Major League Baseball has a very Little League-ish rule mandating that every team must have one participant in the All-Star game. You can always tell which are the bad teams, because their All Star will be batting about .270.
Troy Tulowitzki and his .268 batting average were actually voted into the game by fans -- but the Rockies are very much one of those sad teams with one marginally worthy All Star. They are also a team whose season hinges on too many ifs.
Although the Rockies have certainly fielded worse and more depressing teams at baseball's pseudo half-way point, this could rank as one of the most disappointing given the franchise's uncharacteristic spending spree in the off-season. This was supposed to be the first of several years in which the Rockies contended for division and even World Series titles behind the core of Tulowitzki, Carlos Gonzalez, Ubaldo Jimenez and Jorge De La Rosa. Jimenez was the only player of the quartet not to ink an extension during the winter and the club is reportedly working on such a deal.
Colorado spent nearly $250 million on extensions for CarGo, Tulo and De La Rosa, and what they have to show for it so far is a pitcher, De La Rosa, out for the year and two stars who are underachieving. The fact that Tulowitzki beat out Jose Reyes, who is having a better year and plays in the nation's largest market, for the starting shortstop spot on the All-Star team speaks to the respect and notoriety Tulo has earned. Now it's time for him to start playing up to his reputation.
What might have gotten lost in the excitement of signing a young star like Gonzalez to an extension was the risk in doing so, considering he had completed only a season and a half in the majors at the time of the signing. So maybe it wasn't so surprising that he battled an extended slump to start the season.
But there's good news about Gonzales: His nagging wrist injury is reportedly a deep bone bruise and nothing more serious. He will test the wrist in batting practice over the next few days. Also, since moving to the lead-off spot on June 7, Gonzalez has been crushing the ball. In 109 at-bats in the first spot, he's batting .367 with a .426 on-base percentage and a 1.059 OPS (on-base plus slugging percentage).
Here is where the ifs begin. If Gonzalez is not slowed by the wrist injury and continues on the trajectory he's on, and if Tulowitzki starts to hit like he's capable of, they can carry the offense. The duo's performance in July and August last year pushed the Rockies into playoff contention (only to see them fall precipitously). The main problem is, the Rockies are behind last year's pace at the break.
At this time in 2010, the Rockies were ten games over .500. They now sit five games under, seven and a half back of the division-leading San Francisco Giants. The wild card is even further out of reach, so winning the division will be the Rockies' best shot at making the post-season.
If the Rockies want to reach the playoffs, starting pitching, not the sputtering offense, will have to make the biggest performance reversal. The team ERA of 4.13 ranks thirteenth out of sixteen teams in the National League. Jimenez is a fraction of what he was in last year's first half. Jhoulys Chacin was building an All-Star résumé but then gave up ten combined runs in ten innings in back-to-back losses to the Cubs and the Braves before posting one more solid start against the Nationals prior to the break. As for Juan Nicasio and Aaron Cook, they likely make manager Jim Tracy's stomach turn every time one of them heads to the hill.
Jimenez looks to be having the opposite season he had last year, in which he was historically good in the first half and frustratingly poor in the second. After posting a 6.1 ERA and going winless in the first two months of the season, he owns a 2.58 ERA since June 1. He has to figure out how to pitch at Coors Field, where he sports a 6.24 ERA.
Here we go again, but if Jimenez continues this trend and if Chacin proves the Chicago and Atlanta games were merely an aberration, it gives the Rockies a great one-two punch at the top of the rotation. The rest of the starters remain shaky, so if the Rockies could land a quality starting pitcher before the trade deadline, it could provide a nice boost. The market for starting pitchers is bleak at best, though.
Another by-product of the Rockies' annoying mediocrity is they don't know if they will be buyers, sellers or observers at the trade deadline. Starting pitching is a glaring need, but a steady outfielder to play along side Gonzalez and Seth Smith would make life easier for the Rockies.
Mark Ellis has been a nice addition at second base and it would be helpful if Dexter Fowler, Ryan Spilborghs and/or Eric Young Jr. could make a meaningful contribution in the outfield. But if the starting pitching doesn't improve and CarGo and Tulo continue to be average players, the Rockies will be an average team -- and one that watches the playoffs.
More from our Baseball archive: "Colorado Rockies, baseball's worst team in May, are all kinds of awful."
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