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Wednesday Rockpile: Trouble in Paradise for the Rockies?

The Giants are trying to catch up to the Rockies in the standings.
The Giants are trying to catch up to the Rockies in the standings.

First, the good news: despite the past two games, the Colorado Rockies are still 12-5, two games up on the Giants for the NL West lead, and they still have the best record in MLB (tied with Cleveland, anyway). Troy Tulowitzki is the early frontrunner for the NL MVP award, Jhoulys Chacin is 3-0 with a 1.64 ERA, and Jonathan Herrera has improbably sustained the offensive improvement he showed late in 2010 That's some pretty good news to hear right there.

With that said, the Rockies have just lost two straight home games (and their first series) in convincing fashion to the best team they've played thus far. I see a few causes for concern, with the obvious caveat of small sample size:

  1. As Rob Neyer pointed out yesterday, the Rockies have gotten well-below replacement level production from their third-basemen so far this year -- a pathetic .148/.212/.230 line going in to last night, with Ian Stewart, Ty Wigginton, and Jose Lopez combining for -0.7 fWAR so far. Here's the deal: Stewart absolutely needed to be demoted -- his plate appearances were painful to watch.
  2. Another note about the offense, the bench's performance in addition to Stewart so far has been pretty awful (if you consider Herrera the starter, and it's hard not to at this point). Wigginton provides his own unique brand of versatility, Jason Giambi provides veteraniness, and Ryan Spilborghs provides looseness in the clubhouse. Alas, none of these guys have provided much if any on-field help to Colorado, combining for -0.6 fWAR.
  3. Ubaldo Jimenez just isn't the same pitcher so far in 2011. I know, I know, he was pitching injured in one start and was basically throwing a rehab game last night and he looked somewhat better after the first inning. That doesn't make me feel much better. For that matter, Jason Hammel hasn't impressed me so far this year either. I'd like to believe that Jimenez will be the 2010 version of himself the next time he takes the mound, but until he does I'll be just a little wary of Colorado's pitching rotation.
  4. Herrera has been great so far and I've loved every minute of it. I'm just worried that he's been Colorado's second most effective offensive weapon. We need CarGo to be The Man again or else the Rockies offense will once again lack ammunition on the road. I was also worried by how inert the offense was against the Giants the last two games. 

Let's briefly discuss these concerns after the jump.


1.  In the medium-term Stewart is still the best option for the Rockies at third base, as Mr. Neyer opines. This is because despite his struggles, Stewart not only possesses the best hit tool of the three (particularly power), he's also been pretty much a league average player the last three years despite not yet putting it all together. The possibility that he does put it together is more than worth the risk of sitting through 20 games' worth of unproductive at-bats. Stewart needs to be the guy manning the hot corner. After he gets his bearings back in AAA, of course.

2. Of the three bench players, Wigginton is the only one that really belongs on this roster in the medium term given his power potential combined with his defensive utility (okay, so he's mediocre at multiple positions). As others have said before me, Giambi's presence on the roster is a luxury the Rockies really couldn't afford given his statuesque defensive range and general slowness, while Spilborghs' unsophisticated (and thus far ineffective) swing should probably be giving way to Charlie Blackmon's smooth stroke pretty soon.

3. The Rockies have already needed 7 starters this year due to injury and Aaron Cook hasn't even been close to contributing, yet Colorado has been relatively fine due to a combination of some decent rotation depth and a performance by the rebuilt bullpen that has been very effective. So yeah, I probably need to step back from the ledge on the rotation, but fears won't be completely assuaged until I see vintage Ubaldo on the mound. After all, if Ubaldo is merely a league average starter this year, that's about a 4-5 WAR drop from what Rockies fans are counting on. It's kind of a big deal -- probably the second biggest potential drop-off behind Tulo on the Rockies. SI's Tom Verducci outlines (through pitching coach Bob Apodaca) the keys to surviving pitching at Coors Field.

4. Carlos Gonzalez hasn't been awful by any stretch of the imagination (.290/.328/.387, 91 wRC+) but he certainly hasn't shown a lot of the superstar the Rockies are paying him to be so far aside from some spectacular defense. The huge leap forward of Herrera and the improvement of several other players like Seth Smith have helped fill the gap in production created by CarGo's slow start, but for the Rockies to remain a dangerous club offensively they're going to need another star to pair with Tulo. Then again, if the Rockies keep up their patient ways (they lead MLB in walks with 70 and are third in OBP at .345), they might become an offensive force with or without CarGo. Tangentially related to the offense is a great article from PR community member EmersonCR on the psychology of Coors Field.

Now, I wouldn't ever be called Mr. Sunshine and Rainbows by those who know me, but I have pretty consistently been bullish on the prospects of the Rockies over the last few years. Indeed, two weeks ago I brought up the possibility of Colorado not even dipping below .500 again -- while the team was 2-1. I know, right? This team is very talented and the season is very long -- I just hope that the Rockies can make it work for the long haul.