Friday, June 21, 2013

Colorado Rockies offense remains MIA as losing streak grows

Tyler Chatwood was phenomenal again on Friday.
Call it a June swoon, call it what you will, the Colorado Rockies are in a heap of trouble.

On Friday night, the Rockies couldn't get out of their offensive funk, losing to the Nationals for the second night in row. This time they lost 2-1. The loss extends their losing streak to five straight games, planting them four games back of the Arizona Diamondbacks for the National League West lead.

The Rockies blew yet another phenomenal pitching performance. This time it was Tyler Chatwood who dazzled on the mound. The right-hander went six innings, giving up just one run on four hits. He walked two and struck out four. His only hiccup came in the 6th inning, where, with two outs he allowed a base hit to Anthony Rendon, then a run-scoring double down the right field line to Ryan Zimmerman.

Chatwood may have been asked to pitch the 7th inning, despite being at 97 pitches. However, with the game tied and a runner at second base in the top of the frame, Walt Weiss elected to pinch hit for his pitcher. Tyler Colvin came to the plate and popped out to Zimmerman, who made a fabulous play in foul territory to end the threat.

With Chatwood out, the Rockies turned to Manny Corpas, who served up a solo homer to Ian Desmond, leading off the bottom half of the 7th and the scoring was done for the night.

The Rockies offense is scuffling, there is no doubt about it. However, no one was expecting more than a few runs on Friday night as they had the arduous task of trying to break out of a team-wide slump against Stephen Strasburg. The Nationals prized right-hander doesn't have the record to show for it, but his ERA sits at a cool 2.40.

Here is the problem. The Rockies have scored just eight runs total in their last five games. Teams aren't going to win many games, regardless of how well their starting pitcher throws the ball, without scoring more than 1.6 runs per game. The offense has scuffled, and there is a very obvious reason for it.

With all due respect to Carlos Gonzalez, the heart and soul of the Rockies team is the guy who normally plays shortstop and wears #2. As Troy Tulowitzki goes, so go the Rockies. He was injured one week ago, and with him out for at least the next three weeks, and likely the next five weeks, the Rockies are in a world of hurt.

The thing is, Tulo makes everyone in the lineup that much better. When he is there, CarGo sees better pitches. When Tulo is in the lineup, there is hardly a single spot that could be considered a weakness in the starting lineup for the Rockies.

The problem is, if he isn't in the lineup, the holes quickly start to show through. Jonathan Herrera has been a great bench player who gets an occasional start so far in 2013. He has been very good in that role. The key is, however, that he must stay in that role. He isn't a guy who can start regularly, or he will get exposed.

In order for Herrera to stay in the role that best fits him, as a reserve, the Rockies need Josh Rutledge to step up and start delivering. He doesn't need to replace Tulowitzki's production, but he has to be good enough to not be a free out for the opposition. He must find ways to get the ball in play and get on base.

What was once a problem with starting pitching, the focus now moves back to the starting lineup, something that was never supposed to be an issue with this club, even if Tulo got injured again. It could be argued that no team was going to go out and dominate a guy like Strasburg, clearly one of the best in the league. That argument is fine, but it gives even more reason why the Rockies needed to pounce on former-Rockies Esmil Rogers when they saw him in Toronto.

It is tough for a fan to emerge from the darkness that clouds over them when their team goes through a losing streak. Especially when that losing streak involves them dropping below .500 and falling to below a great weekend away from being in first place. However, this Rockies fan base might need another reminder to look at things in a long-term perspective.

Here is the reality, this Rockies team was never supposed to be good. They were never supposed to contend. If someone told the average Rockies fan in March that on the first day of summer, the Rockies would be one game under .500, that fan would have been thrilled.

Does the fact that they were supposed to be bad make up for them playing poorly? Of course not. Fans should always be disappointed. What needs to be looked at, though, are the positives that this team is starting to put together.

This team suddenly has three starters that will give the team a chance to win every time they take the mound. It could be argued that that number should actually be four, but until Roy Oswalt gets a few quality starts under his belt, that can't be said.

If the Rockies can find a way to grind out a few wins on this trip and stay close in the race, all they have to do is make up a few games here and there and they will be right back in the race. That job will be made easier by quality starts thrown by their starting rotation. Jorge De La Rosa and Jhoulys Chacin are both coming off of their best starts of the year. If they can pick up their offense, it will buy time for the Rockies to right the ship.

Turning this thing around won't be easy though, if the Rockies don't start getting hits with runners in scoring position. On Friday night they stranded a runner in scoring position in six of the nine innings. In an additional inning they stranded a runner at first base. In a game where the pitching staff gives up just two runs, failure to execute is inexcusable. It doesn't matter if Strasburg is on the mound, or if a Triple-A call-up is pitching. Good teams execute, and the Rockies have done very little of that in the past week.

The Rockies still have a chance to salvage this road trip and make it decent. They must get a win on Saturday in order for that to happen.

It is still too early to hit the panic button for the 2013 Colorado Rockies season, but the finger is definitely firmly planted on that button, ready to be pushed in a moment's notice. The Rockies must find a way to score runs on the road. If they want to be in the race, that must start on Saturday.

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