently. Second, that Clint Hurdle still gave him the hook. With the season gone the way it has, there's no point in taking any unnecessary risks.
I was a little apprehensive to see Jorge De La Rosa coming in out of the bullpen, but he, Jason Grilli, and Taylor Buchholz were able to keep Milwaukee off of the board. The Rockies were homer-happy, as Ian Stewart and Chris Iannetta connected for solo shots to go with Hawpe's slam. Three home runs at Coors for Colorado used to be a below-average day, but this year's squad hasn't been much for the long ball. I prefer pitching over hitting and low-scoring games to slugfests, but enough is enough. It was nice to crane my neck as balls flew by multiple times.
Coors Field was pretty loud tonight. Ticket sales might have been goosed by a Troy Tulowitzki bobblehead giveaway, but enough fans stayed to cheer to make the park rock more than it has any day since the home opener. We'll have to wait and see what things are like in the dog days of August and September, but as of now I'm willing to consider that I've underestimated the average Denver sports fan. Maybe we're just seeing crowds at the games now who bought their tickets in the preseason, when things seemed so much more hopeful. And next season will really tell. I don't know whether the Rockies are going to be able to sustain any real long-term increase in profile until they start winning consistently. At least for now the fans who are going to the games know how to generate a good racket, and that wasn't something you could often say of Colorado fans between 1996 and 2007.
With the way the Rockies have looked most of the season, it's hard to believe they've won four games in a row... twice! They won four in a row on the road, believe it or not, two against San Diego then two in Houston, back in April. Win four in a row on the road in April, then lose thirteen in a row on the road in May and June. Maybe this is a more interesting year than I thought. Better a terrible season that's not dull than... most of the other seasons in Rockies history.
The Brewers have some issues, huh? It's too bad Bill Hall's play has been so poor that he's riding the pine. I'd be throwing a hissy fit too if Russell Branyan was taking my playing time. Russell Branyan! I had no idea he was still playing. He felt like a retread when announced at the ballpark and I recalled him playing for the Brewers once before. Indeed he did so, in 2004-05. Hard to make fun of Branyan now that he's been nearly as productive as Bill Hall in vastly playing time.
What was most soothing to see from the other side for once was lousy starting pitching. The Brewers as always live in terror of a Ben Sheets injury, and with Sheets that's always just a start away. Ben leads the Crüe with a 26.6 VORP; second is reliever Salomon Torres at 9.1. Then there's Yovani Gallarado, presently on the disabled list, followed by tomorrow's starter Jeff Suppan. That leaves a vulnerable rear flank of Dave Bush, Manny Parra, and Seth McClung. Bush went double-walk-walk-homer-homer with two outs in the first tonight. Parra doesn't have the name recognition of the other two but has the best chance to be not awful. He was sort of okay in limited action last year and has been likewise thus far this season, with a rising strikeout rate. Seth McClung, a relic of the bad old days in Tampa Bay, I don't feel good about having in my rotation for more than a time through or so.
Then if Sheets goes down, move all those guys one slot over to the left, and then think about how that looks. Not pretty! The Rockies might be in better shape with the mix they have now, depending on whether the good or the evil versions of all their young pitchers turn up. Before this season started Francis-Cook-Jimenez-Morales-Reynolds seemed like a can't-miss group of young system guys, with Cook the old man at 29. One of those guys, Morales, wiped out so bad he had to be sent down to the minors before Reynolds came up. Francis has been flailing, and Jimenez has been thrashed. Colorado's homegrown rotation of dreams became that of its nightmares in, like, two months.
The lesson of this four-game win streak is obvious: when good starting pitching arrives, wins come with it. If the Rockies are going to start spelunking out from oblivion, they'll need Aaron Cook to be every bit as good as he's been. They'll need Francis to consolidate on his recent progress and turn back into the hammer he was last season. They'll need young Jimenez and Reynolds to throw strikes and minimize the exposure to the bullpen. And they'll need another player from somewhere to hold down the fifth starter's spot. It's too soon for a Morales comeback, and with the season lost he might as well get the developmental time he should have gotten in 2007 back. Jorge De La Rosa, I'm pretty sure, is not the answer.