The Rockies are a frustrating team right now. There’s no way around that. They ought to be leading the division or at least in the race, and this morning they sit 6 games back. On paper, they’re the best team in the NL West. There’s nothing more frustrating than a team who ought to be brilliant and fails to deliver. Here are my top 10 frustrations with the 2011 Colorado Rockies.
10. Bullpen Inconsistency
I put this as #10 because it really isn’t a huge concern. Every pitcher has good days and bad days, and generally speaking this is the best pen the Rockies have ever had. The issue is that they have been struggling collectively the past couple of weeks. It’s fine if one reliever gives up a run, but of the past 7 games, 3 have featured runs allowed by multiple relief pitchers. The starters are doing such a good job keeping the team in the game into the 6th and 7th innings, we must be able to count on the bullpen to finish the job from there. I hope everybody’s just having a bad week and we’ll start seeing excellence from them again.
9. Constant Lineup Changes
This has settled down in recent weeks, but before that it seemed like Jim Tracy thought the solution to all the club’s problems was to change the batting order every single day. We had too much Jose Lopez/Alfredo Amezaga/Ryan Spilborghs and not enough Seth Smith or Jonathan Herrera. The call-ups of Chris Nelson and Charlie Blackmon seem to have solidified the order a little, since they’re playing well enough to start every day. But Tracy still has a tendency to think that every guy on the bench needs a start once a week, and I hope that going forward he’s more committed to playing the best 8 guys every single game.
8. Ian Stewart
I would give just about anything to have Stew back with the big-league club and able to contribute offensively. An injury in spring training really set him back, and he was not able to find his stride during his brief stints with the Rockies in April and May. He played 21 games and managed only 3 hits. He’s played well for the Sky Sox, but questions remain about whether he can live up to his potential again in Denver. Adding insult to injury is the fact that the Rockies have yet to find a third baseman who can play solid defense in Stew’s absence. I don’t miss his bat, but I sure do miss his glove.
7. Injuries, or Lack Thereof
The only substantial injury the Rockies have suffered so far this season is the ligament tear in Jorge De La Rosa’s elbow, which required Tommy John surgery and ended his season. That was a sad moment, but otherwise all the right guys have been healthy, and it’s nearly a complete team with the return of Aaron Cook. Compare that to the Giants, who have placed pitcher Barry Zito and 7 position players, including done-for-the-season Buster Posey, on the DL so far this season. When a team has that many injuries, they’re walking wounded, and the other teams in their division should take advantage. The Rockies have been unable to do that, despite playing in full health themselves. Carlos Gonzalez and Troy Tulowitzki missed a combined 57 games last season, and the team still made a play-off run. We should be running away with it right now.
6. Wild Pitches
The Rockies have thrown 37 this year, 2nd most in the majors. Now is not the time to be making that kind of mistake. And all the pitchers are doing it. Whatever is giving them the jitters has to be dealt with, or they’ll keep giving away runs when we can’t afford that.
5. Bad Off-Season Moves
I have a lot of respect for the Rockies organization and the way they build their ball club. After some failed experiments in the team’s early years, they hit on a formula for filling out the roster and they haven’t strayed from it since: use the draft and the minor leagues to train up the players of the future, and go light on big trades or free-agent signings. I love that the majority of the players on the field at any given time are homegrown. However, the Rox need to make their few forays outside the organization count, which Dan O’Dowd didn’t do this past off-season. Ty Wigginton has been pretty good, though probably not as good as someone else we might have gotten. Matt Lindstrom has been better than good. But Jose Lopez and Felipe Paulino were a colossal waste of payroll and energy, and both those moves proved costly. Kudos to O’Dowd for recognizing his mistake and giving those two their walking papers, but I would like to see him be a little bit more careful in the future.
4. The Strike Zone
Jim Tracy frequently explains the team’s losses by saying the hitters expanded the strike zone, which is an understatement. Some are worse than others, but every guy on the team is whiffing far too often, against pitchers who aren’t exactly lights-out. The Rockies have struck out 487 times this season. Only 7 teams in the majors have more. That’s too many for an offense that knows what its doing. Time to start making contact.
3. Lack of Magic
In recent seasons, one of the Rockies’ best attributes was the way they seemed to come out of nowhere and be brilliant. They really haven’t done that this season, except for a brief 7-game winning streak in April that looks more and more like a fluke all the time. They have no walk-off wins and no extra-inning wins yet this season. I certainly don’t expect those every day, and I’d like the team to play well enough that they aren’t necessary very often. But when those kinds of wins happen, they are a proof that a team is clicking and working together. We just haven’t seen much of that. The pinch hitters’ batting average is .188, good for 23rd in the league. If they don’t start making things happen, the team will need to take another look at the bench.
2. Ubaldo Jimenez
Sigh. Ubaldo. What on earth is wrong with you, kiddo? At this point it seems like he’s just having a complete mental breakdown. One day his velocity will reach 99 mph; the next, he barely scrapes 92. He’ll strike out 8 in one start and walk 6 in the next. After showing such promise in 2010, and really carrying the team to the All-Star break, he’s been a mess and a half in this one. He often shows glimmers of his former self, but that just makes it even harder to see him sink to the depths a few pitches later. The various excuses the Rockies brass have given us (spring training injuries, needs to work on mechanics, just be patient) are wearing thin. I believe in Ubaldo, and I want to see him succeed, but what will that take?
1. Feast or Famine Offense
By far the most frustrating thing about this season has been the way the Rockies score 8 runs one night and come back to score 1 the next (which is how Sunday’s and Monday’s games turned out). Their bats are either blazing hot or ice cold. I understand that the current makeup of the team lends itself more to big innings and power hitting than to small ball, but that does not excuse bad fundamentals. Nearly everyone on the team needs to relearn the basics of bunting, baserunning, and sacrificing. This is an area in which I nod to the Giants entirely: they win games, even without Posey and Pablo Sandoval, because they execute. If this Rockies team can’t find a way to execute, this season is over.
Sorry to be such a downer. I promise a much more positive top 10 next week! Thanks for reading!