|Nolan Arenado gave up his hitting streak to take a walk.|
Despite the Rockies loss on a walk-off Joey Votto home run, there was a great example of why things in the clubhouse are different for the Rockies in 2014. Nolan Arenado, owner of the longest hitting streak in Rockies history, stepped to the plate in the 9th inning, looking to extend his streak to 29 games.
Arenado quickly got down 0-2 in the count before eventually working an 8-pitch walk. The 23-year-old has insisted throughout the entire streak that hits don't matter as long as the team is winning games. Those kind of statements are generally made because that is what someone is supposed to say. What they think, however, is sometimes different.
If there was any doubt that Arenado is a team player who wants nothing more than to win, he proved it on Friday night. He easily could have expanded his strike zone and flailed at pitches out of the zone in an effort to keep the streak alive. Instead, with his team down a run in the 9th, he did exactly what he was supposed to do and got on base.
The move paid off in the short term as Justin Morneau doubled, driving him in and tying the game. Had Votto not smacked the game winner in the bottom half of the inning, Arenado's walk may have helped the Rockies win the game.
With Jhoulys Chacin still shaking some of the rust off, the Reds scored two early runs. However, he settled in and gave the Rockies six strong innings. With the offensive firepower that the Rockies have been displaying of late, the performance from Chacin should have been enough to pick up a win. The only issue is that the club was facing Johnny Cueto, the best starting pitcher in baseball that no one has heard of. If Cueto pitched in New York or Boston, he would be celebrated as one of the game's best. Instead, he toils in the Cincinnati, and is largely overlooked.
The Rockies road doesn't get any easier, as they have to face Alfredo Simon on Saturday. The Reds 33-year-old sports an ERA of 1.99 in the early-going with a record of 4-1.
Despite the great effort from the Rockies, the biggest challenge that this team, and the franchise in general, must accomplish, is figuring out how to win on the road. The Rockies are in danger of falling back into bad habits, where they win big at home, then go dormant when they are away. If the Rockies want to be contenders, they can't give games away on the road. They have to play the same style of baseball on the road and be able to pick up consistent victories.
A loss like Thursday's wasn't a bad one, those happen. On Friday they faced Cueto, hits and runs come at a premium with him on the mound. Both losses are simply part of playing baseball and facing great pitching. However, the Rockies have to put their foot down and make sure a losing streak doesn't turn mental, where they don't believe they can win away from Coors Field.
Oftentimes in Rockies history, the team seems like they are pressing on the road. The mindset changes, as they get used to scoring only a few runs. Instead of taking good at-bats, they seem to try to do too much, knowing that they won't have many chances to get the job done. Teams that don't play relaxed baseball also don't play good baseball.
The Rockies challenge is to overcome the demons that are their road woes. They have to establish themselves as not only a serviceable team away from Coors Field, but one that pitchers still have to fear. If they can do that, they could make a serious run. If they allow a bad road trip to spiral out of control, the hopes and dreams of an improving team to make a run deep into the season may quickly fade back to excitement over a team hoping to finish close to .500.
The Rockies are surprisingly a good team. Arenado's improvement, and his team-first mindset are probably a large reason as to why this team has seemingly turned the corner. However, they need to continue with the improvement and believe in themselves enough to know that they can indeed win on the road.
Follow me on Twitter @RockiesReview. Like me on Facebook, search "Rockies Review"