Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Colorado Rockies are simply pretenders until they lose loyalties

The Rockies are a better team if Jeff Francis is part of the past
not a part of the future.
This Colorado Rockies lost their best player last week. However, that didn't stop them from finishing the week just one-half game out of first place.

The prevailing feeling among Rockies fans is cautious optimism. Everyone wants to believe that the team that was 1/2 a game out of first place going into Tuesday's game is for real. However, something about this team makes even the most ardent supporters wonder if they are going to slip out of the race and take the position that they have become so accustomed to, dead last.

With a few exceptions, the Rockies have performed extremely well at the plate. They haven't been a product of Coors Field, they have been able to take their performances on the road, when compared with Rockies teams of the past.

The lineup, however, was never in doubt. The big question was how well the starting rotation would perform.  For the most part, the rotation shocked everyone in the early going with how well they performed. Jorge De La Rosa had adequately recovered from a Tommy John surgery in which he had suffered several setbacks. Jhoulys Chacin has had performances that have flashed the brilliance that scouts saw when they signed him out of Venezuela. Tyler Chatwood, despite being on the Triple-A opening day roster, has provided a huge boost for this team.

Beyond those three, however, the Rockies rotation has been atrocious. Jeff Francis and Juan Nicasio have struggled in different ways, but the results have been equally terrible.

Francis struggles early, and he struggles often. If the lefty doesn't have it, he gets crushed in the 1st inning. That was the case on Tuesday, as he gave up four runs in the opening frame, essentially blowing the Rockies out of the game before they were ever in it.

Nicasio's struggles generally come later in the game, but are equally disheartening. The third time through the order is when the opposition crushes the right-hander. They have seen his pattern and sit on the pitch that he is throwing for a strike. Whatever lead the offense has given him quickly evaporates around the 5th inning.

The struggles of those two starting pitchers, in large part, have caused so much of the struggles from the bullpen that have been seen in June. Overuse, due to short outings from the starters, coupled with the injury to Rafael Betancourt, have caused struggles from the normally-dependable relief corps.

With Roy Oswalt scheduled to make his Rockies debut on Thursday, there is a decision that the Rockies have to make with their roster. They are already playing with a short bench, so there is no way they can send a position player to the minors in order to buy some time on what they are going to do.

They could option Nicasio to Triple-A to develop his pitches and work on location. That would leave Francis on the roster, but would leave his position in flux. The other option is to cut ties with Francis and move Nicasio to the bullpen in an effort to use him for less innings and expose him less.

The sentimental answer is to send Nicasio on his way to the minors and allow Francis to stay on the team. It does make some sense, as development is clearly necessary. However, the truth behind the feelings for Rockies fans is this. Deep down, despite the record saying that they are contenders, even fans wearing the most purple-shaded glasses know that this team isn't a contender with Jeff Francis taking the mound every fifth day.

There is no doubt that his name is etched into the Rockies history books. His 17 wins in 2007, followed up by his two playoff wins, were crucial to what spawned a whole new generation of Rockies fans. The franchise will forever be grateful to Francis for what he has done for the team.

If the Rockies are in this thing to be sentimental, then they should keep Francis. But if sentimentality is the only thing that matters, then this team shouldn't have Dante Bichette as the hitting coach, they should have him playing outfield. They should be on the phone with Larry Walker to see if they can talk him out of retirement, and Vinny Castilla should be suiting up and doing his best to blast 40 home runs.

The goal of a Major League franchise isn't to be sentimental. Teams that spend too much time reminiscing about the good old days generally find themselves remembering the same old memories because instead of creating new ones, they are busy living in the past ones that they created, but could never duplicate.

This team isn't going to win with Francis on the roster. Not in the starting rotation, and not in the bullpen, a spot he has never been used in. The fact is, velocity isn't everything when it comes to pitching, but if a pitcher can't throw the ball with some mustard behind it, he has to be very, very fine with his pitches. The margin for error is extremely thin. The less velocity, the less room for error.

Francis' fastball hovers around the mid-80's. His changeup is about 10 MPH less, and he lobs a curveball that will sometimes sit in the upper-60's.

The Rockies simply can't afford to flip a coin every fifth day and hope for the best.

With Oswalt making his debut, the Rockies should make a make a splash. Bring up Oswalt and designate Francis for assignment. That is the obvious move, but they should also send Nicasio down to Triple-A and call up Drew Pomeranz. It is time to see what the kid can do at the big league level.

The Rockies have insisted that they don't want to have Pomeranz bounce around between the big leagues and Triple-A, but the big league team wasn't expected to be in the race in the middle of June.

Two nights ago, Pomeranz had perhaps his best outing in Colorado Springs. He pitched 6-2/3 innings, giving up just three hits. He walked two, and recorded 11 strikeouts. An outing like that suggests there isn't much more growth to happen in the minors. The Rockies need him to contribute at the big league level.

If the Rockies are honest with themselves, they will know that they aren't going to win with Francis and Nicasio. The only answer that they have is Pomeranz and Oswalt. They have decided Oswalt's day will be on Thursday. The time is now to decide when Pomeranz's chance will be as well.

After Tuesday, the Rockies can't expect to contend with Jeff Francis on the roster. Feelings will have to be hurt, and friendships scarred, but this team is good enough to win. It isn't about being nice, it is about winning.

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  1. After 2 games in Toronto we see that the Rockies have trouble winning when their starter gives up 4 runs in the first inning or when their starter doesn't give up any runs! Not only will the team need to replace 2 of their starting pitchers but at some point they will have to greatly improve their consistency on offense if they are to be a team that seriously contends for a playoff spot.

  2. I agree that the Rockies loyalty to some players is detrimental to the team.

  3. Might as well put a T on the plate instead of putting Francis on the mound.

  4. The Rox did the right thing today by taking Francis off of the roster and possibly sending him to AAA.

  5. The Rockies have always had offense. Their problem always has been pitching. I have read the loss of Tulo will do in the Rockies. That is a built in excuse for the front office to use on fans that don't want to admit the obvious: The failure to develop strong pitchers and a solid pitching rotation. I hear about the Coors field factor. Since 1993, the Rockies have a record of 891-737 at home. Their road record is 647-976. It seems to me the pitching is doing just fine at altitude. When they go on the road (which they do for half the season) the playing field should be even. Sliders and curveballs should break more and the movement on 2 seam fastballs should be greater. Why then is the pitching not able to perform better on the road? When the front office stops using altitude as an excuse, in addition to stopping the loyalty thing, is when the Rockies as an organization will become serious about winning. Again, the offense was there before Tulo and it is there while he is injured. PITCHING is the thing that needs to be fixed. Open your eyes Rockies fans.