Baseball's Biggest Surprise Of The First Half: The Colorado Rockies
A message to Rockies fans: One series loss does not mean the team is in a downward spiral!
Yes, I will admit the two losses in a row were a surprise to me, but not troubling. Two losses in a row does not mean a team is beginning to struggle.
It means that the Rockies are, after all, human.
However, that is not to take anything away from the success that the Rockies are finding on the diamond.
This team has shown the world that they should be included when the conversation turns to the top teams in baseball.
They are also the biggest surprise of the first half of the 2009 season.
Pitching Has Been Dominant
Over the last three weeks, the Rockies starters have compiled a 3.79 ERA and have pitched an average of 6.5 innings per game. Considering there have been four outings of less than six innings (two of which have been less than four), that is a very good average.
The ERA shows that the pitching staff, while having no big names, is very consistent and has no problem recording outs. 3.79 is an ERA to which most individual pitchers would love to lay claim. That is an incredibly low ERA for an entire rotation over 22 games.
The rotation has also shown resiliency over the past few weeks. While there have been some games that the pitching has been dominant, the the offense has been nothing short of amazing.
There have also been games in which the pitching has been average and the offense dormant. The pitchers have kept the Rockies in the game until the offense shows a little life and wins the game for them.
The Bats Have Come To Life
Over the past three weeks, the Rockies have belted 35 homers. That is an average of 1.6 homers per game.
There may have been some games in which the offense has not been very productive. They have not been shutout over the past 22 games and have been blown out only twice; 12-4 against the Rays and 11-3 against the Angels. When their offense has not churned out very many runs, the pitching and defense has stepped up and made the games winnable.
The Rockies' offense is finally showing the fans what they knew they had during Spring Training. In Spring Training, the Rockies were tearing up the opposition's pitching. They hit homer after homer and drove in run after run. When the season started, it seemed like that had all vanished.
Finally, the fans are getting a taste of what true Colorado Rockies baseball is.
Who really thought that the Rockies would be the hottest team in baseball to close out the first half? If you said yes, you're lying. I didn't even think that they'd be doing this well and I'm one of the biggest Rockies fans ever.
Since Jim Tracy has taken over, the Rockies have gone 21-7.
The reason for this run is not the firing of Clint Hurdle. It is that the Rockies have finally realized that they do, in fact, have talent, and they can play with the best teams in baseball.
Going into the second half, the Rockies have some strengths that need to be focused on in order to have continued success, and they have some weaknesses that need to be addressed to continue to win.
Strengths: Starting Pitching
The Rockies have shown that they do (finally) have a good rotation. Remember this season they have been without the services of Jeff Francis due to injury. Aaron Cook, Jason Marquis, Ubaldo Jimenez, and Jason Hammel have shown that they have brilliant stuff on the mound.
Jorge De La Rosa has shown brief instances of brilliance, but not enough to show that he really is a great pitcher for the Rockies.
As I stated before, the Rockies offense has stepped up and really had a lot of success. It seems like whenever there is a runner in scoring position with anyone up from numbers 1-8 (1-9 in interleague), that runner is going to score. The fans have been able to count on the Rockies being in just about every game they play.
Troy Tulowitzki has stepped up recently and shown the world that 2007 was not a fluke for him. His numbers as a rookie were nothing short of amazing.
Then, in 2008, not only did he suffer from injuries, when he did play, his numbers were way down from '07. This year Tulo is coming out of his slump and is showing that he belongs in the upper echelon of shortstops.
Enough said; his numbers have been lights out this year. He is 18 for 19 in save opportunities. If the Rockies get to the ninth inning with a close lead, just bring in Street, and the game is over right then.
He has shown the A's that it was a bad idea to trade him and us Rockies fans are not complaining. The A's loss is the Rockies' gain.
Weaknesses: Middle Relief
Last night was only a small example of the struggles that the Rockies' middle relievers have been experiencing. The Rockies had an 11-2 lead going into the seventh and the final score was 11-9.
Without Jason Grilli present to anchor this middle relief staff, things have not been going well. Jason Grilli was designated for assignment before June 9 and the Rangers acquired him for cash.
During his stay with the Rockies, things were going well for the most part. In the time leading up to his departure, his stuff was less than great. Alan Embree is the only veteran in the middle relief staff.
Last night, Alan Embree opened the flood gates when he let in two runs and could only get one out in the eighth inning. The A's kept hitting single after single off of him and finally he had to be taken out for Juan Rincon who, in turn, gave up three runs and could not get an out in the ninth inning.
Finally, the strong back-end of the bullpen, named Huston Street, came in and saved the Rockies fans watching the game from experiencing heart attacks.
The second half of the season for the Rockies looks very bright right now. If the offense keeps producing and the starters keep pitching late into games to keep the middle relievers out of the games, the Rockies have a very good shot at winning at least the Wild Card.
Their next test comes before the All-Star Break in a three-game set with the Dodgers. If the Rockies can take at least two of three from the NL West leaders, this division is about to get wild.
Note: To those who have chosen to follow my weekly writings, I will not be able to write this article next week. I will be out of town and will not have time to write. This weekly article will, however, be back up and running the week after.
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