Thursday, April 30, 2009

Colorado Rockies April Review; The Good And The Bad

The Colorado Rockies knew that they were in for a difficult April as soon as the schedule was released.

In the first three weeks, the Rockies would play 11 of 14 games on the road, where wins have always been a challenge for the club. The fact that there were so many games on the road was not the only part that made it difficult. Six of the 11 road games came against the Diamondbacks, where the Rockies won only once all of last season. Three were in Los Angeles, a team that was three wins away from a World Series last year, and two were against the defending NL Central champion Chicago Cubs.

The home games did not provide much solace. The three opening games were against the World Champion Philadelphia Phillies.

Despite the difficulties in the schedule, the Rockies made no excuses and battled their way through it, having successes and failures along the way.

The reality is that the Rockies were hoping to be at or around .500 at the end of the month. They stand at 8-12, which is not quite where they would like to be, but is truly only one or two wins short of the goal.

The Good:
From the perspective of some, it is difficult to find positives in the first month of the season for Colorado. However, there were some good pieces to take away from the first 20 games.

The emergence of Dexter Fowler has to be the biggest plus that the club experienced. One month ago, Fowler was first rumored to make the team. At the beginning of the spring, Fowler had little to no chance of winning a spot on the Opening Day roster. Everyone had pinned him for a year of seasoning in Triple-A Colorado Springs, especially considering the logjam in the Rockies outfield already.

Fowler ends April with a .290 batting average, to go along with four doubles and two home runs. Although the most impressive stat for Fowler has got to be his league leading nine stolen bases.

The youngster from Georgia has shown that the the Rockies made the right decision by putting him on the Opening Day roster. He originally was only going to start against lefties, but he has played his way into the everyday lineup. He has become a dependable leadoff hitter, and has already made several run saving plays in the outfield.

One other aspect of the Rockies early season that should not go unstated is their ability to beat good pitching. Out of the eight wins early on, Colorado has defeated Dan Haren, Cole Hamels, Rich Harden, Clayton Kershaw, Chris Young and knocked Brandon Webb out of a game before he could reach five innings.

The Bad:
The 8-12 record would suggest that there are several issues keeping the Rockies from getting the hot start that they were looking for.

First and foremost, the starting pitching has been nothing short of a complete disappointment. Through five starts, Aaron Cook, last year's ace, has averaged just better than five innings pitched each time out. He is 1-1 with a 7.11 ERA. After giving up only 13 home runs all of 2008, he has already given up seven in 2009. Cook's signature sinker has been elusive all season long.

Ubaldo Jimenez has also struggled. After dominating the Diamondbacks in his 2009 debut, he has not been able to find his mechanics. Jimenez is 1-3 with a 7.58 ERA while throwing only 19 innings through four starts.

The other side of the struggle has been the bullpen. Out of Spring Training newly acquired Huston Street was given the closer job. He quickly pitched his way out of that and Manny Corpas was in. Corpas also struggled in the role which has left several games feeling closer than what they should have been.

It should say enough that the Rockies are the worst in the league in one run games, currently sitting at 0-5.

The other aspect of the club struggling is the hitters. Troy Tulowitzki started off hot, but cooled quickly. Instead of finding his pitch to hit and driving it, Tulowitzki is getting fooled by off speed pitches outside of the zone, and he is striking out at an enormous rate. He currently has 17 strikeouts in just 60 at bats. At the end of April his batting average sits at a lowly .200.

Chris Iannetta was highly touted this offseason as a catcher ready to take the reigns as the starter. He showed confidence last season, belting 18 home runs in less than 400 at bats. He also showed that he was able to call a good game behind the plate.

2009 however, has shown the exact opposite. Iannetta is hitting just .174, with only two home runs. He has struck out 14 times in just 46 at bats.

Moving Forward
May should bring a different set of cards for the Rockies. The squad plays 14 games at Coors Field as opposed to 15 on the road. A much better ratio than April. As of late both the offense and the pitching has shown signs that they are coming around.

On Wednesday Cook pitched seven strong innings to claim his first win of the year. Street pitched a perfect ninth inning, striking out the side. His pitches had the movement that the Rockies had yet to see from Street early.

Ryan Spilborghs started the year struggling at the plate, but seems to have found his swing. A late surge has upped his average to .301. If he can continue swinging a hot bat, the Rockies may be able to produce a few more runs early in games.

Todd Helton is showing that his surgically repaired back is in very good condition. Although starting out slowly, he has shown bat speed that has not been seen since 2004. He only has two home runs so far, but he is hitting .303 and already has 15 RBI's. He has been swinging a hot bat as of late as well.

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