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.
Pinch me, I must be dreaming.
Everything seems to be working out perfectly for the Rockies. It’s like all of a sudden, something clicked and the light turned on.
Nine straight winning performances by the starting rotation, solid relief from the bullpen, timely, clutch hitting and games without mental lapses. For the first time, all aspects seem to be playing well, at the same time.
The storm clouds that formed across the Denver skyline cleared up at game time, creating a nice evening at the park. Rain, hail and tornado warnings across Colorado all week finally settled down for the 2 hour, 28 minute contest. Directly after, the clouds let loose and the streets were flooded with rain showers.
Nine consecutive wins ties for second all time in Rockies history–and they’re still going.
Unlike the first eight, though, the ninth came in front of an energetic home crowd. When a double play would be turned, the crowd would roar in cheers. When a close call went the other way, the fans would rain boos.
And let’s not forget the suicide squeeze bunt in the 6th inning when Ian Stewart barely slid safely on Dexter Fowler’s bunt. Or when Ubaldo Jimenez executed a perfect fake-bunt slap hit past a charging infield to score another run.
Ubaldo pitched a 127-pitch complete game. It was a gritty performance as he surrendered four runs just one out into the fourth inning.
My friend turned to me at that point and asked, “When would you take him out?”
I told him to give him a chance and keep in there for a little longer. Jimenez ended up going another 4 2/3, throwing just his second complete game of his career.
The crowd cheered when manager Jim Tracy left Jimenez in to bat in the 8th inning after his pitch total was well into triple-digits and then erupted again when Tracy walked back to the dugout with two outs in the 9th inning and the tying run at the plate. The manager went out to talk to Jimenez. Most feared he was taking him out just one out before the complete game.
And it was even a special night, not for the Rockies, but for myself getting to see Ken Griffey, Jr. play. I took off work and bought my tickets well before the streak began hoping to see him play.
I grew up idolizing Jr. and wanted to get one last chance to see him play. I saw him about a decade ago when he was still The Kid with the M’s and saw him a few years later on Opening Day with the Reds, but I was hoping, that he would take the field for a rare outfield spot in the lineup to see him play once more. I was disappointed when he didn’t start, but when I saw the pitchers spot was due up in the 9th, it gave me hope. In fact, Griffey did come to the plate, drawing a walk.
It was the never give up mentality that gave the Rockies their ninth consecutive win. The fought, battled, and came from behind to beat the Mariners 6-4 in the series opener.
Don’t wake me, I’m enjoying the ride.
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.
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.