Thursday, June 2, 2011

Despite tough May, Colorado Rockies still in the race

May was rough for the Colorado Rockies. That has been well publicized.

Despite the Rockies finishing the month of May with an 8-21 mark, the third-worst month in franchise history, they still are within striking distance of the National League West lead.

That is a pretty amazing statement, considering how poorly they looked throughout the month. Going into a three game set with the division-leading Giants, the Rockies sit just 4-1/2 games out of first place.

It is nice for Rockies fans to realize that the club is in a much better spot today than they were in both 2007 and 2009 at the same point in the season. However, it is hard not to wonder where the Rockies would be today if they had just put together a decent month, instead of tanking.

The key for the Rockies is not to look back. They cannot do anything about the terrible May that they put up. There are reasons for that month being so horrible, but dwelling on the reasons will not increase their record. They must find a way to move past it and grind through the next four months of the season.

The question remains, who are the Colorado Rockies. Is this the team that stormed out of the gates in April and looked like they were turning the page on the typical Rockies April? Is this the team that went 7-1 on the first road trip of the season, through Pittsburgh and New York, two places where the opponent doesn't scare anyone, except for the Rockies? As that page was turned, all of the roses in Colorado seemed to be blooming purple.

However, May rolled in and so did cold reality. Did the club get content with their great April? Did they lose their focus? Did they simply forget how to win? Was this just nature correcting the out-of-balance record that the Rockies had in April?

That remains the big question. Who are the real Colorado Rockies?

The answer to that question is neither.

The Rockies are not as good as the team that couldn't seem to lose in April, and they are not as bad as the team that couldn't seem to win in May.

It is clear that there are distinct strengths among the Rockies. They have a very strong bullpen, especially with the departure of both Franklin Morales and Felipe Paulino. The Matt Lindstrom pickup may prove to be the biggest move of the entire Rockies offseason, a winter that included signing both Carlos Gonzalez and Troy Tulowitzki to long-term deals.

There is no doubt that the team is talented. With both Gonzalez and Tulowitzki playing well below the levels that they are capable of, the Rockies are still close. Couple that with the fact the Ubaldo Jimenez finally looked close to his former self for the first time on Wednesday night and there is no denying that being within five games of the division is a minor miracle.

As everyone clearly saw in May, the Rockies also have their weaknesses. Despite an abundance of team speed, the team acts very much like a station-to-station team. The club is reaping the consequences of rushing Dexter Fowler to the big leagues. Despite having top-shelf speed, the Georgia-native is just two-for-eight in steal attempts. The fact that he has only attempted eight steals might speak more volume to his game than the percentage.

The team can't steal a base, and they struggle to get bunts down, meaning, once again, that they are forced to swing for the big hit. They can't scrape a run by on a base hit or two, they need a long-ball, or at least a double to really do damage. That is tough to do consistently.

However, if Gonzalez and Tulowitzki can find a way to break out of their slumps at the same time, the Rockies might be unbeatable. Those guys clicking at the same time could single-handedly beat teams.

Fans were also reminded of just what kind of weapon the Rockies have when Jimenez is on. If his velocity ever does return, and he is able to bring the command to the mound that he brought on Wednesday, the Rockies will be in great shape.

So who are the real Rockies? That is what everyone is about to find out. The true character of this team is going to show up soon. They are not as good as they were in April, but they are also not as bad as they were in May. If they can limit their losing skids, and maximize their winning streaks, they could easily win the division. If not, they could easily finish in fourth.

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