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Contending 07/20/2009

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There is life.  Ok, so it was the lowly Nationals, but in case you haven’t noticed, the Chicago Cubs have come to life.  They swept a 4 game series from the Washington Nationals, baseball’s worst team, over the weekend in the first series

The Cubs are celebrating victories more often these days

The Cubs are celebrating victories more often these days

 since the all star break.  The encouraging thing about the series, however, is not that they won, but how.  In the 4 games they did it in every conceivable way.  They won with timely hitting, they won with clutch hitting, they came from behind and won.  They won close games.  They won going away. And they did it on the road.  This team has been struggling all season.   Perhaps now they have found a groove.

Even more important, they won 2 of the last 3 games before the break from the division leading Cardinals.  In the tightly packed NL Central Division, the Cubs find themselves in 2nd place, 2 games behind St Louis.  during the week before the break they had fallen to 5th and 5 games back.  This team should be the class of the division.  They have won the Central each of the past 2 years.  But there has been no consistency in their play so far this season.  They would get good pitching but struggle at the plate.  They would score runs, but give up the lead in the late innings.  They have fought through injuries and player suspensions.  But perhaps that frustrating, seemingly fruitless first half is now behind them.  The Cubs have won 7 of their last 8 ball games.  If this team has the second half they are capable of, they will again be the Central champs.

The Rockies have been the best team in baseball over the past 40 games.

The Rockies have been the best team in baseball over the past 40 games.

Speaking of teams on a roll, the Colorado Rockies show no signs of slowing down.  On June 4th, this team was a dismal 20 – 32 and in a free fall.  All they have done since that date is go 30 – 10.  They are 8 games behind the LA Dodgers in the NL West, but they trail the San Francisco Giants by only 1/2 game in the NL Wild Card race.  They are in the Wild Card Race, and do not count them out of the division race because as good as LA is, their pitching is suspect and may not hold up all season long.  Many pundents believe the Rockies  are one or two middle relievers away from being the best team in the National League.  Watch for a move with the trade deadline fast approaching.  The starting pitching has been spectacular since early June, lead by Jason Marquis who became the first 12 game winner in the Major Leagues last night.  This team has seen consistent hitting and great fielding during this stretch.  They are one of a small number of teams that have a winning record on the road.  They approach each game expecting to win, and have played .750 ball for the last 6 weeks. 

Look for the Rockies to join the Cubs as participants in the National League playoffs at the end of the season.

Rockies Marquis became the Major League's first 12 game winner

Rockies Marquis became the Major League's first 12 game winner

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Rockie(s) Road 06/19/2009

Posted by sportretort in mlb, Sports, Uncategorized.
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The Colorado Rockies are currently the hottest team in baseball having won 13 of their last 14 games.  The Rocks were 10 games under the .500 mark when Clint Hurdle was dismissed as their manager.  Jim Tracy was named as the

Jason Marquis was a key off season addition to the Rockies pitching staff

Jason Marquis was a key off season addition to the Rockies pitching staff

interim manager, and the Rockies are 15-5 since he took the reins.  Their 4-3 victory over Tampa Bay yesterday evened their over all mark at 33-33.  It marks the first time Colorado has been at .500 since April 15.  The 11 game winning streak the Rockies compiled tied the team record first set during the magical end of the season run in 2007, where the team won 21 of 22 games, including a wild card playoff game win and sweeps of the NLDS and NLCS to land in the World Series.  With 94 games left in the season, it is hard to get that excited, but this club has shown what it is capable of.

The key to the current streak, as in most baseball streaks, has been pitching.  The starters have amassed a 12-1 record during this stretch, and that means that not only are the starters pitching well, but the bullpen, when called upon, is also doing their job.  Two key off season acquisitions have led the way in the pitching department.  Jason Marquis was acquired from the Cubs, and he has been a rock solid starter with an 8-4 record to lead the club in wins so far.  Closer Houston Street, acquired in the Matt Holliday trade with Oakland is 15 out of 16 in save opportunities.  In addition, Aaron Cook is 6-3 and Ubaldo Jimenez is 6-6, but has pitched well as of late, giving the Rocks 3 solid starters.  As long as the pitching continues, the Rockies will become a force in the NL playoff picture.  Who would have thought that 4 weeks ago?

While the Rockies are no threat to catch the Los Angeles Dodgers (probably the best team in the National League),

The Rockies are 15-5 with Jim Tracey as manager

The Rockies are 15-5 with Jim Tracy as manager

they have gotten back into the Wild Card picture.  The recent 4 game sweep at St Louis and 3 game sweep at Milwaukee (both teams above .500)  prove that they can play with the other teams in the NL.  It all depends on the pitching, because the Rockies have a very good offense.  They rank in the top 5  teams in the NL in slugging percentage,  on base percentage, doubbles, runs scored and home runs.  Lead by a resurgent Todd Helton, healthy for the first time in 3 years, Troy Tulowitzki, Brad Hawpe and Clint Barmes, the Rockies have a solid line up.  Dexter Fowler’s speed has paid dividends both offensively (11 stolen bases and a .400 slugging percentage) and defensively, helping to patrol the expansive outfield in Coors Field.  Ian Stewart leads the powerful line up in home runs with 12, and Hawpe (.355 avg,  9 hr,47 rbi) is giving Helton (.307 avg, , 8 hr,  46 rbi) a run for his money as the best all around hitter on the team.

When June began, the question was who were the Rockies going to trade to dump salary before the trade deadline.  A managerial change and a good, solid few weeks later, It looks like the Colorado may be looking to add a the deadline, not subtract.  Keep an eye on Colorado;  We may revisit Roctober after all.

Chops Night In San Jose 04/20/2009

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The eight seeded Anaheim Ducks defeated the top seeded San Jose Sharks 3-2 Sunday night to take a 2 games to none

Ducks Bobby Ryan scores the first goal in game two.

Ducks Bobby Ryan scores the first goal in game two.

 series lead in their best of seven NHL first round playoff matchup.  Both games were played in San Jose.  The Sharks are now in danger of becoming the eighth top seed to drop a series to the 8th seed since 1994.  The series shifts to Anaheim for games 3 and 4. 

Sundays victory by the Ducks featured the first ever Stanley Cup Playoff goals in the career of 3 Ducks players.  Bobby Ryan, Andrew Ebbett and Drew Miller each picked up their career first markers.  All three played earlier this season for the AHL Iowa Chops in Des Moines.  Ryan opened the scoring just 3:45 into the first period with a power play goal.  He took a rebound off Sharks goalie Evgeni Nabokov and beat him  to his stick side.  The shot, however, was just wide and bounced off of the left goal post.  Ryan then dove, and while airborne redirected the rebound with his stick from behind Nabokov and into the goal. (See Ryan’s goal at http://www.nhl.tv/team/console.jsp?hlg=20082009,3,152&event=S.J29)

The Sharks Ryane Clowe tied the score at one 5:38 into the second period.  It was the first goal in the series for the

Former Chops Bobby Ryan (top left), Andrew Ebbett and Drew Miller (bottom)

Former Chops Bobby Ryan (top left), Andrew Ebbett and Drew Miller (bottom)

Sharks, who lost game one 2-0.  The score remained tied at one until 9:44 of the third period when Ebbett took a rebound off the boards behind the San Jose goal and slapped an odd angle shot off Nabokov as he moved from the left of the goal to the right to cover the near post.  The goal gave the Ducks a 2-1 lead.  They made it 3-1 three and a half minutes later when Miller stuffed a rebound off Nabokov just left of the net through traffic past the goaltender’s glove and just inside the far post.  The Ducks then held on for the 3-2 win.

Random notes from a weekend of Sports:

Clean Sweep.  Saturday was a rare day in Chicago sports.  It was the first time in 17 years that both the Bulls and Blackhawks won playoff games on the same day.  The NBA  Bulls defeated the Boston Celtics 105-103 in overtime while the NHL Blackhawks defeated the Calgary Flames 3-2.  In addition, Baseball’s Cubs defeated the St Louis Cardinals 7-5 with a walk off 2 run homer in the bottom of the 11th and White Sox beat the Rays 8-3 making the Chicago teams 4-0 for the day.

Rocky relief.  The Colorado Rockies are off to a 4-7 start.  While the schedule has been brutal (series against the Phillies, Dodgers, Cubs and Diamondbacks) with only 3 games played in Denver so far, pitching has been poor for Colorado.  The team era of 5.74 is too high, and only Jason Marquis has been consistent among the starters.  He is 2-0 with a 1.93 era in his two starts.  The bullpen has been a horror show, allowing 53 hits in 36 2/3 innings of work  including 11 home runs and has only 2 saves in 4 opportunities.  This team will hit and score runs.  But it will go only as far as the pen will take it.  It is early, but improvement must be significant.  And soon!