Thursday, May 15, 2014

Middle of May puts the Colorado Rockies at a crossroad in their season

The Rockies are relying on Tulowitzki staying healthy.
Here it is, May 15th. It's the dreaded date on the calendar for Colorado Rockies fans.

Traditionally, this has become the point in which the Rockies season takes a downward turn, and never gets better. Over the past three seasons, the Rockies have come out of spring training looking great, they have turned some heads, and done well long enough for fans to get excited.

Right at the point of excitement, however, reality hits with a thud.

The Rockies returned home on Wednesday night after a 2-5 road trip filled with lackluster baseball was complete. It was the type of road trip that ended any hint of momentum the Rockies had gained throughout the early part of the season, and it probably solidified the fact that this team will be closer to the traditional Rockies, who win at home and struggle greatly on the road, then to a team that grinds out wins away from Coors Field.

In the early-going, much of the Rockies flaws were covered up by their ridiculous stats at the plate. If Indianapolis Colts owner Jim Irsay thinks Peyton Manning's quarterback statistics as "Star Wars numbers," he's never seen anything like the Rockies.

The reality is, as good as the Rockies offense was in April, there simply was no way that it was sustainable. They are a good team, they are very talented, but to expect the team as a whole to hit well above .300 is simply outrageous. At some point, the bats had to cool off.

The problem is, when those bats cooled off, and they certainly did exactly that in the final three games of the road trip, the fatal flaw of the Rockies was exposed, they don't have enough pitching to win a close game. They rely on their offense to win games, which is backwards of what teams that win championships do. Teams that hoist trophies at the end of the season rely on their pitching. They know that winning big games comes down to what the guy on the hill can do, not the guy in the batter's box.

If there ever was a season to blame injuries, it would be this one. The Rockies have watched two of their best three pitchers hit the shelf for at least half of the season. Brett Anderson and Tyler Chatwood are both missing significant time due to injury. With both of them out, the weight of the team is going to fall on Juan Nicasio and Franklin Morales, two pitchers who frankly, aren't good enough to get the job done every time they take the mound.

The Rockies may want to use injuries as an excuse, but if they are smart, they will realize that fans are tired of that. Fans have heard that excuse from the Rockies for the past three seasons as the main reason why a flawed team didn't win. Instead of admitting that the team wasn't built for success, the Rockies front office insisted that they had a winner, but were plagued with bad luck.

With two stud prospects in Double-A, both of whom will likely make their big league debuts before the season is over, the Rockies are in "cross-your-fingers mode." They don't want to rush either pitcher to the big leagues before they are ready, but if they are serious about winning, and winning now, the club simply can't afford to have both Nicasio and Morales as starters.

The other glaring hole has been the bullpen. Better of late, the relievers have struggled. Matt Belisle and Rex Brothers can't be relied on, and the club's closer was pitching in the big leagues shortly after the Rockies threw the first pitch in club history. While that speaks to LaTroy Hawkins longevity, it also speaks to the fact that the Rockies can't find anyone better to anchor the back-end of the pen.

The solution to that issue will come when the Rockies call up their two prospects. When Jon Gray and Eddie Butler arrive at Coors Field, Nicasio will most likely move to the bullpen, becoming a one-inning guy. That is great for the Rockies, as his fastball is good enough to get outs, but isn't good enough to fool batters the second and third time that they see him. Having Nicasio in the bullpen will strengthen that aspect of the team greatly.

When push comes to shove, the Rockies are at a crossroads in their season. The pressure is on as much as it can be for a team in May. Right now the club could quickly fall back into a situation in which they quit believing in themselves and start to buy into the logic that they aren't as good as they played in the early going.

If the Rockies go through this six-game home stand and win only two games, their confidence might be shaken so much that they find themselves in a rut. While this team is far better than they were a year ago, the reality is, they aren't good enough to give away a large chunk of the season and still expect to be able to crawl back into the race.

This is a team that must play steady baseball throughout the season if they want to make some noise in the National League West. They have to take good at-bats, they have to get good pitching, and they absolutely must believe in themselves. If their confidence gets shaken, it is time to write them off.

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  1. David,
    i'd like to hear your opinion on Dan Winkler. I think the Rox should promote him from Tulsa AA now. Given his peripherals and 4th/5th starter projections, I like his chances. He's pitching better right now than Gray/Butler, and he is 24 years old now...why wait?

  2. That's a great question. Prospects are so hard to evaluate, especially pitchers because if they weren't a big name and they don't have traditional mechanics, their stats get overlooked because everyone thinks they will come down to earth. Winkler fits that role because he was a 20th round pick, which means he flew under the radar. Traditionally, 20th round guys never sniff the Major League roster, they are drafted to fill Minor League rosters so other real prospects can develop.

    With that in mind, Winkler has been phenomenal in Tulsa. What is most impressive to me is 51 K's to 12 walks. Compare that to what Franklin Morales has done, and just the control alone is tempting.

    While I will admit that I don't know too much about him, he's not a young high school pick who needs five years to develop. He's 23, he's a 20th round pick, so if he is a guy the Rockies need to experiment with, I don't know why they wouldn't.