Pitching quietly playing major role in Rockies' rush up NL West standings

Updated: August 25, 2009

Mark J. Rebilas/US Presswire

Jason Hammel kept the Rockies in the game with seven strong innings Tuesday against the Dodgers.

There were several times when Colorado general manager Dan O'Dowd was tempted to trade Ryan Spilborghs. The Rockies are deep in outfielders, and teams such as the Red Sox lusted for him. In the end, though, O'Dowd felt that Spilborghs was a major piece for a team that has that something you can't get just anywhere.

When Spilborghs hit his dramatic home run Monday night to dispatch the Giants for the third time in four games, pulling the Rockies to within three games of the NL West-leading Dodgers on the eve of a three-game series with those very Dodgers, it was the best home run moment of the 2009 season. (Yes, even more dramatic than Alex Rodriguez's 15th-inning shot to beat the Red Sox earlier this month because of the back-and-forth nature of the Colorado-San Francisco game.) And that moment, not weary legs, carried over into Tuesday, when the Rockies won again, beating the Dodgers 5-4 to trim that deficit to two games with two more against L.A. left in this series in Colorado.

After these next two with the Dodgers, the Rockies go to San Francisco and get Tim Lincecum, Barry Zito and Matt Cain this weekend.

By now, everyone knows the Rockies are really good. Todd Helton -- with his .904 OPS, 66-57 walk-strikeout ratio and the fire that makes him what he has long been -- is back as a driving wheel. Their middle defense, with Dexter Fowler (who headed to the DL on Tuesday, but was replaced by speedy Eric Young Jr.), Troy Tulowitzki, Clint Barmes and Chris Iannetta, is as good as there is. Huston Street has blown one save all year, going 33 of 34, and is arguably the best closer in the National League.

But what's amazing is that the Rockies sit here, this late in the year, tied with the Braves and Cubs for the NL lead in quality starts, with their guys pitching that home park. On Sunday, the nation saw how good Ubaldo Jimenez can be when he bested Lincecum. Jason Marquis is tied for second in the NL with 14 wins. Jorge De La Rosa has come out of nowhere to go 12-8, and Jason Hammel, who pitched well (seven innings, two runs) in a no-decision Tuesday, is another pleasant surprise.

But Wednesday night against the Dodgers marks a significant point. It will be the first time any of the Colorado starters will have missed a turn, as Aaron Cook (sore shoulder) is sidelined for four or five starts. Josh Fogg will step into his place against Randy Wolf. When Fogg pitches, 123 of their 126 games will have been started by Marquis, Jimenez, De La Rosa, Hammel and Cook.

Not to diminish any of the luster of the positional players, but keeping a rotation healthy is a huge factor in a team's seasonal success. Look at the Rays last season; they got 153 starts from their front five.

The White Sox and Indians staged a fierce battle to prove who was the best team in the American League in 2005; the White Sox got 152 starts from their front five, with only one other pitcher (Brandon McCarthy with 10) having to start, and the Indians got 159 starts from their five-man rotation. (Even in 2007, when Cleveland won 97 games and got to the seventh game of the ALCS and Cliff Lee pitched his way to the minors, the Indians' top four starters averaged more than 30 starts.) The 2002 Giants needed only six starters and got to the seventh game of the World Series.

The Dodgers come in with that previously huge lead down to two games, and do so having had to use 10 starters. Wolf leads them with 27.

Even if they don't catch the Dodgers, the Rockies are four up on San Francisco in the wild card, which is important because they can be fragile when facing Lincecum, Zito and Cain. Still, the Rockies are in a remarkable place, with a rotation that has stayed in place and given them a consistency rarely seen for a team playing in Coors Field.

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Rangers at Yankees, 7 p.m. ET, ESPN2

Derek Holland has pitched quite well his past three times out, allowing three total runs in wins on the road against the Angels and at home against the Red Sox and Twins. It has helped that, in that span, his offense has posted 25 runs of support. Andy Pettitte, meanwhile, watched the Yankees' offense put up 20 runs in his most recent start.

Rays at Blue Jays, 7 p.m. ET

Scott Kazmir might finally be starting to turn the corner, and it could not come at a better time, with the Rays still in pursuit of the AL wild card. Kazmir has won his past two outings and four of five. There loss against the Mariners was a hiccup, but Kazmir allowed three or fewer runs in all four of those wins.

Dodgers at Rockies, 8:40 p.m. ET

Randy Wolf and Josh Fogg meet in the second game of this all-important series. Wolf has won each of his past three starts, twice permitting only one run (in an eight-inning performance on the road against the Giants and over seven innings against the Cubs). Josh Fogg has made 20 appearances this season for the Rockies, but this will be his first start.

For the rest of Wednesday's schedule, click here.



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Analysts: John Kruk, Steve Phillips, Chris Singleton
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Insider Who went deep? Keep track of all the home runs hit each day on "Baseball Tonight" and on the Baseball Tonight Clubhouse page. For more, check out the Home Run Tracker page.

Home Run Tracker
Carlos Pena, TB37CecilTop 3: 1-2, 1 Out. 1 on.
Carlos Pena, TB36CecilTop 2: 1-0, 0 Outs. 1 on.
Adrian Gonzalez, SD34JurrjensTop 3: 0-0, 2 Outs. None on.
Aaron Hill, TOR30ShieldsBot 3: 0-1, 1 Out. None on.
Jimmy Rollins, PHI17OhlendorfTop 3: 0-0, 0 Outs. None on.
Jimmy Rollins, PHI16OhlendorfTop 1: 0-0, 0 Outs. None on.
Jorge Posada, NYY16MillwoodBot 1: 3-1, 2 Outs. 1 on.
The complete list of Tuesday's homers



Zack GreinkeZack Greinke had decent strikeout numbers in his past two starts, whiffing 15 in 14 innings. On Tuesday, he struck out a career-high 15 over eight innings, setting a Royals record in a 6-2 win against the Indians. He broke Mark Gubicza's 21-year-old club record of 14 strikeouts.
Carlos ZambranoCarlos Zambrano was awful in his return from the disabled list, giving up seven hits, eight runs and three walks in 4 1/3 innings against the Nationals. It didn't get any better after he left, with the Cubs bullpen serving up seven more in a 15-6 loss to Washington at Wrigley Field.


Johan Santana

Johan Santana will have elbow surgery and miss the rest of this season, although early indications are that he'll be good to go again by spring training.

Santana joins a staggering disabled list for the Mets. All told, the Mets have 18 All-Star appearances, 1,066 homers and 7,077 RBIs on the shelf. The combined salary of the group currently sitting is $82.8 million, which is higher than the total payroll of 18 teams.

Johan Santana
Final three season with Twins, first two with Mets
2005-07 2008-09
Slider usage pct. 13.8 10.9
Fastball velocity (mph) 92.2 90.7
K pct. of PA 26.5 21.2
Miss pct. 26.6 22.9

-- ESPN Stats & Information


Fantasy Tristan Cockcroft examines the 15 games on Wednesday's slate.

Cockcroft ranks the pitchers scheduled to take the mound, and supplies loads of other information that could help shape your roster for Wednesday. Daily Notes