Saturday, May 11, 2013

Are the Colorado Rockies beginning their annual downward spiral?

Dante Bichette is feeling the heat for the first time.
Welcome back to the fickle world of professional sports, Dante Bichette.

One month ago, Bichette was a hero in Colorado once again. He had returned to the Rockies clubhouse, taking over as the hitting coach for a team with a ton of talent, but a group of guys who had been terribly undisciplined a year ago and couldn't find a way to corral their talent.

Fast-forward to May 11th. The Colorado Rockies offense has been shutout in two consecutive days, logging just two hits total, following a three game series in which they scored a total of five runs. For those keeping track at home, that means the Rockies offense has plated just five runs in the last five games. The Rockies haven't scored a run since the 1st inning of Thursday's game against the Yankees. That is a streak of 26 straight innings without a run.

With the offense struggling, Bichette has come under fire. The Rockies approach at the plate has been less than desirable. Dexter Fowler's swing has gotten big, as if he is trying to tie Barry Bonds single season home run record, Carlos Gonzalez has been waving at pitches that bounce on the plate. Troy Tulowitzki isn't squaring up the ball like he was doing in April.

The approach at the plate looks strangely familiar. For the Rockies fans that could stomach the horrid performance that went on day-in and day-out, the offensive approach that this team is taking at the plate looks like--gulp--the 2012 Rockies.

The crazy thing for the Rockies is that this was the one area of the team that no one was supposed to worry about. This was the team that was supposed to be able to hit on the road and at home. This is a Rockies team that's only concern was whether the starting pitchers would keep them in enough games for the offense to be able to pound out victories. Instead, the opposite has been entirely true.

The starting pitching has been so far ahead of what anyone expected that it is almost laughable to think that experts predicted them to be the worst rotation in modern history. They are so much better than that. The starting rotation isn't even close to the worst in Major League Baseball in 2013. In fact, they are on pace to be one of the better rotations that the Rockies have had in their 20 year history.

Jhoulys Chacin worked with traffic all day on Saturday, wiggling out of bases-loaded jams twice before finally getting hurt in the 5th inning. The Venezuelan right-hander has been shaky since his return from the disabled list, but was incredible before that.

Jorge De La Rosa is showing that he can be a top-tier starting pitcher again after his return from Tommy John surgery, Jon Garland has been a great scrap-heap pickup, and while Juan Nicasio and Jeff Francis have been shaky, they have managed to keep the Rockies in more games than not.

With the Rockies pitching in good shape, the way the Rockies offense has been advertised suggests that they should be turning games into laughers before the 5th inning. Instead they are struggling to even look like they belong on a Major League field.

The Rockies have been terrible at the plate, but credit has to be given where credit is due. Both Shelby Miller and Adam Wainwright were absolutely dominant in their respective starts. The best lineups in baseball are going to be scratching and clawing just to get a few runs with the way both of those guys were throwing. Wainwright's slider was incredible. Miller's whole arsenal was nearly untouchable. Give them credit.

If, however, the Rockies offensive issues were limited to the past two days, it would be easy to write off the bad games as the opposing starter simply having a good game. The problem is that the offensive issues have gone on for the better part of a week. Against the Yankees, the Rockies offense was terrible. With the exception of CC Sabathia, who has struggled early, the pitchers the Yankees ran to the mound were hardly stars, let alone superstars.

For the Rockies, the only answer is to go back to the hotel and forget that the last week happened. They can't let it get in their heads. They must simplify their approach at the plate and look to hit line drives and hard ground balls. There are too many guys who are trying to do too much. It is time for them to go back to basics, shorten their swings and try to hit the ball to the opposite field. This will force them to let the ball get deep and keep their swings from getting too big.

Of course, that is easier said than done in the big leagues. However, the Rockies must find a way to shorten their memories and ignore what has gone on in the past few days.

How the Rockies respond will be a great test of this team's character. Will they fight back the way they did after tough losses in April, or will they shrink down and play like a team that was expected to finish in the basement of the National League West.

The next couple of weeks will be a referendum on who this Rockies team is. The next few days will show Dante Bichette just how quickly a hero can become the goat.

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