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Steps Needed for Colorado Rockies to Become a Playoff Contender

After an up and down season, the Colorado Rockies sit at a disappointing 52-61, leaving them 10.5 games back of the division-leading Dodgers. Since the NL Central features three teams with well over 60 wins already, Colorado’s hope for a postseason invite rests right here in the division, which they were only a half-game back as late as June 15. What happened and how can they right the ship? Well on that day the Rockies, (37-33 at the time) led the entire National League in runs scored with 347 and a healthy plus 40 in run differential. As of August 5th, their run differential is a -27 and have only managed a little more than 3.2 runs a game, going 15-28 in that span.

A lot of the struggles on offense derive from dwindling production from the top and bottom of the lineup. Leadoff man and centerfielder Dexter Fowler, who has battled injuries most of June and July, has hit 13 for 74 since his return from the disabled list. Rookie third baseman Nolan Arenado, who they like, has gone 22 for 99 since the calendar turned to July. When June 16th came around, the Rockies were fresh off a 10-5 drubbing of the Phillies. Since then, they haven’t broken double digits in runs in a game and have played abysmal on the road going 6-19 and getting swept in Atlanta in four games by a combined score of 40-13. When your team surrenders 40 runs in four games you know pitching is an issue. They won’t sniff the playoffs unless both hitting and pitching improve; too many times the offense has flailed, wasting good outings by the Rockies young starters. Sometimes when the Rockies staff is off that night, and old fashioned Rockies slugfest is needed.

In all honesty, the Rockies pitching has let them down statistically. The team’s 4.32 ERA, .274 batting average against and 740 strikeouts are all dead last in the National League. The Rockies had bad numbers pitching and have to play more like an American League (or an old AFL team) team due to their rotation and their terrestrial proclivity (high altitude) to surrendering runs – the staff is seemingly in a permanent state of flux.

While they have some guys that miss bats, there isn’t a strikeout-an-inning-guy on the starting staff. They have gotten great pitching, career years in fact, from Jorge De La Rosa (10-6 W/L, 3.31 ERA) and Jhoulys Chacin, (10-5, 3.40) and rookie Tyler Chatwood has been as good as advertised. The other three pitchers, Nicasio, Garland and Jeff Francis (since sent to the minors) started 44 games and only thirteen of those were quality starts. The Roy Oswalt experiment has been postponed due to a hamstring injury. Rex Brothers (1.39 ERA) has filled in admirably in save situations for the injured Rafe Betancourt but the rest of the bullpen is filled with guys ERA’s south of 4 which isn’t going to take pressure off a struggling offense.

The get-to-the-postseason recipe for the Rockies, who aren’t out of it (yet), is pretty simple: since they don’t have the backend rotation to match NL contenders their bats are going to have to start heating up. Michael Cuddyer (.330 – 17 -63) has to continue to impersonate a mid-90s Larry Walker and Fowler needs to get his batting average back to the .290 range and for a .300 guy Carlos Gonzalez’s walk/strikeout ratio (41:118) isn’t an asset. The two-hole is still a quandary; DJ Le Mathieu is probably miscast there.

Their pitching staff needs to start striking guys out and avoid giving up hits. More quality starts from their starting staff will do wonders to relieve an over-used bullpen. It’s not as if the Rockies are facing NL West teams with loaded lineups (save for the Dodgers). Newly called-up pitcher Chad Bettis (3-4, 3.71 for Tulsa) bombed in his initial start against the Braves, but the team thinks he can get guys out consistently – and reminds skipper Walt Weiss of Chatwood – which is encouraging. Bettis needs to avoid the long ball as does his teammates Juan Nicasio and Drew Pomeranz. They have to pitch better, plain and simple. If Bettis pitches like the guy who struck out 184 in 2011 (Midland-AA), they can pull the plug on Pomeranz.

If Roy Oswalt can return to even his 2013 form, he’s a guy who can miss bats. The next three opponents (Mets away, Pirates and Padres at home) all pitch well but the Rockies have better overall talent on offense. Besides Matt Harvey, there’s no pitcher that will completely shut them down. If you can take two from New York starting Tuesday, they can get on a nice streak. Colorado is still a respectable 31-26 at home, if they can take some from Pittsburgh and San Diego on the homestand before heading back east on August 19th, they can turn their season around.

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