Monday, May 28, 2007

Cycles of Love

The Rockies kept the good times rolling today with a 6-2 win over the Cardinals and yet another stellar outing out of Jeff Francis, who's shown the ability to go out there and dominate even without command of all three of his pitches. The outing before this one, against the Diamondbacks, his changeup was working for him but little else -- and that was still enough for him to toss seven shutout innings at the Snakes. Today, the changeup, curveball, and fastball were all being located and spotted, which led to his final line of 7.2 IP with 5 hits and 2 runs allowed on a 2-run shot by scrawny backup infielder So Taguchi, who was starting since a) Francis is a lefty, and b) Edmonds probably needed a rest anyway, especially since he hits .150 against lefties. For the record, the homer was straight highway robbery -- Francis had cozened So Taguchi to a 2-2 count with Aaron Miles on second, and then threw him an absolutely perfect curveball that everyone in the stadium thought was the third strike. So did me and my dad, for that matter, as we were watching on TV, and booed heartily when the ump failed to call Taguchi out. On the next pitch, he blipped it into the left-field pavilion, when he should have been out and the inning over anyway, so in other words, Francis was robbed. It was a hot day and he was at 99 pitches, so Hurdle summoned Ramon Ramirez to face Albert Pujols. In one of the more miraculous occurrences of the day, Ramirez got him to ground out weakly to Jeff Baker on the first pitch (another scheduled off-day for Helton, clearly).

On the offensive end of the stick, Matt Holliday launched his team-leading ninth homer into the bullpens in the bottom of the first, continuing his ownage of Kip Wells -- he's mashed him like a pinata to the tune of 9-12 with four bombs. (Holliday and Francis are also the Cards' personal nemeses, as Holliday has hit .481 in his previous 19 games against them and after today's victory, Francis is 4-1 with a 2.28 ERA against the Birds). Holliday also added an RBI groundout to continue a run of torrid hitting -- he's ripping just about anything that anyone throws him. Inside, outside, away, up -- he's strong enough and smart enough to make almost instantaneous adjustments and take the ball all over the field. Wells had to work around traffic, as Troy Tulowitzki tripled and singled (continuing his run of multi-hit games) and Willy Taveras walked and stole second, but he managed to strand the runners in scoring position until the fifth, when Jeff Francis bounced a double to help himself out and scored on Kaz Matsui's RBI single. Kaz himself came home on a passed ball by Gary Bennett, starting in place of regular Cards catcher Yadier Molina, and Francis escaped his most serious threat in the sixth, when, after walking Pujols with two outs to load the bases, he threw a first-pitch fastball and induced Scott Spiezio to ground into a force out. After that, he was untouchable again until the (unfair) homer in the eighth, but in the bottom of the seventh, the Rockies tacked on three more runs to ice the game. Holliday collected his second RBI of the afternoon and Brad Hawpe slammed the first pitch the opposite way for a two-run homer, his sixth on the season and fifth in May. After a somewhat slow start, Brad (or, as he's called on Purple Row, Brandon) has rediscovered his power stroke and is now hitting .290 on the season.

The last thing that remains is to get Atkins into gear. Even Garrett collected a line drive single and a long fly ball today, and it seems as if simply poor luck may account for the dip in his BABIP (batting average on balls in play) from .340 last year to .248 this season. He ripped a sharp grounder in his first at-bat, but right at second baseman Adam Kennedy; this is the story of his season thus far. He's still hitting the ball hard, but they just aren't finding the holes that they did in '06. I for one think that this aberration will correct itself, and he did tear up the joint after the All-Star break last year, but hopefully we don't have to wait that long this year for the magical salve that will give those balls eyes. I remain deeply fond of him and I'm willing to have patience with his struggles as long as the team keeps winning. Six in a row is wonderful, and the last time they did it was in May 2002, but I'm not satisfied with it -- and nor is the team. The streak bumped their record up from an abysmal 18-27 to a just-below-.500 24-27, but even with it, they remain stuck in last place in the NL West and 5.5 back of division leader Los Angeles. To keep rolling with it, they need to take advantage of the Cardinals' vulnerability on the road -- they've dropped 11 of 13 away from Busch -- and continue to get strong starting pitching and timely hits. Tomorrow will be more of a test, because Rodrigo Lopez will be pitching for the first time since early April and Braden Looper will be taking the hill for the Cards. Let's hope the Rockies can continue to hit good pitchers; they dismantled Morris and Lowry's pretty ERAs in a hurry in San Francisco, so they'll need to do the same against Looper. Yes, Looper is the Cardinals' ace. Strange season in St. Louis.

Also, aside from Pujols, the Cardinals ran out their best AAA lineup in today's tilt. Rolen, Eckstein, Edmonds, Duncan, and Molina won't likely be warming the pine for a second straight game, so the Cards' order should offer stiffer competition in the second game than it did in the first. Lopez is also, you know, still the pitcher who lost 18 games for the Orioles last year, so it'll be important to see if he can maintain his good start. Seven in a row sounds nice, but I still would like to see more.

You may also have noticed that the general team I favor goes in cycles. Last year when the blog was first started, the coverage was mainly A's-oriented, then shifted to pro-Cardinals as the Redbirds completed the process of shocking the world and capturing the trophy. This year, it's moved more in a Rockies direction as I am after all spending the summer at home in Colorado and am deeply immersed in the triumphs and travails of the boys in purple and black. That's just the way it goes, as I continue to like all three and pay more attention to all of them than surely is good for anyone's mental health. But, well, as mentioned, I am rooting for the Rockies in this series, and I'd like to ride this win streak for as long as they'd like to carry it out. Hopefully this thing is primed for a few more, and that Hurdle doesn't make any more slap-your-head-and-cry-in-your-beer decisions, of which he's unfortunately all too good at. Hope everyone had a safe and fun Memorial Day, and see you tomorrow at 7:05 MT, Looper vs. Lopez, as the Rockies try to roll sevens.

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