Before this series began last week, I wrote about what the Rockies needed to do to beat the Phillies in the NLDS. Upon the news that Jorge De La Rosa would be unavailable for the series due to a groin injury, the piece made a whole lot less sense and the Rockies were put at an immediate disadvantage.
De La Rosa is the only left-handed starter for Colorado, and Philly’s biggest hitter had a dramatic RHP/LHP split. Howard had a 1.086 OPS vs. righties, but just a .653 OPS vs. lefties. Simply put, there was no starting pitcher for Colorado that could really counter the Phillies’ power lefties. De La Rosa’s replacement in Game Three, Jason Hammel, struggled with his command and couldn’t make it through the fourth inning. Despite the game actually being lost in the ninth inning, that was a big reason why the Rox were unable to win, as they couldn’t hold an early two-run lead largely due to Hammel’s inability to throw strikes.
The catching platoon for the Rockies was another key to the series. Yorvit Torrealba came through in a couple of situations against tough pitchers. (He homered off of Cole Hamels in Game Two and hit the big game-tying double off of Ryan Madson in Game Four.) However, I would have liked to have seen Chris Iannetta get some at-bats against lefties, especially in the ninth inning of last night’s game when Jim Tracy elected to send out the inexperienced Eric Young Jr., who grounded out against Scott Eyre. Yes, I know that it is considered a no-no to use the backup catcher (as he technically should be available in case an injury occurs to the starter), but the season was on the line for the Rockies, and Iannetta was clearly the best option left on the bench.
The last, and probably biggest, key to the series was Troy Tulowitzki. Tulo didn’t have an awful series (he was 4-for-16 with a couple of doubles and three runs batted in), but he came up short in a couple of situations where the Rockies really needed him to come through. In Game Three, Tulo grounded into a double play in a key situation, and in Game Four, he bit on a Brad Lidge slider, ending the series on a strikeout with the tying run at second base (and the winning run at first). He also made a base running blunder in the seventh inning when after doubling in Todd Helton, he broke on a line drive that was right at Pedro Feliz and was subsequently doubled off at second base, effectively ending the Rockies’ rally.
One thing I did not bring up in the series preview was the bullpens, particularly because the coverage had been blown out of proportion for the most part. I figured Brad Lidge would be Brad Lidge—the guy who has always had success against Colorado—and that Huston Street would pitch up to his capabilities as well, making the bullpens pretty much even. However, it was Philadelphia’s ability to get to Huston Street in Games Three and Four that propelled them to victory. On the contrary, the Rockies were unable to break through against Lidge (or anybody else the Phillies ran out there in the ninth inning of each of those games) despite getting some traffic on the base paths. Huston Street has been lights out all year, so I don’t blame Jim Tracy for sticking with Street in Game Two after he had allowed some traffic and nearly enabled the Phils to tie the game. He also used up both of his lefties—Franklin Morales and Joe Beimel—in Game Three before Street came on in the ninth and was allowed to face Howard, who hit a deep sacrifice fly to give Philly the lead. However, in Game Four, Jim Tracy should have known better. Joe Beimel was sitting in the bullpen freezing while Street was once again allowed to face Howard (keep in mind his number against lefties, which are listed above), and Howard REALLY made the Rockies pay this time, hitting a double off the right field wall and tying the game. The fact that Howard crushed the ball enabled him to get to second base, which then allowed him to score on Jayson Werth’s soft single to center field, giving the Phillies the lead and eventually the victory.
There wasn’t (and today, still isn’t) much doubt in anyone’s mind that the Phillies are the better team. However, I thought that if Jorge De La Rosa was able to have a good outing, Jim Tracy played his cards right with the catching platoon, and Troy Tulowitzki continued to carry the club offensively, the Rockies would have a chance to take the series. Little did I know that two Huston Street blowups would essentially cause Colorado to lose it.
Regardless, the Rockies saw some positives in the series. Carlos Gonzalez is on his way to becoming a superstar after abusing Philly’s pitchers for four games, and Ubaldo Jimenez showed why he is on track to becoming a future ace. The future is definitely bright in Colorado, but they need better decisions from their manager and better performances from their star players if they want to find themselves in this position (or, hopefully in an even better position) next season.