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7 wonders: Rockies strut on World stage

MLB.com

CHICAGO -- Remember the callup/spot-starter label Rockies rookie right-hander Jeff Hoffman had a couple weeks ago? Well, Hoffman, the crown jewel of the Troy Tulowitzki trade with the Blue Jays in 2015, is showing he's worthy of a full-time position.

On a day with the wind blowing out at Wrigley, Hoffman struck out eight and held the Cubs to one run and four hits as the Rockies won their seventh straight, 9-1, on Saturday afternoon. Including two wins against the Indians in Denver this week, the last five victories have come against last season's World Series teams.

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CHICAGO -- Remember the callup/spot-starter label Rockies rookie right-hander Jeff Hoffman had a couple weeks ago? Well, Hoffman, the crown jewel of the Troy Tulowitzki trade with the Blue Jays in 2015, is showing he's worthy of a full-time position.

On a day with the wind blowing out at Wrigley, Hoffman struck out eight and held the Cubs to one run and four hits as the Rockies won their seventh straight, 9-1, on Saturday afternoon. Including two wins against the Indians in Denver this week, the last five victories have come against last season's World Series teams.

View Full Game Coverage

After pitching out of a second-and-third, one-out jam in the first, Hoffman (4-0) didn't allow the Cubs to hit many balls hard enough for the wind to play a part. Hoffman's dominance was chiefly responsible for securing the National League West-leading Rockies' first seven-game win streak since they won eight straight in 2013 (April 12-20).

"That goes back to trusting my stuff and understanding that my good is good enough," said Hoffman, who made his first three starts after callups. On Saturday, he was pitching on a bona fide big league rotation turn.

Opening Day starter Jon Gray, out with a left foot stress fracture, is making his first injury rehab start Wednesday at Class A Advanced Lancaster and lefty Tyler Anderson, nursing a left knee injury, is nearing bullpen sessions. But Hoffman -- one of four rookies in the rotation -- is pitching like a man who learned what he needed about mechanics and composure when the team sent him to Triple-A Albuquerque, and he is pitching like he never wants to go back.

"From our conversation late in spring, he's really made some nice changes in an all-around way, and I'm very proud of him," manager Bud Black said. "It's showed up in his performance."

The wind was a non-factor on homers -- the first, crushed by Mark Reynolds to left field and onto Waveland Avenue off former Rockies righty Eddie Butler (3-2) in the fourth inning, and the second by Charlie Blackmon to right and onto Sheffield Avenue in the seventh off Brian Duensing. The distance-driving contest left Reynolds with a team-high 17 homers, Blackmon with 15 and both tied in RBIs with 53.

Video: COL@CHC: Blackmon crushes homer out of Wrigley Field

The Cubs' offense finally started to rally against the Rockies in the seventh inning, stringing together three straight singles and scoring its first run of the day before the Rockies handed it off to the bullpen. The Cubs were unable to make up the deficit against the 'pen, as Chad Qualls forced Ian Happ to ground into a fielder's choice and Mike Dunn forced Jon Jay to line out to end the threat.

Video: COL@CHC: Dunn induces soft line drive to escape jam

"It's frustrating, especially a great day to hit, you would hope you score some runs," Cubs third baseman Kris Bryant said. "And we just didn't do that."

Butler gave up up six hits and three runs, yielding two to Reynolds on a double and a homer and one to DJ LeMahieu on a double, in five innings. Blackmon's home run off Duensing put the Cubs behind 4-1, but the game was still within reach until the floodgates opened in the ninth. Felix Pena and Pedro Strop combined to allow six hits, two walks and five more runs, as the Cubs dropped their fourth in a row and fell to below .500 for the first time since June 2.

Video: COL@CHC: Arenado drives in three runs with double

"I wanted to keep it at 4-1," Maddon said. "So once we turned that double play and Pena's at 30-some pitches, I thought, 'Let's get [Strop] in there for one out,' and he got it, but the ball went off his foot. And then they had some good at-bats."

MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
This old story: The Cubs entered Saturday having allowed 52 runs in the first inning this season -- 18 more than in any other inning -- a trend on which the Rockies were quick to capitalize. Blackmon led off the game with a single off Butler and scored the next at-bat on LeMahieu's double. Nolan Arenado grounded out, but Reynolds smoked a double to center to put the Rockies up, 2-0. Reynolds' double left the bat with an exit velocity of 111.5 mph, according to Statcast™, making it his hardest-hit ball of the year and seventh hardest for the Rockies as a team.

Video: COL@CHC: Reynolds plates LeMahieu with double

"[We] had a good gameplan. For the most part, executed it," Butler said. "The pitch to Reynolds, a hanging curveball, if you throw that to a big power guy they're going to hit it well. And then DJ hits a 3-1 fastball down the middle in the gap. That was kind of the tale of their scoring."

You only get one: The Cubs looked like they might have an answer for the Rockies in the first, as Bryant walked and advanced to third on a single by Anthony Rizzo. The Cubs had two in scoring position with one out, but Hoffman struck out Ben Zobrist and forced Jason Heyward to ground out to end the inning. That would be the Cubs' only hit until a Heyward single with one out in the seventh inning.

Video: COL@CHC: Contreras plates Cubs' first run with single

After the strikeout of Zobrist, who swung over a curveball, and the weak grounder by Heyward on a slider, Hoffman allowed himself a small fist-pump in celebration.

"It took me until I got out of that first inning to get my little groove," Hoffman said. "They had something going in the first. And me being able to execute a few pitches and get out of that without any runs, that really set the tone -- especially after getting two [runs] in the first on our side."

But on looking strikeouts of Rizzo to end the third and Miguel Montero to end the fifth, and a swinging defeat of Rizzo in the sixth, Hoffman was coldly strolling toward the dugout by the time the ball was in the catcher's mitt.

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"We can't panic. If we're panicking, we're not going to be playing the way we can. You're going to start gripping the bat tighter, gripping the ball tighter, and then that's when you really mess up. It's OK for the fans to worry and all that. I mean, it's just natural. Some people don't have control over what we do. But we have the control, and it's just up to us to kind of work harder." -- Bryant, on the team's hitting woes

Despite struggles, 'good times ahead' for Cubs

"[Rockies general manager] Jeff Bridich told me at the end of camp, I could take the decision two ways. I could take it as, 'Forget this, I know what I'm talking about, and I should keep doing what I'm doing.' Or I could listen to the coaches on the pitching staff, guys like [director of pitching operations] Mark Wiley and [pitching coaches] Darryl Scott and Mark Brewer, and use it to my advantage. I think I chose the right one." -- Hoffman, on how he handled the demotion to Triple-A to start the season

SOUND SMART WITH YOUR FRIENDS
Reynolds increased his career homer total to 268, tying him with Brooks Robinson, Gorman Thomas and Hall of Famer Joe Morgan.

Video: COL@CHC: Reynolds crushes homer out of Wrigley Field

Rockies rookie starters Hoffman, Antonio Senzatela, Kyle Freeland and German Marquez are a combined 23-8 with a 3.51 ERA in 37 starts.

UPON FURTHER REVIEW
In the top of the second inning with a runner on first and one out, Hoffman hit a ground ball up the middle right at second base. Because of the Cubs' defensive alignment, shortstop Addison Russell was in prime position to scoop up the ball, tag second and throw to first. His throw pulled Zobrist off the bag, but the first baseman recovered, tagging Hoffman as he sprinted down the line. Hoffman was initially called safe -- and it looked that way on the video board, as there was an audible groan from the home crowd as the Cubs challenged the play -- but the replay showed otherwise. The call was overturned, and the Cubs got out of the top of the second on the double play.

Video: COL@CHC: Zobrist tags Hoffman at first for DP

With runners on the corners and two out in the top of the fourth, it was Hoffman again involved with a close play. The pitcher hit the ball up the middle at Russell, who snagged it and stepped on second. However, Tony Wolters slid into the base at the same time and was ruled safe, allowing the runner to score from third and keeping the inning alive. The Cubs would challenge the play and the call was overturned, once again ending a Rockies' scoring threat.

Video: COL@CHC: Cubs challenge force play at second

Maddon said after the game the second review probably shouldn't have been necessary in the first place, except Russell -- who Maddon said was a little off all game -- hesitated in making a decision.

"Either you're just going to get it and go [to second] immediately, which he'd have beaten him easily had that been the case, of just throw it to first base," Maddon said. "He decided that late. Fortunately, we got the out, but nevertheless he decided that too late."

WHAT'S NEXT
Rockies: As the Rockies go for the sweep at Wrigley Field, it'll be Senzatela (8-2, 3.56 ERA) on the mound at 12:20 p.m. MT on MLB.TV. Senzatela is coming off a quality start against the Indians, and has he already beaten the Cubs once this year. He threw six innings of two-run ball on May 9 as Colorado topped Chicago, 10-4.

Cubs: Right-hander Jake Arrieta (6-4, 4.46 ERA) will get the ball for the series finale at Wrigley Field at 1:20 p.m. CT on MLB.TV. Arrieta is coming off back-to-back quality starts for just the second time this year. He was sharp in his last outing, bouncing back from a 34-pitch first to go six innings with only two runs allowed.

Watch every out-of-market regular-season game live on MLB.TV.

Scott Chasen is a reporter for MLB.com based in Chicago.

Thomas Harding has covered the Rockies since 2000, and for MLB.com since 2002. Follow him on Twitter @harding_at_mlb and like his Facebook page.



Nolan Arenado, Charlie Blackmon, Eddie Butler, Jeff Hoffman, Mark Reynolds