If the Rockies maintain their current winning percentage, they’ll win 105 games this season. Right now, they hold the franchise’s largest NL West lead in sixteen years. Remarkably, they have achieved their success despite playing beneath their capabilities. There are several key contributors that are having very poor seasons.
The dismal starts by Carlos Gonzalez and Ubaldo Jimenez stand out most. Gonzalez, the 2010 NL batting champion, ended the month of April with a .228 batting average and just one homerun. Ubaldo has been a major liability, often burying the team by giving up huge leads early in games. The simple truth is that the Rockies cannot maintain their success with Gonzalez and Jimenez playing so poorly. The good news: it’s very doubtful either player will struggle for much longer.
CarGo already appears to be breaking out. He entered this past weekend mired in a 0-25 slump. But, on Friday night, after failing to collect a hit in his first three at-bats, CarGo resorted to the old bunt-your–way-out-of-a-slump trick. The strategy worked. He laid down a beautiful Juan Pierre-esque drag-bunt single towards third base. Then, on Saturday and Sunday, he went a combined 3-7 with two laser-beam doubles.
On the other hand, Ubaldo appears more lost than ever. On Sunday, he failed to pitch past the fourth inning and earned his second loss of 2011. His overall line: 4 IP, 4 ER, 6 H, 4 BB, 6 Ks, 3 WP. The three wild pitches were a Rockies single game record. On the season he’s 0-2 with a 7.20 ERA and a 1.55 WHIP. What’s more, the Rox have lost all four games in which Jimenez started. They’ve only lost nine overall.
Nevertheless, I’m unconcerned by Ubaldo’s poor start. On Opening Day, his lack of velocity and movement was very alarming, but, since he’s returned from the DL, his nasty stuff is back. The problems with Ubaldo have been command, stamina, and inefficiency, all of which play off each other. Even when he gets hitters out, they take him deep into the count. As a result, he’s often racking up 75 – 80 pitches by the fourth inning. Once the fatigue sets in, he starts making mistakes; big league hitters usually hit 95 MPH mistakes a long way. Honestly, he looks like he’s in spring training shape, which makes sense considering how much crucial time he missed over the last two months.
Hidden in the brutal box scores are some glimpses of the old Ubaldo. Last Sunday against the Marlins, he didn’t give up a hit through the first four innings. However, he threw a bunch of pitches to get through those four innings and was out of gas by the fifth. He started that inning by walking three straight hitters. He nearly worked out of the jam after two quick outs, but he made a mistake by elevating a four seam fastball to Omar Infante. Infante’s three-run triple was the only hit Ubaldo surrendered. In all likelihood, if he had kept that pitch down in the zone, everyone would’ve been raving about how great he looked.
Ubaldo’s strikeout rate is another encouraging sign. In his first start of the season, he only struck out one batter in six innings, but, since returning from the DL, he’s been able to overpower hitters, striking out nine batters per every nine innings. That’s actually quite a bit better than his career 8.1 K/9. He wouldn’t be able to mow down hitters like that without good velocity and movement. As he rounds into regular season shape, he will find his control, and when that happens, he’ll once again be a nightmare for opposing hitters. I expect him to finish the season strong. Once he throws a couple of postseason gems, no one will remember what he did in April.
It’s scary to think that Ubaldo and CarGo have been this bad and the Rox are still in first place. When they get hot, the NL West is going to have a tough time keeping pace with Colorado.