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Sunday Rockpile: Bench help key for Rockies, cream rising quickly in the NL West

In the off-season, much was made of how the Rockies did little to change a team that finished a distant third in the NL West division in 2010. The changes that have been made have been to the supporting cast rather than the front line, notably, Jonathan Herrera, Jose Lopez and Ty Wigginton are now patrolling the infield as back-ups and secondary starters instead of Clint Barmes, Melvin Mora and Eric Young Jr. It's difficult to describe the cumulative effect of this transformation, other than to point out that the 2011 trio already have six RBI with 2 outs, compared to just one from the 2010 trio at this point last season. While all six of those RBI belong to Wigginton and Lopez, Herrera's been exactly the kind of pest and OBP threat we were hoping EY2 could be in 2010. In all, it's an under the radar personnel shift that's already proved a boon to the Rockies.

The other big change from last season that people aren't paying enough attention to is that the Rockies starting outfield is a much better fit from the opening gun. Carlos Gonzalez and Seth Smith are no longer sharing time in the absence of Brad HawpeDexter Fowler has a .438 road OBP after reaching twice and scoring twice yesterday. Jim Armstrong notes that Fowler's road woes in 2010 were part of the concern about him heading into this season. The run production in Pittsburgh has helped the Rockies get off to a 2-1 start on the road in 2011, which in turn has helped them in this department:

NL West Standings

Colorado 5 2 .714 0 Won 1
Los Angeles 5 3 .625 0.5 Won 2
San Francisco 4 4 .500 1.5 Won 3
San Diego 3 4 .428 2 Lost 3
Arizona 3 4 .428 2 Lost 1

(updated 4.10.2011 at 9:07 AM EDT)

It's hard for me to say why this seems to be a bit more of a comfortable position for the Rockies than a year ago at this time, other than being in front of the division rather than chasing from the beginning. Should the Rockies happen to lose today, they'll have the exact same record after eight games as they did in 2010. Obviously, I think the remaining 11 games on the road in April will be significant for the Rockies to get off on a better foot, as after stumbling to an 11-12 record in April 2010, they were already four games behind the division leading Padres.

Other links after the jump...

Jorge De La Rosa doesn't think the blister issue that has caused him to get pulled abruptly despite pitching well in his first two starts is a major concern. A little bit more significant concern may or may not be Todd Helton's back, which has caused the first baseman to miss the last two games and could send him home to Denver early. 

If that's the case, maybe he can watch his teammates against the Mets on the Coors Field jumbotron. The First Lady will be seeing the Rockies play this way on Wednesday, along with the Second Lady, as Michelle Obama and Jill Biden clearly have their priorities in order on where to visit while in Colorado. So too, does Jessica Simpson, who will also be in attendance of an event for military families. 

Given that politics typically demands high standards of etiquette and decorum from the spouse of a head of state, I'm expecting that Mrs. Obama will not be imbibing in the Sandlot Brewery's creations, but I hope any responsible adults at the event who wish to do get a chance, I bring this up as Brewmaster John Legnard is featured in this article.

Baseball notes: Colorado Rockies encouraged about pitcher Ubaldo Jimenez - - Ubaldo's in line to return on April 17th, giving Greg Reynolds one more start. I was hoping for at least one solid outing from Reynolds in Jimenez' absence, which he provided last night. Whatever he does the next time out will be gravy. 

Renck: Disgraceful exit for Manny Ramirez - The Denver Post - Notes on Manny and a few Rockies observations in Troy Renck's weekly column.