Rockies begin big stretch at Coors this weekend
Reigning World Series champion Giants pay visit, followed by D-backs
CHICAGO -- The Rockies built their confidence with a 17-hit, 9-4 victory over the Cubs on Tuesday night, and had a chance Wednesday to finish .500 on their road trip before losing, 6-3. But the first big stretch of their schedule begins this weekend.
The Rockies begin four games at home with the Giants on Thursday night, three more at Coors Field against the D-backs, then three road games against the Giants.
The Giants, winners of two of the last three World Series, have simply dominated the Rockies. The Giants swept a three-game set at AT&T Park in April, beat them 14 out of 18 games last season, and won 13 of 18 in 2011. The first two games this year were typical of many of the meetings. Games were close in the middle innings, but San Francisco won with big hits, stellar pitching and mistake-free execution.
"They put together a lot of team at-bats," Colorado manager Walt Weiss said. "They're a real good situational at-bat team. They don't expand the zone to help out the pitcher to let the pitcher off the hook. The pitcher is constantly having to earn every out they get against that club. That's how they ended up winning the championship last year."
Beating such clubs would be a good way for the Rockies to develop championship confidence. They led the National League West after the first month and will go home above .500 -- not bad for a club that lost 98 games last year. However, they are 7-15 against teams with winning records.
"This is very important," said Rockies right-handeder Jhoulys Chacin, who will start Thursday night's opener. "We really want to be in the competition this year, so we really have to beat those teams - the Giants, the Diamondbacks … We just have to play the right way."
The Rockies also have to avoid the mental trap of expecting to falter in close games against a team that always seems to know what to do under pressure. In the earlier series this year, the first two games were close and the Rockies had golden chances to win, yet the Giants won by 4-2 and 9-6 scores.
"From a baseball standpoint, you appreciate the way they go about their business," outfielder Eric Young Jr. said. "From a competitive standpoint, at that big moment, you've got to make sure the game stays in your favor.
"The majority of the times we play them, it's a close game and they always seem to get the one or two hits that are key for their team. It's not like they're blowing us out of the water. They're finding ways to win. I feel like ever since I've been in the big leagues, every game we've played the Giants we've been in it, but they always seem to find that key moment."
Pitching has helped the Giants every bit as much as the savvy in the lineup, and the starters for the series -- Matt Cain, Madison Bumgarner, Tim Lincecum and Barry Zito -- represent championship pedigree. However, when the Rockies have succeeded, they've taken advantage of hitter-friendly Coors Field.
This year's Rockies are 11-7 at Coors Field, but have lost home series to the Braves, Rays and Yankees, all contending teams. In each of those cases, hitting in general and with runners in scoring position was not up to the standards the club needs to meet its goal of dominating at home.
"It's tougher to accept when we don't do it at home," Weiss said. "That's the thing we talked about a lot in the beginning of the season, establishing our success and dominance at home."
Club racking up quality starts in bunches this year
CHICAGO -- Count the quality start as one of baseball's most maligned measurements. The minimum standard -- six innings and three earned runs -- computes to a 4.50 ERA, which is the quality of the back of the rotation. But when a team isn't meeting that standard consistently, like the 2012 Rockies, it means a lot. And it's meaningful to get some consistent quality starts, the way they are this season.
Jeff Francis' six innings, with one run and seven strikeouts, in Tuesday night's 9-4 victory over the Cubs, was the Rockies' 17th quality start of the season. Last year, they managed just 27 in 162 games. Even for Colorado, which can get away with less-than-dominating pitching more than most clubs, that's an unacceptable figure, and a key stat in its losing a club-record 98 games.
The most the Rockies have had in a season is 94 in 2009, when they earned a National League Wild Card. When they went to the World Series in 2007, they had 76 -- fourth-most. By August that season, however, four of their five starters were on the disabled list, but the team made the playoffs with decent work by call-ups and replacements, and stellar bullpen efforts.
The second-fewest quality starts Colorado has had was 47 in 1994.
Arenado displaying defensive prowess at third
CHICAGO -- Tuesday night's 9-4 victory over the Cubs wasn't in doubt, but things could have become hairy after two errors led to a mini Cubs rally in the eighth. But Rockies rookie third baseman Nolan Arenado quieted that by diving toward the line and making a strong throw to beat Alfonso Soriano to end the inning.
Arenado followed that play up with a heady one in the first inning Wednesday. He went to his left for a Soriano grounder, faked to first and was able to run down and tag the lead runner, Anthony Rizzo, who was at second base and planning to go to third if Arenado threw to first.
Much of the anticipation of Arenado's arrival was based on his bat, which was impressive throughout his Minor League career. But Arenado, 22, has proven athletic and savvy with the glove.
"Absolutely he's a plus defender and he's got the kind of abilities that could win multiple Gold Gloves," Rockies manager Walt Weiss said. "His hands and feet, they look like a middle infielder to me. He's got shortstop hands and shortstop feet when he gets around the ball."
By developing his quickness and smartly trading bulk for lean muscle, Arenado developed exceptional range, especially to his left. His ability to claim more grounders could help shortstop Troy Tulowitzki, who is a two-time Rawlings Gold Glove Award winner, but is trying to taper down his effort to reduce the risk of the leg muscle injuries that have been a problem.
"It's nice as a shortstop, knowing that you've got a third baseman that goes to his left well, so you don't have to go to your right and finish plays more than you need to," said Weiss, who played short beside rangy third basemen Carney Lansford, Vinny Castilla and Chipper Jones during his career. "When a shortstop goes to his right, it's tough to finish those plays. The less he has to do that, the easier his job becomes."
Thomas Harding is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Hardball in the Rockies, and follow him on Twitter @harding_at_mlb. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.