Thursday, April 23, 2009

Colorado Rockies Ready To Be Home

The Colorado Rockies have played the least amount of home games of any team in the league.

They played a three game opening weekend series with the Phillies before heading back out on a ten day, three city road trip. One of the longest of the season. The 2-6 record made the trip seem even longer.

When Spring Training is factored in, the Rockies have been in Denver for four days since February 14th.

To say the least, the club must be happy to sleep in their own beds and eat in their own houses.

The Rockies are starting a six game home stand against the Dodgers and the Padres. Revenge must be on the team's mind with the Dodgers after getting swept in a three game series in which Colorado gave up 24 runs to the men in blue.

A huge factor in the poor performance on the early road trip was bad pitching. Both Aaron Cook and Ubaldo Jimenez, the two starting pitchers who are paramount to the success of the Rockies, struggled mightily. Jimenez pitched twice, once in Chicago and once in Los Angeles. Both times he struggled with fastball command and did not make it out of the fifth inning. Cook, who gave up 20 home runs all of last year, gave up three in one game on Saturday in LA.

Both pitchers get their opportunities to redeem themselves on Friday and Saturday respectively.

Just because the pitching struggled on the road trip does not mean that the offensive side was bringing their "A game." In fact, it could not be more opposite.

One of the biggest reasons that Colorado struggled last season was due to their ineffectiveness with runners in scoring position. Garrett Atkins hit a lowly .225 in that category.

Manager Clint Hurdle blamed the struggles on players putting too much pressure on themselves and trying too hard. Instead of simply hitting a ground ball to the right side, or hitting a sacrifice fly, hitters were trying to win the game in one swing of the bat.

It seems that all of the lessons from Spring Training went out the window when the Rockies got on the plane in Tucson.

Wednesday, as the Rockies were shutout 2-0, the Rox were 0-for-9 with runners in scoring position. Although they were facing Dan Haren, the club was unable to find an opportunity to score the easy runs even once.

On the road trip Troy Tulowitzki and Chris Iannetta combined to go 6-for-44. Leaving Tucson, both of these players were being tauted as ready to dominate at the plate and be leaders on this team. Possibly the pressure put on them from this has been causing them to squeeze the bat a little tighter.

For the Rockies, now is as good of time as ever to turn this young season around. Six straight games against National League West opponents, three against the Dodgers. A successful series against the Dodgers would put the Rockies record back to respectable. After that the Rox play the Padres, which should provide some relief from the early season schedule against playoff contenders.

On the flip side, if the club struggles on the home stand they may be in the same boat as 2008. So far out of the race that even above average play the rest of the season would not be enough to keep them in contention for their first ever N.L. West title.

Another interesting tidbit to watch for this weekend will be how Hurdle uses Ian Stewart. While the club has been struggling at the plate, it seems that Stewart is finding his groove. He is hitting well above .300 and hits lefties as well, if not better, than righties. It is possible that he could get a start or two in left field, a spot that he is still learning. Although Ryan Spilborghs seems to have broken out of his slump with four hits on Thursday.

Also, Dexter Fowler seems to be winning the battle for more playing time. Originally Fowler was going to be used sparsely, but with Seth Smith struggling at the plate, it makes it easier to move Spilborghs to left field and putting Fowler in center field, especially at Coors Field, where a defensive upgrade in Fowler is also welcomed, considering the cavernous outfield at the Rockies home field.

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