Rockies need lift from Helton, Tulo
Middle-of-the-order sluggers yet to break through in NLDS
DENVER -- The heart of the Rockies' batting order has beaten faintly for three games of the National League Division Series.
For the Rockies to avoid elimination, however, it would be beneficial for No. 3 hitter Todd Helton and cleanup man Troy Tulowitzki to pump greater lifeblood into the lineup in Monday afternoon's Game 4 against the Phillies.
"These are guys that have gotten you to this point," Rockies manager Jim Tracy said.
Helton, after having his 2008 season marred by back pain and surgery, finished fourth in the NL with a .325 batting average during the regular season. Tulowitzki, after a slow start, finished a career-best .297 and led the team in home runs with 32 and RBIs with 92. But both have been sub-par against the Phillies.
Helton entered Monday 2-for-12 in the series. The best that can be said about that is it's better than the 1-for-12 he managed in the 2007 NLDS, also against the Phillies. Tulowitzki has had stronger numbers in this NLDS -- 3-for-11 (.273), but has not delivered the big hit that was his forte during the season.
Both, however, have reason to feel they're close to a breakout. It will have to happen against Phillies left-handed starter Cliff Lee, who held the Rockies to one run and six hits in a complete-game 5-1 victory in Game 1.
The left-handed-hitting Helton admitted that the Phillies' strong left-handed starting pitching makes for a difficult matchup. But he just missed some balls in Sunday night's 6-5 loss. One was a fielder's choice grounder against left-hander J.A. Happ in the first inning. He was on a couple of pitches against right-handed reliever Ryan Madson in the seventh and fouled them off. He struck out chasing a high pitch.
"I wish that first one was a click lower and I'd have popped it up a little bit higher, but my swing feels fine," Helton said. "I'm facing some tough lefties in this series, but I'm doing all I can do. Hopefully, I can help the team win [Game 4]."
That seventh inning Sunday was pivotal. With runners at first and third and no outs, all the Rockies managed was one run, on Tulowitzki's sac fly.
Helton said he feels he is swinging with the proper aggressiveness. He has had to face Lee, Cole Hamels and Happ to start the three games. Often, that's not an issue. During the regular season, he hit .311 against left-handed pitching. He hit .322 against right-handers.
"For me, personally, this team is really tough," Helton said. "But you have to find ways to overcome it as a team, just as an individual you have to overcome it. You just have to be able to grind out productive at-bats.
"It would be nice to get a really big inning today. We'll see."
Tulowitzki barely missed two key pitches in Sunday night's 6-5 loss. One he knocked for the sacrifice fly. The other was a game-ending fly ball against Phillies closer Brad Lidge. Both were in locations where Tulowitzki's swing often puts the ball into the left-field seats.
"I've put some good swings on balls, just missed a couple of pitches," Tulowitzki said. "I just have to stay after it. I'll get results sooner or later."
Unfamiliarity with the Phillies' staff hasn't helped the Rockies. The teams met twice during the regular season, but one of those series was the Rockies' season-opening homestand. Tulowitzki said he and his teammates should benefit from having played three intense games.
"Once you see how a team pitches you, it's pretty much how they stay throughout a series," Tulowitzki said. "If it's a team in your division, you know how they pitch you. Now, not only me but the other guys have a good idea how we're being pitched."
Lee is a special challenge. In one of his first starts after being acquired from the Indians near the non-waiver Trade Deadline, on Aug. 6 a Citizens Bank Park, Lee held the Rockies to one run and six hits in seven innings of a 3-1 victory. Now Lee will be facing the Rockies at Coors Field.
"He is one of the best -- you don't win a Cy Young [in the American League in 2008] without having good stuff," Tulowitzki said. "But if we have good at bats with the guys we have out there, one good swing of the bat can change a game."
Thomas Harding is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.