The Week Ahead: Huge hopes for Rockies

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rockies_090823.jpgRemember that cute little Colorado Rockies team back in 2007?

A modern day Cinderella, they won their final 40 games (it only seemed that way), received some help from the ghost of Tony Gwynn (actually it was his son), then beat the Padres in a one-game playoff when Matt Holliday tried to tag home plate with his face (maybe he was out, but that would ruin a great story).

From there, it was a magical run to the World Series, where the dream ended rather abruptly when Jonathan Papelbon and the Boston Red Sox took the glass slipper and “Riverdanced” the thing into tiny pieces.

Well don’t look now, but the Rockies are at it again. In the middle of June, they won 17 of 18. Currently, they’ve taken six of seven, and 16 of 23, building a three-game lead over the San Francisco Giants in the wild-card race.

And remember that huge lead the Dodgers held in the NL West? Yeah that’s pretty much gone now, reduced to a mere 3 1/2 games (the second closest division race, behind the AL Central).

The plucky Rockies have even been making moves just to show how serious they are, taking a flyer on veteran pitcher Russ Ortiz as insurance for the injured Aaron Cook, and hoping that Jason Giambi will find his legs after being deemed finished in Oakland.

It makes for a huge week ahead for the boys in black. Following the fourth and final game of their series vs. the Giants on Monday, the Rockies host the Dodgers in a huge three-game set, then head to San Francisco for a rematch with the Giants.

Will Cinderella dance again? This week could gives us a strong indication.

FIVE SERIES TO WATCH

Tigers at Angels, Aug. 24-26: The only matchup of division leaders this week, featuring the high-powered offense of L.A. vs. the tough pitching of Detroit. Go figure.

Rangers at Yankees, Aug. 25-27: Speaking of tough pitching, how about those improved Rangers? We’ll see if Yankee International Airport — I mean, Stadium — does anything to change that.

Dodgers at Rockies, Aug. 25-27: Colorado has won seven of 10 and all of a sudden the Dodgers’ NL West lead has shrunk to 3½ games. Division race, anyone?

Braves at Phillies, Aug. 28-30: Funny that it’s the Braves, and not the Mets, who are keeping the heat on Philly. Although, at 6½ games back, not THAT much heat.

Rockies at Giants, Aug. 28-30: The Rockies took two of three from the Giants this weekend, even beating Tim Lincecum. Now, the rematch of NL wild-card contenders.

ON THE TUBE
Monday, 10:05 p.m. ET: Tigers at Angels (ESPN2)
Wednesday, 7:05 p.m.: Rangers at Yankees (ESPN2)
*Saturday, 4:10 p.m.: Rays at Tigers (FOX)
*Saturday, 4:10 p.m.:  Mets at Cubs (FOX)
*Saturday, 4:10 p.m.:  Dodgers at Reds (FOX)
Sunday, 1 p.m.: White Sox at Yankees (TBS)
Sunday, 8:05 p.m.: Braves at Phillies (ESPN)
*Check local listings

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If you Twitter, you can find me there at @Bharks.

In the playoffs, the Yankees’ weakness has become their strength

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Two weeks ago, when the playoffs began, the idea of “bullpenning” once again surfaced, this time with the Yankees as a focus. Because their starting pitching was believed to be a weakness — they had no obvious ace like a Dallas Keuchel or Corey Kluber — and their bullpen was a major strength, the idea of chaining relievers together starting from the first inning gained traction. The likes of Luis Severino, who struggled mightily in the AL Wild Card game, or Masahiro Tanaka (4.79 regular season ERA) couldn’t be relied upon in the postseason, the thought went.

That idea is no longer necessary for the Yankees because the starting rotation has become the club’s greatest strength. Tanaka fired seven shutout innings to help push the Yankees ahead of the Astros in the ALCS, three games to two. They are now one win away from reaching the World Series for the first time since 2009.

It hasn’t just been Tanaka. Since Game 3 of the ALDS, Yankees pitchers have made eight starts spanning 46 1/3 innings. They have allowed 10 runs (nine earned) on 25 hits and 12 walks with 45 strikeouts. That’s a 1.75 ERA with an 8.74 K/9 and 2.33 BB/9. In five of those eight starts, the starter went at least six innings, which has helped preserve the freshness and longevity of the bullpen.

Here’s the full list of performances for Yankee starters this postseason:

Game Starter IP H R ER BB SO HR
AL WC Luis Severino 1/3 4 3 3 1 0 2
ALDS 1 Sonny Gray 3 1/3 3 3 3 4 2 1
ALDS 2 CC Sabathia 5 1/3 3 4 2 3 5 0
ALDS 3 Masahiro Tanaka 7 3 0 0 1 7 0
ALDS 4 Luis Severino 7 4 3 3 1 9 2
ALDS 5 CC Sabathia 4 1/3 5 2 2 0 9 0
ALCS 1 Masahiro Tanaka 6 4 2 2 1 3 0
ALCS 2 Luis Severino 4 2 1 1 2 0 1
ALCS 3 CC Sabathia 6 3 0 0 4 5 0
ALCS 4 Sonny Gray 5 1 2 1 2 4 0
ALCS 5 Masahiro Tanaka 7 3 0 0 1 8 0
TOTAL 55 1/3 35 20 17 20 52 6

In particular, if you hone in on the ALCS starts specifically, Yankee starters have pitched 28 innings, allowing five runs (four earned) on 13 hits and 10 walks with 20 strikeouts. That’s a 1.61 ERA.

While the Yankees’ biggest weakness has become a strength, the Astros’ biggest weakness — the bullpen — has become an even bigger weakness. This is why the Yankees, who won 10 fewer games than the Astros during the regular season, are one win away from reaching the World Series and the Astros are not.