The Rockies are free-falling out of contention so far in July, due in large part to a punchless offense and a black hole from the back end of their rotation. Is there any disagreement about that? If Colorado is going to turn their season around (and it's looking increasingly unlikely that they will of late), they are going to need a combination of great health the rest of the way and better production from some of their reserves.
Let me start by saying that it would be disingenuous to expect the Rockies to stockpile enough position player depth to adequately replace the production of Troy Tulowitzki, Dexter Fowler, and Carlos Gonzalez at the same time. Those are star players who can't be replaced directly from AAA. However, would even replacement-level production be too much to ask?
Going strictly by # of plate appearances, this has been the Rockies' starting line-up this year:
In that group, Colorado has collected six players who are on pace for or have exceeded already a league average pace in rWAR (league average is 2+ rWAR). As for the other two players (who are both below replacement level), Helton isn't going anywhere in his swan song season though the Rockies wouldn't be out of their rights to play him a little less, while Josh Rutledge has been supplanted by DJ LeMahieu at 2nd base as MLB seems to have figured him out.
Normally, having only two awful spots in the lineup that are balanced out by a couple of excellent ones would be a recipe for contention - in this year's edition of the NL West, even more so. However, in support of the above lineup the Rockies have assembled this collection of position players (sorted by plate appearances):
A few of those players are no longer with the Rockies organization (EY, Nelson) while a couple more are in AAA (Brignac, Wheeler), but far too many of them are still in the lineup day in and day out. As I mentioned last week, Pacheco should be nowhere near this roster if he isn't playing catcher, Colvin obviously hasn't figured it out, and Rutledge probably isn't a positive MLB contributor. You know your team is in trouble when the most effective bench bats are Torrealba and Herrera.
I know that in many circumstances we're talking about small sample sizes, but the best OPS in the bunch is Torrealba's 0.706. The net rWAR of these bench players thus far is -2.4 over a combined 1,069 plate appearances. Replace LeMahieu with Rutledge in the starting lineup and the bench has been costing the Rockies over three wins compared to what they should be receiving from a group of AAAA-type players.
The lineup Colorado put out there yesterday that got four-hit by the Padres included six (out of eight!) non-pitchers with an OPS of less than 0.700. Colorado's third best hitter by that measure last night was Jonathan Herrera! Tyler Chatwood (0.728 OPS) would statistically have been the third best hitter in that lineup too. For a team that plays half of their games at Coors Field, that's ridiculous.
Offense like this from the bench is one of the reasons that I gave Colorado's playoff chances short shrift coming into the year. The Rockies were a great team early in the year when they could consistently populate the lineup with five or six above average hitters - and they might be again if/when all of those hitters return healthy - but they are particularly ill-equipped to weather injuries to their best players. In the 24 games since the Tulo injury on June 13th, the team has gone 8-16 while scoring 3 runs or less in 14 of those contests. In other words, 58% of the time this team has needed a stellar starting pitching performance just to be competitive.
If Colorado is to contend, they're going to need to do something (beyond even the return of Tulo and Fowler) to improve their offensive output. That means thinking about jettisoning Pacheco and Colvin when Tulo and Fowler return while sliding Cuddyer over to first to platoon with Helton. It means maybe taking a look at Xavier Nady (ugh, can't believe I just wrote that) or exploring a trade of some of the upper level OF detritus for a decent bench bat if that can be had.
Two starts is hardly enough time to evaluate a pitcher, but Drew Pomeranz's cameo this year has been far from encouraging. The inefficient Juan Nicasio will most likely be recalled to the rotation to replace the injured (and ineffective) Roy Oswalt - an experiment that might be over per Patrick Saunders. In other words, the four and five slots in the rotation are pretty darn ugly. As RIRF noted on Monday, the Rockies haven't won a game started by pitchers in those slots in a month.
Considering the fact that the Rockies are leading the NL in rWAR from pitchers by a wide margin (2nd in MLB), there's been a lot of good this year by Colorado's pitchers. Unfortunately, most of that production has come from the top three of the rotation and the bullpen. If what the Dodgers gave up for Ricky Nolasco (basically $5.5 million plus a couple of relievers) was all it would have taken to get him, I would have pulled the trigger on that deal.
As it is though, I'm not seeing a magic bullet for what ails the back of Colorado's rotation. Matt Garza and Bud Norris have been mentioned as potential trade targets, though I don't think the Rockies will be willing to pay what it takes to get them given their recent tailspin. Better in my opinion to try and shore up the bench offense. If the next couple of weeks don't break the Rockies' way, we might see this team sell at the deadline.
A lot of people don't want Michael Cuddyer in the Home Run Derby, but he sure sounds excited to be there.
Steve Treder of the Hardball Times gives us a graphical view of the NL West race thus far. What a mess.