This week’s record: 2-4
The Rockies sent 23 different men to the plate in their 6 games this week. They are no longer playing for a postseason spot; now it’s time to show off trade bait to other teams and audition young/on-the-bubble players for their spots on the Rockies’ roster in 2012. Because of that, you won’t hear me bashing Jim Tracy’s lineups. He’s excused for benching good players for unproven ones because that’s part of the point. That said, next year’s magic batting order did not materialize. The team hit .254 this week with 29 runs scored, 10th in the National League in both cases. Only Carlos Gonzalez, Dexter Fowler, and, shockingly, Seth Smith (on the trading block) appeared in all 6 games this week. Cargo’s .273 average and 7 strikeouts is nothing to write home about, but both Smith and Fowler hit over .400, and Fowler’s 7 extra-base hits are worth mentioning. Troy Tulowitzki had a good week as well, hitting .378 with 7 RBIs in his 5 games. 6 of those RBIs came via 3-run home runs he hit in two separate games. Everybody else hit below .300 and it showed. Some notable debuts came courtesy of catcher/infielder Jordan Pacheco and catcher Wilin Rosario. From an offensive standpoint, both made a contribution; Pacheco collected a pair of RBIs and Rosario hit his first major-league home run. In general, power numbers were good this week. The Rox hit 9 home runs as a group and their slugging percentage was .438.
Smith showed what he could do with an everyday job this week and was crowned the Rockies’ stolen-base king with 3. It’s easy to forget that he is a very smart and fast runner when he’s out of the lineup so often. Thanks to those stolen bases, the Rockies collected 6 on the week, tying them with Atlanta and Arizona for 3rd most in the NL. They nearly had a 100% success rate as well, but it wouldn’t be a week with the Rockies without Fowler getting picked off. Otherwise, not too many big running blunders this week, which is encouraging. While I wouldn’t for a moment say that this team is playing good baseball, any small fundamental improvements they can make in the final weeks of the season will be a good sign. It’s after the play-off races are over and the regular season is running itself out that a team’s true colors show. I want to see the Rockies show what kind of running game they plan to play next season, and I hope I see aggression and intelligence.
Another part of allowing young players the opportunity to show what they can do at the major-league level is accepting that they will need a learning curve. Pacheco especially demonstrated that by committing 2 errors in 3 games from 3rd base. In all fairness, he’s a catcher by training, and will most likely be one in the future as well. Let’s hope that’s the case, because I don’t really wish to see him play 3rd. Another player-position combo I can do without: Chris Nelson at shortstop. With Tulo sitting out yesterday and Jonathan Herrera gone for the season, Nelson was the best choice, and he made us all appreciate anew how fortunate we are to have Tulo there most of the time. Rosario is in the right spot behind the plate, but he’ll need time to adjust like Pacheco will. He allowed a passed ball in his first game Tuesday that led to a run scoring. It wasn’t just the young guys getting sloppy this week though. Tulo made an error of his own. Smith, who has become more so-so than solid defensively of late, also contributed one. And Mark Ellis, who almost never messes up, committed an error on Sunday that ultimately cost 3 runs. I feel the same way about defense as I do running: who these guys really are as players and as a team is about to be revealed. I hope I can give them an A in this category at least once in the last few weeks.
Starting Pitching: C
It was a 6-man rotation this week as the pitchers are showing their stuff much like the hitters are. And I am about to make a statement that I can hardly believe. If the Rockies’ front office made all their decisions about next year’s rotation based just on this week, Jason Hammel would be the staff ace. He had the best outing of the week. And good for him, because it was his first one after his bullpen stint, and he definitely had something to prove. On Tuesday he lasted 7 innings and threw just 95 pitches. He settled in beautifully after a shaky first couple innings, and ultimately allowed only 1 earned run on 6 hits and a walk. Kevin Millwood gets second billing for his 5 2/3 innings pitched walk-free on Wednesday. He took a loss, unfortunately, and had a hard time keeping the ball on the ground as usual, but that man is a professional, and it shows in every outing. Alex White also needs to make some adjustments if he’s going to be a good Coors Field pitcher; his flyout-groundout ratio is worse than Millwood’s. I’m still a believer in this kid’s pitches, but I’m starting to doubt whether he can truly deal at Coors. In 5 innings on Saturday, he gave up 4 earned runs, the first on the third pitch he threw. He was lucky enough to get away with a win in that game. Aaron Cook is on the seven-hundredth verse of the same story. His Sunday outing: 6 innings pitched, 3 earned runs, 4 walks. Loss. Esmil Rogers isn’t doing himself any favors for the future, either. He allowed 8 hits and 5 walks in 5 1/3 innings on Monday en route to a loss as well. And Jhoulys Chacin, after more rest than usual, lasted 5 1/3 innings last night, allowing 3 earned runs. Despite the loss, I think he looked better than he has in a while. He only gave up 2 walks, and both of those were in his final 1/3 inning. At this point, I’m happy with that. And if the Rockies can provide Chacin with more of a cushion next season so he isn’t shouldering the burden of being the ace, I think we’ll see great things from him.
Relief Pitching: B
The rotation only put in 34 innings this week, an average of 5 2/3 per game, so the bullpen got plenty of work. Jim Tracy is loving the expanded roster and the ability it gives him to trade pitchers in and out like that’s his only job, so sometimes there were up to 7 relievers used in one game. Matt Belisle and Matt Lindstrom each appeared 3 times this week; Matt Reynolds and Josh Roenicke 4 times. Roenicke finally had the tough week he’s been overdue for, and after weeks of scoreless innings his ERA this week was 9.00. J.C. Romero wasn’t a whole lot better – in 1 1/3 innings he gave up 2 hits and a run. Rex Brothers did the same in 1 2/3 innings, showing some surprising shakiness after an excellent stretch. However, everyone else did quite well. Greg Reynolds gave up a run but it took him 3 whole innings to do so. And Belisle, Lindstrom, Matt Reynolds, Rafael Betancourt, Edgmer Escalona, new call-up Jim Miller, and Huston Street combined for 9 2/3 scoreless innings. Of course, that’s only about 1 1/3 innings apiece. I hope that Tracy’s constant changes pay off and he finds a couple of solid set-up men and a closer like what we had at the beginning of the season. I’d like to see half this many guys pitching and averaging 3-4 innings a week.
It’s not very much fun to watch the Rockies anymore. But I will give them this: while they have very clearly given up, they’re still good for some fireworks here and there. Tulo’s late-inning home runs are a perfect example of that, especially since he’s usually so lousy in the clutch. It’s always good to see a little bit of battling. And the bullpen is good enough that, if the starter hasn’t given up too many runs, we can count on them to keep the team in the game long enough to give the offense a chance to get something going. That said, so many small things need to improve. It’s starting to become very clear that these guys had one goal at the beginning of the season: play well in April. They knew they were a good enough team to win the division, and thought that if they just overcame their tendency to struggle early, they’d have everything all sewn up. Instead, they had a franchise-best April followed by a long, slow, painful descent. I hope that they’ve learned something and that they have the maturity next season to understand that a successful season does not boil down to fixing one problem. They need to go out and play good baseball every single day. They need to run well, play clean defense, and put the ball in play with runners on base. If I see that, I’ll start to believe in them again.
Overall Grade: C+
Hitter of the Week: Dexter Fowler (.407, 4 2B, 1 3B, 2 HR, 6 R)
Pitcher of the Week: Jason Hammel (7 IP, 6 H, 1 ER, 1 BB, 6 K’s)