Usually when April is over, the Colorado Rockies take a deep breath and look at how much work they have to do to climb back into the race.
Not in 2011. The Colorado Rockies finished April 17-8, by far their best record in the opening month in their 18-year history.
On Saturday, the Rockies won behind a strong performance on the mound by Jason Hammel. The right hander went seven innings, giving up just one run on six hits. He struck out four Pirates and walked two. With the win, he improved his record to 3-1, and his ERA to just 3.23.
The game was tied at one in the second inning when Chris Iannetta deposited his third home run of the season into the Rockies bullpen in right field. The three-run homer game the Rockies all the runs that they would need.
The Rockies have been in first place for 25 days so far in 2011. That is more time in first place than they have ever had combined in their history. To say that it has been a surprising April for the Rockies is a huge understatement.
With a 17-8 April, it would seem as if every aspect of the team is playing well. The fact is, that is further from the truth than the opposite.
Every Rockies fan would have been thrilled with a 17-8 record. If they were told that Ubaldo Jimenez would have been on the mound in three of those eight losses, and that Carlos Gonzalez would finish the month with a .228 batting average and just one home run, it wouldn't have been believed.
The offense is sputtering at the plate. They are having a tough time scoring runs, both at home and on the road. The difference is that the club is getting hits when they need to. However, more importantly, they are getting pitching that allows them to sputter at the plate and still win games.
The starting pitchers have been good enough to keep the Rockies within striking distance, and the bullpen has been nothing short of phenomenal. The pen may be the best in the big leagues. With Huston Street pitching well, picking up his 10th save on Saturday, the Rockies are in good hands. It allows them to use Rafael Betancourt in the eighth inning, and Matt Lindstrom, a capable closer in the seventh inning. With those three pitchers, plus Matt Belisle and Matt Reynolds being extremely effective, it is tough for the opposition to score add-on runs.
The Rockies have to be excited about their April. They are finding ways to win games, and they are in a good position.
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Saturday, April 30, 2011
Friday, April 29, 2011
During Rockies Fest at Coors Field in January, the Rockies outfielders were asked to name the toughest pitcher that they have faced.
Names like Tim Lincecum, Cliff Lee, Roy Halladay and other names that most would expect to hear were thrown out.
Then, Dexter Fowler had his turn. What was his answer? Kevin Correia. Really? Of all the difficult pitchers that the Rockies face on a regular basis in the National League West, and Fowler lists Correia as the toughest.
While his answer got a few chuckles at Rockies Fest, the rest of the Rockies see what Fowler meant after Friday night's game at Coors Field against Correia and his new club, the Pirates.
The right-hander threw 6-2/3 shutout innings, giving up just three hits. He walked one and struck out four Rockies.
Colorado still holds a 16-8 record, good enough for first place in the National League West. However, as the bats continue to slump, the concerns are starting to become more relevant. As long as the club is finding ways to win, what the offense is doing doesn't matter. When they start to lose however, especially when they have the outing that they got from Jhoulys Chacin, the concerns mount.
Carlos Gonzalez got his first hit in 26 at-bats. It came on a bunt single in the ninth inning. His approach seems to be improving, but for the majority of the month, Gonzalez has looked like the shell of the player that the Rockies have seen over the past year-and-a half.
The issue with Gonzalez may be something that everyone overlooked. Much like Troy Tulowitzki's early trouble in 2008, Gonzalez looks as if he is trying to justify the big contract that he signed in the offseason. He is swinging hard instead of his typical smooth and easy swing.
It would be easy for a young kid to try and prove that he deserved the contract that he signed, rather than know that he earned the contract with his play in the previous seasons and continue to improve as a baseball player.
As disappointing as it might be to lose at home to the Pirates, the Rockies should be excited about the continued improvement of Chacin. At just 23-years old, he is figuring how to pitch in the big leagues, and his confidence seems to be growing every time he takes the hill. At 4-2, both of his losses came in games that the Rockies either were one-hit, or failed to score. His continued improvement has been a huge plus for the Rockies.
The Rockies struggled to score runs and get hits, but some credit has to be given to the other side. As Rockies fans are well aware of, Clint Hurdle has the ability to motivate a young team. He has done his best to motivate his team to believe that they are good enough to win, whether at home or on the road. While the Pirates are hovering right around .500 (12-14), they are playing much better than anyone expected them to.
For the Rockies, they must now focus on finding a way to win both of the next two games against the Pirates to salvage the series. Saturday night might be a tough game as the forecast will look much more like a day in February than a day in late-April.
Thursday, April 28, 2011
Love him or hate him, Clint Hurdle is making his Coors Field return over the weekend with the Pittsburgh Pirates.
Things didn't end well in Colorado for Hurdle. He was blamed when the Rockies stumbled out of the gate in 2008 when the Rockies were trying to prove that their run to the World Series was no fluke. When they didn't recover, Hurdle was under fire. With a slow start once again in 2009, the Rockies front office made the move, and sent Hurdle packing.
Less than two years removed from leading his young team to an improbable run to the National League pennant, Hurdle was unemployed, turned away by the very group of people he helped lead to the promised land.
The fact is, it was time for Hurdle to move on. He did a great job with a young team full of prospects who were looking for leadership at the Major League level. His boisterous personality was a great addition to a team that needed a figure-head. He was able to show those players how to live day-to-day at the big league level.
The only problem was that eventually those players grew up. Much like a teenager feels the need to spread their wings and move out on their own, the Rockies grew up. They no longer needed a hands-on manager who treated them as if he was their father. They were all grown up, and suddenly, the manager who was their good friend became the guy who wouldn't leave them alone.
Make no mistake, Hurdle did a phenomenal job in Colorado. The former first round draft pick, and then failed prospect had one of the most difficult jobs in baseball. He was put in charge right when the club's front office decided that it was time to tear the team to pieces and start over. He was asked to be patient as the team groomed prospects at the minor league level--all the while, struggling with re-treads at the big league level.
That might sound like a pressure-free job, but the reality is, Hurdle's all-time record will haunt him for life. When he was let go, his enemies would point to the fact that his winning percentage was hovering in the .400 level, not anywhere near a winning mark. It was easy for them to forget that Hurdle began his managerial career penciling in names like Jose Hernandez at shortstop, and trying to win games with Jose Jimenez closing them out.
While Hurdle was patient with less-than-perfect talent, the Rockies were blessed with the perfect personality for a young prospect coming up through the system.
Hurdle was anointed the next big star in the big leagues. He was on the cover of Sports Illustrated when he was 21 years old. He was dubbed as a "can't miss" prospect. So when young stars came up through the Rockies system, as they were doing frequently before the club's surprise trip to the World Series, Hurdle was able to impart the wisdom that he acquired when he was in their boat.
Hurdle believed in his players. He insisted on getting the most out of each and every prospect that was coming through. He wasn't afraid to make a player mad to prove a point. That may seem like a recipe for disaster, but with a young team, it turned the focus to team instead of player, as happens all-too-often in major sports.
For some in Colorado, Hurdle will be remembered as a guy who fell from grace, and couldn't motivate his team when he had the most talent.
However, Hurdle should be remembered for helping to shape a team that maintains a mentality of team-first, player-last. He helped create an atmosphere where winning was the only thing that was important, not hitting .300 or driving in 100 runs.
Anyone who is a Rockies fan should understand the impact that Hurdle has had on the club, even three years after his departure. He is a good manager, but an even better man. His time was done in Colorado, and he needed to move on, but if anyone thinks that he can't find a way to win in Pittsburgh, a franchise in almost the same shape as the Rockies were in '02, they are mistaken. Hurdle will once again impart his experience and knowledge into a whole new group of prospects looking to make a name for themselves in the big leagues.
Hurdle might be coming into Coors Field in the visitors clubhouse, but his fingerprints remain on the home team.
Wednesday, April 27, 2011
Once a baseball season starts rolling, it can seem like weeks when a team has a game washed out before a scheduled day off.
The Rockies had that happen to them in Chicago as they looked to sweep the Cubs at Wrigley Field. The game will be made up on June 27th, sandwiched between an American League road trip to Cleveland and New York, and an inter-league series at Coors Field with the Chicago White Sox.
Having rain wipe away the scheduled game on Wednesday, the Rockies now have two straight days off before playing the Pirates, and former manager Clint Hurdle, at Coors Field on Saturday. The Rockies won't be able to get comfortable at home, however, hitting the road immediately following the three-game set for a trip to Arizona and San Francisco.
The Rockies go into the series against the Pirates with a 16-7 record, tied for the best in Major League Baseball. With two games remaining in the month, the Rockies have already recorded the most wins in April in franchise history.
The club has already accomplished that feat with two games remaining in the month, and two more games that were originally scheduled for April rained out and re-scheduled for later in the season.
If the Rockies split the first two against Pittsburgh, they will finish the month 17-8. It would be tough to find a fan of the Rockies who expected anywhere near that good of a mark. Most thought that they would be improved in April, but to that degree was very much unexpected.
Much of the success has come against teams that are inferior not only to the Rockies, but also to the rest of the league. Four of the wins came against the Mets, three against the Pirates, and four against the Cubs. There is no doubt that those teams probably will not be buyers at the trade deadline at the end of July. However, those are teams that the Rockies all-too-often found themselves on the losing side of games with in years past.
The mark of a good team is winning games that should be won, and the Rockies have done just that.
Of the three losses on the season, one came from a guy with two Cy Young awards, two came from pitchers who have recorded no-hitters in the past, and another came from a guy whose ERA is just above 1.00 and hasn't allowed a hit before the fourth inning all season long. Those are games that no team in baseball would escape with a winning record against.
On Friday, the Rockies will have Jhoulys Chacin, originally scheduled for Wednesday's matinée in Chicago, on the mound against Pirates starter Kevin Correia. Correia is familiar with the Rockies, pitching often against them over the past two seasons with the Padres. So far, Correia is pitching well for the Bucs, going 3-2 with a 3.48 ERA.
Chacin looks to bounce back from his tough outing in Florida. He couldn't locate his pitches and struggled to his first loss of the season.
On Saturday the Rockies send Jason Hammel to the mound to face Pirates lefty Paul Maholm. There is no way that Maholm is looking forward to his start at Coors Field, after posting a 1-7 record in his career against the Rockies with a 6.84 ERA. Hammel is coming off of his best performance of the season, seemingly finding his stuff against the Marlins.
Sunday will be a big measuring stick for the Rockies, as they send Ubaldo Jimenez to the mound to face Charlie Morton. Jimenez looked far better in his last time out on Sunday against the Marlins, but ran out of gas after the fifth inning. It will be very telling to see if Jimenez can be anywhere near the dominant pitcher that he was in 2010.
Morton did a good job of limiting the Giants to just one run and four hits against him in six innings his last time out, but he failed to pick up the win as the bullpen couldn't do it's job.
The reality is for the Rockies, they need to find a way to take two-of-three in this series. They are by far the better team, and in every game they should have the pitching advantage. This could be a good time for the Rockies struggling bats to get hot again.
Tuesday, April 26, 2011
The lineup seemed like a blast from the past, featuring Todd Helton in the three-hole.
The way Helton played, no one was questioning Jim Tracy's decision to put the grizzly veteran in that spot.
Helton delivered for the Rockies, hitting not one, but two home runs, giving the Rockies a bump that carried them to a 5-4 victory over the Cubs, and a series win, with hopes of going home with yet another road sweep.
It was the first time since 2007 that Helton had homered twice in the same game.
The focus of the offseason for the Rockies was the long-term deals that the club handed to Troy Tulowitzki and Carlos Gonzalez. Those moves solidified the core of the Rockies lineup for years to come.
However, the key to a medium-market team's success goes well beyond two star players. If the Rockies want to succeed, they are going to have to have role players contribute in big ways.
For the Rockies, it is nice to have a role player like Helton, a three-time All-Star, a two-time Gold Glover, and a former batting champion. Despite his age, Helton is showing that if his back is healthy, there is no reason to suspect that he can't resemble player who was once the most feared hitter in the National League West.
The key for Helton is going to be allowing himself to keep his surgically-repaired back in playing condition. No one questions his work ethic or drive, but in the past, Helton has been able to talk his way into a lineup when he was supposed to be on the bench staying fresh.
The reality for Helton and the Rockies is that they don't need a halfway-healthy No. 17. They need a 100% healthy Helton. That means that he needs to get regular rest, allowing Ty Wigginton or Jason Giambi to man first base more frequently than has been the case in the last few years.
His bat may not have the power that it did when he was 27-years old, but his eye and approach at the plate is the same. He can still hit a ball up the middle, or in the gap in left-center as well as anyone, as long as he is not sacrificing his mechanics at the plate due to his sore back.
If Helton can hit .300, with a consistent amount of doubles, he, not the two young superstars, may be the key to a successful Colorado Rockies season.
With another win on Wednesday afternoon, the Rockies have a chance to head back to Coors Field with their second winning road trip of the 2011 season. How long did it take the club to be able to boast that accomplishment in 2010? They never did it. Throughout 2010, the Rockies had only one winning road trip.
The critics will still say that the Rockies haven't been beating tough opponents. They will say that it will mean something when they are able to go into San Francisco and Los Angeles, two places where they have historically been horrible, and find ways to win.
However, the fact that the opponents have been weak doesn't discredit what these Rockies have done. The accomplishment is not simply winning games, the accomplishment is winning games in which they lost in years past.
Despite being a competitive team for the last few years, the Rockies struggled to beat anyone on the road, whether they were contenders or not. They found ways to look over matched, and they made average pitchers look like they should be receiving Cy Young votes at the conclusion of the season.
The fact that this team is winning games that they have lost in the past, and not just winning a few here and there, but winning frequently, is a good sign for fans hoping that the club the perennially struggles in April and on the road, has found a way to turn the corner.
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Monday, April 25, 2011
It's been a cold April for the Rockies, but there isn't a soul in the clubhouse complaining about it.
The Rockies, with the exception of a weekend series in Miami, have had terrible luck with the weather in the early part of the 2011 season.
If playing in cold weather is all it took to snap a four-year April slump, the Rockies are probably hoping they can see their breath in the middle of August.
Cold weather and baseball simply do not mix. It is hard to pitch, it is hard to hit, it is hard to field. Simply put, it's hard to play baseball in the cold. Cubs shortstop Starlin Castro found that out the hard way on Monday night, committing three errors in the top of the second inning, allowing the Rockies to erase a three-run deficit. In all, the Cubs committed four errors, helping the Rockies to a 5-3 win.
If the Sky Sox starting rotation felt something in the air, it was the collective groan of the Rockies fan base as Esmil Rogers struggled to get out of the first inning for the second Monday in a row. The converted shortstop looked like he had no business on the mound, giving up Darwin Barney's first Major League home run, and barely escaping more trouble as he walked the bases loaded and watched Alfonso Soriano stride to the plate.
Soriano flew out to right, scoring the Cubs third run of the inning, but one swing of the bat could have doomed the Rockies, much like it did against the Giants a week ago.
Once again, as the Rockies are finding ways to win.
While a pessimist might say that they are getting lucky, especially considering arguably their best hitter (Carlos Gonzalez) is hitting just .217 after another 0-for-4 night, and three of their seven losses have come when ace Ubaldo Jimenez took the mound.
However, optimists would say that if they are winning games that they really should be losing, games in which they only manage four hits like they did on Monday, then what is going to happen when they break out of their slumps? What is going to happen when Jimenez becomes dominant again?
If the Rockies are able to win games on the road in which they were trailing, as they have done in six-of their-nine road wins, they are going to be in very good shape.
The club amassed just 31 road wins in all of 2010. Much of the reason that they had such a bad road record was because they couldn't find ways to get back into games. They would get behind and never come up with the clutch hits, or never find ways to stop the bleeding on the mound.
So far in 2011, the Rockies have found ways to fight back when they are behind. They have found ways to get back into games, and not only tie it up, but take the lead. They are finding out that being on the opposite side of things is a much easier way to win games. They aren't the ones scrambling to score a run. They are now the team that is confident enough to know that if the opposition scores a run or two, they will find a way to get back into it.
The Rockies need to take one of the next two games to split their road trip. If they can manage to get two more wins, they will have won their second road trip of the season, something that they didn't accomplish in all of 2010. In years past, splitting a six-game road trip would have seemed like a major victory, now it seems like it is something that should be expected.
That is a good sign for where this Rockies team is trying to get to. Finding ways to win in a cold April will make the rest of the season feel a little warmer.
Sunday, April 24, 2011
It's tough to see the bright side of a game in which a three-run homer immediately following a valiant comeback shattered the hopes of a road win.
However, the Colorado Rockies can head to a much colder Chicago with some positives.
Sure, Mike Stanton crushed a Matt Belisle pitch deep into the orange sea of seats at whatever-it's-called-this-year park in Miami. Sure, the Rockies come from behind fell short when Seth Smith couldn't get the go-ahead run home. Sure, it is a disappointing end result for the Rockies.
The difference? Rockies fans are exhaling everywhere, relaxing about their ace, Ubaldo Jimenez, returning to form. Was he completely back to the Jimenez of 2010, no. But for four innings he was. After looking like the shell of that pitcher, and having fans start to question whether the injured cuticle had more to do with the club's fear of a shoulder issue.
The tank hit empty in the fifth inning for Jimenez. It was apparent that he simply didn't have it anymore. However, the first four innings was exactly what everyone had been hoping to see.
It was just four innings, but one or two more starts, and those four innings will suddenly turn into six or seven innings as the Dominican builds up arm strength.
The other extreme positive for the Rockies was the fact that they once again came from behind. So far in this young season, the Rockies have made a habit of doing something that they consistently failed at. In 2010, when the Rockies got down be a run or two, they shut it down and seemed to sulk, hoping for better results the next day. In 2011, the Rockies have fought back when they have been down, scratching back into games.
Despite the early season success of getting back into games, it was easy to dismiss that as bad teams having bad pitchers on the mound.
Sunday dispelled that though, as the Rockies found ways to get to Josh Johnson, perhaps the best right handed pitcher in the National League, and despite the fact that he had his best stuff through the first five innings. Is not as if Johnson was off of his game. He was un-hittable in the early going.
So while the game goes down in the books as a loss, and the Rockies leave whatever-its-called stadium for the final time, they can head to Chicago knowing that they can score runs on anyone in the league, regardless of who they are, and regardless if they have their best stuff or not.
The Rockies have definitely come back to earth from their hot start, but they certainly are still showing signs of turning the corner from the team that they were last year.
Saturday, April 23, 2011
There is no doubt that the Colorado Rockies offense is under performing.
In any baseball season, regardless of how potent a lineup is, there will be times of struggle. It is simply the way the game works.
When that happens, the pitching staff has to step up and find a way to keep the offense within striking distance.
That is exactly what Jason Hammel did on Saturday night. After struggling in his first four starts of the season, Hammel seemed to find his stuff. He worked a great breaking ball in with a dominant fastball to keep Marlins hitters off of the base paths. He worked 6-2/3 innings, giving up just one earned run on seven hits. He walked one and struck out four.
Hammel also made a huge contribution at the plate in the sixth inning. After Todd Helton and Seth Smith led the inning off with doubles, Smith was at third base with one out and Hammel at the plate. On the first pitch, Hammel laid down a perfect squeeze bunt with Smith bearing down on him. The run put the Rockies up by two, giving just enough cushion for Hammel and the bullpen to be comfortable.
The offense struggled once again, but once again showed that 2011 is going to be different than 2010. In the past, when the Rockies offense was off, they didn't do the little things that don't require squaring a ball up and putting it into the seats.
In the sixth inning, when the Rockies plated their two runs, Ty Wigginton did a great job of moving the runners up on a deep sacrifice fly to center field, scoring Helton from third and moving Smith up to third base, setting up the Hammel squeeze bunt.
In years past, that at-bat seemed to always go into the books as a strikeout, or an infield pop out that doesn't advance the runners. The difference is huge. Instead of relying on a pitcher to come through with a base hit, a run has already crossed the plate, and a good bunt by Hammel scores the second run.
The Rockies have scuffled slightly over the past week, but have found ways to win games that in the past would have gone into the loss column.
That makes for a very optimistic outlook. When the offense does find a way to get going, things will be that much better for the Rockies.
Friday, April 22, 2011
For the second time in five days, the Rockies were fighting not for a victory, but for a single hit.
Anibal Sanchez, who threw a no-hitter in his rookie season of 2006, took a no-hitter into the ninth inning before Dexter Fowler slid a ground ball into right field to break up the no-hit bid.
Ironically, after the top half of the 1st inning, the Rockies held the lead. Fowler led off with a walk, then moved up to second base on a past ball, then to third base on Jonathan Herrera, and scored when first baseman Gaby Sanchez dropped a perfect throw from third base on Troy Tulowitzki's grounder.
The Rockies were in a similar boat on Monday, when Tim Lincecum was given a five run lead in the first inning and was able to relax and dominate the Rockies offense.
Jhoulys Chacin started on the mound for the Rockies, and showed his age. The 23-year old has been impressive so far in 2011, however, at his age, he still is going to have tough outings. Without his best stuff, Chacin was able to grind through five innings. He struggled to find the strike zone, throwing just 55 strikes out of his 95 total pitches. For the game, Chacin gave up four runs on seven hits in five innings. He walked three and stuck out four.
Outings like that are going to happen for Chacin. It is going to be tough for Rockies fans to understand, because he has shown such promise. He is going to win his fair share of games, and he is going to be dominant and continue to grow up and learn how to pitch, but there will be a learning curve along the way. He will have to find out how to adjust from pitching at Coors Field to pitching on the road.
The game was certainly not how the Rockies were looking to start out their six-game road trip. After a dominant 7-1 road trip to begin the season, the club was looking to build on that and show that they can win on the road. With just one hit on Friday night, and the prospect of facing Marlins ace Josh Johnson on Sunday, the Rockies are already in a tough spot.
As early as it still is, it will be telling to see how the Rockies bounce back from a tough loss in which they struggled to score on Saturday night. In 2010, this loss would snowball and get into the hitter's heads. During the first road trip, one bad day at the plate wouldn't set the tone for the next few games.
The Rockies have shown maturity and promise so far in this young season, but they haven't had such a poor performance on the road yet. If the Rockies can turn the page and hit well on Saturday, and at least put runs on the board and play the game the way that they have been, it will show that they have the maturity to play well one day to the next, despite their struggles the previous day.
Thursday, April 21, 2011
Despite their 7-1 road record, it is easy for the Colorado Rockies to find critics.
In one road trip, the Rockies have already done more on the road then they did it 2010. They found a way to win in both Pittsburgh and New York, two places that have given them fits in years past, for whatever reason.
The Rockies were one timely hit away from coming back to Coors Field with a perfect 8-0 record on the road. They played extremely well against both the Pirates and the Mets.
However, despite ending the tradition of struggling in both of those cities, critics are still not sold on the team suddenly being road warriors. It's hard to blame them for being skeptical, a year removed from the club going a miserable 31-50 away from Coors Field.
The critics point to the fact that the Rockies have only been in Pittsburgh and New York, two teams that, to be completely honest, have zero chance of competing for the postseason.
Those arguments are fair. Especially considering the Rockies poor performance on the road a year ago. However, those who pay attention to the team on a daily basis know that, despite the opponent, something is different about this year's Rockies.
Despite being behind in six-of-the-seven victories, the Rockies rallies to win. That alone, regardless of the opponent, is something that would not have happened in 2010. On the road, when the Rockies were behind--even by a run, they folded. They made the opposing pitcher, whether it was Ross Ohlendorf or Pat Minsch, look like Nolan Ryan. In 2011, they are fighting back, finding a way to win close games.
To quiet the critics, the Rockies are going to have to show that their eight-game road trip was no fluke. That means that they are going to have to continue hitting well against both the Marlins and Cubs.
This road trip will certainly be more difficult for the Rockies. On Sunday they face Josh Johnson, a pitcher who has Cy Young stuff, and pitches in a huge park. Had he not been shut down with injury in August of 2010, he would have been a serious contender for the Cy Young in the National League.
With Johnson going on Sunday against a Ubaldo Jimenez who is still a huge question mark as far as health and velocity goes, the Rockies need to strike early. They should have a good chance on Friday with 23-year old Jhoulys Chacin on the mound against Anibal Sanchez. Sanchez is a good pitcher, having thrown a no-hitter, but Chacin has stepped up in the loss of Jimenez as the club's most dependable pitcher over the course of the first month.
On Saturday Esmil Rogers gets his chance to prove that his outing on Monday against the Giants was a fluke. He faces veteran Javier Vazquez, who hasn't lasted past the sixth inning in any of his three starts so far in 2011.
The key for the Rockies is not to press. They don't need to win every game, or even every series, on the road. If they find a way to come back to Coors Field with a 3-3 record on this six game road trip, they will be fine.
Quieting the critics is going to take more than a good road trip against the Pirates and Mets. However, the Rockies don't need to prove their critics wrong by the end of April. If they try to do that, they will get themselves in trouble by pressing too much and feeling as if they can't afford to lose. If they focus on what is important, and find ways to win games that they have a chance to win, they will find themselves in a good position.
Wednesday, April 20, 2011
Jorge De La Rosa picked up right where Tim Lincecum and Jonathan Sanchez left off.
With the Rockies desperate to avoid a sweep in a three-game series that is as important as one gets in April, De La Rosa delivered an absolute gem for the home team.
After allowing a first-pitch double to Aaron Rowand, it looked like it was happening all over again to the Rockies. On Monday, Esmil Rogers gave up five runs in the 1st inning. On Tuesday, Ubaldo Jimenez allowed four runs before the Rockies had a chance to swing the bats.
Instead, De La Rosa fought back allowing just one run in the first inning, getting help from Carlos Gonzalez, who threw out Aubrey Huff, trying to go first-to-third on a base hit to left.
In all, De La Rosa went seven strong innings, giving up a total of two runs on four hits. He struck out six and walked just two.
On top of De La Rosa's strong performance, the Rockies offense showed up again. Matt Cain had to pay the price after two Giants pitchers dominated Colorado in back-to-back nights.
Ty Wigginton delivered the big blow, knocking a three-run homer to left field in the 2nd inning, giving the Rockies a 4-0 lead. Ryan Spilborghs, a night after looking as bad as he ever has at the plate, deposited a three-run pinch-hit shot of his own, deep into the Rockies bullpen.
There is no such thing as a must-win game in April. There is too much baseball to be played to be too concerned over a small losing streak, especially with the way the Rockies have come out of the gates. However, with the Rockies playing just three out of their next 15 games at Coors Field, it was a good way to leave home.
A sweep at the hands of the Giants, a team that the Rockies have made no bones about gunning for, had the potential of becoming a mental hurdle. No matter how well the team continues to perform, the thought in the back of their heads may have become one of wondering if they were good enough to get past the Giants.
Now the Rockies can head out onto the road knowing that they are able to beat the Giants, even defeating a pitcher like Matt Cain.
The Rockies can continue to prove that they are a better team on the road, starting on Friday evening in Florida. A year ago, they were only able to win 31 games on the road. So far in 2011, they already have eight wins. If the Rockies can continue to play confident baseball on the road, they should be able to continue notching wins, regardless of the opponent.
Tuesday, April 19, 2011
After their second straight lackluster performance in a row, the Rockies offense had the tying run at the plate in the bottom of the 7th inning with two outs.
With a struggling Ryan Spilborghs coming to the plate (6-for-35 on the season), and Ramon Ramirez, a righty on the mound, it seemed like a no-brainer that Jim Tracy would call upon Jason Giambi to pinch-hit and take a shot at tying the game up.
Instead, Tracy allowed Spilborghs to hit, and from the first pitch it was clear that he had no chance at the plate. After four pitches, Spilborghs was dispatched, not coming within a foot of Ramirez's split-finger, and the inning was over.
Obviously there was no guarantee that Giambi would have come through in that situation. He may very well have struck out, just as Spilborghs did. However, there is one reason, and only one reason, why Giambi is a member of the Colorado Rockies. That reason is to hit in that situation.
Tracy has an excuse. Before the game, the team optioned struggling third baseman Ian Stewart to Triple-A Colorado Springs in order to get his timing back. That move allowed the Rockies to put Ubaldo Jimenez back on the roster, leaving the bench short a man. Therefore, Tracy needed to be picky where he used his pinch-hitters, and with Seth Smith already being used, burning Giambi in that situation leaves the club short if they need a big hit late.
With the short bench, the move can be justified. However, Tracy has a tendency to think that outs in the 9th inning are more important than outs at any other point in the game. With two men in scoring position, even a base hit would have put the Rockies within a run. That makes it much easier to get something going later in the game, or have someone run into a fastball and put it into the seats.
Giambi did get used. However, it came in the 9th inning, with the Rockies down by three and a runner on first base. Even if Giambi goes deep in that situation, the Rockies are still down by a run. The combination of moves, not using Giambi in a game-tying situation, then using him in a non-game-tying situation is head scratching.
The moment when Spilborghs struck out was really the only time the Rockies were in the game. Ubaldo Jimenez, fresh off of the disabled list, made Rockies fans think they were watching a replay of Monday night's game. He gave up four runs in the 1st inning, including a three-run no doubt home run off the bat of Pablo Sandoval.
After Jonathan Sanchez gave up a lead off double to Dexter Fowler, he began to look like a left-handed version of Tim Lincecum. He didn't give up his second hit until the 7th inning.
The Rockies struggles with the Giants continue, despite their excellent start. The club tries to avoid the sweep in a Thursday matinée. The Rockies send Jorge De La Rosa to the mound to face Matt Cain.
Monday, April 18, 2011
Sometimes you just tip your cap and move on.
Tim Lincecum took a no-hitter into the 7th inning before Carlos Gonzalez laced a single into right field. After Todd Helton doubled down the right field line, Lincecum's bid for a shutout ended as well.
In the end, the Rockies lost the opener of a three-game series 8-1 to the Giants.
For all of the hype coming into the series about the Rockies using the three-game set as a statement, a game like Lincecum threw on Monday nullifies all of the talk. Sometimes a guy on the other team just has it, and Lincecum was having one of those nights.
It certainly didn't hurt the right-hander to be staked to a 5-0 lead before he ever climbed the mound and threw a pitch.
As good as Lincecum was for the Giants, Esmil Rogers was equally as bad for the Rockies.
Rogers got a quick first out to start the game before the flood gates opened. Aided by a breeze to right field, Freddy Sanchez lifted a ball into the Rockies bullpen to start the scoring. Before it was over, Pat Burrell and Nate Schierholtz had both launched home runs of their own.
It may have been the quickest game in the history of Coors Field. After the top of the 1st inning, the remainder of the game was only played because the rules stated that it had to be. Lincecum has never lost a game when given a five run advantage.
As bad as it was for Rogers, Triple-A call-up Clayton Mortensen made the latest statement about the Rockies depth. One of the few negative points for the Rockies in the early going of a very successful season has been the overuse of the bullpen. With Ubaldo Jimenez on the DL and Jorge De La Rosa twice dealing with blister issues, the Rockies have asked their bullpen to work more than they would like to.
With Rogers clunker, it looked like the Rockies were going to have to get five or six innings from their pen again. Instead, Mortensen came in and pitched six shutout innings in his Rockies debut. He gave up just two hits while walking two and striking out a batter.
The Rockies acquired Mortensen in the offseason from the Oakland A's for exactly what he was used for on Monday night. Ironically, Mortensen was one of the prospects that was shipped to Oakland from St. Louis for Matt Holliday.
The game goes down in the books as a loss, and the Rockies will have to take the next two in the series to be the victors, but the reality is, it was simply a night when the club didn't have a chance to begin with. They were facing a two-time Cy Young winner, and the Rockies starter simply didn't have it.
Those types of games happen. It doesn't matter what the series is or who a team is playing, games like Monday night's happen to every team. It is simply another example of why a hot start is so important.
The Rockies send Ubaldo Jimenez to the mound to in an effort to even the series on Tuesday.
Sunday, April 17, 2011
Alan Johnson won't soon forget his Major League debut. However, it probably wasn't what he originally dreamed of as a kid. The righty rookie only lasted four innings, giving up five runs (four earned) on six hits. He walked three and struck out three. He threw 93 pitches in the process.
Despite a rough outing for Johnson, the Rockies offense bailed him out, although it came within a pitch of blowing a great scoring opportunity.
Dexter Fowler came through for the Rockies, knocking a two-run double into right-center field with two outs and two strikes in the bottom half of the 8th inning.
With the game tied at five, Ryan Spilborghs led off the 8th inning with a base hit off the glove of Cubs reliever Marcos Mateo. Jose Lopez then failed on two consecutive bunt attempts, only to line a base hit to right field. When Kosuke Fukodome bobbled the ball, Spilborghs advanced to third and Lopez to second. The play questionably went into the books as a double.
With two runners in scoring position and no outs, things were looking good for the Rockies. Then, memories of 2010 started creeping in. Jose Morales fought off several pitches before being called out on strikes. With one out, Ty Wigginton pinch hit. In a situation where just lifting the ball in the air would plate the go-ahead run, Wigginton also took a seat on the bench after swinging through strike three.
At that point, the Rockies looked like they might be helping the Cubs out in a big way. Fowler worked the count, but found himself with two strikes. It seemed like the Rockies were going to go back to their old ways and give up their best chance to win the game. At that point, Fowler lined the two-strike pitch into the outfield, scoring both runs. Fowler slid into second with a double.
Jonathan Herrera then lined the first pitch to right field, scoring Fowler, followed by Carlos Gonzalez smacking a pitch to center field to keep the rally going. Todd Helton plated the next run with a single, and the Rockies suddenly had a four run lead.
The difference between the 2010 Rockies and the 2011 Rockies could not have been shouted louder than it was on Sunday afternoon. In 2010, the Rockies ingrained into fans heads to not expect anything big in that situation. When Fowler came to the plate with two outs, it seemed inevitable that he would be the third strikeout victim.
Fast forward to 2011 and the same players now play with a different mindset. Despite the fact that the first two batters failed to do the job, Fowler wasn't going to be swayed, even with two strikes. He found a way to get the job done. And after he got the job done, the guys behind him kept piling the runs on the board.
Those games are becoming wins for the Rockies in 2011. In 2010, those same games were losses. They lost those games because their approach at every turn was to swing for the fences. Instead of trying to hit the ball out of the park, they have realized that hitting it into the expansive Coors Field outfield does the job just as well, and doesn't require the perfect pitch.
If the Rockies can continue hitting with that mentality, they have a good chance at staying right where they are in the standings all season long.
Saturday, April 16, 2011
All good things must end.
The Colorado Rockies seven-game winning streak came to an end at Coors Field on Saturday night. The Cubs drubbed the Rockies to the tune of 8-3.
During the winning streak, the Rockies were relying on their offense to get the job done. On Saturday, the offense couldn't carry the load. The bats combined to go 0-for-12 with runners in scoring position.
As good as the winning streak was for the Rockies, the reality is, the club had yet to hit on all cylinders. In his first three starts of the season, Jason Hammel has struggled on the mound. Despite only giving up three runs in six innings of work, Hammel didn't have his best stuff. He was laboring throughout, spinning off of the mound and struggling to find the strike zone. However, Hammel was good enough to keep the Rockies in the game, but the offense couldn't put it together when they had opportunities.
Games like Saturday's are exactly why the Rockies hot start was so important. Games where the bats just don't come to life happen. They usually happen far more often than the Rockies have been experiencing so far in 2011. It is just another reason why starting the season on such a high note was so important.
When the Rockies are nine games over .500 in the middle of April, it makes it easier to handle a game when the bats don't come through or when an opposing pitcher has a dominant outing.
When teams get in trouble, as the Rockies know so well from the past few years, is when they start slowly, then have to crawl back into the standings. In baseball, when the best overall team doesn't necessarily win every game, there has to be room for error. With the way the Rockies have started, they have given themselves a few opportunities to get dominated by a good pitcher, or just see their bats go cold.
The key for the Rockies is to get right back to it. Instead of trying to win every game, they need to continue focusing on winning series'. If they are able to take two-out of-three in each series, they will stay on top of the division all season long.
Troy Tulowitzki missed his 100th career home run by three feet, settling for a triple. He later added a single to finish 2-for-4. Lately, when the shortstop doesn't hit a home run, it almost seems like there must be something wrong. When he gets hits in half of his at-bats and it feels like he had a bad night, it speaks volumes of what he has been doing at the plate over the last 10 days.
The Rockies look win the three-game series against the Cubs on Sunday. If the Rockies want to come away with the victory, they almost certainly will need their bats to be better than they were on Saturday. Alan Johnson, a six-year minor leaguer, makes his Major League debut on the mound for the club. He has won 10 games at the Triple-A level each of the past two seasons, but pitching at the big league level is a whole new ballgame. If the offense can give him some early support, he may be able to grind through five or six innings and keep the club in the ballgame.
Friday, April 15, 2011
The Colorado Rockies knew going into the season that their rotation was going to be better than the experts gave them credit for.
Part of the reason the club knew that they would be better is because they knew how good Jhoulys Chacin could be. The 23-year old broke out in his rookie season, securing a spot in the rotation and posting a 3.28 ERA in 28 appearances in his rookie season.
After Friday's performance, a few more people outside of Denver might be aware of who Chacin is.
The Venezuelan led the Rockies to a 5-0 victory over the Cubs, throwing a complete-game shutout. He gave up just six hits, striking out seven while walking just two.
Chacin is just another Rockies prospect who is coming up through the system who seems unfazed by pitching at Coors Field. His breaking pitches move more than they should at elevation, and his confidence in his changeup, throwing it to right-handed hitters this season, may have pushed him over the edge from being just a good looking pitcher, to a top-of-the-rotation kind of guy.
The Rockies won in a different way on Friday. Instead of letting the opponent take the early lead as they did in all four games at Citi Field in New York, the Rockies lit up the scoreboard early. With the base loaded, Chris Iannetta smoked a ball to straight away center field. The ball went past the outstretched arms of Cubs center fielder Marlon Byrd, and rolled to the wall. All three runs scored easily, and when the relay throw from Starlin Castro went wildly into the Cubs dugout, Iannetta trotted home, giving the Rockies a four run lead.
After their best road trip in years, the Rockies returned to Coors Field and easily could have suffered from a hangover. They played two games on Thursday, arrived back in Denver after midnight and quickly got back to work. After a six-game winning streak, it would have been forgivable if the Rockies played a little flat on Friday. The Rockies had other thoughts though.
Chacin's complete-game was more than a boost for a tired team. If there could be any negatives on a 7-1 road trip, it would be that the bullpen had been extremely taxed. A day to get their legs back under them and rest their arms will go a long way down the road. On Friday night, the Rockies bullpen sat empty after Chacin trotted to the mound to start the game.
One thing that has been lost in the Rockies unbelievable start has been the play of Todd Helton. When he originally went down with tightness in his back, it seemed like the cycle was continuing itself once again. Instead, Helton got some rest and has shown that he is completely healthy. On Friday, he went 2-for-4 with a classic Helton hit, driving the ball hard to the left-center gap. It is easy to tell when Helton is on. When he is keeping his weight back and driving the ball to the opposite field, he is feeling great. If he can stay healthy and protect the big two in the Rockies lineup, it will go a long way for the success of the team.
The Rockies head into Saturday night on a seven game winning streak. They send Jason Hammel to the hill to oppose Triple-A call-up Casey Coleman. A win on Saturday will give the Rockies some breathing room, as they send their own Triple-A call-up, Alan Johnson to the mound for a spot-start on Sunday.
Thursday, April 14, 2011
For years it was acceptable. For years, there when other clubs came to visit Coors Field, it was understandable that fans for the other teams outnumbered Rockies fans. After all, the Rockies were in the middle of an identity crisis for most of those years.
Those days are over.
These are not your father's Rockies.
With the Chicago Cubs heading into town, there will be an inevitable sea of blue filling the green seats at Coors Field. These fans aren't your typical visiting fans, however. These fans are loud, they talk trash, and they have a superiority complex, despite the fact that they are arrogantly cheering for a team who hasn't won a World Series since Theodore Roosevelt lived in the White House.
The excuse for Cubs fans is that through WGN, Chicago's superstation, they were the only team that baseball fans from Colorado could watch before the Rockies came into existence. The problem with that excuse, however, was that it was only half of the excuse. The other side of the excuse was that they would gladly be Rockies fans if the owners would step up and commit to winning.
Well Cubs fans, welcome to 2011. The Colorado Rockies head into a series with your beloved lovable losers with the best record in baseball. They are 10-2 in the early going, and have a certain swagger about them. They refuse to lose.
In each of the four games in which they swept the Mets, they were down 2-0 before fighting back to take the lead, something that rarely happened in 2010.
Not only do the Rockies have a team that looks like it is serious about making a playoff run, they have a team full of players who aren't going anywhere for a while. After signing Troy Tulowitzki and Carlos Gonzalez to long-term deals, the Rockies have shown that they are committed to winning. Long gone are the days of Jose Hernandez starting at shortstop. Long gone are the days of Jeromy Burnitz providing the power for a lackluster, castoff lineup.
These Rockies have started off hot, and no one is calling it a fluke. Finally, everyone in the media is realizing that the Rockies are not just a good little club who can make some noise from time to time. They are realizing that the Rockies might just be a team who can compete with the big boys on the east coast, and with the big-spending Phillies.
Loyalty is a great thing. The fact that these Cubs fans have held on for so long is admirable. However, it is time for Rockies fans to realize that they have everything that they ever asked for in a baseball team, and so much more. No one could have envisioned this good of a start. No one could have seen the Rockies playing this well on the road. It might just be a hot start, but those watching the Rockies know that there is a difference between this team and the team that took the field in 2010. It is as if there has been a new level of maturity hit in the clubhouse, that the days of being the underdog, and the days of being disrespected are over.
The fact is, this Rockies team is good. They know they are good, and they have a very good chance at contending. It is time for fans to realize that and begin to back their team.
There is no way to keep Cubs fans out of Coors Field over the weekend, however, it is possible for Rockies fans to drown them out and make their presence a moot point.
It is time for Rockies fans to step up and embrace their team.
No, Colorado Rockies fans, this isn't a dream.
On Thursday, the Rockies swept a doubleheader from the Mets, completing a four-game sweep of the reeling New York club. The four wins equaled the same number of wins the Rockies had coming into the series since 2003. That's not a typo.
The Rockies head home from an eight-game road trip with a record of 7-1. The Rockies made it clear that they intended to play better on the road in 2011, but no one knew how serious about it they actually were. In both games, the Rockies were down 2-0 early in the game. In both contests, the Rockies were led back and took the lead.
There aren't enough adjectives to describe the temperature level of Troy Tulowitzki's bat. The shortstop slugged a home run in the first game, giving the Rockies the insurance runs would end up being necessary in the Rockies early victory. If the home run in game one wasn't enough, how about another one in game two?
Tulowitzki, once again with the Rockies down 4-2, knocked a solo shot to left field, cutting the Mets lead.
Consider this, after the shortstop devoured Mets pitching to the tune of 10-for-16 with four home runs and eight RBIs in the series. The four home runs in the series combined with Tulo's spectacular September in 2010, leave the All-Star with 22 home runs in his previous 157 at-bats. So much for him being a slow-starter.
Playing in the big apple will undoubtedly give Tulowitzki a little more exposure to the east coast media. If they haven't noticed how good he is yet, they never will know.
The Rockies are off to a quick start--their best ever--and make no mistake, Tulowitzki's play on the field is not the only reason. It is clear that Tulo is the leader of the clubhouse. He believes that he can carry the team on his shoulders, and he is proving that every single day. The 2007 Rockies credited Tulowitzki's clubhouse speech about never being on a losing team for their turnaround that led them to the World Series. That came when the shortstop had less than two months of big league service time.
He is a notoriously hard worker. The Denver Post quoted Tulowitzki this winter as saying that his only hobby included talking about baseball with his wife. The fast start may be surprising to Rockies fans, but it may not be so surprising to Tulowitzki. After the disappointment of 2010, largely due to their early season struggles, there seemed to be no way that the teams captain, the guy who signed a 10-year extension in the winter, was going to allow the Rockies to come up short again.
The club comes home from their eight game road trip with a record of 10-1. Consider the fact that the Rockies hadn't logged their 10th win until April 25th. In 2009, the club didn't get to double digit wins until May 4th, 2008, it came on April 24th, and in their World Series year, the 10th win of the season didn't come until April 29th.
The Rockies will not be able to keep up this pace throughout the season. Winning 10-out of-12 is just not realistic. However, the early start allows the club to falter at some point in the season and still be alright. They will not be forced to win every game down the stretch just to get back into the race. This early run will allow them some breathing room to slump for a week or two and still be in a good place.
The Rockies look to stay hot against the Cubs over the weekend. Then, they get their first crack at showing the Giants that they might be the champions, but underestimating the Rockies is a bad idea.
Wednesday, April 13, 2011
People who follow the Colorado Rockies expected them to be good, but not this good.
After yet another impressive victory at Citi Field on Wednesday night, the Rockies sit at 8-2, one victory from completing their first road trip of the season with a winning record. How important is winning a road trip? Considering that the Rockies did that just once in all of 2010 tells a big story.
The Rockies, coming into this series, had won just five of their previous 27 games in New York against the Mets. Securing even a series split with the Mets with that history is remarkable. Now, however, with a split of a doubleheader on Thursday, the Rockies have a chance to win a four series against a club that has given them fits over the years.
The key to the Rockies strong start? There are a number of reasons, but the impact of Troy Tulowitzki cannot be overstated.
No one will complain about how the Rockies shortstop plays the game. However, much like the team, Tulo has been known for his slow starts. In his rookie season on 2007, he admitted that he was pressing to prove that he belonged in the big leagues. In 2008, he started slow after trying to justify the contract that he had signed after his rookie season. In 2009 he hit just .200 with three home runs and five RBIs. 2010 was much of the same, when Tulo hit for average better in April, checking in at .304, but he hit just one home run.
There is no way to deny it. The mentality in the Rockies dugout is a 180-degree difference from 2010. They scratch, scrape and crawl their way back into games. Much of that comes from the leadership of Tulowitzki.
On Monday, in the opener of the four game series, Tulowitzki had a runner on third base and did a good job of taking an outside pitch and driving it to right field, scoring the run. Then, in the 8th inning, he launched a two-run homer into the left field stands.
On Wednesday, again with the Rockies down, Tulowitzki took an outside pitch and extended his arms, drilling it through the cold air and into the right field seats for a three-run home run. That gave the Rockies a 5-4 lead, and they never looked back.
In 2010, games like the Rockies have been winning in the first 10 games of this season, would have gone down in the books as losses. They would have been frustrated with a one or two run deficit and instead of methodically finding ways to score a few runs here and there, they would have played with a panic and tried to win the game every inning at the plate.
Esmil Rogers was on the mound for the Rockies. He did everything that is asked of a fifth starter. He didn't have the same stuff that he had on Thursday in Pittsburgh, but he was able to keep his team in the ball game. A testament to his maturity, in the fourth inning, with two outs, Rogers loaded the bases, then got behind Willie Harris 2-0. Instead of breaking down, Rogers worked himself back into the count and got a flyball to centerfield to end the threat.
The Rockies are off to their best start in club history. On top of that, however, they have had their best start ever, while playing six of those games on the road.
Starting out hot is not just about taking an early lead in the standings, it is about not having to dig themselves out of a hole in the later months, and giving themselves breathing room down the stretch.
The Rockies may have several different reasons for their quick start, but one of the main reasons they have been this good is due to the fact that Troy Tulowitzki is not allowing them to fall into the same patterns as years in the past.
Tuesday, April 12, 2011
Since the Colorado Rockies emerged from their years of rebuilding, there has been one area where they have remained consistent. Losing in April.
In recent years, the Rockies, right as their fans give up on them, go on a streak to climb back into contention.
While watching the team race to the finish is undoubtedly fun, it doesn't necessarily bode well for the team. Not only is every game down the stretch crucial, so much energy is spent on the race, that none is left for the playoff run.
Because of the recent April history for the Rockies, a 7-2 start makes it easy to get excited. Fans aren't used to seeing the team be anywhere near first place before Memorial Day, let alone Easter. The question right now is, when is it appropriate to be excited?
Sure, the Rockies are 7-2. They are in first place in the National League West. They have already beat the Dodgers twice, and they won a four game series in Pittsburgh, something that has eluded them in recent years. The most exciting part of the first nine games, however, has been the way the Rockies have won these games.
Both losses have come in extra innings. Both losses included the Rockies having the winning or go-ahead runs in scoring position in extra frames. The reality is, this club is two swings of the bat away from being undefeated. In addition to their two losses being so close to wins, the Rockies have won several games that they would have found a way to lose in 2010.
On the road in 2010, it seemed like when the Rockies went down by a run or two, they slumped down and lost confidence. They quit playing baseball and started trying to play home run derby at the plate, as if they had only one chance to win the game.
Already in 2011, that old mentality is nowhere to be found. This team scratches out runs. They find ways to move runners over. They get on base and get hits when they need to. Their pitching doesn't fold regularly when they have a lead.
Still, the fact remains, the Rockies are only nine games into a 162-game season. There is a lot of baseball left to be played. Getting excited about being in first place comes with the sober reality that the Cleveland Indians and Baltimore Orioles are also teams that are currently in first place.
So is it too early for Rockies fans to be excited? The answer to that is no. The Rockies have played great baseball so far, something that has been completely foreign to them in April. The excitement should be reserved. Nine games is too early to crown them the NL West champs. However, nine games is enough to see what a team is made of. It is clear that this team has the talent to compete for the title.
Full-fledged excitement should be bottled up until somewhere around the middle of May. If the Rockies can keep up their pace for the first six weeks, their early success is no fluke. Until then, Rockies fans should just be excited to be 7-2 in April, rather than 2-7.