The Coors Effect

August 14, 2009 7:48 PM

Rockies head to South Florida for important three-gamer

Who would have thought that a series in mid-August between the Marlins and the Rockies would be so important to the wild card race?

Today, the Marlins sit three games behind the Wild Card-leading Rockies, a margin that they can erase with a three-game sweep -- though, of course, they'd still have to deal with the Giants.  The flipside is that a Rockies sweep would put the Marlins six back and (likely) put an end to the Marlins' playoff hopes.  The Rockies can't really play their way out of a playoff spot in this series, but the Marlins probably can.  Six games isn't impossible to make up over the last month and a half of the season, but it's hardly an easy task.

This, of course, is why this series is so dangerous for the Rockies.  The Rockies have won five of seven, but then the Pirates have basically given up on 2009 and the Cubs... well, are the Cubs.  The Marlins are a good team, though, and they probably will provide a tough challenge.  No, this isn't the most important series the Rockies have remaining -- there are still ten games to play against the Giants, after all -- but it's still pretty darn important.

I admit to still not knowing a great deal about the Marlins -- their roster turns over so much that it's often hard to remember who plays for them each year.  Hanley Ramirez is obviously very good, leading the NL in batting average and knocking 17 homers and stealing 22 bases this year.  Midseason callup Chris Coghlan has performed ably, and the Fish have gotten surprisingly solid contributions out of catcher John Baker.  Jorge Cantu is having a solid year, and the Marlins recently acquired Nick Johnson, who's a proven contributor at first.  Cody Ross and Dan Uggla are typical low-average sluggers.  All in all, it's a solid lineup, and really, Ramirez, Uggla, Cantu, and Johnson are the only names I had heard of before this year... and I probably couldn't have told you that Cantu played for the Marlins.

Pitching is a different matter.  Aside from Josh Johnson (who the Rockies face tonight), the Fish haven't been able to get consistent starting pitching this year.  Recent callup Rick VandenHurk will make his sixth start of the year on Saturday.  VandenHurk was having a solid year with AAA New Orleans and so far that's carried over (somewhat) to the bigs; he's allowed two runs or less in four of the five starts.  But he doesn't go deep into games; in his short career he's averaged less than five innings per start.  Chris Volstad is a big (6'8", 225) 22-year-old righthander who should be good in time, and has shown flashes of that this season, but he isn't there yet.

The Marlins' bullpen has been pretty solid this year, with a 3.79 ERA.  Matt Lindstrom, who began the year as the closer, lost that job after posting a 6.21 ERA and getting hurt; ironically, though, despite the ERA he's only blown two saves.  Current closer Leo Nunez has a 4.01 ERA and four blown saves.  So the back end of the bullpen has problems, but where the Marlins shine is in middle relief: of the five other relief pitchers, Renyel Pinto has the highest ERA, and it's 2.51.  Pinto, Brian Sanches, Brendan Donnelly, Kiko Calero, and Dan Meyer have all given the Marlins excellent relief work this season.  It's an odd situation where the starting pitching and the late-inning relief is shaky, but the middle relief is excellent.

The Rockies don't need a sweep this weekend.  Two wins will put a good amount of distance between them and the Marlins, while also hopefully not letting the Giants (who are in New York this weekend) creep up on them.  One of three, and the Rockies are in the danger zone; getting swept is real trouble as that would place the Marlins and Rockies in a tie -- and probably allow the Giants to pass the Rockies in the standings.

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