The Rockies just played their 21st game of the season on Sunday, or, they are now about 13% of the way through the 2011 season. There is a lot of baseball left to be played.
It was just about a week ago and the Rockies had the best record in baseball at 12-2. The team was smoking hot and sitting behind the wheel of the ball of fire was Troy Tulowitzki. Rockies fans from all over the country were already booking their hotels in Denver and Rocktober v2 was being planned. (v3 if you want to count the disappointing 2009 playoff showing.)
Now the Rockies have run into some really great pitching over the past week and things have cooled down a bit. But do not start packing your purple underwear into the back of your dresser just yet; the Rockies still have a three game lead over the San Francisco Giants.
While guys like Jhoulys Chacin (1.64 ERA before Friday’s outing) and Jose Lopez (batting over .300 for the first five games of the year) were going to come back to Earth a bit, guys like Ubaldo Jimenez (6.75 ERA) and Carlos Gonzalez (.588 OPS) will certainly get hot in the near future and sky rocket back to their usual place as team leader(s).
There are a few concerns, namely Matt Belisle, Ian Stewart and the combination of Lopez and Ty Wigginton.
There are a few names to watch like Chris Iannetta, Seth Smith and Todd Helton.
And then there are names to sit back and enjoy, led by Tulo, Jonathan Herrera and Dexter Fowler.
Belisle’s 2010 was an outlier. It was the first season since a very short 2006 in which Belisle had an ERA under 5.32 – yes, FIVE-THREE-TWO was his lowest ERA from 2007-2009. It was an “out of nowhere” sort of season for Belisle. I think it is a bit unrealistic to expect it again. Thankfully the Rockies went out and got Matt Lindstrom who I think can fill the gap soon to be vacated by Belisle. Be concerned every time Belisle enters the game with a Rockies lead or the game is tied.
Late last week the Rockies did what a lot of fans were calling for; sending Stewart back to the minor leagues. Last year I wrote several pieces about Stewart’s drive, his passion of the game and his ability to self motivate. Less than a year later he finds himself in AAA. Last year he lost playing time to an aging Melvin Mora and this year he is playing so bad he lost his roster spot altogether. The real concern is who he lost his playing time too…
…Lopez and Wigginton apparently are better options at third base than Stewart. Lopez is now batting .161 with an on-base under .200. He won’t be this bad all year, but don’t expect a lot more. And while the TV guys on Root sports continue to love on Wigginton for his versatility, I would rather say that Wigginton plays so many positions because he isn’t any good at any position. Look, there is a reason why Wigginton has played for seven teams in his 10 MLB seasons; he isn’t that good. His career OPS+ of 101 tells it exactly how it is; he is average. Rockies fans should be concerned if the team has to rely on Wigginton and Lopez at any point in 2011.
The Rockies need Stewart to get motivated, put in some work, get angry and get that hunger that Tulo has. They need what he is capable of at third. Problem is, I am not sure that is something a guy can just find this late. He has relied on his unbelievable talent all his life and now he actually needs to work, not sure he will (or can) do it.
I said before the year if the Rockies can get the Helton who hits over .300 with an on-base percentage close to .400, they have no concern about first base. He isn’t going to hit 20+ home runs ever again, but he does have the ability to use all fields and that translates into doubles. If he can hit .315/.400/.510 the Rockies have a first baseman that will provide plenty in the lineup. Helton hit an opposite field home run last week, he is driving the ball to the gaps and he looks like he is primed for a pretty good year offensively. Watch to see if his back and legs can hold up over the next five months.
Iannetta is batting .186 so far in 2011, but his on-base percentage is .407. There are a few people who love Iannetta and were self-praising after his hot start, but now his average is below .200 again and Jose Morales started the past two games for Colorado (Rockies are saying Iannetta has a stiff back). Watch to see if Iannetta starts losing playing time like he did last season and we have déjà vu all over again.
Is there any question who should start on a daily basis in right field for the Rockies? No, there isn’t. Smith is playing so much better than Ryan Spilborghs right now that it shouldn’t even be a question. Smith’s OPS+ of 133 trumps Spilly’s by ONE HUNDRED POINTS! Watch to see if Smith can finally step up and be an everyday player.
It feels like Tulo hasn’t hit a home run in forever but he is still tied for the Major League lead in dingers (and not the purple dinosaur kind). Enjoy watching the incredible defense played daily by Tulo and enjoy watching him put together a full, healthy 2011 season.
Dex got his first taste of AAA last season and so far in 2011 it looks like he never wants to see it again. The Rockies needed Dex to get on-base at the top of their order and he is doing it so fantastically that he has even recorded the Rockies first hit in each of the past two no-hit bids against them by the Florida Marlins. While he doesn’t have the highest OBP on the team he is getting on base and hitting from both sides of the plate. Enjoy watching a gazelle in a Rockies uniform play baseball.
What I don’t understand is why Herrera didn’t see his first start of the 2011 season until the sixth game of the season. Herrera is doing what he is capable of doing and the only reason I can figure that Lopez got the starts before Herrera when the season started is because Lopez has a bigger number on the Rockies payroll. Now Herrera is a fan favorite after two weeks of great baseball. Enjoy Herrera’s masterful control over his bat and his ability to work the count and hit with two strikes.
Sit back and enjoy the rest of the season. Watch the Rockies compete for the division title, but be a little concerned about that pitching staff in San Francisco; they are going to be tough to beat.