It doesn’t take much for a hot streak to turn cold. Two weeks ago the Rockies were plowing through opponents en route to a 10-game winning streak. They lost some momentum with two straight losses to the Padres, but then came back to win three straight, putting them within a game of the NL West and within 2.5 of the Wild Card. But two straight losses have dropped them to 2.5 games out of the West with 12 games to play. That’s a tall order with two teams sitting in front of them.
Tonight the Rockies play the second of three games in Arizona, and it is the definition of a must-win. This isn’t just because of their position in the standings, but because they have their ace on the mound. If the Rockies can’t pick up a game, or at least stay even, with Ubaldo Jimenez pitching then they’re going to have an awfully tough time gaining any ground in the West. This is also Ubaldo’s first shot at 20 wins. While that’s normally not that important, it is in this case. The Rockies need not only for Jimenez to pitch well, but they need to support him with runs.
Part of the Rockies’ late-season advantage was their number of games at home. At 51-24 they have the second best home winning percentage in the league. While they’ll return home for an important series against San Francisco this weekend, they’re stuck in the Phoenix for the next two games. Thankfully for them Jimenez has been excellent on the road this season. While he has a higher walk rate on the road, he also has induced far more ground balls away from Coors Field, 56.4 to 41.3 percent. His FIP, 3.13, is a bit higher, but not much. His xFIP, 3.67, is a bit lower. In terms of results he has a 2.50 road ERA compared to 3.23 at home.
When facing the Diamondbacks this year Jimenez has fared very well. In 126 PA during 33 innings opponents have hit .197/.248/.333 against him. That has led to just six runs. The Diamondbacks have also struck out 28 times and drawn just eight walks while homering twice. Of the players he will face tonight, only Kelly Johnson and Adam LaRoche have hit him well in their careers, though neither has homered off him. Stephen Drew is 8 for 32 with five walks and four doubles as well. Miguel Montero might be a nuisance as well; he is just 3 for 23 lifetime off Jimenez, but two of those hits have been home runs.
According to pitch type values, Jimenez matches up well against the Diamondbacks. The Arizona offense has hit knuckelballers and cutters particularly well, and are also above average against the fastball. Jimenez does go to the fastball often, 62.5 percent, but many of those are sinking two-seamers. The Diamondbacks tend to flail against sliders, curveballs, and changeups, all three of which Jimenez features in his arsenal.
Even if the Rockies lose they do have a chance to pick up ground against San Francisco this weekend. That might make this seem like a less important game. But it’s not. It seems like everything plays in their favor this evening. With their ace on the mound against one of the worst regular pitchers in the NL, there is no excuse to drop the game.
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