We start a three game series against the Colorado Rockies tonight (but with AL rules). The Rockies, at 37-33, are just a half game behind the Diamondbacks for top spot of the NL West. They are 23-17 at home in Denver and 14-16 on the road.
Bryan Kilpatrick, from Purple Row, and I exchanged questions on our respective team, here are his answers:
What is the injury to Troy Tulowitzki and how long will he be out? Who takes his spot at short and in the middle of the batting order?
Tulowitzki broke a rib while diving for a ground ball in a loss to the Washington Nationals last Thursday. He'll be out for four to six weeks, which is a huge blow to the currently-contending Rockies. This stint on the disabled list is Tulo's fifth in seven big-league seasons. The toughest part is that he was quite possibly the front-runner for NL MVP when he went down with the injury.
Josh Rutledge was recalled from Triple-A and will see some starts at shortstop in place of Tulo. DJ LeMahieu and Jonathan Herrera will likely get some reps there as well. Michael Cuddyer will move into the cleanup spot, and he'll have to continue producing at a high level for the Rockies to tread ground while Tulo is out. They'll also have to get more offensively out of powerful catcher Wilin Rosario and rookie third baseman Nolan Arenado, both of whom struggled throughout May and early-June.
Who are the closer and setup men? How confident in them are you?
Right now, Matt Belisle is serving as the setup man and Rex Brothers as closer, but ordinarily Brothers would handle setup duties with Rafael Betancourt closing games. However, Betancourt is on the DL with a groin injury, but Brothers has been very good in his stead; he has an 0.30 ERA this season, but can be prone to walking people which is not a good recipe for success at Coors Field. He's been able to get around it so far, and hopefully the issue irons itself out.
Belisle is about as dependable of a guy as one can hope for, although he has been used to the point where I'm surprised his arm is still attached to his body. Belisle led the NL in appearances last year with 80 after seeing the mound more than 70 times in each of the previous two seasons. He's well on his way to that type of figure again, but he's still the same low-walk, high-ground ball type of guy that has allowed him to be successful throughout his tenure as a Rockie.
Belisle is prone to blow-ups, so I'll be more comfortable when Betancourt returns, but the back-end of the bullpen is still one of the club's strong points even without him.
Who is your favourite Rockie to watch?
Arenado, the Rockies' top prospect for a few years running, hasn't hit like some people thought he would upon finally receiving the call to the bigs. However, his defense, which is both fundamentally-sound and highlight reel-worthy, has been incredible. He's tied for fourth in the league in defensive WAR despite spending the first month of the season in Triple-A, so that goes to show you how good he is at the hot corner.
You can't go wrong with Carlos Gonzalez in this category, either. In addition to his .316/.391/.650 batting line and league-leading 20 home runs, he is defensive wizard (though the metrics don't always agree). He constantly makes web gems and possesses a cannon for an arm; on Saturday against the Phillies, CarGo threw a two-hopper all the way from about the left field foul pole to home plate to nab Michael Young for a big out. That's the kind of stuff we've come to expect from him. It also doesn't hurt that his swing is an absolute thing of beauty, and probably the best in the game.
Who has been the biggest surprise of the season to this point? Biggest Disappointment?
Tyler Chatwood had been thoroughly unimpressive in his first two years as a big-leaguer, but many people felt that the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim rushed him to the level much too soon. He walked nearly as many batters as he struck out as a 21-year-old rookie in 2011 and struggled in that department again last year with the Rockies. However, he appears to have turned a corner in his age 23 season, going 4-1 with a 2.33 ERA through seven starts in 2013. Granted, a late promotion and minor injury has limited his sample size to just 38.2 innings, but the improvement is very evident by just watching him. He looks stronger, gets a good downward plane on his fastball despite his relatively short frame and has really improved his command.
To be honest, there haven't been many disappointments overall, but if I had to choose one, it would probably be Todd Helton. I'll go into depth while answering the next question.
Is this Todd Helton's last season with the Rockies? Is he the greatest Rockie of all time?
This is almost assuredly Helton's final year. He'll be 40 in August and has hit a new low in terms of offensive production. Even in his post-power years, Helton has always been one of the best on the team at getting on base, but this year his OBP sits at .310. He doesn't walk much anymore and generates a ton of flat-out weak contact. The Rockies seem to have noticed, and his playing time has diminished accordingly. However, because of his defense alone, he's probably still worth a few starts a week, although I don't believe he should get that many, and here's why:
Todd has excelled in one area, and that is as a pinch-hitter. He has a couple of big late-game home runs in addition to another RBI hit and a key walk in 10 plate appearances in that role this season. Because of the fact that the Rockies have young players who need daily reps and lack any sort of dependable pop off the bench, he may be best suited in that role, as much as I hate to say it.
As for the second part of your question, I think Larry Walker was a better player overall, but Helton spent his entire career with the Rockies and was a major part of two playoff teams, one of which won a pennant. So, I'd say that yes, Helton is the greatest Rockies of all-time. A career batting line of .319/.417/.543 certainly justifies that.
You guys are right in the race in the NL West. Do you think they will take the division?
I hate to sound like a pessimist, but I don't see it. A lot of the success the Rockies' pitching staff has had is due to unsustainably-low home run rates, and those are going to skyrocket with warmer weather, et al. This is a .500 club; one that will win a fair share of games solely with its offense but will lose others because of pitching meltdowns. That goes along with what we've seen so far this season.
If Tulowitzki were able to stay healthy throughout the season, I would have said that with a few breaks, this could have been a surprise playoff team. Now, with him set to miss around 30 or 40 games, it's just not going to happen.
THAT SAID, if the team winds up winning in the neighborhood of 80 games, I think that's something to be proud of after last year's 98-loss debacle. And it's certainly better than Keith Law's preseason prediction of 53-109.
Is there anything else we should know about the Rockies?
Don't be so quick to buy into the "EVERYBODY ON THE ROSTER IS A COORS CREATION" narrative. Here is a sample of the Rockies' 2013 road statistics:
Carlos Gonzalez: .348/.414/.696, 11 HR
Troy Tulowitzki: .302/.361/.613, 8 HR
Michael Cuddyer: .308/.360/.516
Dexter Fowler: .387 OBP, .451 SLG
Todd Helton: .293/.364/.431