Things to Know about the Colorado Rockies

The Mets head out west for a three game series against the Colorado Rockies this week. Here’s some stuff you might want to know about them:

Record: 18-14, first place NL West
Manager: Jim Tracy
Park: Coors Field. Easily the craziest offensive park in baseball, though somewhat less crazy than it used to be. The thin mountain air causes baseballs both to fly farther (more home runs) and to fall faster (more base hits).

Quickly…
Can they hit? Meh
Can they pitch? Yup
Can they field? Yup
Who’s their best player? Troy Tulowitzki, His performance last month shall be burned into our collective memories forever.

Lineup:
CF – Dexter Fowler – S
2B – Jonathan Herrera – S
LF – Carlos Gonzalez – L
SS – Troy Tulowitzki – R
1B – Todd Helton – L
RF – Seth Smith – L
3B – Ian Stewart – L
C – Chris Iannetta – R

Patience is the keyword for the Rockies’ offense: Colorado draws walks (126, 2nd in the NL), works the count (3.91 pitches per plate appearance, 3rd in NL), and swings at fewer pitches — and fewer pitches outside the strike zone — than any other team in the league. Catcher Chris Iannetta has more walks (20) than hits (15); he, Dexter Fowler, and Troy Tulowitzki are all in the top 11 on the NL walks leaderboard. This patience has pushed the Rockies to a .322 team on-base percentage, the middle of the NL pack, and helped steady an offense that ranks just 12th in average and 11th in slugging percentage despite playing in Coors Field. Much of the ineptness has centered around third base, where Jose Lopez and Ian Stewart have combined to form a fountain of outs. Manager Jim Tracy, apparently frustrated with a skidding offense that scored just 16 runs this week, called out Stewart in the media before the Rockies’ loss on Sunday, saying it was time to “fish or cut bait.” (Angling metaphors!) Carlos Gonzalez is lost at the plate as well, hitting just .239/.299/.336 after last season’s triple crown run, but has contributed to a good Rockies’ defense that includes two center fielders in the outfield (Gonzalez and Fowler) and Tulowitzki’s arm at short.

Rotation:
5/9: RHP – Jhoulys Chacin (vs. Chris Capuano)
5/10: RHP – Jason Hammel (vs. Mike Pelfrey)
5/11: RHP – Ubaldo Jiminez (vs. Jon Niese)
Miss: RHP – Clayton Mortensen
Miss: LHP – Jorge de la Rosa

The Rockies have the right idea in assembling a staff of ground ball pitchers (49.7% grounder rate this season) to keep the ball out of the thin mountain air. Run prevention has been the team’s strength thus far: Adjusted for the home park, Colorado’s starters have been bettered only by the Phillies’ and Braves’ groups this early season. Three of the Rockies’ five rotation members – righties Jhoulys Chacin (Yo-leese Cha-seen, Monday night’s starter), Jason Hammel (Tuesday night), and lefty Jorge de la Rosa — rank in the top 10 in the league in park-adjusted ERA. There are warning signs that suggest all three are pitching over their heads, but other signs that indicate they may not be pitching all that far over their heads. Wednesday’s day game goes to ace Ubaldo Jiminez, who has struggled with his fastball command since returning from the DL last month (16 walks in 26 innings), but remains generally awesome. Pitching and defense have been the Rockies strength so far, such that it’s hard to see anyone in the NL West catching them when/if Jiminez and the offense take off.

Bench:
C – Jose Morales – S
1B – Jason Giambi – L
IF – Alfredo Amezaga – S
IF – Jose Lopez – R
OF – Ryan Spilborghs – R

Colorado doesn’t have a bench right now as much as it has a “collection of players who have hit their way out of platoons, and Jason Giambi.” Ryan Spilborghs would ideally spell Seth Smith in right field against lefthanded pitchers, but Spilborghs is hitting just .157/.214/.294, so that’s not really happening right now. Meanwhile, Jose Lopez has hit his way out of both the second and third base jobs. Alfredo Amezaga is A.) apparently still playing baseball and B.) wearing number 99 this season in tribute to Manny Ramirez. Sort of. I made up the Manny Ramirez thing. But he is wearing number 99, so look out for that.

Bullpen:
RHP – Huston Street
RHP – Matt Lindstrom
RHP – Matt Belisle
RHP – Raphael Betancourt
LHP – Matt Reynolds
RHP – Felipe Paulino
LHP – Franklin Morales

The Rockies’ bullpen has more Matts (three) than lefthanded pitchers (two); Matt Reynolds is both lefthanded and named Matt. Just something to think about. Anyway. Colorado’s 3.45 bullpen ERA ranks them 13th in the NL, though they are much closer to 1st than they are to 16th. Rockies relievers throw hard and strike people out, but have been more susceptible to fly balls than the starters, particularly long fly balls — they have surrendered 12 home runs, the most among NL bullpens. Closer Huston Street has given up 4 of those long balls, but has been successful in 11 of his 12 saves situations. Matt Lindstrom is healthy and off to a strong start setting up, allowing just 1 run in 16 appearances; longman Felipe Paulino is not (7.59 ERA), also drawing the ire of Jim Tracy in his pregame rant on Sunday, though nothing fish-related. They’re a better group of pitchers than the performance has shown thus far.

And those are some things to know about the Colorado Rockies.

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