Offense powers Rockies to improbable series win over Dodgers

Colorado Rockies designated hitter Matt Kemp (25) is congratulated by manager Bud Black (10) after the game against the Los Angeles Dodgers at Dodger Stadium. The Rockies defeated the Dodgers 7-6. Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Heading into their three-game home weekend set against the Colorado Rockies, the Los Angeles Dodgers hadn’t lost a series all season. The Dodgers began the season 10-0-2 in series and had won 18 of their previous 21 games overall. Meanwhile, the Rockies were coming off of a 2-4 homestand during which they allowed 61 runs.

In other words, this had no reason to be Colorado’s weekend. But, as Rockies manager Bud Black often says, that’s baseball.

An unlikely group of position players took the reins and led the Rockies to the first series victory over the Dodgers—by any team—in 2020, capping the weekend set with a hard-fought 7-6 victory on Sunday night. Former Dodger Matt Kemp was the hero; his two-run homer in the top of the eighth inning off of Caleb Ferguson put the Rockies on top in what was a back-and-forth affair, and Colorado’s relievers kept L.A. off the board to preserve the win.

Ferguson, a left-handed reliever, allowed two runs all year prior to the Rockies coming to down. But his 1.20 ERA nearly tripled after the Rockies got to him in the series finale as well as in the opener, when Kevin Pillar hit a grand slam off of Ferguson to briefly give Colorado the lead before the bullpen surrendered it in the team’s lone loss of the weekend.

The 10-6 defeat was the type of heartbreaker that has sent the Rockies into a downward spiral in the past, and considering that loss was Colorado’s 19th in its previous 23 games at Dodger Stadium, it didn’t appear things were going to be much different this time around. But rookie first baseman Josh Fuentes, pinch hitting for veteran Daniel Murphy, did his part to break the chain—and preserve a strong start from Germán Márquez—by lacing a two-strike pitch from Dodgers reliever Alex Wood down the right field line to turn a one-run lead into a three-run cushion.

Fuentes came through again in the finale, hitting a two-run homer in the second inning to put the Rockies on top. And Raimel Tapia, who has settled in nicely as the Rockies’ leadoff hitter, had six hits in the series, including a leadoff homer on Friday. Tapia is now 20-for-59 with eight walks since sliding into the leadoff spot in the lineup. He also has a nine-game hitting streak going, during which time he owns a .378/.415/.568 line.

Márquez’s start came at a perfect time for the Rockies, who had been going through relievers at an alarming rate as a result of awful starting pitching over the last several turns through the rotation. Colorado’s ace bounced back from a string of poor starts of his own to allow just two runs in seven innings on Saturday, leaving it to Yency Almonte and Daniel Bard—the Rockies’ two best, most consistent relievers in 2020—to seal the deal.

Almonte and Bard, with the help of newcomer Mychal Givens, closed the door again on Sunday after Ryan Castellani (4 ER in 4 1/3 IP) and Carlos Estevez (2 ER in 1 2/3 IP) had trouble keeping the Dodgers off the board. Almonte has been extremely good at limiting baserunners, walking just two batters in 20 2/3 innings. His WHIP is currently under 1.00, and he’s tacked on 19 strikeouts. Bard had a bout of wildness in the finale but a fastball consistently in the high 90s—and occasionally, at 100 mph—kept him out of trouble. The 35-year-old reliever’s comeback story continues to be the stuff of legend; now the Rockies’ closer, Bard has notched six saves while boasting strong strikeout (11.5 K/9) and walk (2.5 BB/9) numbers overall.

Things won’t get any easier the Rockies, who travel to San Diego to face the Padres in a three-game set before a rare off day on Thursday. Colorado will send Kyle Freeland, Chi Chi Gonzalez, and Antonio Senzatela to the hill to try to contain a Padres offense that leads baseball in runs scored.

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