With an improbable June and a stellar July so far, the Colorado Rockies are showing naysayers they are here to contend.
With Monday’s 10-6 win over the Arizona Diamondbacks, along with the San Francisco Giants being pounded by the Atlanta Braves, the Rockies can say that if the regular season ended today, they would become the National League wild card winners for the second time in the past three years.
Problem is, there are still 68 games to play.
But with a record of 33-15 since May 29 when manager Jim Tracy took over, the Rockies look like they can compete to the end.
With the trade deadline approaching in T-9 days, what the Rockies desperately need is a strong middle reliever.
The club’s bullpen looks nothing like its opening day roster. With the exception of Huston Street, who also lost his role as closer once, the bullpen has been shuffled around and mix and matched in its entirety.
Matt Daley, Josh Fogg, Juan Rincon and Ryan Speier were not on the club’s opening day roster. Franklin Morales was, but not as a reliever. The club traded Jason Grilli while sending down players like Joel Peralta and Matt Belisle.
The team also lost a quality arm in Taylor Buchholz to Tommy John surgery and a veteran leader in Alan Embree to a broken leg. They recently added veteran Matt Herges to a minor-league deal and is reporting interest in free agent Mike Timlin.
Sure, signing a guy with the name Roy Halladay would bring excitement to Blake Street, but for what, two months? And Matt Holliday had a great stay in purple pinstripes, but a reunion tour is not what needs to be done to make an October push.
What the Rockies need is a reliable setup man.
Not some has-been or could-be. Not multiple washed up pitchers like in years past.
The organization has minor league depth in nearly every position. I’m not suggesting throwing away the farm, but package a couple prospects for a guy that can bridge the gap between the starting rotation and closer Huston Street. Or even better, if O’Dowd can find a club that will unload Garrett Atkins or Yorvit Torrealba, take it.
Chad Qualls is, perhaps, the biggest availability.
With 18 saves for a dismal Diamondback team, Qualls is paving his best year in the majors. He sports a lifetime 3.31 ERA, but one of his more impressive stats is just three home runs allowed this season. This would help in the thin air of Colorado.
Other possible names on the market: Boston’s Takashi Saito, Baltimore’s lefthander George Sherrill and Cleveland’s Rafael Bentancourt.
Colorado has a good team, no doubt. But with its bullpen ranked 14th out of the 16-team National League, it is apparent that a strong setup man is needed.
Perhaps the biggest evidence, however, is the last two nights. On Monday night the Rockies held a 10-1 lead leading up to the seventh inning, when the relievers surrendered five runs, causing our closer to get warmed up in the ninth inning.
In Tuesday’s loss to the Diamondbacks, the Rockies blew a 4-0 lead, with the relievers allowing the final runs for the loss.
In less than two months, the Rockies have jumped from 10 under to eight over. I believe it’s time the Rockies become buyers at the deadline and purchase a durable arm.
There is no question in any fan’s mind that the Rockies desperately need to turn things around.
Yes, it’s early in the season, but this isn’t exactly the quick start we all were looking for.
The biggest issue, without a doubt, is the pitching. But, for a moment, I’m going to push that aside and focus on the offense.
I believe the club has one of the most solid lineups one through eight as any other team. I wrote during Spring Training that they have power and great hitters both in the starting lineup and coming off the bench, and I still stand by that.
The offense showed up the first four games and then caved in. I won’t go into detail. We all know that we’re not getting hits with runners on, we’re not getting runs across the plate, and we’re striking out at an alarming rate. The Rockies scored 30 runs in their first four games but have combined for just 27 in the last eight.
I’m no expert with handling lineups, and that is why I am a fan sitting at home rather than actually managing the team, but here is a thought: Put the best players in the lineup each day.
Seems obvious, right? Isn’t that the intention of every team?
Todd Helton was crushing the ball in Spring Training, but since the regular season has begun, he’s hitting .231.
Chris Iannetta earned his starting role last season but has just three hits in 27 at-bats in 2009.
Even Garrett Atkins, who went on a spurt where he tore the cover off the ball, is now hitting .191.
The point is, these are all players who are considered “starters.” They are on the team to lead them. But right now, they aren’t doing it.
Because of their status and the capabilities they have shown in the past, they continue to be in the lineup despite their struggles.
Most readers probably think it would be crazy to take Atkins out of the lineup. And, yes, I do believe that he will bounce back and recover from his slump. But, for the time being, put the best players in.
Ryan Spilborghs started out strong but has since struggled. Take him out and give Dexter Fowler and others time to prove themselves.
Give Ian Stewart a chance at third base, his primary position, while Atkins and Helton are struggling. Stewart leads the team with a .375 batting average, .467 on-base percentage, and a .792 slugging percentage to lead the team. He has six runs scored (tied for second) and seven RBI (second on team) despite just 24 at-bats. He is tied with or ahead of Atkins in every offensive category despite half the at-bats.
I do agree that these struggling players aren’t going to get better riding the pine, but there is too much depth on this roster to let talent sit while starters are struggling.
Give some of the starters a few days off to clear their minds while others get a chance.
If someone isn’t getting it done, let someone else prove their worth, despite their status.
This article is also featured on Bleacher Report.
Opening Weekend is upon us at last.
But baseball season right around the corner brings uncertainties for each ballclub.
Heading into his club-leading eighth season at the helm of the Rockies, manager Clint Hurdle has reached the end of his contract.
Owners Dick and Charlie Monfort have made it clear that Hurdle’s performance will be judged critically and that no Opening Day contract extensions will be awarded like in 2007.
During the offseason, the Rockies cleared out a majority of Hurdle’s coaching staff and brought in veterans like Jim Tracy (bench coach) and former Rockies manager Don Baylor (hitting coach).
A couple wrong moves by Hurdle and one of these guys could be getting a promotion.
Baylor led the Rockies for their first six years of existence before being fired for Jim Leyland, who had just led the Florida Marlins to their first World Series championship two years prior.
Leyland quickly fled, and then Buddy Bell managed for two years and a few games, and then Hurdle replaced him less than a month into the 2002 season.
Baylor, whose career coaching record in Colorado stands at 440-469 (.484), has the highest winning percentage in club history.
His tenure with the Rockies includes the team’s first trip to the postseason, a 1995 Wild Card berth, and a Manager of the Year award.
In his final season with the Rockies, he guided them to a fourth-place finish and a 77-85 record. With this statistic, it doesn’t bother me that he was replaced soon after.
What does bother me, however, is the fact that the Rockies have bettered that record just twice in the 10 seasons since, and just one time under Hurdle’s reign.
Despite his sub-.500 career record, Baylor is the best manager the Rockies have ever had. He has been so instrumental to the club that he was even selected to be an honorary member on Hurdle’s staff at the 2008 All-Star Game because of his influence to the ballclub.
Baylor has brought a noticeable amount of change to the Rockies clubhouse this spring. The team’s offensive numbers are showing evident improvements, with several players giving Baylor the credit.
The team’s offense shows a lot of potential with power in the lineup from the top all the way through. It even seems a little bit like the Blake Street Bombers–the offensive powerhouses of Dante Bichette, Vinny Castilla, Andres Galarraga, and Larry Walker during the late 1990s under Baylor’s managing.
Even without Matt Holliday in the lineup, the Rockies have known power coming from Brad Hawpe and Garrett Atkins. Todd Helton is showing that his back is healing just fine, while Ryan Spilborghs’ spring says that he can be a multi-tool center fielder, including a powerful bat. Troy Tulowitzki’s determination should help him bounce back from his sophomore slump, while Chris Iannetta’s numbers could top the chart among the league’s catchers. Seth Smith will get some outfield starts and even off the bench the Rockies are loaded, with names like Ian Stewart (hopefully not off the bench), and Jeff Baker.
Our pitching may be inconsistent, but the offense should be explosive. Maybe ditching the humidors and bringing back the days of the Bombers isn’t such a crazy thought.
Back in Baylor’s days as manager, he would hold The Don Baylor Show, a segment of the postgame show after Sunday afternoon games. Three kids in attendance were able to go on the show and ask the skipper a question for him to answer.
I once was lucky enough to get on the show. If I had the opportunity today, maybe I’d ask Baylor to bring back the power at Coors Field.
Baylor has been missed. Could his presence in the clubhouse result in the Blake Street Bombers 2.0?
This article is also featured on Bleacher Report.
Many probably think I’m crazy for this statement. Perhaps I am.
After trading away the club’s star player (Matt Holliday) and losing the best closer (Brian Fuentes) in team history over the offseason, it’s easy to assume that trading Atkins, arguably one of the team’s most talented players, means throwing away the season for the Rockies.
And although I’m not one of the rare few who support the front office’s plan of building from within and starting over once those players become too good and too expensive, I think that trading Atkins could bring some positives to the team.
Without a doubt, pitching has been the Rockies’ biggest struggle for as long as I can remember. With Jeff Francis missing all of 2009, this year is no different.
Even without Holliday and Willy Tavares, the outfield is stacked. Brad Hawpe and Ryan Spilborghs will be starters, while prospect Dexter Fowler is trying to prove that he’s also big-league ready. Seth Smith, Matt Murton, Scott Podsednik, Carlos Gonzalez and even Ian Stewart and Jeff Baker are also viable options.
In 2008, the Rockies used more second baseman than I can count on one of my hands. Despite the fact that none of them have stepped into the shoes that Kaz Matsui left in 2007, there is depth at the position.
Troy Tulowitzki is a lock at short stop, and many of the second baseman can shift to play either middle infield position when he needs rest.
Todd Helton will get the first look at first base, but with his unstable lower back, it is uncertain how much or how often he will play in 2009. Behind him, the Rockies could use Joe Koshansky as the primary starter.
Baker, a very versatile player, has experience at first base, while Christian Colonel, who is having a very impressive spring, will be waiting in the minors.
Chris Iannetta has more than earned the starting catching role, and although Yorvit Torrealba wants out of his contract with Colorado, teams aren’t showing interest in paying his remaining salary, meaning the Rockies will have a veteran catcher with plenty of experience coming off the bench.
That brings us to Garrett Atkins and third base.
Don’t get me wrong, Atkins is a proven player with a lot of talent. His career batting average is right around .300, he has plenty of power and his defense is on the rise.
It may seem foolish to trade a star, but that’s what makes this idea work. Stars draw interest.
Stewart has proven that he is more than ready to start for the Rockies this year. He greatly improved towards the end of 2008 and has been playing solid all spring. Not to mention that his defense would be a step up, and that he is still just 23 years old and still improving.
The Rockies need to get him in the lineup.
Atkins will most likely be gone after this season with his contract ending, so it would be ideal to get some value for him.
It doesn’t matter how we get it, but the fact is, the Rockies need starting pitching.
As shown, there is quality depth at nearly every position, which should draw interest. Many of these players are ready for the big leagues, there’s just no room for them.
Who knows, there might not be teams that are willing to give up their top arms, but it doesn’t hurt to at least give it a shot and see what’s out there. There are several teams that are in need of a third baseman.
The Rockies have plenty of talent to replace Atkins. Losing him and gaining solid starting pitching will only improve the team.
It’s amazing what one week can do. Seven simple days and it seems like half of the Rockies’ fan-base jumped off the bandwagon after a winless first week in Tucson.
The defeats can be looked at one of two ways:
1) It was the first week of spring training – the rustiness is understandable and the team still has plenty of time to work out their kinks
2) Or others could say, yes, it is only spring training, but it is also only spring training for the teams that are beating the Rockies.
Despite a week of frustration, I choose the first option.
As other writers have shown, there are several factors that could have been a reason behind all of the first-week losses. Pitchers were instructed to throw primarily, if not all, fastballs. Hitters were required to take the first pitch. Base runners were overly aggressive on the base paths.
And let’s not forget the early injuries. Players like Todd Helton, Garrett Atkins, Brad Hawpe, Ian Stewart, Jeff Baker, and Taylor Buchholz all missed parts, if not all, of the early games. In addition, Ryan Spilborghs left camp after the death of his mother.
The point is, yes, the Rockies struggled last week. And yes, signs show that they will probably struggle at other points during the spring.
Several of the early injuries aren’t serious and the players are back in the lineups, becoming contributing factors to the team’s offensive numbers. Todd Helton quieted his naysayers with a 450-foot shot in his first at-bat after having back surgery over the offseason.
And the Rockies’ bats are finally coming along, with Garrett Atkins leading the way with a .438 batting average as of Friday morning.
Ubaldo Jimenez had a strong final outing before leaving for the World Baseball Classic and was dominant, striking out 10 and allowing no runs in four innings in his start against the Netherlands.
Chris Iannetta, although also currently away from the team, showed the nation his power with four RBI and a three-run double in the World Baseball Classic on Sunday night and a home run on Wednesday.
No, the Rockies aren’t at their prime. Todd Helton will still have to play precariously, there are still issues with the rotation and there will be hiccups throughout the season without a doubt.
But the team has started to show improvement in turning things around. After dropping their first seven games (eight unofficially), they started a modest six-game winning streak, climbing their way back into the standings.
It’s still early. There’s no need to hop off yet.
Fans were quickly sent back to reality early in 2008, however, when the Colorado Rockies fell off the mountain and couldn’t rebound after a 20-38 start and ended up towards the bottom of an awful National League West.
Spring has arrived, however. The calendar has turned, the weather is slowly beginning to warm up and players are arriving in Arizona for Spring Training. A new season and fresh opportunities.
So as the 2009 season approaches, there is optimistic hope among fans and players alike. But the question of how realistic the goals of turning this season’s team from a 74-88 record in 2008 to the 90 wins and World Series birth the year prior remains with several “ifs.”
It’s not easy to remain positive after losing the face of the franchise in Matt Holliday. In return, they received a couple of prospects (Greg Smith and Carlos Gonzalez) and an established, but also often-injured closer, Huston Street.
The first question regards Holliday’s replacement in left field. Although not a stellar outfielder, his solid .320+ batting average, .530+ slugging percentage and 25+ home runs will be missed. His most likely replacement is Seth Smith. In 67 games last season, Smith hit .259, but his future is bright with the glimpses of power last season.
Gonzalez will most likely start the season in Colorado Springs (the Rockies’ AAA affiliate) while third basemen Ian Stewart will get a few spring looks, trying to make the transformation from the infield to the outfield after the Rockies resigned Garrett Atkins earlier this month.
The Rockies lost most of their speed in center fielder Willy Taveras, but the speedster lacked getting on base last year. A .308 on base percentage won’t cut it for a leadoff hitter. Last year’s backup, Scott Podsednik will get a look, but the favorite is Ryan Spilborghs, who had a breakout season last year, hitting over .300 and getting quality starts in the outfield.
Prospect Dexter Fowler is a name that gets fans excited for the future, but, like Gonzalez, may be better suited starting the year in Colorado Springs until after the All-Star break.
The hot corner seems set with Atkins getting most of the starts, and Stewart, who has gold glove potential and am improving bat, filling in when Atkins shifts across the diamond to first base when veteran Todd Helton needs some rest for his ailing back, which was surgically repaired during the off season.
Troy Tulowitzki, who grabbed fans’ hearts during his rookie season, seems to be back from his sophomore slump, but we won’t know for sure until April.
Helton says he feels good, but how will his surgically-repaired back hold up 100 games into the season in the grind of the hot summer?
The Rockies signed two proven managers during the off season as manager Clint Hurtle enters 2009 in the last year of his contract. One this is for certain, fans won’t let the Rockies ownership give Hurdle an extension on Opening Day this year until he proves himself.
Will Hurdle even be manager of the club in mid-May? Or will an early losing streak promote bench coach Jim Tracy or hitting coach and former Rockies manager Don Baylor to skipper?
And of course, saving the most uncertain for last, the pitching staff. Their 2007 ace, Jeff Francis, will likely undergo season-ending surgery before the season even begins. Aaron Cook (16-9, 3.96 ERA last year) needs to prove himself again this season. With the acquisition of veteran Jason Marquis, the fellow sinkerballers could work well together. Could being a key word.
The team signed Ubaldo Jimenez to four more years last month. With the speed of an ace, the 25-year-old needs to perform consistently and work on his control. And the back-end of the rotation? It seems like the team had an open invitation to Spring Training with Greg Smith, Franklin Morales, Glendon Rusch, Jason Hirsh, Josh Fogg, Greg Reynolds, and Jorge De La Rosa all fighting for the final two spots in the starting rotation.
So the questions remain. Will Seth Smith’s lack of experience fill the shoes of an All-Star like Holliday? Can Helton return to his earlier form? 2008 was the first time in his 11 full seasons without hitting above .300 or hitting double-digit home runs. Has Tulowitzki controlled himself and developed himself into the leader and face of the franchise that he needs to be?
Catcher Chris Iannetta proved himself last year, but can he remain consistent behind the plate? And the biggest questions each year in Colorado remain with the pitching staff. Who will fill the fifth spot? Will Manny Corpas or Street close? Do the Rockies need to trade for a top-of-the-line pitcher for the second half of the season? Will the Rockies even be in contention by the second half of the season?
With the West looking mediocre at best again this year, it could be anyone’s game. If the Rockies can play consistent .500 ball, they might have a legitimate shot. Of course, that is if they can do that.
Grab your erasers because nothing is certain. The beauty of a new season, though, is that there’s always hope.