Inside Look: Colorado Rockies

Colorado_Rockies.jpgThe “new” Mets, led by interim manager Jerry Manuel, head to the hills to play the Colorado Rockies for a three-game weekend series.

Last year’s NL Champions are having a tough time so far this season, struggling with a 31-42 record and 8 games behind the NL West leading Arizona Diamondbacks. The only thing keeping them out of the cellar is the fact that the Giants and Padres are performing just as poorly. However, all is not lost for the Rox. It’s still early in the season, and the D-Backs are not exactly dominating the West. All a Colorado fan must do to keep the faith is look to last year and the Rockies’ mad rush down the wire that placed them in the postseason. A similar rush could be starting right now, in fact — the Rockies are 7-3 in their last 10 games, and should have key players returning from the DL shortly.

To get a view of the Rockies from up in the mountains, we called on Brandi Griffin — a.k.a., “RoxGirl” — from Purple Row, one of the popular Rockies blogs.

1. Last year’s rollercoaster ride saw the Rockies go from pretenders to contenders, ending up in the World Series. Thus far this season, the Rox are mired in the NL West cellar and 12 games under .500. What do you think is the chance of a repeat of last year — a strong finish that takes them back to the postseason?

First of all, I think it’s crucial that the Rockies get within a couple of games of .500 by the All-Star Break. There’s simply no reason to think that a team more than five games under with seventy left to play has a chance to come back, regardless of how close they are to the division lead. Beyond that, however, the fact of the matter is that the NL West is still very much in play as only eight and a half games separate the division leader from the cellar dweller (which as of last night, is no longer the Rox, thankfully).The Diamondbacks had a chance to put the division in the cooler in May, but didn’t. Now everybody else, including the Rockies, has an opportunity to make a comeback. As for the Rockies chances specifically, I wouldn’t put it past them. Last season, the Rockies were still eight games back in the division as late as the beginning of July, so if we can close the gap a little these next couple of weeks, we should become a viable threat.

Plus, last season’s experience could benefit the team as the pressure mounts. I would think it would get easier to make stunning comeback runs if you had experience with them beforehand. Holes in one in golf are a good analogy. The odds of making just one are staggering, and to make two the odds are seen as sort of monumental, but it is a skill we’re talking about, and golfers who have made hole-in-ones in the past are as a group more likely to have future hole-in-ones than players who have never hit one. I think the experience of a successful late charge gives the Rockies one edge over the rest of their division rivals in the comeback chase, but I’ll grant that having a solid one through five in the rotation and an All-Star caliber lineup just perhaps might be a slightly bigger edge. Luckily, none of the NL West teams can boast that.

One thing that plays against the Rockies this season is that it’s looking likely that the Wild Card is going to be completely out of reach to NL West teams (thanks solely to our own ineptitude) by the middle of July, if it’s not already. The Mets and other teams around .500 or above definitely have an advantage in that there are still two possible avenues to the playoffs for them, the Rockies only chance this year it seems is to overtake the D-backs.

2. Injuries have been a problem for the Rox this year, but the fill-ins, for the most part, have done an admirable job. When / if everyone is healthy, who will be playing shortstop and second base?

Shortstop will be played by Troy Tulowitzki, second base might be more of an open question for a little while. Tulo’s April was awful, but there was a lot of bad luck with balls in play in his stats, and I think colder weather is a bigger factor for him than it is for many other players. Ian Stewart will likely be sent back to AAA to improve his pitch recognition while Omar Quintanilla will stay on as a defensive replacement and left-handed utility player. Second will come down to either Jeff Baker or Clint Barmes. Baker’s got the hot bat right now, but Barmes was almost equally impressive before his injury and he brings better defense at the position. I think Hurdle will use Baker as a super-sub for Helton or Hawpe against left-handed pitching, also to spell Atkins on occasion, and Barmes will be the primary second baseman but will be subbed for by Baker on some days as well, especially if his bat goes as cold as it did the last time he went down with an extended injury. Similarly, if Tulo continues to struggle, Hurdle will start to use a Barmes at short, Baker at second combo fairly frequently. It’s good to have as many options as we do, though, I’d rather have too many good bats that the manager is trying to find time for than not enough.

3. Over the winter, the Mets signed and then “unsigned” Yorvit Torrealba. Are you happy he returned? Was there ever any scoop in Colorado as to why the Mets contract fell apart?

The word that was leaked was that the Mets suddenly had concerns about Torrealba’s shoulder. However, since they never actually had anybody do a physical on Yorvit, it tells me that this is probably a complete fabrication. Watching how Omar Minaya operates when he wants to get out of something leads to me suspect that the truth is that somehow Minaya actually figured out that no other team was going to bid close to as much for Torrealba, so he just burned those bridges quickly and thoroughly in an attempt to avoid being discredited by the New York media for such a glaringly stupid move as offering the contract in the first place. Good for you guys that you got out of it, but I think it should have been more of a sign that your front office can be pretty clueless than it was taken for at the time.

I think Yorvit does well as a backup or split time catcher, as he’s shown lately while Chris Iannetta has gotten more playing time, but is particularly ill-suited for a starter’s role. He has a tendency to get complacent in both his approach at the plate and behind it if he doesn’t feel like he’s being pushed or his job is being threatened and he doesn’t have nearly enough skills to stay valuable while also slacking like that.

4. What’s the chance of Brian Fuentes finishing the year in a Colorado uniform? Is Manny Corpas ready to be a closer?

Corpas has struggled a bit this season with his mechanics and until he shows that he’s fixed this the answer is no. As for Fuentes, I think it depends on how close we are and how desperate other GMs are. Fuentes is almost certain to be a Type A free agent after the season, meaning any deal would have to be equal or greater than the value of two top 60 draft picks. I don’t know if I’d want my team giving up that kind of package for a rental reliever unless I was sure that this was all I needed to put me over the top. Fuentes is very good at his job, and underappreciated by most Rockies fans and certainly baseball fans in general. Imagine if you had a reliever over three seasons pitch 208 1/3 innings with a 3.24 ERA, a 228/71 K/BB ratio and a .681 OPS against. Pretty good, right? Now think about if that reliever did that while playing every single one of his games in the most hitter friendly stadium in the majors in Coors Field. That’s Fuentes’ line at Coors and the context should take him from “yeah, not bad,” to “dang this guy’s good” if one’s fairly assessing him.

5. Dang indeed. Moving on … Who has been the biggest disappointment on the Rockies thus far? Who has been the most pleasant surprise?

Lots of possibilities for disappointment. I think, for me, I would have to eliminate guys like Troy Tulowitzki, Manny Corpas or Franklin Morales because they are so young and talented, and inconsistency is just sort of a way of life with young ballplayers typically. So while they’re certainly disappointing, there’s enough hope for a brighter future there to mitigate that. So I guess my biggest disappointment would be with Jeff Francis, who after winning 17 games for us last season, and for the most part pitching like he deserved that, has just been woeful this season. It’s a heavy blow to take when one of your expected top two starters, a veteran, but not an old one, whose performances should be relatively consistent, suddenly falls off a cliff. Francis has pitched better the last couple of outings, so I’m hoping for a turnaround, but he’s been the cause of a lot of my pessimism and angst this year.

As for pleasant surprises, I think I was most surprised by the resurgence of Clint Barmes, which I just really didn’t see coming and am frankly still a little skeptical about.

6. Bottom of the ninth, tie game, two outs, winning run on third. Who on the Rockies do you want to see at the plate?

Matt Holliday. Easily. I mean clutch might not be a real phenomenon, but he’s one of those players that has definitely given a lot of positive enforcement to the contrary, leading the team in WPA each of the last two seasons. You compare him to say Garrett Atkins, who overall hits very well, but doesn’t seem to come through late in games or with runners on as often or Todd Helton, who can be counted on for a walk or the occasional dramatics but not the consistent show stopper. People remember the bloody chin slide and phantom tag of home more, but just before that, Matt’s opposite field triple in game 163 against Trevor Hoffman to tie the game was just an incredible piece of hitting in one of the most leveraged situations imaginable.

7. Same situation as above, but the Mets are at bat. Who would you least like to see in the batter’s box?

Beltran would be nerve wracking, but I’d have to go with David Wright. I know from my fantasy team that he hasn’t had his best season, but he’s clearly a dangerous hitter. If you are wanting my off-the-wall, from a Rockies fan only perspective, I’ll also add Damion Easley. Seriously. He reached safely in four straight pinch-hit or late-game defensive sub ABs against us over the last two seasons, including a double and a game winning homerun (which started the streak) in April 2007 before we finally got him out for once this past May. He;s been added to my list of Pedro Feliz All-Stars, players who are top caliber against the Rockies but scrubs to everybody else.

Well done. Thanks again to RoxGirl for providing insight on the upcoming Mets – Rockies series. Be sure to check out PurpleRow for top-notch information on the Colorado Rockies.

Joe Janish began MetsToday in 2005 to provide the unique perspective of a high-level player and coach -- he earned NCAA D-1 All-American honors as a catcher and coached several players who went on to play pro ball. As a result his posts often include mechanical evaluations, scout-like analysis, and opinions that go beyond the numbers. Follow Joe's baseball tips on Twitter at @onbaseball and at the On Baseball Google Plus page.