Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Is Garrett Atkins Slump Just A Slump, Or Is It Worse

On a night in which the Colorado Rockies pitching staff gave up 24 hits and 15 runs, and the offense managed to put up 11 runs of its own, the problem remains with the offense.

As was the problem for the first six weeks of the season, the whole of the offense is quite fine.

Troy Tulowitzki and Chris Iannetta are breaking out of their early season slumps, and Todd Helton and Brad Hawpe continue to torch opposing pitchers. However, the problem remains within the core of the lineup.

Garrett Atkins, a career .294 hitter, is struggling at an alarming rate.

Atkins entered Wednesday night's game hitting at the Mendoza like level of .202. After the game was over on Wednesday, Atkins managed to lower his average to an abysmal .195.

Through the first 13 days of May, Atkins has all of three hits in the month, and he has only 22 hits over the course of the whole season. He has been in the lineup more than any other Rockie so far in 2009.

What is alarming about Atkins is that in key situations, he is failing to get the job done. A hitter of Atkins ilk, hitting in the clean up spot, should be consistently able to get the job done when the game is on the line. Instead, when Atkins is up to bat with runners on base he fails to move the runner over, or score the runner on third base.

When a four-hole hitter steps to the plate with a runner on third base and less than two outs, they are thinking about one thing...hitting the ball out of the park. This shifts their mindset to hitting the ball in the air. If they hit a home run, great, but if they fail, most likely they have successfully hit a sacrifice fly ball that scores the runner at third base.

The problem in these situations is that Atkins continues to fail. Five times this season Atkins has grounded into a double play, countless more times he has killed a rally with a ground ball to the third baseman that fails to advance any of the runners on base.

Baseball is a game of slumps, and Atkins has had his fair share of them, consistently coming out of them and coming back to be a team leader in hitting. This slump seems different than the others.

Atkins bat speed is noticeably slower. Over the course of his career, fastballs that were left up in the strike zone would be firmly planted into the left field seats. This season, Atkins has rolled over the ball and hit a soft ground ball to the third baseman. Thus far, Atkins bat has been a black hole for the Rockies.

Atkins is not the only Rockie that has started out slowly. Troy Tulowitzki, a good friend of Atkin's, also started out slowly. His struggles were frustrating for Rockies fans, but it was easy to tell that Tulowitzki cared. After failing, he would slam his helmet in frustration or toss his bat.

While this also shows that Tulowitzki still has some growing up to do, it shows a glaring weakness in Atkins.

When Atkins grounds into a double play, or slowly rolls a ball to the third baseman, there is absolutely zero emotion from the Rockies third baseman. Fans are left ripping their hair out, and Atkins is walking back to the dugout as if nothing had happened.

Despite the struggles of Tulowitzki, the thought is that he is working hard to get to a good place. It leaves fans believing that he is doing everything that it takes to get his swing back in order.

The complete opposite is the case with Atkins. He seems completely content with his sub .200 average. This may not be true, but without seeing a fire in his face that he is the most upset about his failures it sends a message. The message resonates not only with the fans, but it also penetrates the clubhouse. It gives a dead pan feeling that the Rockies struggles will continue for at least the rest of that night.

Atkins has the opportunity to be a leader on this team. Even being a less vocal player, he can lead by example, showing that he is not going to accept a sub-par swing and continued struggles.

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