As we near the half way point of the Major League Baseball season, thus far the Rockies year has looked like a proverbial Jekyll and Hyde.
In the beginning of the year, under Manager Clint Hurdle, the Rockies were mostly Jekyll. They could not hit, could not pitch and could seemingly do nothing right that would help them win. They were a team that was again looking at the basement of the National League.
The situation was ugly and it was growing increasingly obvious to outsiders that Hurdle had lost his team. On May 29, with the team holding an 18-28 record, management went in a different direction, replacing Hurdle with Bench Coach Jim Tracy.
With Tracy at the helm, the Rockies have been a completely different team. They have been mainly Hyde and have been as close to perfection as they could be.
Their red hot play has allowed them to climb back into the race for the National League West and Wild Card chase with an overall record of 37-34. They also have found a way to do the things that they couldn’t do under Hurdle, mainly score runs, play defense and pitch.
As a team the Rockies hold a .262 batting average, good for 13th in the league and are 15th in hits with 619.
While those stats aren’t necessarily as strong as they should be, it is important to note that they are fifth in the league in runs with 366. They are fifth in the league in homeruns with 86, eighth in the league in doubles with 140, sixth in the league in triples with 16, and fifth in the league in runs batted in with 351.
So what do those statistics mean? Mainly that they are in the top ten in most offensive categories, they get on base, get runners in scoring position and score those runners at a fairly high rate. That is something they couldn’t do under Hurdle, and while they are not as efficient as Jim Tracy would probably like, they are improving.
A few additional factors contributing to the turn around in the season have been the resurgence of Troy Tulowitzki as an offensive threat and also the much needed emergence of Ian Stewart.
The Rockiesrely heavily on Tulowitzki and his defensive presence, but in order for them to be successful; they need him to be an above average hitter. After struggling at the plate early in the season, “Tulo” has been tinkering with his swing.
He is now batting in a more upright position and the results have been very positive.
In the past 18 games since adjusting his swing, Tulowitzki has hit seven home runs, putting him second on the team in the category and giving him 12 for the season.
His homerun total thus far is more impressive considering that he hit only eight home runs all of last season. The team needs “Tulo” to continue his current tear if they hope to continue to build momentum and possibly score a playoff spot.
Stewart has been a pleasant surprise for the Rockies. He is first on the team in homeruns with 13, and third in runs batted in with 38. But typical of young players, he strikes out too many times (52 thus far) for the amounts of walks he draws (18).
Because of his emergence it is growing increasingly likely that Garrett Atkins will soon play his last game for the Rockies. They can dangle Atkins in hope that he brings rotation help.
So the offense is finally clicking, but offense is typically not a problem for the Rockies. Their struggles are typically associated with their pitching. Their rotation is typically suspect and their bullpen has been less than stellar in recent years.
The beginning of the year was rough on Rockies pitchers, especially the starting rotation. Prior to a recent 17-1 winning streak, the starting rotation was a combined 15-22 with an overall ERA of 4.63. During and since the streak started, the starters are 15-1 with a 3.40 ERA.
Good record with sub-par ERA, but the Rockies would likely take that effort and trade off in a heartbeat. It certainly hasn’t been all bad with the rotation this year. Chicago Cubs castoff Jason Marquis has been better than advertised and has clearly been their best pitcher.
Marquis is 9-5 for Colorado with an ERA of 4.22. Considering that he has started 15 games this year and has gone 9-5 that means that he was involved in one no decision in his starts. For a Rockies pitcher, that is an impressive stat.
In his 15 starts he has pitched a total of 100.1 innings or an average of 6.673 innings per start. A starting pitcher going close to seven innings means that the bullpen is used less, keeping them fresh. For Coloradothat is important. They typically need all the bullpen help they can get, especially playing at Coors Field where any game can quickly turn into a 17 to 16 slugfest.
This was supposed to be the year that Coloradorelied more heavily on young starting pitcher Ubaldo Jimenez.
There is no doubt that Ubaldo has talent and some nasty heat on his fast ball, but he has been wildly inconsistent. One minute he looks as though he could be a future Cy Young Award winner, while others he looks like a fresh Single-A farm team call-up.
His 6-7 record suggests that he is still struggling to find his niche as a starting pitcher. His 3.83 ERA, which is the best on the team for a starting pitcher, suggests that he could be on the verge of becoming the star they believe he could be.
Either way, Jimenez must find a way to be more consistent in his efforts, because he is too important to the success of the team to be sub .500 for much longer. They are relying on him to be a top of the rotation guy, now it is time for him to perform like one.
It has been a season full of peaks and valleys for the Rockies. Are they a playoff contending team? At this point that is the big question. Looking at them recently, one would have to assume so, but what if their recent success is just a mirage? What if they truly are the same team that was 18-28 roughly a month ago?
There are still many questions about this team, but if the first half has been any indication, one thing is for certain, this team will be exciting to watch for the remainder of the year.