Thursday Rockpile: Discovering the Rockies' identity

USA TODAY Sports

With two of their four best hitters out of the lineup, this difficult time of the season can define the Rockies -- in a good or bad way.

Happy 4th of July everyone. Today I would like to discuss this team's fortunes for the next two weeks until the All-Star break and the return of the starting shortstop and center fielder.

Teams do not win on talent alone. If that were the case, the Rockies without Troy Tulowitzki and Dexter Fowler should forfeit to the Dodgers instead of wasting time on the field. How this team plays and works together to shrink the talent gap on the field will determine not only their position in the division when Tulo and Dex return, but also whether they should be considered a contender this year or not.

Last night was not a good example of pulling together as a team. The Rockies were able to get hits and the pitching, for the most part, was serviceable. Defensive miscues and an inability to shut down the other team in a close game kept this from being a Rockies victory. Here are some thoughts on where this team can improve.

The Rockies do not have the bats to replace the production of Tulo and Dex. D J LeMahieu (.714 OPS), Jonathan Herrera (.680 OPS), and Josh Rutledge (.618 OPS) are not going to replace Tulo's 1.048 OPS. Likewise, Corey Dickerson (.733 OPS) and Tyler Colvin (.525 OPS) cannot match Dexter's .863 OPS, although they at least have the ability to be closer.

The goal should be to get surging players like Michael Cuddyer to lessen the offensive blow and get a little bit better pitching to make up for less offense. Despite reassurances by Walt Weiss and the Denver Post's Patrick Saunders, my concern is that players like Carlos Gonzalez try to do to much and actually hurt the team. Here are some numbers for Cargo before and after Tulo went down to injury:

Stat Plate Appearances/home run PA/strike out PA/Walk
Before 16 4.0 8.7
After 14.8 3.1 18.8

Cargo has picked up his home run hitting since Troy broke his rib, but he is striking out more. More importantly, he is walking a lot less; less than half as often as before. He is not letting the game come to him and is letting pitchers get away with striking him out on pitches that are not only out of the zone, but also in the dirt. His OBP was .375 before Tulo went out and sits at .337 since, and even with the increased home run rate, his slugging percentage has decreased. While our own RIRF wrote an article last week saying that Cargo and Tulo are better together, it may even be better stressed that Cargo is better when he doesn't try to do everything himself.

On the other side of the ball, the organization has tried to make changes to improve the pitching during the absence of the starting shortstop and center fielder. Unfortunately, Drew Pomeranz and Roy Oswalt have not been an improvement so far over Juan Nicasio and Jeff Francis. Perhaps this will change over a few more starts.

The hardest to quantify is the defense lost. How many ground balls would Tulo have nabbed that Rutledge/Herrera have no chance of getting? Would Dex have caught some of the fly balls hit into center that have gotten past Colvin/Dickerson? Who will share time at the spot? Defensive statistics are confusing at best, but they suggest playing Herrera and Dickerson to minimize the loss.

The Rockies need to band together until they get their starters back from the disabled list. Doing so will help them survive now and make them a better team upon the return of Dex and Tulo. They are still in second place and only 2.5 games out of first. These next two weeks can either be what saves the season or puts the team too far back to make up ground after the All-Star break.

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He may not be as good as a cat from San Diego, but the San Diego Chicken will be plying his trade in Colorado Springs. While a distraction from actual baseball, for those able to go see a Sky Sox game, he will add humor and also some enjoyment for the kids.

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