Saturday, July 17, 2010

To make playoffs, Rockies must be clutch

The Colorado Rockies finished the first half of the 2010 season 10 games above .500 and two games behind the San Diego Padres in the National League West race.

At the beginning of the season, most Rockies fans would have been content with those numbers. However, there is still a sense of under achievement when it comes to this Rockies squad.

For the fourth straight season, Colorado stumbled out of the gate. It has become such a defining force on the franchise that it is probably the most talked about subject at spring training. There are plenty of reasons thrown out for why the club has struggled early, but none good enough to fix the problem.

After finishing April and May just good enough to stick around, the Rockies once again decided to show up in June. The first two months, despite sitting around .500, were full of team failures.

The Rockies struggled particularly with runners in scoring position. Instead of getting the ball in play and forcing the defense to make a play, the Rockies offense continuously found themselves swinging at bad pitches and getting opposing pitchers off the hook.

Everyone who has followed this Rockies team knew that the real team had yet to show up. The team boasts five starters that can be as good as anyone in the game on a given night. Ubaldo Jimenez has separated himself from the pack, proving to be one of the best young arms in the game.

The offense has the capability to go deep from nearly every spot. Ian Stewart, a guy who can hit a baseball 500 feet, is a regular in the seven hole.

The bullpen has solid arms that have the experience needed to get outs in close games. Even with Huston Street missing the majority of the first half, pitchers like Joe Beimel, Rafael Betancourt and Matt Belisle were more than capable of holding things down.

The bench is arguably deeper than any bench in all of baseball. Jason Giambi can change a game with one swing of the bat and always takes a professional at bat. Melvin Mora is a right handed bat that has 10 years of big league time starting at the hot corner. Ryan Spilborghs and Seth Smith would both be every day starters on several teams in the league, but basically remain as a platoon because of the Rockies ability to put talent in the outfield.

As good as the team is on paper, they looked mediocre early. It seemed like they were pressing to show that they deserved the recognition that they were getting. Instead of running out of the gates, they stumbled. However, they were fortunate enough to not fall, allowing them time to catch up to the pack.

Things turned around when the Rockies played the Red Sox. It was the first time all season long that the club decided to show life late in games, even when they were down. That effort nearly resulted in a sweep for the Rockies, something that almost no one would have predicted.

That roll continued right into the All-Star break. The Rockies finished a huge 10-game home stand against the Giants, Cardinals and Padres at 8-2, making a huge statement about how far they had come.

The key for the Rockies, however, will be carrying that momentum over from the All-Star break. After four days off it would be easy for the club to cool off and need to be jump started again. In fact, the first game back against the Reds on Friday looked very much like the Rockies of the first two months. With the bases loaded and no outs in the 8th and the Rockies down by one, the team failed to score the run and tie the game. They lost 3-2.

The Rockies start the second half with an 11-game road trip. They cannot afford to have a bad couple of weeks. They must continue to play with the confidence and swagger that they had been showing before the break. If they do, there is little doubt around baseball who will be representing the National League West in the playoffs. If, however, the Rockies cannot continue to play like they did on their final home stand, they most likely will be watching the playoffs from their couches at home.

For more on the Rockies visit RockiesReview.com

This article is also featured on INDenverTimes.com

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