Rockies series against Giants is big test
OK, it’s just another early-season series for the Colorado Rockies. Except it happens to be against the San Francisco Giants, who happen to be the defending world champions, who happen to also be the defending NL West champions, which happens to be the division the Rockies are in.
The NL West-leading Rockies, and owners of the best record in baseball, open a three-game series at home against those Giants on Monday night, and truth be told, while it is another early-season series, this one does stir the emotions a little bit more than most.
"Every time you play the World Series champions there is a certain level of excitement," admitted Rockies shortstop Troy Tulowitzki, "and when you add in the fact they are in our division … well, if we are going to win the division the Giants are a team we are going to have to beat."
So there’s no time like the present to get this whole thing started.
The Giants, after all, last season claimed two things the Rockies have never enjoyed — a division title and world championship. So it’s not the Giants who have anything to prove. It’s the Rockies, who watched with envy last year.
"We know," Rockies manager Jim Tracy said.
And no place better for the Rockies to play the first of the 18 games the two teams are scheduled to play this regular season than Coors Field, where the Rockies to have a 75-55 edge on the Giants over the years.
The Rockies go into the series off to the best start in franchise history – 12-3 – and with a four-game lead over the Giants.
In Colorado it is. This is, after all, a franchise that has had a winning record in April only four times, and one of those was in the strike-shortened 1995 when the Rockies were 4-1.
This is a team that has had only one winning road record in its history, and while there are still 73 road games to play, it’s off to a 7-1 start that included a sweep against the Mets in New York, where the Rockies won a series for only the third time in their history.
This is a team that has gotten only one start out of its two veteran starters, Ubaldo Jimenez and Aaron Cook, but is 4-0 in games started by their replacements, Esmil Rogers and Matt Reynolds. And the Rockies also have two saves from Matt Lindstrom, who came through in a game in which closer Huston Street wasn’t available, and in another in which Street hit a dead end.
And Jimenez will return from the disabled list to start Game 2 in the series on Tuesday.
This is a team that has gotten some needed lift of offense from a revitalized Todd Helton, fresh off a winter program designed to minimize the problems created by his back surgery, and Jonathan Herrera, who didn’t start the first five games of the season, but has started all but one since.
And, oh yeah, it’s a team that continues to marvel at the maturation of Tulowitzki, a typically slow starter in April who is on fire right now. He’s hitting .364, 120 points above his career average for April, with a .486 on-base percentage (156 points above the monthly average), seven home runs (double his average for the last four Aprils) and 14 RBI has (equal his April average).
That’s all despite the fact that in the first 15 games of the season, he’s already drawn five intentional walks, equaling his single-season career-high.
Those are the kinds of things that happen to good teams that play in October.
And, though the Rockies do respect the Giants for claiming that franchise’s first world championship since 1955 last season, Colorado believed it should have been playing in October last year.
Rockies general manager Dan O’Dowd admitted it was tough watching the Giants play last postseason.
"I just felt we were good enough to be there," O’Dowd admitted in the offseason.
But they weren’t. Shoot, the Rockies weren’t even good enough to challenge for the for the NL wild card at the end of the season. For that, they have nobody to blame but themselves, and with that in mind, the Rockies are intent on not letting themselves down again this year.
There’s something about being a team that woke up on the morning of Sept. 19 last season just one game out of first place in the NL West, spent the early afternoon building up a 6-1 lead against the Los Angeles Dodgers, and then were given the slap in the face of a Dodgers rally for a 7-6 victory that sent the Rockies into a season-ending tail spin in which they lost 13 of their final 14 games.
So much for the image of being a pennant-pushing darling that the Rockies earned with their September charges to the NL wild card in both 2007 and 2009.
The memories still sting. And, admitted Tracy, there’s only one way to exorcise those demons: The Rockies need to win in 2011.
"That was humbling," admitted Tracy. "We win that (Sept. 19 game) against the Dodgers and we’re in a three-way tie for first in the NL West with a day off and then a three-game series at Arizona. I think things would have been completely different.
"There’s a big difference between chasing and being the chased. It is easier to be chased. When you are doing the chasing and lose that heartbreaker that appears to be deflating . . . well, it usually is."
It is, however, a new year.
It’s a chance for the Rockies to make good on their expectations.
And that means they need to make a statement the Giants can’t ignore.