Taking two out of three from the Phillies over the weekend was huge for the Rockies as it did a couple of things. First, it salvaged a 5-5 home stand. That's not exactly what you want in a ten game stretch at Coors, but after the disaster in the middle leg, it was nice to prevent an all out slide. In addition, yesterday's win managed to bring Colorado to within a half game of division leading Arizona who was swept over the weekend by a charging San Diego. (The Diamondbacks are now just 3-7 in their last ten games.)
The stage is now set for two stretches of games leading up to the All Star Break that will determine how tall Colorado's task is in the second half. The initial stretch begins tonight in Toronto with a nine game east coast road trip against three teams who could all be considered dangerous for one reason or another. Then there's a filler game against the Mets (a makeup from the April snow out) before the Rockies play 16 straight against the division to close out the first half.
Now that second stretch is clearly the most important for obvious reasons. The penalty for losing games there is doubled as it not only would send the Rockies into a tailspin, but it would also help elevate division rivals. However, if we're looking for the stretch of games where the team is mostly likely to fall flat on it's face without Troy Tulowitzki, this nine game road trip is hold your breath time.
In 2010, when the Rockies lost Tulo to a broken wrist at almost the same point in the season, they started off fine without him. However, things really went south when the team went east. A double digit game road trip to Cincinnati, Miami, and Philadelphia highlighted a 2-11 stretch of baseball which left Colorado in a hole nine games out that proved too deep to climb out of even with an early September charge.
So now the question becomes "what do the Rockies need to do to prevent this road trip from becoming a moment where they dig themselves a hole?" Putting aside the not so helpful "all 25 guys need to play well" answer, I'll highlight four areas where I think the Rockies could see potential dramatic swings in production.
1) Carlos Gonzalez
Coming into the 2013 season, Cargo had a career .734 road OPS. So far in 2013, he has a 1.110 OPS away from Coors. His production has been so amazing that he already has more road home runs this year (11) than he does for any other full season on the road.
Gonzalez led the offensive charge over the weekend but now comes a big test - Can he stay hot on the road without Tulo's bat protecting him? He doesn't have to post an OPS over 1.000, but he can't regress all the way back into 2012 road Cargo in which he posted just a .706 OPS.
2) Wilin Rosario
So far we've seen two different Wilin Rosarios in 2013. There was the April Wilin Rosario who posted a 1.023 OPS, and then there's been the Wilin Rosario who posted a .469 OPS from May 1st through last Thursday when Tulo broke his rib. All players are going to have ups and downs, but that's ridiculous.
The good news is that over the weekend, Rosario finally showed real signs of breaking out his malaise, squaring up several balls and using the entire field as his canvas. If Rosario can post an OPS north of .800 while Tulo is out, the gap between that and his May / early June numbers should be large enough to cancel out the majority of lost production from Tulo's bat compared to what the lineup was giving you over the last several weeks.
3) The path to the second base wars.
One thing that has not been discussed in great detail yet is how Tulo's injury sets up a showdown between Josh Rutledge and DJ LeMahieu. What they do with the bat between now and the All Star Break is going to have a significant impact on many games they start at second base after the All Star Break. Here's what their OPS numbers look like so far this season.....
Josh Rutledge at Colorado Springs: 1.003
DJ LeMahieu at Colorado Springs: .916
Josh Rutledge with the Rockies: .633
DJ LeMahieu with the Rockies: .704
So far, Rutledge has the advantage at AAA and LeMahieu has the advantage at the major league level, but this is a virtual tie - And wouldn't you know it, both players posted the same line in the box score yesterday going 0-3 with a walk.
I'm hoping this competition for the second base job strengthens both cases and the Rockies get more production out of their middle infielders than you would expect without Tulo while also finding out some valuable information about a couple of young players who still don't have many at bats in the majors. LeMahieu has the advantage with the glove, so if Rutledge wants to be Tulo's primary double play partner again when he returns home to shortstop, he must show he's the better bat than DJ over the next four weeks.
4) The top of the rotation
It's very hard to understate how big Jhoulys Chacin's start was yesterday. Before that game, Chacin had a 6.13 ERA since coming off the disabled list and had put together several starts in which he seemed to come off the tracks after a few strong innings. Now to be fair, eight off Chacin's last ten starts have come at Coors Field which is quite an unlucky draw for a starting pitcher, but things were getting concerning in that department.
With Chacin's brilliance yesterday, I now have confidence that there's three guys in the rotation between him, De La Rosa, and Chatwood who are capable of almost winning the game by themselves if they bring their "A" game and the offense doesn't get shutout by the opponent. Add in Roy Oswalt joining the rotation, and you have another wild card to throw at opponents (although this could just as easily backfire on the Rockies).
I would like to see at least two games on this trip that involve a Rockies starter (likely one of the big three), completely shutting down the opponent by going more than seven innings into the game and giving up two runs or less. It's an easy way to grab a couple of big wins and it saves the bullpen in this stretch where the Rockies play 30 games in 31 days.
Speaking of which, look how much Chacin's start yesterday saved the bullpen which had been worked like a rented mule over most of the home stand even with the off day on June 10th. The loss of Betancourt and Chatwood on the front end and Escalona going on the disabled list last week really put the squeeze on the middle of the pen.
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The Rockies can survive a few weeks without Tulo. Almost anything can happen in baseball over a few weeks. Just look at the Houston Astros - They are 12-8 in their last 20 games! This is why the injury is not a deathblow to this team (that and the fact that the NL West is lacking a truly great team). If the Rockies had to go through a huge stretch of games without their shortstop (let's say 50 or more), then they would almost certainly sink, but if they can get passed this road trip here, they have enough pieces to survive until their big gun gets back.
Patrick Sounders has more on the upcoming road trip as well as a roster move in the bullpen.
He also has more on Jhoulys Chacin's incredible outing yesterday.
Troy Renck has more on what the Rockies will have to do to survive without Tulo.
Finally, new Purple Row member Rockie Nation wrote a nice fan post that talks about his four keys to the Rockies making the postseason.