Rockies fight to stay alive in NL West |

Rockies fight to stay alive in NL West

Tracy Ringolsby
Rocky Mountain News
Vail, CO Colorado

DENVER, Colorado ” The Rockies have found hope in history – recent history.

As disappointing as this season has been, the Rockies challenge the doubters.

They point to their late-season flurry last year – winning 14 of the final 15 regular-season games to claim the National League wild card and then earn the first NL pennant in franchise history – as evidence of what they are capable of doing.

They have to find their hope somewhere, because there hasn’t been much about this year that would build confidence.

With 42 games remaining heading into the start of a three-game series tonight against Arizona at Coors Field, they are on the NL West fringes, in third place and eight games behind the Diamondbacks. But their 53-67 record is more indicative of how they have played than their stature in the NL West standings.

Manager Clint Hurdle has talked about having been blessed with a mulligan because nobody has run away with the division. The players admit their good fortune that, despite what has happened on the field, they can still grasp to hope of reaching the postseason.

Time, however, is running out.

After a solid road trip (6-4), they have fallen flat at Coors Field in the last week. They lost three of four to a Washington team that arrived with the worst record in baseball, and then two of three during the weekend to a San Diego team that showed up with the second worst record in baseball.

Now comes the time of truth.

Having tripped against the lesser lights of the NL, the Rockies face the West-leading Diamondbacks, who already have won eight of nine from the Rockies.

The Rockies have aligned their rotation so that their top three starters will face Arizona – Ubaldo Jimenez tonight, Jeff Francis on Wednesday and Aaron Cook on Thursday.

All three have amends to make. Cook lost his first two starts on this homestand – Aug. 4 against Washington and Saturday against San Diego – and Francis and Jimenez were the losers when the Nationals swept a doubleheader Thursday.

Can they bounce back, or are the Rockies about to be bounced from NL West contention?

The next three games at Coors Field figure to have a lot to say about that.

Only 14 teams have faced deficits or 10 or more games and rallied to finish in first place:

* 1914 Braves, 15 games out on July 4. Braves finished 68-19 and won NL pennant by 101/2 games.

* 1930 Cardinals, 12 games out on Aug. 8. Cardinals finished 39-10 and won NL pennant by two games.

* 1935 Cubs, 101/2 games out on July 5. Cubs finished 62-22, including 21-game win streak, to win NL pennant by four games.

* 1936 Giants, 101/2 games out on July 16. Giants finished 50-21 and won NL pennant by five games.

* 1942 Cardinals, 10 games back on Aug. 5. Cardinals finished 44-9 and won NL pennant by two games.

* 1951 Giants, 13 games back on Aug. 11. Giants finished 37-8, including winning NL playoff vs. Dodgers.

* 1964 Cardinals, 11 games back on Aug. 23. Cardinals finished 28-11 while Phillies went 16-23, and Cardinals won NL pennant by one game.

* 1969 Mets, 10 games back on Aug. 13. Mets finished 38-11 while Cubs went 18-27, and Mets won NL East by eight games.

* 1973 Mets, 111/2 games back on Aug. 5. Mets finished season 34-19 and won NL East by 11/2 games.

* 1973 Reds, 11 games back on JJune 30. Reds finished 60-26 and won NL West by 3 1/2 games.

* 1978 Yankees, 14 games back on July 19. Yankees finished 52-21 and beat Boston in playoff for AL East.

* 1989 Blue Jays, 10 games back and in sixth place on July 5. Blue Jays finished 51-28 and won AL East by two games.

* 1993 Braves, 10 games back on July 22. Braves finished 49-16 and won NL West by one game.

* 1995 Mariners, 13 games back on Aug. 2. Mariners finished 35-20, beating Angels in playoff to win AL West.

The Rockies won 14 of their final 15 regular-season games – including an NL wild-card tiebreaker against San Diego – to claim the NL wild card and advance to the postseason last year.

Along the way, they never fell more than nine games below .500 (they have been as many as 19 this year) and they were never more than eight games out of first place. They have trailed division-leading Arizona by as many as 12 games this season.

The 1914 Boston Braves are the only team to have overcome falling 16 games below .500 (12-28 on June 8) to win a pennant. The Braves won the World Series.

In 2005, the Houston Astros were 15 games below .500 (16-31 on May 27), and wound up winning the NL pennant. They lost in the world Series to the Chicago White Sox.

A quick look at the remaining schedule of the three teams:

* Arizona: 22 games remaining at home and 22 on the road. The Diamondbacks play 16 games outside the NL West – three at Houston and four at St. Louis, and three at home with Florida, St. Louis and Cincinnati. Key stretch comes after this week’s trip to Colorado and San Diego when Arizona plays 12 of next 15 at home.

* Los Angeles: 21 games remaining at home and 23 on the road. The Dodgers play 18 games outside the NL West – four-game series with Philadelphia at home and on the road, four games at Pittsburgh, and three games at home with Milwaukee and at Washington. Key stretch began Monday night with a 10-game homestand that is followed by 10-game trip to Philadelphia, Washington and Arizona.

* Colorado: 21 games remaining at home and 21 on the road. The Rockies play 12 games outside the NL West – three each at Washington and Atlanta, and three each at home with Cincinnati and Houston. Key stretch: After this week’s series with Arizona, Rockies are on the road for 12 of next 15.

Each team made a significant addition in recent days:

* Arizona: RHP Jon Rauch, acquired from Washington for 2B Emilio Bonaficio. Rauch provides quality eighth-inning relief. In first eight appearance, only blemish was Matt Kemp’s two-run home run on Aug. 3.

* Los Angeles: LF Manny Ramirez, acquired in three-team deal that sent 3B Andy LaRoche and a prospect to Pittsburgh with Boston picking up remaining $7 million of Ramirez’s salary. Ramirez went into Monday hitting .459 (17-for-37) with four home runs and 11 RBI in nine games since his arrival but Dodgers were 4-5.

* Colorado: RHP Livan Hernandez, claimed on waivers from Minnesota. Rockies debut on Sunday was a bust – 22/3 innings, seven hits, including two home runs, four walks, and nine runs allowed.

Key injuries each team is dealing with:

* Arizona: LF Eric Byrnes has been out since June with a left hamstring problem. 2B Orlando Hudson dislocated his left wrist last weekend. Diamondbacks will fill in at second with Augie Ojeda and Chris Burke.

* Los Angeles: SS Rafael Furcal underwent back surgery and has been out since May. Nomar Garciaparra, on the disabled list for the third time, is expected to be activated today and get bulk of playing time. Angel Berroa, 2005 AL Rookie of Year who spent last two years in Kansas City farm system, has been filling in.

* Colorado: 1B Todd Helton has a lower back strain and was moved to 60-day disabled list on Sunday, meaning he cannot be activated before Sept. 2. In his absence, 3B Garrett Atkins has moved to first, and rookie Ian Stewart has been given a shot to play every day at third.

A player who needs to step it up down the stretch with each team:

* Arizona: RHP Brandon Lyon, the Diamondbacks closer. He has failed in two of last seven save opportunities, and has allowed 11 earned runs on 19 hits and two walks in 92/3 innings during that 10-appearance stretch.

* Los Angeles: RHP Chad Billingsley. Billingsley is 7-2 with a 2.18 ERA since June 17. In that stretch, he’s one victory behind major leaguer leader A.J. Burnett, and tied with Roy Halladay for third lowest ERA behind CC Sabathia (1.69) and Rich Harden (2.01).

* Colorado: LHP Jeff Francis. Just came off disabled list, hoping to have overcome early season problems. Rockies need solid help for rotation. He equaled club record with 17 wins last year, but is 3-8 this season.

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