Starting Pitching Wins Championships

In the last installment of On The Rox, we took an in depth look at the possible positive effects the humidor is having on the pitching staff at Coors Field. Some out there may think this was a little glass-is-half-empty of us–giving credit to a humidor rather than to the Rox starters. This point is duly noted, so today we’ll look at the other side of the coin. Maybe the latest stats have nothing to do with the humidor, and everything to do with this year’s Rox staff being absolute and utter horses.

Case in point: Last night, Jeff Francis.

Francis hurled a complete game, two-hit shutout facing only two batters over the minimum. 29 up, 27 down. He had control of all his pitches, and hit the glove no matter where Yorvit Torrealba put it. It was a masterful performance, especially the way he handled Albert Pujols, Scott Rolen, Jim Edmonds and Juan Encarnacion, but the crazy thing is, it wasn’t the best by a Rockies pitcher this season.

So far this season, the Rox staff has 3 complete game, 2-hit shutouts, one combined 1-hit shutout, and 8 total shutouts. The 8 shutouts tie the team record for most shutouts in a season, and it’s only July!

Josh Fogg arguably has the best performance of the year with his two-hit shutout in Seattle in which he faced the minimum–27 up, 27 down. Although he gave up two hits and a walk, they were all erased on double plays. Last night, Francis was just as dominating, allowing fewer baserunners, giving up two hits, no walks, but didn’t get any double plays. Jason Jennings combined with Jose Mesa and Brian Fuentes on the Rockies first 1-hitter in team history, and also has a 2-hit complete game shutout of his own.

STARTING SOMETHING GOOD

Shutouts are one thing, but how about the consistency? Going into the season, there were question marks about the Rockies staff, and those all been answered…and some! The Rox starting rotation’s combined ERA is 4.23, which is tied for second
with San Francisco for the second best mark in the National League.
Only the Florida Marlins rotation has a better rotation ERA at 4.21. (Yeah, Florida!)(We didn’t believe it either…but who would have believed Colorado would be second at this point in the season?)

SULLY TO THE RESCUE
Leading off the 6th inning last night, Francis was in the midst of a perfect game. He had retired the first 15 batters, and had cut through the heart of the Cardinals line-up twice. Yadier Molina led off the 6th with a little flare into center field. Cory Sullivan, well aware Francis had a perfect game in the balance, came charging in full speed, dove and barely, BARELY came up short. The ball barely hit off Sully’s glove, dropping in for the first hit of the game. Sullivan, still sitting on his knees, slammed the ball into his glove and yelled in frustration, well aware that the perfect game was gone.

The one consolation was the fact that Sully was the one in center field. If it had been anyone else on the team, we would be saying: If Sully was in center field, he would have caught it. Because here at On The Rox, Sully is our boy. If he couldn’t come up with that catch, no one in the National League could. Francis was well aware of this too, and was the first player to great Sully with a smile as he returned to the dugout. After the game, Francis said he was relieved to have the hit drop in front of Sully so he could worry about winning the game, not hurling a perfect one.

If he had come up with it, maybe Francis pitches differently to Pujols with a perfect game still on the line, but that’s just a big…if. Pujols doubled to the left-center gap in his 3rd and final at bat.

WELCOME BACK SULLY

Speaking of Cory Sullivan, we do enjoy the fact that Sully is finally seeing some starts again. Aside from his nearly flawless defense, Sully has found his swing again, and found his way out of Manager Clint Hurdle’s dog house. He’s hitting .352 over the last month, 19 for 54, with 9 runs, 3 2B, 2 3B, and 6 RBI. Not to mention, Sully brings excellent bunting skills and a toughness and intensity matched only by Jamey Carroll and Clint Barmes. Here at On The Rox, all we ask is that you play hard. If you do, you’re officially our boy.

Good pitching, timely hitting, good defense, toughness and intensity will take the Rox to the wire this season. You heard it here at On The Rox, where our glass is always half-full.

Daniel Boniface is a freelance writer in Boulder, Colorado. Contact: dbonif@aol.com. You can subscribe to On The Rox at http://www.newsgator.com, or find it online at: rox.mlblogs.com.

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