Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Colorado Rockies Review: Time For Atkins To Take A Seat On The Bench

In baseball, pitchers live by the same three words that real estate agents live by; location, location, location.

Like pitchers, hitters have their own three words that they live by; execution, execution, execution.

Those three words have been lost on the Colorado Rockies in 2009. The leader of the pack for the Rockies has been stumbling third baseman Garrett Atkins. In Wednesday's crushing 6-4 loss at the hands of the lowly Astros, Atkins continued his terrible season by not only going 0-for-4 to lower his batting average to a stunning .188 mark, he also left six men on base.

The number of runners left on base by Atkins is not the problem. Even the greatest of hitters has games in which they leave several men on base. The difference is how bad Atkins has been in clutch situations.

The difference between good teams and bad teams in Major League Baseball is the ability to come from behind, and the ability to continue scoring and bury a team. On Wednesday, the Rockies did a good job on the first half of that.

After Jason Marquis struggled in the first inning, giving up three runs, the Rockies stormed back, scoring three runs on a tape measure shot to the right field upper deck off the bat of Ian Stewart.

The following inning the Rox got the offense going again. Dexter Fowler led off the inning with a double, then moved to third on a Clint Barmes bunt that went unfielded for a base hit. Todd Helton then did what he has done so many times and hit a sacrifice fly to left field, scoring Fowler. At that point, the Rockies led 4-3 with a chance to add on.

After an intentional walk to Brad Hawpe, Garrett Atkins promptly hit a ground ball to third base, which was thrown home to force Barmes out who was moving on contact.

Later, in the eighth inning, Helton reached base on a double, representing the tying run. Instead of the Astros going after Hawpe, they chose to walk him even though he was the go-ahead run, deciding to take their chances with Atkins.

To no one's surprise, Atkins hit a soft fly ball to left field to end the threat and squander the squads best chance of tying the game and get a rally going.

The problem with Atkins is more than just his struggles at the plate. The problem for Atkins is that his bad attitude has gotten the best of him.

Back in 2006, Jeff Francis signed a long-term deal with the club, it went through his arbitration years and one year into free agency. When Atkins was offered a long-term deal of his own he was quoted as saying that he did not want to sell himself short the way that Francis had.

Again, after the 2007 season, Atkins was approached by the Rockies about a long-term deal. Atkins made it clear that the numbers that the team presented was no where near what he had been expecting.

After a 2008 season in which Atkins numbers dropped for a third straight season, the Rockies seemed poised to dangle the third baseman at the trade deadline to a team that would be in the playoff hunt. With a year and a half left before Atkins could become a free agent, and a career .291 batting average with power, Atkins seemed like an easy trade.

Then came 2009, Atkins struggled early but it was passed off as his normal April struggles. April quickly turned to May and May has turned to June. Atkins has yet to turn the corner. His batting average stands at a paltry .188. He has only 17 RBI's and three home runs.

The problem may not be physical for Atkins. Instead, it seems that the battle for more money has gotten the best of him.

Garrett Atkins does not care.

Throughout his struggles, not once has he thrown a bat or helmet down in disgust. Not once has he argued with an umpire or ripped off his batting gloves.

While some may say that showing anger is a sign of immaturity, it is also a sign of passion. When Troy Tulowitzki hurt himself by breaking a bat in '08, fans called him immature, but in the same breath never questioned his commitment.

On Wednesday there was a great example of Atkin's lack of passion. Immediately after failing to hit a ball into the air and score Barmes from third base in the sixth inning, Atkins was on camera laughing and smiling with Astros first baseman Lance Berkman. It was a scene that would never be seen by the likes of Todd Helton or Brad Hawpe.

While Atkins claimed that Francis sold himself short with a long-term deal, he may be singing a different song if his season does not turn around. Francis, out for the season, guaranteed himself a larger paycheck just in case something like this happened. Atkins, who is still making a hansom $7.05 million, may be the one who sold himself short. Hitters who have no speed, are marginal fielders, and do not hit above the Mendoza line are not known for scoring large contracts in free agencies.

The way that Atkins is playing he may be un-tradeable. At this point, new manager Jim Tracy should take the opportunity to bench the heartless Atkins and play someone who actually cares about the game and winning.

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