Monday, May 27, 2013

Colorado Rockies still in need of maturing before they can be serious contenders


The Colorado Rockies, fresh off of a hard fought series with the reigning World Champions, showed up to the Minute Maid Park in Houston on Monday and dismantled all of the goodwill they had bought for themselves in the weekend series against the Giants.

The Rockies, once again, scored early. They plated one run in the 1st inning behind a Carlos Gonzalez double, then added another run on a perfectly executed squeeze bunt by Jonathan Herrera in the 4th. The Rockies then went scoreless for the next eight innings, allowing the Astros to score the game-winner in the 12th inning.

The maddening part for the Rockies is that they had multiple chances. It seemed like the Rockies would get the leadoff man on base in every inning, only to strand him on the bases. In fact, Colorado went just 3-for-18 with runners in scoring position. They left 15 men on base over the course of the game. With all due respect to Houston pitching, the Rockies ran themselves out of a blowout win.

As has been mentioned, this team has turned the corner. They are no longer a team that is going to scare anyone into thinking they will lose 100 games. They are much better than they were a year ago. The main reason for that is because their attitude looks much different. It seems that this team is willing to fight when things go wrong and not give up when it looks like things are getting tough. The 2012 team played with very little heart, and it was apparent.

That part hasn't changed. Even in the midst of a three-game losing streak, the latest to the worst team in recent memory, the Rockies have played hard. On Monday, they simply didn't get the job done. \

However, if this Rockies team wants to take the next step and become a serious contender, they must make strides in how they approach the basics of baseball.

The Rockies should have learned a valuable lesson in San Francisco over the weekend. They lost two of three games because the Giants don't give away at-bats. They consistently work counts. They take advantage of struggling pitchers and hit pitches where they are thrown. The threat of the longball really isn't something that is a concern against the Giants. However, what is a concern is that they will take a walk and single their opposition into oblivion.

Take a look at the Giants lineup and ask why they have won the World Series twice in the last three years. The answer is simple. This is a team that plays the game the right way. There are plenty of lineups with more firepower, including the Rockies. However, they all seem very willing to pass the baton on to the next batter instead of trying to win the game with one swing of the bat.

The approach at the plate, something that hitting coach Dante Bichette did so well in his big league career, is something that isn't easy to change. It takes discipline. It takes an ability to fight pitches off that might be strikes, but aren't good pitches to hit. It takes a mindset that the batter is going to force the starting pitcher to throw as many pitches as it takes before he finally makes a mistake. It isn't an easy fix.

It might be an assumption, but it is probably pretty safe to say that generally speaking, on a team that loses 98 games as the Rockies did in 2012, players start to play selfishly. There is no real reason to hit a ground ball to the right side and move a runner from second to third with no outs when the season is lost anyway. Why ruin the batting average to help the team lose 97 games instead of 98? Players start to play for themselves. They start to swing for home runs and doubles regardless of the situation. Many times it is fairly understandable because hundreds of thousands, if not millions of dollars are on the line in arbitration and free agency. A ground out to the right side isn't going to get a player paid like a home run will.

If the Rockies truly think they can contend, and the way their starting rotation has pitched there is no reason to think differently, they must figure out how to scratch out a few runs. They can't continue to get caught waiving at sliders in the dirt. They have to have a better approach at the plate.

Losing games to teams like the Astros, especially when the starting pitcher works into the 8th inning, is completely unacceptable for any team, but especially for the Rockies. This was a team that touted it's offense as top notch. They cannot lose games to the Astros and believe that they should be playing in the postseason.

Part of the Rockies maturity will come when they start to dismantle teams like the Astros. It will come when they play games against teams like the Astros and Cubs the way the Giants have played against the Rockies in the past. Even if a few early game opportunities are missed, it must be well known that eventually Colorado is going to tack on runs and turn a close game into a no-doubter.

The Rockies will get there, but it will come with experience in being the better team. It will come with an attitude that they will not lose. Success breeds success. Right now the Rockies have experienced their first taste of success in a long time. It is going to take time to believe that they should win every fight.

When that happens, the Rockies will be a very difficult team to beat. Until then, the Rockies will continue to lose games that they need to win.

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