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.
With the 2009 season upon us, I couldn’t help but pull out my personal copy of 21 Days: The Rockies Run for the Pennant.
Even today I get chills when I see highlights of Todd Helton drilling a walk-off home run over the right field fence off of Takasha Saito and racing around the bases before throwing his helmet and leaping into his mob of teammates. Goosebumps spread throughout my body as footage shows Matt Holliday diving headfirst into home to score the game winning run to send the Rockies to the playoffs for the first time in 12 years.
Reminiscing on those memories will bring a grown man to tears.
I don’t care what type of team is put on the field or what anyone says about a team’s chances in a given year. Watching and remembering what the Colorado Rockies did in 2007 gives any fan the optimism that this is their team’s year.
The beauty of Opening Day is that it is the only time that your team is guaranteed first place.
Everyone is 0-0. It’s a fresh start.
The Rockies’ run at the end of the 2007 season will go down as one of the greatest streaks in baseball history.
Manager Clint Hurdle later stated, “Man cannot script what sport can create.”
It transformed hearts and turned Denver into a baseball town–even if they were bandwagon fans and it only lasted that season.
The feelings and emotions accompanied with the run brought more joy to me personally than any other sports moment. It made me concentrate my full attention on the game and lose focus on my schoolwork and everything else going surrounding me.
It was an improbable run. Something I will be telling my children and grandchildren about 50 years from now.
Ernie Harwell, the narrator of the documentary, said, “In the end, the Rockies’ run for the pennant will be remembered as a band of brothers. Believing when no one else believed, reaching a level that no one thought they could reach, but meeting all challenges with the confidence, resiliency and spirit of a champion.”
Many are already writing the 2009 Rockies off. Vegas is giving the Rockies 75:1 odds of winning the World Series–good for fourth worst in all of baseball.
Obviously most don’t believe it can happen.
I’m convinced, however, that our offense is better than it has been in years. Players will be running around the bases on a consistent basis this season. Our defense will support the pitcher and our base running is improving each day. Our bullpen is rock-solid while our starting rotation has some young arms that have plenty of potential.
And what better way to head into the new season than closing out spring training on a three-game win streak and winning seven of their final nine games?
21 Days closes with several Rockies’ players reciting an inspirational quote once written by Vince Lombardi:
“A man can be as great as he want to be. If you believe in yourself and have the courage, the determination, the dedication, the competitive drive, and if you’re willing to sacrifice the little things in life and pay the price for the things that are worthwhile, it can be done.”
Some say I have blind love for the Rockies, but I’m ready for another improbable run.
It can be done.
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.
September 18, 2007
Bottom of the ninth, two strikes, two outs.
With the Rockies barely clinging to any chance of a playoff run, Todd Helton did what was necessary.
The veteran let loose with a dramatic walk-off home run, arguably one of the most emotional home runs in franchise history, to keep the team in the playoff hunt.
He lifted his teammates onto his back and carried them through the next 20 games (19 wins), clinching the Wild Card and sweeping their way to the World Series.
September 18, 2008
One year later and Todd Helton’s season was already finished as he began to prepare for offseason back surgery.
Over the winter, nearly every fan from Colorado was at Helton’s neck, bashing him and saying that he couldn’t come back. “He’s too old,” “the surgery is hard to overcome,” “he needs to retire and give back his money,” were all responses.
March 8, 2009
Todd Helton returns to the lineup with a towering 450-foot home run in his first at-bat since the surgery.
Perhaps the greatest player to ever don a Rockies’ uniform, Helton has shown that he is back this spring.
A lifetime .328 hitter with 310 career home runs in 12 seasons, Helton’s aging back began to wear on him in 2008, causing him to miss nearly half of the season and hit below .300 for the first time in any full season of his career.
Despite the concern of whether his surgically-repaired back can withstand an entire season of play, Helton has shown his critics that he is back to his old form and ready to compete again.
In 12 games this spring, Helton has hit .515 with an on-base percentage of .568 and a slugging percentage of 1.000. In 33 at-bats, the veteran has converted 17 into hits, including four doubles, four home runs, and 14 RBI.
Helton is among a list of players with four home runs this spring training. However, of those players sitting ahead of him, only three players have hit a home run more often than Helton. The smooth-swinging lefty has hit a home run once every 8.25 at bats this spring.
Helton and the Rockies beat up on the Diamondbacks Monday afternoon in the Rockies’ final home spring training game.
The first baseman was the root of the explosive offense, going 4-4, and raising his batting average above .500. He currently ranks fourth among all players this spring with more than 10 at-bats.
Helton is here to prove that he can return to his old form.
Let’s hope that he can carry the Rockies to the playoffs again. This time, though, please, don’t put all the weight on your new back.
This article is also featured on Bleacher Report.
They’re not a team made up of speed, but they’re showing aggressiveness.
“What you don’t want to see is to have this type of program in spring training and then drop back to Plan B in the regular season,” manger Clint Hurdle said. “We can’t afford to do that. We’ve got to stay aggressive and look to pick up 90 feet whenever we can, with whoever is on base.”
In 2008, speedy Willy Taveras led the major leagues with 68 stolen bases. It stands as quite an accomplishment, especially considering he posted just a .308 on-base percentage as a leadoff hitter.
His offensive struggles kept him from a spot with Colorado in 2009.
Hurdle made it an immediate emphasis this spring to be more aggressive and steal more bases.
As of Sunday, four Rockies rank among the MLB’s top 50 this spring in stolen bases. The team as a whole ranks second in the MLB with 36 bags, behind only the young Rays with 38.
This doesn’t mean that they are the quickest team out there. The Rockies have been caught stealing 18 times, which is tied for first.
What it does mean is that they are being aggressive and attempting to steal more bags than any other team.
Despite ranking among the top teams in 2008 with 141 stolen bases, the Rockies were not a team full of speed. The team’s top two players based on stolen bases are no longer with the team (Taveras and Matt Holliday). Out of the rest of the team, only four players successfully stole more than two bases–Clint Barmes with 13, Scott Podsednik with 12, Ryan Spilborghs with seven, and Jeff Baker with four.
The Rockies had one player with speed, but not an entire team that could catch an opposing pitcher off guard.
Speed can be an essential element to the game.
In 2007, Taveras and Kaz Matsui led the charge for Colorado with a strong 1-2 punch. With the two players at the top of the lineup, it became a key component to scoring early runs.
There were multiple games where Taveras would get on base to start the game, steal second and then either score on a Matsui base hit, or move over to third on a groundout. This would bring the heart of the order to the plate with just one out and a runner 90 feet away from scoring.
Other times, the top of the order was even successfully able to steal both second and third base during the same at-bat, allowing the runner to score on a base hit or sacrifice fly and giving the Rockies the lead two batters into the game.
Team speed was something that the Rockies missed last season, and in result, their offense never got going.
Let me reemphasize that 2009’s team is still not a team made up of speed.
No player on the current team has stolen more than 15 bases in a single season and the team leader for most career stolen bases is Todd Helton, who has a modest 36 in 12 seasons.
What this team is, however, is a team that’s willing to take that extra step while leading off in order to get a good jump off of a pitch or maybe two bases on a base hit.
If the Rockies keep up their spring pace, they will successfully steal 216 bases in 2009. That stat would rank first among any team this decade.
I think Hurdle is on track with being aggressive on the bases. There might be times where it hurts the team, but I think that in the end, it will pay off.
Hall of Famer Joe Morgan once said, “Whether you steal or not, you’re changing the rhythm of the game. If the pitcher is concerned about you, he isn’t concentrating enough on the batter.”
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.