Sunday, May 31, 2009

De La Rosa's Struggles Show Rockies Should Have Fired Apodaca As Well

Jim Tracy quickly put his mark on the Colorado Rockies when he took over on Friday.

He moved Troy Tulowitzki to the seventh spot in the lineup, Clint Barmes to the second spot, and Garrett Atkins back to the cleanup spot.

The moves seemed to work beautifully as Barmes went 5-for-11 in the first two games after the change. Atkins, hitting below the Mendoza line at .194, even came through with a big hit on Saturday, tying the game in the ninth inning before scoring the winning run a batter later.

Tracy, however, was unable to solve Jorge De La Rosa's problems on the mound. The Padres fought back to avoid a sweep, defeating the Rockies 5-2 on Sunday at Coors Field.

De La Rosa had been one of the Rockies few bright spots in '09, but remained winless due to a lack of run support. In his last three starts, including Sunday, however, he has looked horrible. His troubles are very similar to what has plauged him for the duration of his short career. He cannot figure out how to forget about the previous batter and focus on the batter at the plate.

On Sunday, De La Rosa cruised through the first two innings, then missed location on an 0-2 pitch that Adrian Gonzales drilled into the left field seats.

De La Rosa struggles with the big inning. While he seems to cruise through a few innings, he always seems to walk a batter, then give up a slowly hit ball, then, after getting frustrated, give up a big hit that spoils his entire outing.

In fact, mental issues seem to plague several of the young Rockies pitchers.

Along with De La Rosa, Ubaldo Jimenez, dubbed as the next Rockies ace, often times struggles with battling through a tough inning. He can be rolling along with all of his pitches working, then he lets a few bad pitches start to affect him and before he knows it, the opposition has put up a big number.

Possibly one of the most affected pitchers for Colorado has been former closer Manny Corpas. Corpas came up to the big leagues with electric stuff. His pitches had so much movement that in 2007 when closer Brian Fuentes began to struggle, Corpas was quickly moved into the closer's role.

He was a huge reason that the '07 team found its groove and went on to the franchise's first pennant. Down the stretch Corpas saved 16-of-17.

Since then, however, Corpas has been a mystery. He looked horrible in April of '08 and was removed from the closer's role. After 2008 was said and done, Corpas was the exact opposite of what he had been in '07. His ERA was more than double at a pedestrian 4.52. His WHIP was nearly 1.5, a terrible number for a reliever.

While many of the Rockies hitting problems may have fallen on the lineup that Clint Hurdle made out on a daily basis, the pitching was not the area that Hurdle had much to do with.

After '08, Hurdle and general manager Dan O'Dowd gutted nearly the entire coaching staff. The move was designed to show that there must be accountability for the squad playing under their potential. The only coaches spared were first base coach Glenallen Hill and pitching coach Bob Apodaca.

Keeping Apodaca was a head scratcher for most who follow the team. While the Rockies struggled at the plate in clutch situations, just as many games were lost due to poor pitching as could be blamed on the offense. The Rox pitching staff ranked near the bottom in almost every single category in the National League, yet Apodaca was spared.

Many thought that Apodaca and Hurdle were given another chance because the front office believed that the two had the ability to reign in a clubhouse that had too many excuses. The leash would be short and if 2009 started out poorly, the two would be let go.

For Hurdle, that was true. Before May was done, the Rockies, sitting 10 games below .500 pulled the trigger on Hurdle, citing a need for a change.

Apodaca, however, was spared once again.

The fact that Apodaca remains the pitching coach seems a mystery. The pitching staff is not playing well, possibly worse than in '08. They rank near the bottom of every category once again in the National League. Not only do the numbers show that they are struggling, the fact is, all of the pitchers are dealing with the same issues that they dealt with in '08. None seem to have improved.

Jimenez has not turned the corner yet, De La Rosa is still a headcase, and Corpas pitches with no consistency or confidence. The only pitchers that are doing well are veterans like Jason Marquis who has been pitching in the Major League's long enough to know how to get outs and is not necessarily in need of a pitching coach to hold his hand.

The Rockies undoubtedly will be reevaluating the team during the offseason. It will be interesting to see if Apodaca remains with the club for the 2010 campaign. Until then, it remains a mystery why the Rockies have decided to stay with him.

Jim Tracy Already Making His Mark On Colorado Rockies

After beating the San Diego Padres and closer Heath Bell in walk off fashion 8-7 on Saturday, the Colorado Rockies are now 2-0 under Jim Tracy.

That may not seem like a big deal to the average fan, but the truth is, in the last two games the Colorado Rockies have looked nothing like the team that is sitting in last place in the National League West.

On Friday night the team won because of an outstanding performance on the mound by Jason Marquis, who has proved to be a great offseason pickup.

Saturday was the exact opposite.

After the top of the first inning, Colorado was already down 3-0 courtesy of an Adrian Gonzalez opposite field home run. However, the Rockies fought back, scoring three runs of their own, due in large part to a Clint Barmes opposite field triple.

The squad fought back on three occasions, finally putting down the Padres and closer Heath Bell, who had been perfect in all 14 save opportunities, in the bottom of the ninth inning. Brad Hawpe put the game away with a double the dropped in front of Tony Gwynn Jr. in center field and squirted away enough to allow Garrett Atkins, who had singled in the tying run with two outs, to race all the way from first and dive in to home for the winning run.

It was the first walk off win for the Rockies in 2009, and the celebration that ensued was the biggest since the team clinched the National League pennant in 2007.

It was a game that new manager Jim Tracy can pat himself on the back for. The first move he made on Friday night that was an immediate change from the Clint Hurdle style was moving Troy Tulowitzki to the seven hole in the lineup and hitting Clint Barmes second.

Barmes has responded by going 5-for-9 with two doubles and a triple through the first two games. He also stole second base in the ninth inning, allowing him to score when Atkins poked a ball up the middle a batter later.

While Barmes' on base percentage does not necessarily resemble that of a top-of-the-order hitter, the move makes sense for a couple of reasons.

First, Barmes has quite a bit more speed and base running ability that Tulowitzki. This allows him to be more aggressive on the base paths and, like Saturday, more able to steal a base when the Rockies need a man in scoring position.

Second, Barmes struggles with the breaking pitch. That is nothing new. He has always had a difficult time laying off of it, and he has an even more difficult time hitting it. Moving him into the number two spot will ensure that he sees more fastballs. When Dexter Fowler leads off and gets on base, pitchers become wary of him stealing second base and cannot risk throwing a slow breaking pitch. Also, with Todd Helton hitting in the third spot, a pitcher will not want to take the chance of walking Barmes and allowing Helton to hit with runners on base.

Barmes responded well on Saturday, carrying the Rockies by going 4-for-5 with a triple, two doubles and a single.

Tracy also had a quick hook with struggling starter Jason Hammel. With the team down 5-3 in the fourth, Tracy wasted no time in going to the mound and handing the ball to Josh Fogg to finish the inning. While Fogg allowed one inherited runner to score, he quickly got out of the inning and was able to pitch another scoreless frame.

Confidence was also handed to the bullpen as Alan Embree and Manny Corpas were handed the ball in pressure situations late in the game. Both responded well to the pressure and shut down the Padres in their respective innings.

While Huston Street gave up the go-ahead home run in the ninth inning to Scott Hairston, it gave the Rockies an opportunity to show how resilient they can be on a night when they came back from behind three times.

On Sunday the Colorado Rockies will go for their first sweep of the season against the Padres. The game starts at 1:10 MDT and is on the radio on 850 KOA in Denver and on TV on FSN Rocky Mountain.

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Rockies Win Jim Tracy's Debut Behind Jason Marquis

There was no celebration in the clubhouse. The Rockies had just shut out the Padres 3-0 behind yet another stellar pitching performance by Jason Marquis.
The victory, however, was bittersweet.

On a day that the Rockies turned the page and quit holding on to memories of 2007, even an eight inning shutout performance by Marquis could not steal the headlines. Friday was a day that shaped Rockies history.

Marquis' performance was nothing short of brilliant. He improved his record to 7-3 and is well on his way to his sixth straight 11+ win season. He has undoubtedly been a major bright spot in the most dismal first two months in Rockies history.

His final line read eight innings pitched, six hits, four walks (one intentional) and six strikeouts. Marquis, who is very much accustom to working with men on base, induced two ground ball double plays to get out of jams. He is a steady hand on a team that seems to explode at the first sign of trouble.

Huston Street, steadily improving since a bad April, made quick work of the Padres in the ninth inning, throwing nine pitches, eight for strikes, to earn his eighth save in a Rockies uniform.

While the offense only put four hits on the board and three runs, it was not representative of the bats going cold. All night long the Padres were either making spectacular plays or a hard hit ball was hit straight at the fielder.

Right away fans got a taste of what new manager Jim Tracy will bring to the field. He quickly moved struggling shortstop Troy Tulowitzki to the seven hole and moved third baseman Garrett Atkins back to the cleanup spot. Possibly an attempt to get him better pitches hitting behind Todd Helton.

While Yorvit Torrealba had two of the four hits, the first one coming in the second inning to get his squad on the board, the player of the game was Marquis. He single handily took the Rockies on his shoulders on this difficult day and led them to a victory, opening the next chapter for the Colorado Rockies on a good note.

A sad day in Rockies history finished on a good note, thanks to the performance of Marquis and the Rockies.
The squad tries to secure a series victory Saturday night at Coors Field starting at 6:10 pm.

Friday, May 29, 2009

Colorado Rockies Forever Indebted To Clint Hurdle

Clint Hurdle was fired as the manager of the Colorado Rockies on Friday. It was a move that was long anticipated, and frankly, long overdue.

The club struggled throughout all of 2008, never regaining the form that landed them in the World Series just months prior. 2009 was supposed to be a fresh start for the club. Instead, the tailspin continued, and entering play on Friday night, the Rockies are 14-1/2 games out of first place.

The move was made on the heels of a three game sweep at the hands of the Dodgers. The series showed how the two teams are headed in the polar opposite direction.

Hurdle's overall record with the Rockies was 534-625, a winning percentage of only .461. However, when history looks back on Hurdle's tenure with the Rockies, the record should not tell the whole story.

In fact, his record should tell how loyal Hurdle was to this ball club.

Hurdle took over for Buddy Bell in April of 2002. The team was 6-16 and just beginning to realize the mistakes that were made with the signings of Mike Hampton and Denny Neagle.

Hurdle was made aware of the fact that his first stint as a Major League manager would come at the very beginning of a long rebuilding process. He knew that his record would suffer as he watched the Rockies field teams that included names such as Royce Clayton, Jose Hernandez, Ron Villone, Brent Butler, which are just a few of the many names that Hurdle was forced to write on a lineup card day in and day out.

It was at this point in Rockies history that the franchise realized that in order to compete they could no longer try and sign big name free agents to long-term deals. They could not afford to take the risks that they had in the past with Darryl Kyle, Mike Hampton and Denny Neagle. If they wanted to win, they would have to take a small market approach and grow a young team.

This would take time, and Hurdle knew it. Never once did Hurdle complain that he was being handcuffed by ownership or that his reputation was being run through the mud.

Hurdle was the exact opposite of that. He climbed on board and became ownerships biggest fan. He, along with Todd Helton, suffered through the tough times as the franchise's best talent was playing in front of just a few fans wearing uniforms that said "Tourists" or "Dust Devils" instead of "Rockies." They were playing in cities that most Americans have never heard of.

Finally in 2005, the talent started to arrive. Names like Matt Holliday, Brad Hawpe, and Garrett Atkins and Brian Fuentes were showing up at Coors Field and displaying their potential. At this point however, potential was all that they really had.

Hurdle was very instrumental in the development of that potential in '05 and '06. He was patient as these budding stars learned to play the game in the Major Leagues.

Most expected the team to finally reach its potential in 2008, but after a rough start in '07, Hurdle was able to defy the odds and help the team to a regular season finish that saw the club win 14 out of 15 to capture the National League Wild Card and would go on to a surprise World Series appearance after sweeping the Phillies and Diamondbacks in the playoffs.

Hurdle's mantra through the run was as cliche as it gets. After every game he would give the media the same speech. Something along the lines of everyday "we play we have a chance to win, and we think that we can win that day."

The leadership inspired the young Rockies to truly believe that they could win everyday, regardless of what happened the night before. Hurdle had the team believing that they belonged in the playoffs.

Without Clint Hurdle, it could be argued that the '07 Rockies would never have made the playoffs. He was a driving force behind a team that was supposed to be a year away from competing.

Without Hurdle, Rockies fans would never have the play-in game against the Padres, they would never have the division series sweep of the Phillies or the NLCS sweep of the Diamondbacks. They would never have the picture of Todd Helton finally shedding the monkey off of his back as he caught the clinching out. Without Hurdle, the term "Rocktober" would not exist.

While Hurdle's management style may have passed this team by, the team and it's fans should realize that the fingerprint of Clint Hurdle will be on this franchise for years to come.

Rockies Fire Clint Hurdle

The speculation is over for Clint Hurdle. The Rockies have scheduled a 2:30 news conference to announce that Hurdle has been relieved of his duties and that Jim Tracy will take over on an interim basis.

The firing comes on the heels of a three-game sweep at the hands of the Dodgers, putting the Rockies 10 games under .500 and 14-1/2 games out of first place in the National League West.

Despite trading away their best hitter this offseason in Matt Holliday, the front office believed that with a healthy Todd Helton and Troy Tulowitzki the team should be competitive in the N.L. West.

Even with young talent, the club has underperformed from the beginning. They have won only two series all year on the road, and have played poorly at home, going 7-13.

It was clear that Hurdle was desperate when he chose to bench Tulowitzki in Atlanta the day after he hit into a double play late in a game that the Rockies were in need of baserunners. The move was an attempt to show that Hurdle was going to rule with more of an iron fist.

The club ranks near at at the bottom of the National League in almost every pitching and hitting category.

The rumors began that Hurdle was on the hot seat before the season began as management chose to let Hurdle go into the final year of his contract without offering an extension.

Hurdle took over for Buddy Bell in April of 2002 and finishes his career as Rockies manager with an overall 534-625 record.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Colorado Rockies Review: Clint Hurdle Takes The Blame, But Bob Apodaca Deserves His Fair Share

At the end of the 2008 season Rockies manager Clint Hurdle sat down with general manager Dan O'Dowd to discuss what would need to change in order for the team to succeed in 2009.

Two conclusions were made during the meeting. First, the Rockies needed to get back to basics. They needed to be disciplined and move runners over instead of swinging for the fences, they needed to not swing at bad pitches in bad counts. Basically, they needed to get back to the fundamental baseball that helped them reach the World Series for the first time in 2007.

The second conclusion was that the coaching staff had become too buddy-buddy with the players. Hurdle believed that his coaches were too quick to defend the players when something went wrong, instead of challenging them to get better.

The second conclusion resulted in a turnover of almost the entire coaching staff. Hitting coach Alan Cockrell, bench coach, and long-time friend of Hurdle, Jamie Quick, third base coach Mike Gallego, and even bullpen coach Rick Mathews were all fired.

The surprising part was not who was fired, but who was not fired.

The 2008 squad struggled mightily on the mound. They gave up big innings and struggled to make good pitches when it counted. That should have cost Bob Apodaca his job. However, he missed the ax and was retained by the club.

It was speculated that Apodaca was kept because he was not a "player advocate" meaning that if the player struggled, Apodaca did not try and give them excuses. He would let the player face the adversity himself instead of having the heat taken for him.

So the Rockies were left with the same pitching coach who led his men on the mound to a finish in which they gave up the second most number of hits in the National League, the third most runs, had the second least amount of strikeouts and ranked in the bottom third in walks allowed.

Clearly the approach did not change as the Rockies rank nearly the same in every category so far in '09. The same problems plague the pitching staff. They are unable to get outs in big situations, which causes them to give up big innings.

Some may say that Apodaca is working with less talent than most teams. That could not be further from the truth. Even with Jeff Francis out for the year, the Rockies rotation begins with Aaron Cook, an All-Star a season ago, then a pitcher who arguably has more potential than any other in the league in Ubaldo Jimenez, followed by a five-time double digit winner, Jason Marquis. The fourth and fifth men are not too shabby either, in Jorge De La Rosa, and for now, Jason Hammel.

The problem for the Rockies year in and year out is that their veteran pitchers have figured out how to win, but the young pitchers struggle to find consistency. This is the case again in '09. Cook and Marquis seem confident on the mound and are able to get people out.

The veterans have been around long enough to know what to take in from a coach and what to throw out. They know their mechanics better than anyone and can make immediate adjustments.

Jimenez and De La Rosa, however, are prone to the big inning. They have as much talent as can be expected. Jimenez throws a fastball that touches triple digits, and De La Rosa is a hard-throwing lefty with a great slider. They both routinely struggle.

At some point their struggles cannot be blamed on being young. 2009 is Jimenez's third season in the big leagues. He has pitched well in big games and pitched out of tough situations. There has to come a time when a player goes from "someday he will be a star" to "he is a star." That has yet to happen with Jimenez.

Other pitchers have struggled such as Manny Corpas, who was lights out in the run to the World Series. He was so good that he took the closers job away from Brian Fuentes, the Rockies all-time saves leader and three time All-Star.

Corpas' struggles have been as much about his mentality as they have been about his mechanics. He seems to lose confidence and his slider straightens out and becomes a pitch that hitters salivate over.

While every pitcher struggles, Corpas' struggles have lasted for over a year at this point.

Young pitchers need confidence. Major League Baseball is possibly the most difficult league to survive in. When Apodaca strolls to the mound to calm down his pitcher, take notice. Never once will the pitcher talk. The catcher will not say anything either. The conversation is as one sided as the come. There is no confidence builder, there is no asking how the pitcher is feeling or what they think is going to work against the upcoming hitter, it is simply a lecture, which seems to always be followed up with a pitch drilled into the gap, worsening the damage that Apodaca was trying to minimize.

While Coors Field is no pitchers heaven, the excuse that it is too hard to pitch there is no longer valid. Since the advent of the humidor, balls fly out of the yard far less often. Also, with new parks being built as tiny as possible, such as Great American Ballpark in Cincinnati, or Citizen's Bank Park in Philadelphia, Coors Field is no longer out of the norm as far as great places to hit.

While Clint Hurdle has made moves on the field in 2009 that may cost him his job in the next week, the move that gets him fired may have come far before the season ever began, when he decided to keep Bob Apodaca as the pitching coach.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Nightmare Continues For Colorado Rockies

The Los Angeles Dodgers finished their sweep of the Colorado Rockies on Wednesday at Coors Field, winning 8-6. Like so many games before this one, the Rockies had several chances to win, however, a lack of performance in clutch situations foiled any chance they may have had.

Ubaldo Jimenez started on the mound for the struggling Rockies, he pitched well, but left in the seventh inning with a 3-2 lead. He had given up two runs, but was on the hook for the two runners on first and third base.

Clint Hurdle headed to the mound to get Jimenez, who had thrown 109 pitches, in favor of Manny Corpas. Although Corpas has had his struggles, he has been pitching better as of late.

Wednesday Corpas looked like the struggling pitcher that he had been in April. He gave up a hit and a walk, allowing both inherited runners to score. Corpas was removed, and Randy Flores gave up a hit in the gap, scoring the two runners that Corpas had allowed.

To add insult to injury, Alan Embree, touted as the veteran in the bullpen who would lead by example, gave up another run in the eight inning to make the game out of reach.

Although the Rockies offense mounted a comeback in the ninth inning, the game was lost in the seventh inning.

While Jimenez's pitch count was high, Hurdle showed his weakest spot as a manager. Jimenez should never have been pulled with two outs in the seventh inning. With the lead, and one pitch from being out of the jam, Hurdle went to the most unstable part of the team so far in 2009, the bullpen.

While Corpas has been better of late, he was removed from the closer's role that he briefly held because he had struggled in clutch situations. Although this was the seventh inning, this was the most important situation that Corpas has been in so far.

Hindsight is 20/20, but Hurdle should allow his starting pitchers to win and lose games on their own. This would not be the case if the bullpen was reliable, but the Colorado bullpen at this point in the season is anything but reliable. In fact, reliable would be the polar opposite of what this bullpen has been a quarter of the way through the season.

At that point in the game, Jimenez was simply the best option to get the next batter out.

The bullpen was not the only aspect of the team that struggled. Troy Tulowitzki, struggling at the plate, went 0-for-5, including grounding into a double play in the first inning, and striking out three times, the third coming with the bases loaded and one out in the ninth inning.

There is not a single aspect of the club that is not struggling. While players are responsible for getting the job done on the field, there has to be an explanation for an entire team struggling.

The time bomb may be ticking for Hurdle. Despite his votes of confidence from ownership and general manager Dan O'Dowd, losses like this may seal the fate and force the club to go in a different direction.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Heartless Rockies Lose Again

After a weekend in which the Rockies won a road series and came back from a 5-5 road trip, the talk was that they may be finding their groove and gaining momentum.

However, the saying goes that in baseball momentum is only as good as the next day's starting pitcher.

While Aaron Cook's performance on Tuesday night was nowhere near the collapse of Jorge De La Rosa on Monday, he still did not make the pitches he needed to when it counted.

In the sixth inning, with the Rockies down 1-0, Cook had two quick outs, but then gave up a hit to Juan Pierre, who is hitting .394, filling in quite nicely for suspended Manny Ramirez. After Pierre's hit, Cook walked Orlando Hudson and Andre Eithier, possibly getting squeezed by wildly inconsistent home plate umpire Andy Fletcher.

After the two walks, Casey Blake roped a pitch left up and out of the zone to the left-center gap, scoring three runs and putting away the Rockies for the second consecutive day. Colorado went on to lose 7-1.

Despite Cook's bad inning, he pitched well for the most part. It seemed to be representative of the Rockies season so far. Cook was simply unable to make the big pitch when it mattered most.

The problem for the Rockies is not that they continue to lose. The problem is that they are playing with no heart.

After Cook worked his way out of a first inning jam, giving up only one run, the offense had several opportunities to capitalize and scratch out one or two runs.

The story has been written too many times to count in 2008 and so far in '09. The Rockies do not get the job done with runners in scoring position. On Tuesday they continued their struggles, going 0-for-10. Troy Tulowitzki struggled again, leaving five men on base.

To see how a good team hits and gets the job done, the Rockies need to look no further than the opposite dugout. The Dodgers find ways to score runs when the opportunity arises. Where the Rockies pop out, the Dodgers hit a ball into the gap. Where the Rockies hit into a double play, the Dodgers hit a ball in the hole.

It would be easy to pass it off as bad luck for the Rockies, but that is too simple. The Rockies ineffectiveness in the clutch has gone on far too long to be about bad luck. They may be trying too hard, or swinging at bad pitches, but it goes far beyond bad luck.

The Rockies have no heart.

When they are losing they simply go through the motions, hoping for better luck the next day. During the 2007 run to the World Series, the feeling throughout the team was that they were going to find a way to win. Despite being down late in a game, it never seemed as if they were out of the game.

Maybe that was due to the clubhouse dynamics or less pressure on that team to succeed, either way, they played with determination, which was fun to watch. This team needs to find a leader who can inspire them to play every inning to win, not just when things go right. Whether that is a player, coach or manager, if they want to salvage a respectable season, they must find that person soon.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Rockies Rocked By Dodgers; Fogg Rolls Into Denver

On a cloudy, rainy, ugly day in Denver, the weather did it's best to tell the story for the Rockies on Monday.

After a 35 minute rain delay, the Colorado Rockies honored Todd Helton for his 2000th hit in a Major League uniform. The crowd gave a warm applause, but clearly did not understand the significance of the event.

When the Rockies took the field, they clearly did not understand the significance of the game against the National League West leading Dodgers. Going into Monday's game, the Rockies stood 11 games back of the Manny Ramirez-less Dodgers. A three game series gave the squad an opportunity to make a stand that they are not buried in the division. Instead of taking a forward step on Monday, the Rockies took one backwards, dropping an embarrassing game 16-6.

The pitching fell short of expectations. Once again, Jorge De La Rosa fell victim to the big inning. He sailed through the first three innings, striking out six Dodgers in the first three frames.

Then the wheels came off.

De La Rosa has the stuff to be a good pitcher in this league, the only thing that separates him from where his is now, which is average at best, and being good is between his ears. When he gets into trouble he loses control. His weight starts moving forward before his arm, causing the ball to sit high in the zone. The opposition feasts on these these pitches.

As far as lefties go, not many have the ability to hit the mid-90's with their fastball. De La Rosa does this with regularity, and also throws a good slider and change up. When he is on, he is effective. When he gets runners on base he seems to lose focus.

The fourth inning of Monday's game was a classic example of losing focus. De La Rosa gave up seven runs, all earned, while getting only one out in the inning.

Once again showing that they are not giving up, the Rockies offense came fighting back, getting within one run thanks in large part to Brad Hawpe's two doubles and two RBI.

However, the bullpen could not keep Colorado within striking distance, as Jason Grilli and Alan Embree combined to give up eight more runs in the seventh inning. It was the fourth time in the last 10 days that the Rockies have given up seven or more runs in a single inning.

The Rockies however, did make a move that may excite many fans. Before the game embattled reliever Matt Belisle was designated for assignment in order to make room for Josh Fogg.

Fogg was a hero on the 2007 team, he played a large roll in winning the National League championship and earning the nickname "Dragon Slayer" for his knack for defeating big name pitchers throughout the season. He was a fan favorite as well as a vocal leader in the clubhouse.

The move may have been made more for his clubhouse presence than anything. He has the ability to get guys to laugh and have a good time, with a self depreciating sense of humor that lightens the mood. It may seem like a last ditch effort for the Rockies, but at this point there is nothing that is off limits to turn the team around.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Todd Helton Carries The Load For The Rockies

For the last three years many Rockies fans and sports writers have been groaning about the size of Todd Helton's contract. At $16.6 million per season Helton's salary was the third highest in the National League in 2008. Fans complained that his skills were diminishing and that he was handcuffing the team from signing more high profile free agents. Some writers even called for Helton to admit that he could not play the game anymore and simply retire.

In 2008, Helton had only two at bats after July 2nd due to a back injury that ended up requiring surgery in the offseason. The surgery was risky and many speculated that Helton would never play the same again. Even the Rockies said that Helton would need several more days off, to the point of only playing in the range of 120 games.

To say that the Rockies and their fans are surprised might be the understatement of the century.

On Sunday Helton took the Rockies on his shoulders and carried them to a win, the third time he has done that on the 10 game road trip.

Through 43 games, Helton is hitting .342 with six home runs and 31 RBI's. His bat speed is back and he is once again recieving the respect from pitchers that he got earlier in his career.

The 35 year old with a two discs in his back fused together is playing like a 25 year old. The whispers have finally started about Helton returning to the All-Star game this July, an honor that he has not received since 2004 when he was elected for the fifth consecutive year.

On Sunday in the Rockies 3-1 win, Helton went 2-for-5, driving in two runs, and scoring another. He got the Rockies on the board in the fifth inning, hitting a double that was finished off with an uncharacteristic fist pump that may have been more representative of how good Helton is feeling than his statistics. It is clear that he still believes that this team can win.

The play of Helton is making some wonder how long his back had been hurting him. The reality is, it seems like he is once again having fun playing the game and realizing that he can still play at a high level.

Helton returns to Coors Field where he should recieve the warmest welcome in his career from the home town fans. On Tuesday Helton notched his 2000th hit in his illustrious career, all with the Rockies, and fans are eager to let him know that they appreciate sacrifice and work he has put in while wearing a Colorado uniform.

While Helton was a huge part of the win in Detroit, a win that sealed a road series victory for only the second time this season, it would not be fair to take the credit away from the pitching staff, who combined to hold the Tiger's potent offense to only one run.

Jason Hammel, who has pitched well on the road, picked up his first Rockies win. He pitched six strong innings, giving up six hits and only one run. He walked three and struck out four, while throwing 86 pitches. The effort was good enough to defeat Dontrelle Willis, who has pitched well in his return.

The bullpen did it's part as well, Randy Flores, Manny Corpas and Huston Street combined to pitch three hitless innings to preserve the win.

The inning pitched by Corpas may have been the most encouraging as he quickly and confidently got two ground balls and a weak pop out in eight pitches, seven of which were strikes. He seemed like the Corpas of old as his slider seemed to carve through the Detroit bats.

The win may have helped prove to the Rockies that they can win close games, and that they can beat good teams.

Colorado returns home to play an afternoon Memorial Day game at Coors Field against the Dodgers. If the Rockies have any hope of crawling back into the National League West race, success against the Dodgers is crucial.

For those who pay attention to details, it should be interesting to watch as the Rockies will be wearing red hats to honor America. The CR logo will be in blue and white with stars inside.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Colorado Rockies Do Little Things Right, Win 4-3 In Detroit

In the offseason Rockies general manager Dan O'Dowd was criticized by fans and the media for not going after a big name free agent to help the starting rotation. When O'Dowd pulled off a trade of embattled reliever Luis Vizcaino to the Cubs for Jason Marquis, many believed that it was not enough, as Marquis was simply another re-tred trying to extend his career in Colorado.

At this point, O'Dowd looks like a genius.

Marquis has been nothing short of brilliant for Colorado in 2009. On Saturday he went 7-2/3 innings, giving up three runs, two earned, on six hits. He walked only one while striking out four in the Rockies 4-3 win. With the win he ran his record to 6-3. He is well on his way to his sixth consecutive season with wins in the double digits.

Marquis used his sinker to induce 13 ground ball outs. However, his performance was only part of the reason for the clubs 17th win. Saturday night was the definition of a team win.

In the first inning, leadoff hitter Dexter Fowler drilled a pitch deep off of the right field wall. With his speed he was at third base with a triple. The next hitter, Troy Tulowitzki quickly hit a ball in the air to right field, and despite a great throw by Tiger outfielder Clete Thomas, Fowler was able to barely beat the throw to the plate to give the Rockies a quick lead.

Most will point to Todd Helton's sixth inning go ahead home run as the highlight of his night. However, as Clint Hurdle preached in Spring Training, it is the little things that win baseball games.

In the third inning with Colorado up 2-1. Helton came to the plate with runners on second and third with one out. Instead of trying to do too much, Helton found a pitch that he could ground to first base. With Fowler on third base, there was no chance for a play at the plate. In the boxscore that goes down as a ground out, but in reality it was the most important out of the night for the visiting club.

In the ninth inning, closer Huston Street dealt with some traffic, but used his slider, which had exceptional movement, to get Brandon Inge and Gerald Laird, who had been feasting on Rockies pitching throughout the two first games of the series, to strike out.

Street earned his sixth save of the season, but it was a huge one for him personally as it was his 100th save in a Major League uniform. That is a huge number considering that Street is just 25 years old.

The win was what the Rockies had envisioned when they put the team together. It was a hard fought game in which Colorado had many contributors, from the beginning of the game to the end.

More games like Saturday's may help Colorado get a little bit of confidence and mount a comeback. Although climbing out of the hole that they have dug for themselves may require help. At the conclusion of the game the Rockies sat 11-1/2 games behind the Dodgers in the National League West.

The Rockies go for their first road series win since they took two of three from Arizona in the season's opening series on Sunday at 11:05 AM Mountain time.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Aggressive Rockies Lose Another One Run Game

When it rains, it pours.

That seemed to be the case for the 2009 Colorado Rockies as they could not catch a break Friday night in Detroit. The Rockies lost the opener of a three game series 4-3. This time it was what the Rockies focused on all spring, aggressive base running. That, along with a defensive miscue in the eight inning, brought the Rockies season record to 1-9, the worst one run record in the Majors.

The Rockies did put up a fight, down 4-1 going into the ninth inning Brad Hawpe worked a walk and then trotted home on a home run hit by Seth Smith off of Tigers closer Joel Zumaya to bring the club within one run. After Garrett Atkins was hit by a pitch, Ian Stewart lined a ball into right center field, bringing Omar Quintanilla, pinch running for Atkins, to third base.

Fowler came up with an opportunity to tie the game, but struck out on a triple digit fastball from Zumaya, ending the game.

While the ninth inning provided drama, the biggest factor for the Rockies was their base running. In the third inning with Fowler on second base, Troy Tulowitzki lined a single to left field. Fowler quickly rounded third base and headed for home. The ball could not have found left fielder Josh Anderson any better. On two hops Anderson fielded the ball and threw a perfect strike to the plate, nailing Fowler.

In the sixth inning, with a run already in, the Rockies had runners on first and third with no outs. Ryan Spilborghs came to bat and hit a hard ground ball that was stabbed by first baseman Miguel Cabrera near the foul line. Todd Helton, the runner at third, believed that Cabrera would throw to second to start the double play. Instead Cabrera quickly touched first base and fired home, getting Helton by three steps.

With the Rockies down 3-1 in the eighth inning and two men on for Detroit Manny Corpas came in and got a ground ball to third base. Atkins touched third and fired to first base. The throw pulled Helton off the bag and the runner was safe. That throw, while not an error, cost the Rockies. Corpas walked the next batter, loading the bases. He then induced a ground ball that Tulowitzki made an amazing play on in the hole. He fired to second base to get the runner, but Clint Barmes was unable to turn the double play the fourth run crossed the plate for the Tigers. If Atkins had made a better throw, it would have been the third out of the inning and Smith's ninth inning home run would have tied the game.

While many will blame Clint Hurdle for this loss, it really was just a tough luck loss for the Rockies on Friday. In his career, there will probably be very few times that Fowler will get thrown out at the plate from second on a ball hit to the outfield. In fact, if Fowler is not sent home on that play, many would be blaming Hurdle for not being aggressive with Fowler's speed.

While Helton probably should have seen the ball through in the sixth, the reality is, his aggressiveness normally turns into a run. More times than not, a first baseman's instincts make him throw to second for the sure-fire double play.

While it is another tough luck loss for the Rockies, it needs to be quickly forgotten. The visiting club outhit the Tigers and seemed to be on their game more than the home team. More things had to go right for the Tigers than had to go wrong for the Rockies. It just happened to be one of those nights. At some point, things will turn for Colorado if they play games like this. However, it seems like it keeps pouring rain on this team.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

The Time Is Now For The Colorado Rockies To Trade Garrett Atkins

On November 12th of 2008, the Colorado Rockies dealt arguably their greatest slugger of all time in Matt Holliday to the Oakland A's for two prospects and a deposed closer. Rockies fans were understandably upset. The reality is that Holliday, represented by Scott Boras, would not fit into the mid-market budget of Denver once he hit free agency after the 2009 season.

While Rockies fans were disappointed, there was still hope that the team could be good with Todd Helton returning to form after back surgery and a resurgence from shortstop Troy Tulowitzki after an injury plagued sophomore season.

Those two players, combined with the steady slugging of third baseman Garrett Atkins, gave the Rockies some hope of contending in '09, even with the loss of Holliday.

Atkins, who has one year of arbitration left before he can become a free agent, is making $7.05 million this year. The Rockies have tried on several occasions to sign Atkins to a long-term deal with no success. Just like Holliday, it has become clear that Atkins will be playing in a different uniform by 2011.

Because contract negotiations have gone so poorly, the Rockies front office toyed with the idea of trading Atkins after the '08 season. They decided not to because they felt he was the key to a possible run in '09. It was speculated that if the club struggled out of the gate, or was not in the race by the trading deadline on July 31st, the Rockies would once again shop Atkins.

The plan seemed to be fool proof for the Rockies, except for how the '09 season has unraveled for the Rockies and Atkins.

Through 41 games, Atkins is the worst hitter on a struggling Colorado club. He is hitting an abysmal .189 with a .266 OBP. He has only three home runs and 14 runs batted in.

While all hitters go through slumps, through 41 games of continuous struggle, there are questions whether or not this is a slump, or if Atkins' bat is slowing down. On pitches that he normally drives into the gap he has been rolling over and hitting a ground ball to the left side.

As Atkins continues to struggle, his trade value continues to plummet. At this point, the Rockies would get very little in return and still have to eat quite a bit of his salary.

The door to trade Atkins and get some value for him seemed to be slammed shut until the Mets possibly opened it back up, if not just a little crack. On Tuesday Mets first baseman Carlos Delgado went down with a hip injury that will require surgery and at least a couple months of rehab.

With the Mets squarely in contention in the National League East, they may be hesitant to look to fill an important roll on the roster from the minor league ranks.

While Atkins is a third baseman, he was drafted as a first baseman out of UCLA and played the majority of the second half of 2008 when Helton went out with his back injury.

Some may question Atkins terrible numbers so far in '09, it is still early enough for the struggles to be considered an extended slump. Based on that assumption, a team like the Mets may be willing to look beyond the early numbers of '09 and see Atkins for his previous numbers, someone who hits 20+ home runs and drives in nearly 100 runs year in and year out.

The move would allow the Rockies to have some salary relief in '09, but also in 2010 when Atkins would command at least the same amount that he is paid in '09, and most likely more. It would also remove the logjam at third base that has kept Ian Stewart from getting everyday playing time at third base.

The Colorado Rockies may have missed the best time to sell Atkins when his stock was high, but they may be able to capitalize in a spike in his demand. If they cannot capitalize on this moment, the value of Atkins may drop so far that with his salary he may be untradable once the July 31st deadline rolls around.

This may be the final opportunity that the Rockies have to save some cash and create a spot for Stewart, but they have to get to work and convince the Mets that Atkins is the player from '06-'08 and that '09 is just a slump.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Struggling Colorado Rockies Need A Change At The Top

On Wednesday night in Atlanta, the Colorado Rockies dug their hole in the National League West race a little deeper. The final score was a difficult to swallow 12-4 loss.

The game was determined in the fourth inning when Rockies starter Jorge De La Rosa lost his composure and control of the game. The inning began with De La Rosa walking three of the first four batters, and hitting the fourth. Before it was all over, he had given up six earned runs in the inning.

Matt Belisle could not do much better. He came in and gave up three more runs before finally getting out of the 44 minute half inning. In all, the two Rockies pitchers threw 66 pitches in the bottom half of the inning.

With the loss the Rockies fell to nine games under .500 and nearly 12 games out of the race in the National League West.

The only thing consistent about the Rockies play so far in 2009 has been inconsistency.

When the offensive plays well, the pitching seems to explode. When the pitching is good, the offense looks clueless at the plate. When the starting pitching does well, the bullpen falters. The defense seems to come and go at any given time.

That is not exactly what Clint Hurdle and the front office in Colorado had in mind when they decided to focus on fundamentals during Spring Training in Tucson.

While every team struggles with inconsistency over the course of a 162 game season, this is different.

It has been well publicized that Hurdle has had several individual conversations with players about what they needed to do to bring their game to the next level. Recently he has spoken with Ian Stewart about being more aggressive, Dexter Fowler about laying off the inside slider, and Troy Tulowitzki about trying to hit the ball to the opposite field.

All three of these players have been taken out of the lineup on several occasions to have what Hurdle terms "work days." These days are designed to take the pressure off of the player and give them a chance to break down their swing and analyze what is wrong.

On Wednesday, Hurdle benched Tulowitzki for swinging at the first pitch the previous night after Fowler had walked when the Rockies were down 6-1 late in the game. Tulowitzki rolled into a 6-4-3 double play.

Hurdle continues to talk about being consistent and finding ways to win ball games. After Wednesday's game it has become clear that his words are falling on deaf ears.

One of the challenges of Major League Baseball is adjusting to the ever changing landscape of the game. This applies to a manager as much as it applies to the players.

The way that Hurdle handles some of his players, especially the Tulowitzki situation on Wednesday, seems similar to the way a parent would reprimand a child. Tulowitzki was made an example of to the rest of the team. While this may have worked when the team was young and just breaking into the big leagues, it seems to be counter productive.

Tulowitzki is no longer a rookie. He is an established Major League player who has proven himself to the organization enough to be rewarded with a long term deal. He is not in a position to be sent back to Triple-A if he struggles.

The other less established players like Stewart and Fowler now have older players like Tulowitzki, Todd Helton, Brad Hawpe, Aaron Cook and other veteran players who can provide leadership.

In 2007, the only truly accomplished player in the clubhouse was Helton. The team relied on Hurdle for direction and leadership.

There is no doubt that Hurdle is a good man. He is active in the community and he has been a huge part of the Colorado Rockies organization. His fingerprints are on this club and will remain long past his time. There is no doubt that letting Hurdle go would be an extremely emotional decision for the Monfort brothers.

However, at some point in sports, difficult decisions must be made. There is too much talent on the Colorado roster for them to be nine games under .500 on May 21st. The Rockies have huge potential in their lineup. They have the ability to hit the ball out of the park from every spot in the order.

Their pitching staff is better than anyone could have anticipated. With Cook and Ubaldo Jimenez at the top end and Jason Marquis and De La Rosa anchoring the back end, the Rockies have a chance to win on any given night.

At some point, when the talent is on the field, the finger has to be pointed back to the leadership. Unfortunately for Hurdle it is becoming more and more clear that his leadership is outdated in the clubhouse. His pep talks and speeches to players are no longer effective.

The right move for the Colorado Rockies is to cut their losses with Clint Hurdle and find a new voice for the players.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Todd Helton Gets 2,000th Hit; Deserves Better

The saying goes "you don't know what you got until it's gone."

Todd Helton had to wait one extra day for his 2,000 career hit after the official scorer in Atlanta ruled his liner past Yunel Escobar. It was a debatable ruling that everyone seemed to care about except for Helton himself.

The hit came in the third inning, a hard ground ball to left field on an 0-2 pitch, was the highlight of a sloppy game in which the Rockies could not make pitches when they needed too, struggled with the gloves, and only had three hits in the 8-1 loss to the Braves.

In many ways, the loss was symbolic of Helton's career.

While Helton continues to find new ways to get better, his team finds new ways to struggle. In 12 full seasons with the Rockies, Helton has a career batting average of .328. He is the club leader in hits, doubles, home runs, batting average, and almost any other measurable stat. Unfortunately for Helton, the only stat that people seem to dwell on is his $16.6 million contract.

Helton has one postseason appearance in the Rockies miracle run in 2007. It was vindicating for his years having to carry a team that fielded the likes of Jose Hernandez, Jeff Cirillo, Kit Pellow, Royce Clayton and several other hardly noteworthy players.

When the franchise finally grew a team worthy of Major League contention, the ownership did their very best to ship Helton off before it all began. He was literally minutes away from being traded to the Red Sox after the 2006 season. Sometimes the best trades are the ones that never happened. Without Helton, the 2007 Colorado Rockies famous "Rocktober" never happens.

The fact of the matter is, Helton had several opportunities to go to the front office and say that he wanted out. He did not have to endure the years of hardship that the club suffered after the failed signings of Mike Hampton and Denny Neagle. In the height of his career, the five time All Star could have easily said that he wanted to go to a contender.

Instead, Helton pulled up his boot straps and endured the tough times. Matt Holliday often times would talk about how Helton would call him while he was making his way through the farm system and encourage him. Holliday said that Helton would tell him to keep working hard, because he knew they would be good.

Although quiet, it has been much reported that Helton is the most respected man to walk through the clubhouse. Even when Holliday took the reigns and turned into a great hitter the players looked to Helton. Opposing managers still feared Helton more than anyone in the lineup. Bruce Bochy would often say that the last member of the Rockies lineup that he wanted to face when the game on the line was not Holliday, but Helton.

While Helton has been the consummate competitor, he has done the majority of his damage outside of the national spotlight. Despite his .291 career road average, Helton is often seen by the national media as a "Coors Field hitter." They say that he is a good hitter, but not great. They continue to languish praise on players like Ryan Howard and others who have never had anywhere near the success that Helton has had.

When Helton struggled last year, battling a bad back that would ultimately require surgery, instead of continuing to back the man who had carried the Rockies for so many years, the local media and the fans turned their back on their hero. Fans suggested that he was overpaid and he was the reason that the Rockies would not sign free agents. Members of the media, some who rarely wrote about baseball or the Rockies, wrote that Helton was done, a has-been.

It is a shame because if Helton would have played in a city that got more national attention, if he would have been in a town that was not completely infatuated by their football team, if he would have been on a team that had the opportunity to win any night that they suited up, he would be a sure-fire Hall of Famer.

Instead, he continues to work his tail off to play for a team that resides in a town that has no idea what they have been fortunate enough to watch for the last 12+ years. When Helton retires and this team struggles to find a new leader and a new face of the franchise fans and media members may finally realize what they were fortunate enough to be a part of. Unfortunately it will be too late to get back what they never realized they had for so long.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Performance Like Jason Marquis' Something The Colorado Rockies Are Lacking

Monday night the Colorado Rockies' Jason Marquis pitched a gem in which he dominated the Atlanta Braves lineup and garnered his fifth win of the year.

Marquis went eight innings, giving up one run on five hits, striking three and walking three. He induced the Braves into four double plays. In the fourth inning Marquis battled out of a bases loaded, no out jam, giving up only one run and getting a double play.

The performance was a great one by Marquis. He showed what a great pickup he has been and his bulldog attitude on the mound.

The performance pinpointed exactly what is wrong with the Rockies.

When Marquis got into trouble, he battled back, played his game, and got even the best Braves hitters to hit into double plays. In the fourth inning when he had the bases loaded and no one out, he found a way to not panic and work himself out of the jam, minimizing the damage.

Throughout the game, Marquis had confidence that he would get the job done. He seemed unflappable, even when balls were hit deep into the outfield, he adjusted and got the next hitter to ground out.

The rest of the Rockies should take a lesson from Marquis.

It seems that when the rest of the Rockies get into trouble they wait for the other shoe to drop. When they get a lead, they wait for the pitchers to blow it. When the pitchers give up a few runs, the offense acts as if they are going to get blown out. When they have a lead, it seems as if they decide that a few runs is enough and play for the next day.

What this Colorado Rockies team has been lacking is the willingness to go for the throat. When they have a chance to stick it to a team, they seem to put the game into cruise control and hope for the best. When they get down, they roll over.

This Colorado team has a ton of talent. There is power all through the lineup, and speed at the top. They have playmakers like Ryan Spilborghs and Dexter Fowler. They have one of the best hitters of all time in Todd Helton. They have young pitching talent in Ubaldo Jimenez and Jorge De La Rosa, and an All-Star to anchor the staff in Aaron Cook.

The bullpen has a veteran leader in Alan Embree, and two young pitchers who have had success getting the hardest three outs of a game in Huston Street and Manny Corpas.

This Rockies team has the talent to compete. They just have not spent enough time talking with their most impressive pitcher, Jason Marquis on how to put it all together.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

It's Time To Admit It...The Colorado Rockies Are A Bad Team

After a 97 minute rain delay in Pittsburgh, the Colorado Rockies came back from the clubhouse flat and found themselves on the short end of a 7-4 score.

It's not as if the Rockies never showed up. In fact, after the top of the second inning the Rockies held a 3-0 lead on a double by Ryan Spilborghs and a home run from Clint Barmes.

Then came the bottom of the third inning.

Aaron Cook, an All-Star, and lone bright spot in a dark 2008, gave up four runs in the bottom half of the third inning, quickly giving up the lead that his offense bought him. After the rain delay, the bullpen did not fare much better and the offense could only muster one run the rest of the way.

The Colorado Rockies have become so predictable. A game like Saturday night's becomes so typical that it would be a complete shock if the squad did not play as they did.

Usually the word "flat" is used to describe a team that has a bad game, or a bad streak, where it seems as if they had a late flight and never really got into their groove. It happens when a team is noticeably tired, or when they have seemingly given up on a game before it is even close to over. It is when it seems like everyone on the team is thinking about something else, anything but the task at hand.

The thing about the term "flat" is that it is supposed to be used on rare occasions.

This Colorado Rockies team does not play flat. This Colorado Rockies team plays poorly.

When they face a top notch pitcher, instead of changing their approach they simply swing. They strike out like it is going out of style. When their starting pitcher doesn't have it, instead of fighting to get some runs off of the oppositions starter, they simply roll over and wait for tomorrow.

On a night like Saturday, when the offense shows up, it can disappear somewhere in the clubhouse of a 97 minute rain delay.

The offense is not the only aspect of the game to be blamed. The starting pitching has been inconsistent. The relief pitching has been inconsistent. The defense has failed in the most crucial of moments.

In the first few weeks it was easy to blame the failures on bad luck. It was easy to say that it was early and the team was yet to play in sync. That excuse was legitimate in April.

As the middle of May approaches, and the Dodgers' lead over the Rockies closes in on double digits, the excuse that the Rockies are not hitting on all cylinders just doesn't fly anymore. They have had their chances to get in sync.

The fact of the matter is, these Rockies are not a good team.

They may have talent. They may have a drive to win. They can pitch and they can hit, but they can't play as a team, something that Manager Clint Hurdle always prides himself in. There is clearly a disconnect between this team. It is a disconnect that is difficult to put a finger on exactly what it is. Sometimes it seems as if it is laziness, or being lackadaisical. Sometimes it seems as if they are trying to hard. Other times it seems that they are trying too hard to not try too hard.

The fact is, something has to change. This problem is not just a 2009 problem. This is the exact issue that held the club back in 2008. Early in '08 Colorado could blame the pennant hangover. That excuse worked for April and May of '08. For the last 12 months there has been no excuse for the failures of this team.

The easiest answer for the Rockies is ending the long relationship with Hurdle. While the relationship with the front office is good, at some point the frustration has to translate into responsibility. If the talent is on the team and the depth is there, but the results are still lacking, there is only one direction to point.

The fact is, while the Rockies remain hopeful, they are not playing as if they have any chance or thought of playing meaningful games in September and October.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Brad Hawpe Making A Strong Case For His First All-Star Appearance

On Friday night in Pittsburgh, the Colorado Rockies embarked on a 10 game road trip that, in mid-May, would define whether or not they still have a chance at winning the National League West in 2009.

A familiar scene was taking place, as Jorge De La Rosa continued his excellent season, pitching seven innings, striking out 10 and giving up only one run. That scene is the good side of things. The opposite side is the fact that it seems like the offense goes to the plate without a bat in their hands when De La Rosa is pitching his heart out.

As the Rockies rolled into the ninth inning without a run it seemed as if they would be shut out for the fifth time in 2009. However, Brad Hawpe had a different idea.

After a pinch hit double by Ian Stewart, Hawpe unloaded on a 1-2 pitch from Matt Capps. He deposited the pitch over the center field wall, giving the Rox a 2-1 lead. After a Matt Murton pinch hit RBI, Colorado had a 3-1 lead.

Huston Street pitched a perfect ninth, striking out the side and earning his fifth save.

In a disappointing season, it seems easy to point out the failures of the squad. Garrett Atkins has struggled beyond a typical slump and it seems like the Rockies have found a new way to play horribly every single day.

However, the season that Brad Hawpe is having needs to be noticed. After hitting the game winning home run, Hawpe is hitting .363. He has six home runs and 30 RBI's so far.

When most of his teammates are struggling to find their stroke, Hawpe is quietly hitting the ball like he never has before. He is carrying this team in a time when finding someone to be a hero is like pulling teeth.

It would be misleading to say that the Rockies have rolled over when they got in trouble. The offense has actually shown quite a bit of fight. Unfortunatley, the results just have not been there. The Rockies had only won one game in which they did not score first. That is a stat that will have to change if the squad plans on contending.

That changed on Friday when Hawpe smacked the pitch out of the park, giving the struggling Rockies a win. At this rate, Hawpe, who less than two years ago was riding the bench against lefties, deserves to be the Colorado representative in the All-Star Game. If the game was held today, he and Todd Helton would be locks for an appearance.

Hawpe's performance should not be taken for granted. His demeanor has been quite a bit different so far in 2009. While he is still a quiet leader, he seems to have more confidence in his swing. He never seems defeated at the plate.

In the past, Hawpe has always been seen as a streaky hitter who would always go through prolonged slumps. This season though, it seems that his confidence may have reached a point where he may not go through that part of a slump that brings his average back down to the .280 range. The way he looks at the plate, it would not be inconceivable to think that he could finish the year well above .300.

Brad Hawpe is one player on the Rockies this season that he really stepped up and been a leader on the field. If he is not an All-Star, something needs to be changed with the selection process.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

10-Game Road Trip Will Define Colorado Rockies Season

The Colorado Rockies will embark on a defining 10 game, three city road trip on Friday. They have struggled in nearly every aspect of the game through the first six weeks of the season.

On Thursday the Colorado Rockies completed an eight game home stand in which they went 3-5. The club seemed to find a new way to lose in all five games they played. If the offense scored runs, the starting pitching struggled. If the starting pitching was good, the bats were silent. If the offense battled, and the starting pitching was there, the defense found a way to play themselves out of the game.

The scenario's seem to be the same over and over for this struggling squad. The same story has been told time and time again through the first six weeks.

If the story stays the same for another week or so, the Rockies dream of contending in 2009 will be just that, a dream.

The key to the Rockies success is finding a way to string together some momentum. They need to find a way to ignite all aspects of the squad and turn a good game into a string of wins. That is easier said than done, especially for this bunch.

For Colorado to string together a few wins in a row, a few things will need to happen all at once. The first is simple. Garrett Atkins, a career .293 hitter, needs to find his stroke, plain and simple. To put it lightly, Atkins has been absolutely terrible. He is making the Rockies front office wish that they had traded him for anything that they could have gotten for him this off season. After his base hit on Thursday, he now has only four hits in all of May. His batting average now stands at an abysmal .198.

If Atkins can get hot, he can provide some much needed support to Brad Hawpe and Todd Helton, who have been carrying the bulk of the offense through the beginning of the season. When those two are on base, Atkins has failed to drive them in.

Atkins bat could go a long way to provide some relief to the pitching staff and extend some offensive innings.

The second aspect of the game that the Rockies need for success on the up coming road trip is continued success from the starting pitching.

While Jason Marquis has suffered two rough outings in a row, the rest of the staff has been extremely good as of late. Both Aaron Cook and Ubaldo Jimenez started out the year poorly, but have found a resurgence and are pitching extremely well.

Jorge De La Rosa has been phenomenal. He is pitching to the tune of a 3.53 ERA in six starts. Unfortunately for De La Rosa, he is still searching for his first win. This is due to an unexplained power outage from the offense every fifth day when De La Rosa takes the ball.

Jason Hammel has shown signs of life from the fifth spot in the rotation. While he initially struggled at Coors Field, he threw well on Thursday, losing due to an incredibly sloppy performance by the defense behind him.

The Rockies stand 9-1/2 games behind the Dodgers in the National League West and, although it is May, are running out of time. If they finish this road trip 3-7 or 4-6 they could be up to 12 games out of the race, in need of another September 2007 like run.

In other words, if the Colorado Rockies have any dreams of playing meaningful games in September, they need to win on the road, and they need to win now.

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.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Colorado Rockies Win A Laugher; Ubaldo Jimenez Proves He Is Back

It would be easy to say that the offense broke out for the Colorado Rockies on Tuesday night against the Astros.

The Rockies scored 12 runs, including four home runs, one of them being a grand slam off of the bat of Ian Stewart. It was Stewart's second home run of the night, the other two came off the bats of Todd Helton and Brad Hawpe.

Despite the offensive output, Tuesday night belonged to Ubaldo Jimenez.

Jimenez had an April to forget as he struggled to find his mechanics, and thus the strike zone, in four of his first five starts this season.

In Chicago, Jimenez struggled with his control. Although he battled out of a couple of bases loaded jam, he could not consistently find his fastball and was removed before the fourth inning. Clint Hurdle mentioned that the cold and rainy weather may have been a factor in his lack of control.

The cold may have been an excuse in Chicago, but his next start in Los Angeles was just as much of a struggle for Jimenez. It was another outing in which Jimenez failed to make it to the fifth inning. His next start after that came against the Dodgers again, this time at home. After giving up four runs in the first, the 25 year old settled in, but it was too little, too late.

Jimenez began to turn the corner on the first of May. He was out dueled in San Francisco by Randy Johnson, but showed great poise and the ability to get ground ball outs again. The game was lost because Jimenez's three walks all came around to score, with the final score 3-2.

On Tuesday, Jimenez threw seven innings, giving up one run while striking out four and walking no one. The last stat is the most important one for the young Dominican.

It seems obvious that a lack of walks would help with wins, but what it really shows is that Jimenez is finding the mentality to attack the strike zone. When he believes in his fastball, he is not afraid to throw it into the strike zone and see what a hitter can do with it.

It seems to be a domino effect with Jimenez. If he can ahead in the count, he can then throw the curve ball and slider, which keeps hitters off balance. With a 97 MPH fastball in his arsenal, hitters cannot afford to sit on the off speed pitches.

Jimenez's success is of the utmost importance to the Rockies success in 2009. The offense can feel the confidence to know that every fifth day they have a chance to win when Jimenez is on the hill. Couple that with the continued resurgence of Aaron Cook and the success of Jason Marquis to go along with the Jorge De La Rosa's strong early performance and the Rockies are still in a position to make a move in the division.

If Jimenez continues locating his 97 MPH heater, the Rockies offense will continue its resurgence and make a run in 2009.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Colorado Rockies Win A One Run Game For First Time in 2009

Sunday's game at Coors Field had several great moments for the Rockies. However, the day belonged to shortstop Troy Tulowitzki.

The Colorado Rockies on Sunday became the last team in the Major Leagues to win a one run game this season. Entering Sunday, they were 0-8 in games decided by a lone run.

Aaron Cook continued his renaissance, pitching six innings and giving up only one earned run. After a horrible start, Cook has now thrown three consecutive solid outings, earning two wins and a no decision throughout the run. His earned run average now sits at 5.03.

Todd Helton, acting like a 25 year old all over again, swatted a first inning triple that was only a triple because it did not have the height to clear the wall in right field. Later he added an RBI double that proved to be the game winner.

The story of the game, however, is Tulowitzki. Tulo has been nothing short of miserable at the plate this season.

Nothing has been mechanically wrong with his swing, although he has tinkered with it a bit. The glaring issue with Tulowitzki at the plate has been between his own ears. Just like the beginning of the 2008 season, Tulowitzki was squeezing the bat so tightly and trying so hard to win the game with one swing of the bat, that all he could accomplish was hitting slow ground balls to the shortstop.

Tulowitzki is a competitor. In fact, until 2008, Tulo had never been on a losing team in his life. He was one of the main catalysts for the Rockies run to the National League pennant in 2007. His defense alone puts him in the category of many of the great shortstops in the game.

However, it is clear that Tulowitzki has realized that he needs to carry this team on his shoulders. Many experts said that the only way that the Rockies could compete in the National League West after losing Matt Holliday would be by having Tulowitzki and Helton step up and have great seasons at the plate.

That statement has been proven true so far this season, as Tulowitzki has sat close to the dreaded Mendoza line through the first six weeks.

Several times it has seemed that Tulo has been poised for a breakout. He has had a few big hits that pointed to the Tulowitzki of his rookie season, where he would routinely line pitches back up the middle, or drive a pitch to right-center for a double.

Those good at-bats, however, simply would not translate into the next at-bat. In fact, it almost seemed as if it was one step forward and then two steps back for the shortstop. The next time he stepped to the plate, Tulowitzki looked as if he felt that he would need to prove that he could get a big hit again.

Today was different however, as Tulowitzki showed confidence at the plate. He ripped a first inning home run into the bullpen in right center field, then later had another solid hit.

After a good weekend at the plate, Tulowitzki's average now stands at .237, which would seem to be disappointing, but after starting the season so poorly, it looks like .350.

If the Rockies, who now stand at 12-18, want to start the slow crawl back into the race in the National League West, Tulowitzki has to continue his climb back to respectability.