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Colorado Rockies blow late lead, lose game and series to Cubs

David Martin Avatar
April 13, 2015

What goes up must come down.

Apparently the laws of gravity also are true of sports teams. On Sunday, the high-flying Colorado Rockies got punched in the gut by an old friend. Dexter Fowler hit a 2-out, 2-run homer off of Rockies closer LaTroy Hawkins. The blast gave the Cubs a 6-5 lead and a series victory.

The Rockies had a chance to put away the Cubs and head to San Francisco with a series victory under their belt and a 5-1 record. Instead, they have to pick themselves up off of the mat and hope to recapture any leftover momentum that left when Fowler laced the Hawkins hanging slider.

The loss is the first deflating loss of the season. The Rockies were within an out from victory and allowed the Cubs to score three runs to steal the win. It was the kind of loss that can make a team playing above it’s talent level come back to earth.

Just a week into the season, Hawkins blunder, the second of the young year, will certainly raise questions as to whether he belongs in the closer role. At 42-years-old, he is the oldest player in the game. There is no doubt that he isn’t the pitcher that he once was. In fact, his fastball speed is noticeably lower even from just a year ago. 

One week in to a season is certainly far too early to panic. However, would it be a terrible thing to wonder if Hawkins is still best suited to be the closer? The reality is, even eight years ago when Hawkins was a member of the 2007 Rockies team that surprised everyone and went to the World Series, he wasn’t the closer. He wasn’t even the closer when Brian Fuentes struggled. The team went with second-year man Manny Corpas.

Shoehorning Hawkins in as the closer was fine in 2014. The Rockies rightfully weren’t ready to commit to Rex Brothers in that role. However, 2015 is a different story. There is plenty of closer-type talent that is probably a better option right away for the Rockies.

Adam Ottavino, who has continued to improve since he became a Rockie, has shown that he has the stuff to be a closer. He has a frisbee slider and a fastball in the upper-90’s. If he stays healthy, he will be a closer at some point. In addition to Ottavino, the club has a healthy Rafael Betancourt, who had one of the best seasons ever for a Rockies closer in 2010 when he struck out 89 batters and walked just eight. Despite coming off of Tommy John surgery that cost him the entire 2014 season, Betancourt has shown that he can still be effective.

With Ottavino and Betancourt in the fold, Hawkins days as a closer should be limited. However, the Rockies also have the option of John Axford to close games out. Axford wasn’t available on Sunday as he dealt with his young son in the hospital. However, when he returns to the club, he should be in the mix for the closer spot. Axford has notched 117 saves in his career, including the 46 that he led the league with in 2011 while with the Milwaukee Brewers.

Make no mistake, this isn’t to say that Hawkins should be run out of town, or that the Rockies made a horrible decision to allow him to close baseball games. He was one of the best relievers that the Rockies had a year ago. In fact, he was fairly proficient at closing out ballgames. The issue is that he probably isn’t even one of the best three candidates in the bullpen to be closing games out.

Hawkins normally attacks the strike zone. He normally gets guys out on the ground. His blown save in Milwaukee could easily be attributed to bad luck. However, on Sunday he walked the first batter he faced, which usually doesn’t end well. Four batters later the Cubs had their first lead of the day.

It might seem cruel to suggest that he shouldn’t be the closer. However, a closer is generally a guy who doesn’t allow much contact. A closer is a guy who can fire the ball passed his opponent and get the strike out. Instead, Hawkins is a pitch-to-contact guy. He doesn’t strike fear in the opposition and relies on his defense.

It might be safe to say that the Rockies bullpen is very underrated. Hawkins remains as the closer probably because that was his job in 2014. However, that team wasn’t suited for anyone else to close. This 2015 team has several options that would be a better fit for the Rockies. It would be wise if they used them.

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