Inside Look: Colorado Rockies

Colorado Rockies baseball capSince we don’t get to see teams from the West very often, MetsToday called on Russ Oates of Purple Row to give us the inside scoop on the Colorado Rockies.

1. The NL West may be the most competitive in all MLB, and the Rockies (ironically) have a tough hill to climb. What is the outlook for the second half, and what part of their game do the Rockies most need to improve to get back in the race?

July’s always been a tough month for the Rockies. Last season, the team was 44-40 heading into the last series before the All-Star Break. They lost all three games and then the next five after the Break. If the Rockies want to stay competitive in the NL West in the second half, the main keys will be with the pitching: Aaron Cook regaining his form of the previous two seasons, Jason Hirsh being able to use his change-up as his out pitch (which he used effectively at the start of the season), and possibly removing Fogg from the rotation in favor of Taylor Buchholz.

2. From an outsider’s perspective, Brian Fuentes looked to be one of the most consistent closers in the game the last few years. What’s happened to him recently, and who will be closing games while he gets his act together?

Not counting the homers that Fuentes has allowed, most of it is bad luck. Not many of the hits he allowed were hard hit, and in the Cubs game, Kaz Matsui committed his first error on a play that would have ended the game. While Fuentes takes a timeout from closing, it looks to be a closer by committee for now. Manny Corpas, Jeremy Affeldt, Jorge Julio, and LaTroy Hawkins will each have a chance to close games. Corpas, many Rockies fans will tell you, is the future closer of the Rockies. I don’t disagree.

3. Kaz Matsui was a major disappointment under the spotlight of New York, but seems to have comfort in Colorado. How are the Rockies fans taking to Kaz and his style of play?

Think about this: from May 21 (Matsui’s return from the DL) until June 21 (team completes sweep of Yankees), the Rockies had a record of 20-8 in those games. Now, we can’t credit Matsui for the entire turnaround, but he was a sparkplug for the offense during that stretch. Maybe there’s something to those toe socks he wears. Rockies fans love him, especially some of the readers at the Row. They’ve formed their own unofficial Kaz Matsui Fan Club.

4. Jason Hirsh was supposed to be the key to the Jason Jennings deal, but so far has not panned out. Is he the real deal, and perhaps in over his head at this point in his career? What does he most need to improve to become the ace some scouts had predicted for his future?

I sort of addressed this in the first question. Lately he hasn’t been able to use his fastball effectively to set up his change up. That change up is an awesome strikeout pitch when he’s been able to use it. As with all young pitchers, he needs to find consistency.

5. I thought Jose Reyes was the best young all-around shortstop in the NL, but after seeing a few small samples of Troy Tulowitzki, I’m not so sure. Is he improving, and is he a star in the making?

Tulowitzki is improving, and he’s come through in many high pressure situations this season. Some of the more notable ones are April 24 (an RBI triple against the Mets in the 10th, only to see the Rockies lose the game), June 22 (homer in the 10th, only to see the Rockies lose the game), June 25 (a homer in the 9th, only to see the Rockies lose the game), and June 28 (a homer in the 11th, only to see the Rockies lose the game). He’s definitely a star in the making, but he’s nowhere near Reyes’ level yet.

6. Speaking of stars in the making, what happened to Garrett Atkins?

You tell me. He hasn’t altered his swing from last season and he isn’t suffering from any injuries. He’s been hitting the ball hard, and at the start of the season those balls were winding up in the outfielder’s glove. Maybe you can explain it with his BABIP of .267 (below average) this season, compared to .340 (above average) in ’06. After an abysmal May, Atkins rebounded with a solid June.

7. We know about Willy Taveras, but if he’s out I assume we’ll see Ryan Spilborghs in his place. Can you give us a quick scouting report?

Don’t be too quick to rule out Cory Sullivan starting in center if Willy T can’t go; Clint Hurdle might just do that. Spilborghs is a better all-around player that Sullivan in every aspect except for fielding. He’s great as a pinch hitter, and he should have been with the club from the start of the season, but the likes of Steve Finley and John Mabry haunted the team for nearly two months. He’s more of a fourth outfielder-type than a starter, but if Taveras went down with an injury for an extended period of time I wouldn’t worry all that much. There are worse options; one’s already been on the team this season and another is currently with the team, for now.

8. What’s the Colorado fan’s perspective of Todd Helton? Keep him? Trade him? Tired of the rumors?

A mix of all three, really. With the way Helton has been performing this season, it’s hard to say that he’d bring back much in return. He’s basically a singles hitter who still knows how to draw a walk. In other words, he shouldn’t be batting cleanup any longer. How many teams are going to want his contract with that production?

9. Ninth inning, tie game, two outs, man on third. What Rockies hitter do you want at the plate?

Troy Tulowitzki. He’s been coming through in “clutch” situations the entire season. Of course, lately those hits have been nullified by Brian Fuentes.

10. Same situation, Mets are batting. What Met would you least like to see?

Jose Reyes. I was at the last two games of the Rockies-Mets series back in April, and whenever Reyes was at the plate I couldn’t help but look away for fear of something bad happening.

Thanks again to Russ for his insights. Be sure to check out Purple Row for news, analysis, and opinion 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.