For the first time in over a month, Colorado isn’t in first place. Over the last two weeks, the Giants have found themselves and the Rockies have fallen off a cliff. They’ve gone from comfortably confident to desperately overwhelmed.
Yesterday’s five run outburst aside, it’s difficult to remember the Rockies ever going through an offensive stretch this bad. Last year’s team couldn’t hit a lick on the road, but they had no problem producing at home. This year’s squad can’t hit anywhere. They’ve made a habit of turning very average pitchers into elite performers.
This current slump is eerily reminiscent of the Rockies’ meltdown last September when they dropped thirteen of their final fourteen contests. Aside from their starting pitching, nothing is working. They can’t hit and their bullpen can’t hold a lead. Not to mention, their ace is a discombobulated mess. At this point, the question must be asked: can the Rockies contend? Honestly, I still think they can, but they need to make changes in several different areas.
This off-season the Rockies made a bunch of noise, but did very little to improve. In fact, the additions of Jose Lopez and Ty Wigginton probably made them a little worse. Not surprisingly, both guys have picked up where they left off after very poor performances in 2010. Their play combined with that of Ian Stewart has left a vacuum at the hot corner.
In playoff runs of 2007 and 2009, one of the Rockies’ biggest strengths was their depth. Their bench played an integral role in their success. Even last year their bench was solid. But, this season it’s become a liability. Jason Giambi is north of forty and doesn’t appear to have anything left in the tank. Ryan Spilborghs is playing the worst baseball of his career. Currently, the only productive players on the bench are backup catcher Jose Morales and journey man Alfredo Amezaga, but they don’t inspire much confidence either.
In addition, the Rox are carrying dead weight in the bullpen with Franklin Morales and Felipe Paulino. Paulino was acquired because he throws hard, but, if the Rockies had done their homework, they would’ve known that big league hitters actually feast on his heat. Morales, once considered the Rockies’ top prospect, has been very lucky this year. He hasn’t pitched well, but his ERA is a respectable 3.21 because of a fortuitous .189 BABIP. The real Franklin was on display yesterday. Yet, Jim Tracy insists on using both pitchers in high leverage situations. Last week, Paulino racked up three loses in five days.
It would be a shame if the Rockies let these flaws hold them back. They have baseball’s most precious commodity: starting pitching. Even without Ubaldo, they’re top three starters have been very solid, keeping them in just about every ball game. Also, it’s doubtful that Cargo and Tulo will continue to slump for the entire year. Both players will eventually hit. The Rockies have a great nucleus, but their foundation is cracked.
So, how do they fix it? First and foremost, they have to address their third base situation. At the very least, they need to find replacement level production at the hot corner. It’s incredibly sad that they’ve reached this point, but it’s their reality. If the Rockies thinkTy Wigginton’s return from the DL will solve the problem, they’re kidding themselves. There has been much discussion about Wiggy’s slump to start the season, but his production is pretty much on par with what he’s done over the last couple of seasons.
That leaves the Rox with two options at third. They can either solve the problem from within or they can make a trade. As an internal solution, the Rockies could bring up Josh Fields or Chris Nelson from Colorado Springs. Nelson is having a career year, but he’s not a realistic option at third. He’s only played fifteen career games at the hot corner. Fields was once a promising prospect with the White Sox, but washed out a couple of years ago. His career track record suggests that he’ll be less productive than both Ian Stewart and Ty Wigginton.
A trade is the most intriguing option, but it’s also a pipe dream. Unless something changes, there are no decent three baggers on the market. Over the past week, I’ve heard rumors about David Wright and Ryan Zimmermann. As far as I can tell, this is just wishful thinking on the part of Rockies’ fans. It doesn’t make sense for the Mets or Nationals to dump such valuable commodities. Of course, if either guy does becomes available, the Rockies better jump on it quicker than Carlos Beltran on an Ubaldo fastball.
The bullpen is an easy fix. Colorado Springs’ relievers, Matt Daley and Rex Brothers, have been outstanding this year. Daley has produced in the bigs before. His promotion should be a no brainer. The Rockies are taking things slow with Rex Brothers, but he’s probably a future closer. At this point, what’s the harm in using him over Franklin Morales?
As far as the bench goes, it’s time for a shake up. I love Jason Giambi. I first met him nearly fifteen years ago when I was a bat boy in the Texas Rangers’ visiting clubhouse. He was one of the nicest, most gregarious players I ever had the pleasure meeting. However, his days as a productive baseball player are over. His classic whip-like stroke has slowed considerably and he’s no longer an offensive threat. The Rockies would be better served with more versatility and athleticism in that role.
The Rockies are talented group that have shown they can be successful. But, there are holes to fill. Management hasn’t done a good job. They have undeserving players on the big league roster simply because they’re veterans with options. There is no accountability with that kind of mentality. When poor play is accepted, it spreads. It’s time for Dan O’Dowd to make some tough decisions and fix the problems that he failed to address this past off-season. If he doesn’t, there will be no Rocktober this year.