An oft-quoted truism of baseball says good pitching beats good hitting, although the practical reality may be closer to the remark attributed to Bob Veale, the 6-foot-6-inch left-hander who pitched for the Pirates and Red Sox in the 1960s and ’70s:
“Good pitching will beat good hitting anytime, and vice versa.”
In other words, as Roseanne Roseannadanna would say, it’s always something. If it ain’t one thing, it’s another.
The Rockies went into their weekend series in St. Louis leading the National League in batting and runs, but there were signs of trouble. They had lost three of their previous four games, scoring a total of eight runs.
After the first two games against the Cardinals — a one-hit, complete-game shutout by Shelby Miller and a two-hit, complete-game shutout by Adam Wainwright — they have lost four in a row, scoring a total of three runs in 36 innings. The last time they scored was the first inning of their final game against the Yankees, meaning they take a 26-inning scoreless streak into Sunday’s series finale in St. Louis.
“Wainwright commanded everything,” Rockies manager Walt Weiss said of Saturday’s second consecutive 3-0 defeat. “I think it was a combination of things — us going a little cold and at the same time running into a couple pitchers that aren’t missing.”
Everybody likes to beat up on Rockies pitching, but it has surrendered just three runs in each of the last four games — and the club is 0-4 over that span. Troy Tulowitzki, their leading hitter, missed two of the four with tightness in his groin. Michael Cuddyer, their second-leading hitter, missed the last three with a bulging disc in his neck that sent him to the disabled list Saturday.
Between Eric Young’s first-inning single off Miller on Friday night and Todd Helton’s fifth-inning base on balls from Wainwright on Saturday afternoon, 40 consecutive Rockies batters were retired, tying a major league record.
Between Young’s hit and Nolan Arenado’s eighth-inning single Saturday, which broke up Wainwright’s no-hit bid, the Rocks went 0-for-49 at the plate. Fifty consecutive batters, counting Helton’s walk, went hitless.
Dexter Fowler is 1-for-21 over the past six games — he broke an 0-for-20 skein in his final at-bat against Wainwright — his batting average falling from .310 to .264.
Carlos Gonzalez is 0-for-15 since homering against the Yankees on Tuesday, accounting for both runs in a 2-0 victory, the last time the Rocks won. His average has slipped from .322 to .288.
In the space of ten days, the Rocks have gone from first place with a record of 17-11 to third place at 19-17. The first of the bandwagon fans are already looking for landing spots. After all, we’ve seen this before, right?
In 2011, the Rocks were in first place from April 6 through May 10. By the end of May, they were below .500 and in third. After going 17-8 in April, they went 8-21 in May to give it all back. They ended up 73-89.
This year, they went 16-11 in April. In May so far, they are 3-6.
They are off to an excellent start on the mound, where they had the best bullpen earned-run average in the National League before Josh Outman gave up a single run to the Cards on Saturday. A team that had 27 quality starts all last year has 15 already.
They were off to an excellent start offensively before this last week, when they faced good Yankees pitching and great Cardinals pitching.
“Both guys we’ve faced these first two games have pitched on the edges of the strike zone with all their stuff, which makes it very difficult,” Weiss said.
So now comes the test. Are the Rocks tougher than they’ve been the last couple of years? Will they shrink from adversity and fold up their tent or will they fight back?
“These guys do their work every day,” Weiss said. “They prepare for the game. Everyone gets beat up a little bit in this game at some point. But our guys will keep grinding and will come out and try to turn it around tomorrow.”
They get another good Cardinals starter, Jaime Garcia (2.25 ERA), on Sunday. Then they move on to Wrigley Field, where the Cubs are struggling but will deploy three starters who are pitching pretty well — Travis Wood (2.33), Carlos Villanueva (3.02) and Jeff Samardzija (3.70).
Baseball may seem understandable merely by swimming through its ocean of numbers, but at times like these numbers are not that helpful. The numbers say the Rocks are pretty good. They have hit well and they have pitched well in the season’s early going. But it is not yet enough of a sample size to tell you much.
Now they face some adversity. Cuddyer, one of their best hitters in the early going, is on the shelf.
“You feel like you’re leaving your teammates, but it is what it is,” said Cuddyer, who has had issues with his neck twice before during his career. “Injuries happen and you can’t do anything about it. You just try and get healthy and get back on the field.”
Helton, their other veteran leader, is no longer capable of leading the team offensively. So the weight falls on the younger stars — Tulowitzki, Gonzalez and Fowler.
Can they carry it? Is this the fragile team of the past couple of seasons or has it grown up enough to bring a little fight to the party?
We’ll know soon enough.