Phillies are catching the Rockies at right time
PHILADELPHIA -- There have been worse times to play the Colorado Rockies. September of 2007 comes to mind. And any time in the second half of 2009.
Those were times when Colorado teams that qualified for the postseason were on some truly impressive rolls. But today? Taking nothing away from the Philadelphia Phillies and their two-game winning streak, but this is a really good time to play the Rockies.
The 2012 Rockies are, to put it politely, in transition. And they are in transition with the third-worst record in the National League.
The Phillies, for their part, had lost 12 of their last 15 before opening a 10-game homestand with three against Colorado. They were in desperate need of a revival. They needed to play better, period. And they have, the last two nights. After a nifty performance in a 7-2 victory on Tuesday night the Phillies encored with a heartening 7-6 victory on Wednesday night.
They came from behind with two outs and nobody on in the ninth, with five straight Phillies reaching base. Shane Victorino hustled to beat out an infield hit to keep the game alive. Placido Polanco hustled to beat out the final play of the game, a grounder up the middle, on which Colorado first baseman Todd Helton did not maintain contact with the bag while taking the throw. How many times do you see a game decided by that kind of error from a three-time Gold Glove first baseman? Once this lifetime, apparently.
But the Phillies, short on late-inning heroics this season, were not putting any asterisks next to this victory.
"They all count," Polanco said. "It doesn't matter how you win. We kept taking good at-bats and it paid off."
"We definitely need some games like this," manager Charlie Manuel said. "Hopefully, that's a good omen."
The Phillies are in the process of attempting to lift their play back to an acceptable level while they wait for prominent players to return from injuries. There was no question that their performance in the opener Tuesday night was solid in all facets of the game. Wednesday night's game had a few more wrinkles to it, but the Phillies hit and hustled when it mattered most.
Now the Phillies will have a chance to sweep this series on Thursday night. Winning a series, taking two out of three, is generally a safe and secure path to success. But in the Phillies' current situation, this series should be swept, ought to be swept, needs to be swept.
The Rockies came into Wednesday night on the second game of a pitching experiment. You know what they say about necessity being the mother of invention? Well, it was necessary for the Rockies to do something, anything, with their starting rotation.
The Rockies' starting rotation after 66 games had an earned run average of 6.31. That is somewhere between exceptionally high and unthinkable. The Rockies determined that they could no longer go with the conventional five-man rotation, in part because they could not find five capable starters.
Jeremy Guthrie, obtained in a trade with Baltimore, was demoted to the bullpen. Guthrie, 3-6 with a 7.02 ERA as a starter this season, appeared in relief Wednesday night and was immensely better. He worked three shutout innings and the only baserunner during that time reached on an error. Perhaps this is the correct career path for Guthrie.
The Rockies decided to go with a four-man rotation, but to limit the wear and tear on the four remaining starters, each would have a pitch limit of 75 pitches per start. Rockies manager Jim Tracy has an admirable record as an astute baseball man, including the 2009 NL Manager of the Year Award. Tracy saw that something had to be done, and it had to go beyond the usual boundaries of the five-man rotation.
Tracy cited a stretch in which Colorado starters had compiled a 10.34 ERA.
"You can't come out of the dugout and say 'We're going to get 11 [runs],'" Tracy said. "You're not going to get 11 against Cole Hamels, I promise you that."
The Rockies could get five in seven innings off Joe Blanton on Wednesday night, but you knew what the manager was saying. Something had to change. The first two starts of this experiment were not encouraging, with Josh Outman on Tuesday night failing to get out of the fifth, and Alex White Wednesday night failing to get out of the fourth.
There was, on the other hand, Guthrie's dramatic improvement when shifted to a relief role. Maybe the four-man rotation, with the 75-pitch limit, will catch on and revolutionize the way contemporary big league pitching is handled. Maybe not.
But the Phillies aren't going to find too many other opponents in the embryonic stages of a pitching experiment. This visit by the Rockies coincided with the Phillies really needing to make a move in a better direction. So far, the Phillies are 2-for-2 in taking advantage.
Mike Bauman is a national columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.