Thursday, June 28, 2012

Colorado Rockies win on walk-off, issues still run deep

The Rockies won on Thursday, but the issues remain.
Marco Scutaro was the hero of the day for the Colorado Rockies. He laced an 11th inning single that scored the winning run, giving the Rockies an 11-10 victory, and a series split against the Nationals.

The game saw the Rockies score seven runs in the first two innings. The offense, using a Jim Tracy style day game lineup, found a way to get to Edwin Jackson. Tyler Colvin continues to push for an everyday spot. He wound up just a double shy of the cycle after going 4-for-6 with five RBIs.

It was easy in the early going to write Colvin off. The sample size was too small and after a such a poor 2011, Colvin's hot start seemed like a fluke. Instead, he is starting to look like the No.1 draft pick that he was.

His four hits pushed his batting average to .309. He has eight home runs and 29 RBIs in limited playing time. It is quickly looking like Colvin is going to need to be in the everyday lineup. However, that poses a problem for the Rockies, along with their loyal fans. Colvin needs to be in the lineup, but where does he fit?

The outfield is set with Carlos Gonzalez, Dexter Fowler and Michael Cuddyer. Cuddyer can play some first base, and so can Colvin, so when Helton isn't in the lineup, the answer is easy. However, Colvin needs to be in the lineup more than just every third or fourth day. He needs to be out there every day.

The answer is difficult for nostalgic reasons, but easy for logical reasons. The spot for Colvin has to be first base. Whether that means moving Cuddyer play first and having Colvin in right, or the other way around, the best lineup option for the Rockies is to have him out there. Of course, that comes at the expense at the Rockies best player in franchise history, Todd Helton.

Helton is the face of the franchise. This is his team. It always will be his team until he chooses to retire, regardless of what role Helton has on the team, it will be his team. However, it might be time to change that role. Helton has been convinced by this team that he is old. They insist that he can't play a day game after a night game.

With Jason Giambi looking like a potential trade candidate, Helton needs to move into that role. It will take him some time to adjust to being a late inning pinch hitter. However, imagine the benefit that the Rockies could have with Helton being a defensive replacement in the later innings and getting a couple of good, quality, healthy at-bats from him, especially in a chosen situation.

It might be the right time for the Rockies to make that transition.

With that said, the issue simply isn't the offense. This Rockies team puts up runs like crazy. Dan O'Dowd may believe that Coors Field is playing differently, but the reality is that the park is yielding more home runs because the offense is far superior to the one at 20th & Blake in 2011.

As good as the offense has been, the Rockies starting pitchers have been worse. Staked to a 7-0 lead through two innings, Josh Outman allowed the Nationals right back into the game. He gave up five runs in the third inning and once again couldn't make it through five innings to qualify for the win in what looked like a blowout.

The fact is, Coors Field hasn't changed a single bit. Nothing about the park is different. The home runs that are leaving the ballpark are not any more cheap than the home runs that left the park in previous seasons. The difference is the quality of pitching from the Rockies. As Jordan Zimmermann showed on Wednesday night, the formula for winning at Coors is to pitch low in the zone and induce ground balls. The Nats induced four double plays on Wednesday and squelched any rally the Rockies put together.

The team can play around with any theory that they want to play around with. They can experiment with 4-man rotations, pitch limits, mixing and matching, calling up Double-A pitchers, and any other crazy theory that they want to try, but the reality is, Coors Field will play like it did in 2011 again when the talent matches that talent.

Compare the talent and experience in the 2012 rotation to that of 2011's. It isn't even close. Jeremy Guthrie isn't struggling because of Coors Field. He is struggling because he leaves straight fastballs up in the zone. Christian Friedrich is struggling at home because he only has a month of experience at the Triple-A level after struggling for two seasons in Double-A. It is going to take time for him to figure it out. Alex White, even though he was sent back to the minors, was in that same boat as well. Guillermo Moscoso and Outman are journeymen minor leaguers who simply don't have the talent to be consistently good. It is as simple as that.

The Rockies will improve as soon as they find a way to improve their starting pitching. That means improving the talent, not trying some crazy formula of throwing less innings and less pitches in order to somehow save the bullpen. That doesn't mean blaming the field, the altitude or the players on the field. It means fielding a team that has arms that can produce outs whether it is at Dodger Stadium, Petco Park or Coors Field. It means taking responsibility for the failings in the offseason and figuring out how to do better next year.

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