The seventh inning has stretched the Rockies’ season to the breaking point.
Because it happened again Tuesday night -- with Alex Dickerson’s leadoff homer off Jairo Díaz starting a three-run seventh, as the Giants won, 5-2, at Oracle Park -- the best the Rockies (24-30) can do in this 60-game season is win the final six to finish at .500, and hope that will be good enough for a playoff spot.
The season-long inability to hold down opponents, not just in the seventh but later, is one of several areas the team will have to address before expecting improvement. It’s not just that the bullpen’s ERA in the seventh inning is a Majors-worst 8.17, and seventh inning or later also the worst at 7.00. It’s that they have a hard time finding anyone healthy enough, fresh enough or simply pitching well enough.
“To have a complete bullpen and to have a successful run of wins, or staying in games, or keeping games close, you need them all,” said Rockies manager Bud Black, who during postseason trips in 2017 and '18 found those dependable arms. “You need them all. I've talked about that repeatedly.”
Díaz started the season hot enough that he took over as closer when Wade Davis came down with a right shoulder injury during the home opener. But Díaz lost the job when he had to be rescued by Daniel Bard trying to finish a game with the D-backs on Aug. 26. On Tuesday, when he entered with the score tied at 2, it was the first time since then Díaz had entered with either a knotted score or a lead.
Dickerson changed that with his sixth home run against the Rockies, who got six solid innings and a ninth quality start (tying the Cubs’ Yu Darvish for the National League lead) from Kyle Freeland.
Díaz was changed with all three runs, on three hits, and managed just one out.
Why was Díaz facing Dickerson, sent up as a left-handed pinch-hitter?
Yency Almonte and Mychal Givens have recently experienced arm soreness. Both were unavailable after pitching Sunday and Monday. So was Tyler Kinley after throwing in three of the last four games. Carlos Estévez, who served up Dickerson’s solo shot with two out in the seventh of the Rockies’ 7-2 win on Monday night, has yielded runs in seven of his last nine games.
Especially disappointing have been Díaz and Estévez, whose work at the end of last season secured heightened innings for them this year.
“This year, Carlos was very good at the start. Jairo had some traffic at the start, but sort of wiggled his way out of some jams the first few weeks,” Black said. “It's been really tough sledding since for both those guys.”
And forget about Black sending in a lefty to keep Giants skipper Gabe Kapler from playing the Dickerson card. James Pazos (16.88 ERA) and Phillip Diehl (10.50) pitched their way to the alternate training site.
When the Rockies convened for Spring Training, Davis had the ninth inning and Scott Oberg the eighth. But Oberg was forced out for the season with blood clots in his right arm, for the third time in his career. Davis missed much of the season, returned for two appearances last week, then was designated for assignment Saturday and has been released.
Before any of that, during Summer Camp the Rockies released two of the three relievers they signed to contracts totaling $106 million before the 2018 season -- righty Bryan Shaw ($27 million), currently in the Mariners’ alternate training site but off the Major League roster, and lefty Jake McGee ($27 million), who rediscovered his fastball location with the Dodgers. The other was Davis ($52 million).
Struggling but in the thick of contention at the Trade Deadline, the Rockies acquired Givens from the Orioles for two Minor Leaguers. But with the 'pen and the season falling apart, it might not be until next season (he is under control) that they see how he can affect a race -- provided other holes, some in the bullpen, are filled.
If Black does find relievers he can count on, there will be nights of pain and fatigue when others have to perform. Tuesday was a chance.
“When you’ve heard me talk about the dependency of all eight or nine relief pitchers contributing, tonight was a night where Jairo, [AJ] Ramos and [Jeff] Hoffman were probably going to have to get the ball to Bard if the game stayed close or we had the lead,” Black said.
By the time Ramos and Hoffman pitched, there was no lead, and the Rockies moved closer to having no chance for a postseason.