When the 2013 Major League Baseball season was in its infancy, the Colorado Rockies were picked to be one of the worst, if not the worst, teams in baseball. With a questionable pitching rotation, along with untested first-year manager Walt Weiss taking the reins, the gloomy outlook seemed like it could be a real possibility. All we could all hope for at the time was that the Rockies were going to be a surprise.
Well, here we more than 70 games into the season, and the Colorado Rockies couldn’t be more of a pleasant surprise, at least for now. As of Tuesday, the Rockies find themselves with a record of 37-34, and just a half game behind the National League West-leading Arizona Diamondbacks. Now the Rockies aren’t great, each and every game, but their rotation has been able string together strong appearances that at least give them a chance to win some close games. And just when you think they are about to go into a season-wrecking slump, they pull out of it just in time, before too much damage is done to their win-loss column.
The Rockies’ positive season so far is a complete turnaround from this time last year, when Colorado had record of 27-43 and found itself 15 games behind the division leader. After last year’s forgettable season – and the Rockies making Weiss the manager – I confess that I too didn’t have much confidence going into this season. I thought the move to hire Weiss was a sign of cheapness from the Rockies ownership. While it still may have been a cheap move, I’ll give credit to Weiss for making a contender out of a team that seemed destined for failure.
Everybody knows the key to a winning season in Colorado is having a starting rotation that can keep you close in games. They don’t have to be perfect on the mound, but good enough to give the offense a chance to win. On Sunday, Jhoulys Chacin did more than just keep it close, he dominated the game against the Phillies in a 5-2 victory. According to The Denver Post, Chacin needed only 86 pitches, 69 of them strikes, to hand the Phillies the loss. Chacin pitched an entire eight innings and gave up six hits, three in the ninth inning, right before Weiss pulled him. For a while it looked like Chacin was going to throw the first shutout by Rockies pitcher since June 2011 when the Chief himself, Ubaldo Jimenez, pulled it off against the Dodgers.
“Jhoulys was top-notch. He was so good," Rockies pitcher Jeff Francis told The Post. From the first pitch of the game, he was pumping strikes and getting early outs. Guys were hitting the ball on the ground. Guys weren't hitting balls hard.”
While it wasn’t the complete game shutout the Coors Field faithful wanted on Sunday, it was a textbook victory for an organization like the Rockies, or for any baseball team for that matter: Tough pitching and a high-powered offense.
That same formula seemed to be in action again on Monday in Toronto when the Rockies started a tough nine-game road trip. This time it was Jorge De La Rosa throwing a gem of a game. He made it through seven innings, allowing only one hit. Weiss ended up pulling him from the game because of a bruised thumb from throwing so many sinking fastballs. For the first time in awhile, it was the Rockies offense that couldn’t get anything going and they let Del La Rosa down in the 2-0 loss. It’s the kind of loss the Rockies cannot afford to let happen too many times this season because their relief pitching is trouble enough.
To me, it seems most of the Rockies losses this year came by way of the relief pitching giving up a bunch of runs in one or two terrible innings. The bullpen has blown a lot of games this season, and I believe it's the Rockies greatest flaw right now. Hopefully getting closer Rafael Betancourt, who has a strained groin, back on the mound (hopefully this week) will help solve the problem.
As many Denver sports writers have mentioned this week, this nine-game road trip to Toronto, Washington and Boston will be a good test for the Rockies. Without Troy Tulowitzki starting at shortstop until sometime in late July, due to a broken rib, the Rockies are going to have to dig deep to keep their offensive power strong enough to back up the starting rotation. Hopefully they can come off the road trip winning at least half of those games – and prove, at least for the time being, that the Rockies are contenders and can remain contenders despite not having arguably their best player in the lineup.
“We need our starters to go out there and give us a chance to win, or at least keep us within striking distance and let our offense do their thing,” Weiss told The Post. “Offensively, it's important that we play team offense. When you lose a lot of production like we have with Tulo, you have to execute the game.”
It’s not like Weiss is putting together some unheard-of game plan in Colorado. He’s preaching the fundamentals of good baseball. But somehow, it’s hitting home with his players and they are playing good, fundamental baseball. I don’t want to give Weiss too much credit this early in the season, but so far the Colorado Rockies have been a pleasant surprise.
Nobody, myself included, wants to give Weiss too much credit this early, with more than half-a-season to go. But I will say the Colorado Rockies have been a pleasant surprise so far.
The Los Angeles Dodger woes (29-39) have also been a pleasant surprise this season so far as well.