For the first time in 2013, the Colorado Rockies have hit a rough stretch. They went 2-4 on their recent home stand and have fallen out of first place for the first time since early April. Now as of today, the Rockies are only a half of a game out of first, but this is a dangerous spot for a young team.
Complicating matters is the fact that the Rockies now head out on a six-game road trip, starting with three versus the St. Louis Cardinals who have had their way with the Rockies in St. Louis.
For other teams, a hiccup at home followed by a road trip would not be cause for concern, but let’s remember what was expected of the Rockies. Most people thought they would finish last in the division and could lose 100 games, so the start has been surprising. Now as they start to struggle, the natural question becomes is this the first sign that the wheels are about to come off?
This road trip that begins on Friday night with the Cardinals and concludes with three games versus the Chicago Cubs will tell us a lot. If the Rockies go 4-2 or even 3-3, then they are probably still near the top of the division and can go home feeling pretty good. If, however, they turn in one of their 1-5 trips where they struggle to score runs, then the great start begins to look like a mirage.
What’s concerning about the recent home stand versus the Tampa Bay Rays and the New York Yankees is not that they lost four of six, it’s the way the Rockies lost those games. For the Rockies to compete, they have to score runs and rely on their offense especially at home. They scored five runs in three games versus the Yankees and the Rockies are lucky they won a game.
Now they take a struggling offense on the road, and that’s a bad sign. There have been countless times in the 20-year history of the Rockies when they have scored a ton of runs at home, then go on the road and struggle to score one. This time, the offense struggled at home, making this road trip a scary one.
In addition to the struggling offense, the bullpen has to be a concern for manager Walt Weiss. The concern is not about performance, but about workload. The relief pitchers for the Rockies have been nothing short of spectacular through the first month plus of the season. Lately, however, they are working three and four innings every night and that is eventually going to take its toll.
If the starting pitchers don’t start to work deeper into games, the bullpen is going to be done by July. We’ve seen it happen before in Colorado and they are on that track again. The Bottom line is this: the starters have to start throwing fewer pitches and go deeper into games. For the most part, all of the starters are pitching well but when Juan Nicaso has 97 pitches in the fifth inning, Weiss has to pull him.
If you are a Rockies fan, the next six games are crucial. That’s a hard thing to say when it is the middle of May, but this is a young team that cannot get too far away from the top. Troy Tulowitzki, Carlos Gonzalez and the rest would never admit it but if things start to go bad, it will be almost impossible to stop the slide.
History tells us that the Rockies will fade at some point; is this that point, or is this team different? We’ll have a lot of answers in six days.
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