Things are starting to look bleak at Coors Field. The Rockies have lost seven games in a row in their usually friendly confines and dropped to 16-19 at home this season.
While many factors are responsible for this four-game sweep by Atlanta and three-game sweep by Cleveland — a bad defense that has made eight errors and a C.J. Cron slump are two notable ones — the one that stands out is the lack of clutch hitting.
The Rockies have managed to lose every advantage of thin air and the 2.66 acres of outfield during this stretch, especially with runners in scoring position. There might be some answers to these problems, but first, it’s important to see how bad the problems are.
During this home skid, the Rockies rank No. 21 in MLB with a .233 batting average with runners in scoring position. They are tied for 18th in RBI with RISP at 40, including two homers, which is tied for 20th. They’ve also hit into six double plays, which is part of their league-leading 26 double plays with RISP this season (the Rockies are tied for second place in most double plays hit into at 54 total this season). Colorado is also averaging 3.71 runs per game, which even a casual fan would know is not enough to win most of the time in the Mile High City.
In the back-to-back sweeps, the Rockies are 11-for-62 with RISP with 53 runners left on base. Of those 11 hits, nine of them were singles. Yonathan Daza has three of those singles, Charlie Blackmon and Ryan McMahon each have two, and Connor Joe and Elias Díaz have one apiece. Blackmon hit one homer and Brendan Rodgers hit one double as the only extra-base hits.
One big problem here is that Cron is in a slump. He’s 4-for-23 with a spread-out cycle during those seven games, but that’s still a .174 batting average. Up until this slump, Cron has been having a great season, hitting .285/.335/.526 with 14 homers and 44 RBI. Cron usually hits in the cleanup spot and during his struggles, the hitters before and after him are also struggling.
In the last seven games at Coors Field, the 3, 4, and 5 hitters have gone 13-for-80 with 30 strikeouts, while only driving in 11 runs, scoring nine runs, and walking twice. This contingent has been made up of different combinations of Rodgers, Cron, McMahon, Daza, and Blackmon. Daza and Blackmon have faired the best.
So what do the Rockies do to fix the downward trend in LoDo? How do they avoid becoming the 10th team in franchise history to post a losing record at home?
I think there are four solutions the Rockies need to employ to stop the nosedive. While I don’t have much faith that they’ll do any of them, it’s still fun to dream.
Put Joe, Daza, and Blackmon at the top of the lineup
I already wrote about the lack of production in the No. 3 hole, but on May 20, I was hoping Kris Bryant would be able to help with the problem. Bud Black said Bryant is nearing a rehab assignment, but that’s not currently a viable option. For now, Blackmon needs to take on this role. In his last 15 games, home or away, he’s hitting .303/.333/.500 with three homers and 10 RBI. Connor Joe has proven his effectiveness as a leadoff hitter with his quality at-bats to drive up pitch counts and a team-best .360 on-base percentage among qualified hitters. Daza, aka the single king, is hitting .331 and has a .386 on-base percentage in 154 at-bats in 51 games. Despite this, Daza hasn’t cracked his way into the everyday lineup, but he should. If it means less time for Randal Grichuk or more DHing for Blackmon, that’s fine. Go with the guy that hits. With Joe and Daza in the 1-2 spots, it will give Charlie more to work with. Maybe this will help to bring back the phenomenon of the Rockies rally, which seems to be an endangered species.
More Serven, less Díaz
Last year, Díaz was outstanding at the plate and behind it. This year, he's hitting .205/.258/.288 and made two errors that cost the Rockies two wins. Maybe he’ll rebound, but for now, Brian Serven has more than earned a chance to play more. He’s hitting .333/.382/.549 with three homers in 51 at-bats. He’s got one more homer and only three fewer RBI than Díaz, despite having almost one-third of the at-bats.
More small ball
If the hits aren’t coming, then Colorado needs to do more things to make things happen. Now that Bud Black doesn’t have to strategize about pinch hitters and double switches when he pulls pitchers, he has more time to think about hit-and-runs, bunts, and doing anything to decrease the chances of the Rockies grounding into double plays.
Fire Dave Magadan
Magadan was hired before 2019. The Rockies have progressively recorded a worse team batting average under his reign, starting at .265 in 2019, .257 in 2020, and .249 in 2021. None of these seasons, including the current one, have gone very well for the offense. While it’s certainly not all Magadan’s fault, it’s his job to fix problems. There is stagnation in the development of players the Rockies need to step up to be above-average hitters like McMahon, Rodgers, and Hilliard. While the Rockies are No. 3 with a 2.58 batting average, the Rockies rank No. 24 with needing 40.24 at-bats per home run and are 17th in slugging percentage at .388. Where is the power? What is Magadan doing? It’s time for a new approach.
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One way to add more power to the Rockies lineup might be to make Russell Wilson the new Bo Jackson. The new Broncos quarterback took the field before Thursday’s game, along with former Bronco QB and Hall of Famer Peyton Manning, for batting practice. He even hit two homers.
The roster shakeups continue for the Rockies. On Thursday, the Rockies sent Sam Hilliard, who is 0-for-20 with 10 strikeouts in June, the Albuquerque. On the same day, Garrett Hampson was placed on in COVID-19 protocols and Sean Bouchard was called up from the Triple-A Isotopes. This all happened a day after the Rockies found out that Tyler Kinley needs surgery and is likely done for the season. On the bright side, Jake Bird made his MLB debut on Thursday and threw a 1-2-3 ninth inning with one flyout and two groundouts. In other good news, Kris Bryant took batting practice for the third straight day at Coors Field and is getting closer to being ready for a rehab assignment, according to Bud Black.
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On the Farm
Bret Boswell went 2-for-3 with three RBI, including a solo home run and a double, D.J. Peterson went 2-for-4 with two RBI, including a double, and Ryan Vilade, Dom Nuñez, and Carlos Pérez each had two-hit performances to help the Isotopes win their fourth game in a row on Thursday. Zach Neal improved to 5-4 on the season on the mound after giving up two runs on six hits in six innings with five strikeouts and no walks. It helped that the Isotopes scored four runs in the first inning, thanks to two hits and three walks to set up Peterson’s two-run double. The bullpen struggled as Jordan Sheffield gave up two runs in the seventh and Zach Lee surrendered two more in the ninth, but Reagan Todd and Justin Lawrence combined to throw a scoreless 1 1⁄3 innings in between to help Alburquerque hang on.
Karl Kauffman threw six solid innings, only allowing one run on four hits, but that’s all the RubberDucks (35-25) needed to win on Thursday. Kauffman, who struck out three and walked four, dropped to 3-4 on the season. The Yard Goats (38-22) threatened a few times, managing three hits and Akron committed two errors, but Hartford couldn't capitalize. They left runners at first and second in the second inning after a Jimmy Herron single and Brenton Doyle walk. Ezequiel Tovar singled in the third, Willie MacIver got to second on two fielding errors in the seventh, and Daniel Montano singled in the eighth, but no one could bring them home.
The Hops jumped out to a 4-0 lead after three innings as Spokane starter Evan Shawver gave up two homers. Despite a late rally when the Indians scored two runs thanks to a solo homer by Zac Veen and an RBI double by Julio Carreras, Hillsboro held on for the win on Thursday. Shawver dropped to 0-4 after giving up four runs on seven hits with one walk and three strikeouts in five innings. Spokane was held to four hits in the game, only two of which came off of the starter John Carver, who only allowed one run in eight innings while striking out eight and walking two.
Things were looking good when Zach Kokoska hit a sac fly to score Braxton Fulford in the top of the ninth inning to tie the game at 5-all and send it to extra innings. Unfortunately, the Giants were able to capitalize with a walk-off single in the 10th after the Grizzlies left runners at the corners in the top of the frame. It was a tough loss for Fresno, especially considering they blew a 4-0 lead they built in the second inning. Kokoska hit a three-run homer and the Grizzlies got another run on a passed ball. McCade Brown had a decent start, giving up one run on four hits with nine strikeouts in five innings, but Tyler Ahearn blew the save in the seventh inning when he gave up three runs on four hits and a walk.
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