The Colorado Rockies hope to move up in the wild card standings when they open a week-long homestand on Monday night against the National League’s worst team. The Pittsburgh Pirates, though, aren’t playing as if they will be too accommodating.
Colorado (63-60) kicks off a seven-game set at Coors Field when it meets Pittsburgh (52-70) in the opener of a four-game series.
The Rockies, chasing their first playoff berth since 1995, are fifth in the wild card standings, but only three games behind leader San Diego. Colorado, which is 21-6 at home since June 6, will wrap up the homestand next weekend with three games against Washington.
Returning home may help the Rockies after they dropped four of six on their latest road trip, capped by a 4-3 loss to the Los Angeles Dodgers on Sunday. Todd Helton gave Colorado a 3-2 lead in the eighth with a two-run homer, but Jorge Julio fell to 0-4 this season after giving up a two-run single to the Dodgers’ Ramon Martinez in the bottom of the inning.
“We battled back today, that’s a given,” Colorado manager Clint Hurdle told the Rockies’ official Web site. “You’ve got to close games out.”
The Rockies swept the Pirates in a three-game road series from July 16-18, but will be facing an improved team this time. Pittsburgh has won three of its last four, averaging 9.3 runs and batting .340 during that span.
The Pirates have rallied from deficits of four or more runs in each of their last three wins, including twice over the weekend against Philadelphia. Pittsburgh used a seven-run seventh to beat the Phillies 8-4 on Sunday. Pinch-hitter Matt Kata hit a three-run double to start scoring in the big inning and Freddy Sanchez had the go-ahead RBI double in a game that was delayed three times by rain for a total of more than two hours.
The Pirates lead the majors with 129 runs in August.
“What you have to do is keep playing the game,” said Sanchez, who’s hitting .413 (26-for-63) in 17 career games versus the Rockies. “Keep doing what you’re trying to do and don’t count yourself out.”
Sanchez also has a 15-game hitting streak against the Rockies since July 21, 2005, and will try to extend that when he faces rookie Ubaldo Jimenez (2-2, 5.28 ERA) for the first time.
The right-hander is trying to build on his best career start after holding the Padres to just one hit over six innings in a 3-0 victory on Wednesday. He walked two, struck out a career-high nine and was clocked at 100 mph with a pitch in the third inning.
“He pitched a big-time ballgame for us,” Hurdle said. “He made pitches, he was in a better rhythm, he was ahead in the count. It was a very polished performance for a young pitcher.”
It was a dramatic improvement over the previous two starts by the 23-year-old when he gave up 15 runs—11 earned—through 6 2-3 innings in back-to-back losses at Atlanta and at home to the Chicago Cubs.
Jimenez will be opposed by veteran Matt Morris (7-8, 4.65), who is 0-1 with a 6.87 ERA in three starts for Pittsburgh since being acquired from San Francisco on July 31. The right-hander gave up five runs and seven hits over six innings in a 10-8 defeat to the New York Mets on Wednesday.
Morris fell to 0-5 with a 7.63 ERA and .372 opponent batting average in 11 starts since beating Toronto 4-3 on June 11.
In 12 career starts versus the Rockies, Morris is 5-5 with a 5.17 ERA and looks to avoid losing his third straight start to them. He was tagged for six runs, but just two earned, over seven innings in a 6-1 defeat on May 26 while with the Giants.