Michael Bourn, Cleveland Indians deal reeling Rockies a walkoff loss
One of baseball's early surprises is coming back to earth in a hurry. With Sunday's walkoff loss to Cleveland, the Colorado Rockies have lost four games in a row, are 1-6 in their last seven, and have gone from tied for first in the NL West last month to potentially eight-and-a-half games out of the division lead by the end of Sunday's action. All of that has added up to a .500 record from a team that was flying high just one month ago as an out-of-nowhere contender for the postseason.
Bourn's homer -- just his second of the season and only his 17th since the start of the 2012 season -- broke a 4-4 tie in the ninth and dashed Colorado's hopes of a come-from-behind win. Cleveland wasted no time in finishing the game, as the Indians got a leadoff single from Mike Aviles off of new reliever Adam Ottavino. After a sacrifice bunt moved Aviles to second, Bourn came up and took just the second pitch he saw -- a four-seam fastball belt-high -- over the fence in right field for the walkoff dinger.
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For Colorado, Sunday's loss added to a miserable stretch of baseball that's now gone on for nearly a month. Since reaching a high point of 22-14 on May 7, the Rockies have gone 6-14 since, plummeting from first in the division to third behind the Giants and Dodgers. Sunday's defeat was the second walkoff loss for Colorado in the last week, as last Wednesday, Ryan Howard's three-run blast helped the Phillies erase a ninth-inning deficit in a 6-4 victory. The Rockies haven't won consecutive games since May 18 and 20 (with an off-day in between) and haven't won a series since taking two of three from San Diego two weeks ago. In fact, Colorado has won just three series in total in the last month of play.
What's been fueling Colorado's collapse? As has been the case for countless Rockies teams before this one, bad pitching is putting them in a hole. Aside from Jorge De La Rosa, who's registered a sparkling 1.23 ERA over four starts and 22 innings since May 7, the rest of the Rockies' rotation has been a disaster. Jordan Lyles followed a terrific April (2.70 ERA in 36 2/3 IP) with a horrid May; over his last four starts (20 1/3 IP), he has a 5.31 ERA. Juan Nicasio's 3.90 ERA over his last five starts and 27 2/3 innings looks good, but that's attached to a strikeout-to-walk ratio of 13/11, five homers allowed and a .787 OPS against. Jhoulys Chacin had a 4.76 ERA over his last four starts going into Sunday's game, in which he promptly allowed three first-inning runs and four overall on five walks and three hits to take his season ERA to 5.51. And then there's Franklin Morales, who's been hammered for a 7.33 ERA over his last five starts, along with a 15/13 strikeout-to-walk ratio and a whopping eight homers allowed in just 27 innings.
That run of awful starting is also coming as the Rockies' offense has cooled down. Since May 7, Troy Tulowitzki has hit .246/.351/.492 -- still a stellar line from a shortstop, but a far cry from the absurd .364/.477/.727 line he put up over the season's first month. Likewise with Justin Morneau, who posted a .985 OPS in the season's first month and has hit .264/.330/.462 since then. Charlie Blackmon, who finished April with a 1.034 OPS, hit just .260/.288/.430 in May; he went 0-for-4 with three strikeouts atop the lineup Sunday. Carlos Gonzalez has battled nagging injuries to his fingers and legs all month, limiting him to a .769 OPS on the season, and since going 5-for-5 on May 6, he has hit .213/.290/.361 in 69 plate appearances.
Also not helping is the loss of Nolan Arenado to a broken finger. Since he went down on May 23, his at-bats at third base have gone to Charlie Culberson, who has only four hits and a walk in 23 plate appearances since then. Culberson's offense has been so limited that the Rockies have turned to Michael Cuddyer at third base the last two games, the first time since 2010 that Cuddyer has started games at the hot corner. In his 14 seasons in the big leagues, Cuddyer has played only 172 games at third, and he hasn't appeared at third regularly since 2005, when he made 92 starts there for the Twins.
But what's hurting the Rockies is their schedule, specifically the games where they have to leave Coors Field. As always, Coors has been a hitter's haven this season, but for the Rockies, it's been especially pronounced. The team is hitting a ludicrous .344/.391/.560 in Colorado this season; that average and slugging percentage are the highest in franchise history for home performance, and the OBP is third. That's a sharp contrast to the Rockies' pathetic .240/.292/.396 line on the road, with an OBP that is the fourth-worst in the NL. Unsurprisingly, the Rockies' recent skid has come away from Coors: Sunday's loss was Colorado's final match of a nine-game, three-city road trip, which the Rockies finished 2-7. Since May 7, the Rockies have played 16 games on the road and gone 4-12, and for the season, the team is just 12-21 away from home. Suffice to say that if the Rockies want to stay contenders in the NL, they need to turn it around soon. San Francisco's 8-0 win over St. Louis on Sunday increased the Giants' lead over Colorado to eight-and-a-half games in the division, and the Rockies are a game-and-a-half behind Los Angeles as well. The wild-card situation isn't as grim, as the Rockies trail only the Dodgers and Cardinals in that race. But Colorado also has the Marlins and Nationals right behind them, and two of last year's playoff teams, the Reds and Pirates, aren't far back. It's only June 1, and there's still time for the Rockies to right their ship. But it's worth wondering if April's early surge will prove to be more smoke than fire for Colorado.