Monday, August 27, 2012

Youth continues to drive Colorado Rockies to resurgence

Wilin Rosario has been impressive at the plate for the Rockies.
Most baseball fans don't know the names of the majority of the guys in the starting lineup for the Colorado Rockies on Monday night.

The Rockies were supposed to be the other team in the continuing Los Angeles Dodgers celebration tour following their acquisition of Adrian Gonzalez, Josh Beckett and the injured Carl Crawford. The young Rockies, coming into their own, spoiled the party, putting up an 8-run 8th inning in route to a 10-0 victory.

The calendar flipped from July to August and suddenly the Rockies are playing good baseball. They aren't getting lucky. They are playing fundamental baseball, moving runners over, hitting the ball to the right side, taking good at-bats, and, most importantly, throwing strikes.

The Rockies young players have added a new dynamic to this team. For whatever reason, Colorado is now playing with confidence, hitting to all fields, and playing the game the right way.


The score doesn't do the game justice, which was in doubt when Jeff Francis got two outs with the tying runs in scoring position in the 5th inning. Francis pitched like the veteran that the club hoped for when they picked him up in June. He went five strong innings, striking out six, while only giving up three hits and one walk.

Beyond Francis, the young lineup set the tone from the very beginning of the game. Spoiling Josh Beckett's Dodgers debut only took two pitches. That is when Tyler Colvin, Dan O'Dowd's best offseason acquisition, crushed a pitch deep into the mezzanine level in left-center field. After the home run, Beckett settled in, giving up only a lone run in 4th inning before Josh Rutledge chased him from the game with a pinch hit single to center field that scored Chris Nelson and pushed Jonathan Herrera to third base.

There was no offensive hero for the night, despite the Rockies putting up 10 runs. Chris Nelson made a case for himself, coming up a home run shy of the cycle and scoring three runs on the night.

DJ LeMahieu also continued his torrid pace. He went 2-for-4 with two RBIs, making the Ian Stewart trade to the Cubs that brought both Colvin and LeMahieu to Denver look even better for the Rockies. His continued good play is going to make for an interesting 2013 spring training in a battle for roster spots.

Nelson wasn't the only Rockie to post three hits, Herrera also added three hits of his own, and missed a fourth when Matt Kemp had him played perfectly on a line drive up the middle.

The only young Rockie that didn't have a hit going into the late innings was catcher Wilin Rosario. After three strikeouts he wasn't getting in on the action. That changed when he smashed a riding fastball deep into the bullpen. The home run was Rosario's 21st of the season. He is now just four home runs shy of the Rockies rookie home run record set in 1998 by the great Todd Helton.

The amazing thing about Rosario's accomplishment is how few at-bats he has taken in order to hit his 21 home runs. The catcher, playing part time due to being a rookie and as a concession to his legs, only has 306 plate appearances. Consider the fact that most everyday players finish a season with somewhere between 600 and 700 at bats, the number of home runs by Rosario becomes even more impressive.

As bad of a season as it has been, the Rockies will have a big debate as they head back to Scottsdale in February. With LeMahieu showing that he is capable, both at the plate and in the field. With Jordan Pacheco hitting like crazy and becoming a far better defender as the year has gone on, and Nelson finally realizing his potential and having no options left with Herrera, there should be a fierce battle for roster spots.

Of course, for Rockies fans, the best case scenario is a bunch of talented baseball players fighting it out for jobs. It means that even if there has to be a couple of odd men out, the team is that much better and puts very good players in bench roles, which gives the club great options and depth.

The Rockies now have 52 wins. They need 11 more wins to avoid the dreaded 100 loss mark. They also need 16 wins to avoid their worst season ever. If they continue to play the way they have been since August began, neither of those numbers should be unattainable. Even suggesting that this team wouldn't lose 100 games two months ago was laughable. They were well on their way to futility and being the embarrassment of the league.

The young Rockies who are contributing are making it seem that there might be a light at the end of the tunnel  for this franchise.

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