The NL continues to be the most surprising division in baseball. The Dodgers, who have recently adopted a Yankee-style mentality, were heavy favorites to run away with the division, and they are barely walking. The defending World Series Champion Giants would snatch up one of the two NL Wild Card spots and the D-Backs, Padres and Rockies would serve as speed bumps along the way. But baseball is the most unpredictable of sports, and here we are mid-June and the D-Backs and Rockies, the two supposed basement dwellers of the NL West find themselves jockeying for first as the All-Star Break approaches.
The surprising season has featured the return of Troy Tulowitzki to his 2010 and 2011 form, another sensational season from Carlos Gonzalez, and the surprising explosion of a Rockies offense that leads the NL with 330 runs scored through June 14th. These surprises have Colorado hunting for the top of the NL West.
Baseball is a marathon, so pushing panic in June doesn’t happen too often, however, for the Colorado Rockies, their playoff future is on the line now; and it doesn’t look promising. The Rocks are entering the dog days of summer and the next 4 weeks will make or break their playoff push. And Walt Weiss should start looking for a panic button.
As of today, Colorado is tied for second with San Francisco and both the Rocks and Giants find themselves 4.5 games back of Arizona. However, with Troy Tulowitzki’s broken rib taking his .347/.413/.635 with a tremendous 1.048 OPS out of the lineup for 4-6 weeks, the Rockies supercharged offense takes a big blow. “Tulo,” who spent 2012 hampered with a groin injury, has spent the season quieting critics about his durability. Well those critics will be returning. With the blow to “Tulo,” more pressure falls on leadoff man Dexter Fowler (.302/.399/.498) and Carlos “Cargo” Gonzalez (.299/.375/.618) both of which are already playing phenomenal. Someone needs to step up and shoulder the load. It won’t be Todd Helton; his age has finally made its mark. Michael Cuddyer is putting up numbers no one saw coming, but he’s not about to produce anything exceeding what he’s given thus far; a career best .337/.394/.588.
Colorado will spend the next four to six weeks trying to fill a Rocky Mountain sized hole in their lineup. Leaning on Jonathon Herrera, who as of now is the most experienced shortstop the Rockies have to replace “Tulo” will prove to be problematic. Aside from the glaring fact that Colorado has historically struggled without Tulowitzki in the starting lineup (a winning percentage of .444), the bottom line is no one swings a bat near as effective as “Tulo’s”.
This leaves manager Walt Weiss with a difficult decision. Does he rely on the less than stellar Herrera to help keep Colorado afloat for the next month, or does he need to get creative with his lineup? For one, Weiss could bring Cuddyer who has had extensive experience at second base with the Twins in at second and shuffle between Arenado and Herrera at short. This would ensure you keep a solid glove in Cuddyer on the middle infield, as well as Cuddyer’s career best offensive production in the lineup every night. It also takes the pressure off of Herrera and Arenado.
The Rockies should really be looking to get another quality shortstop. Tulowitzki’s long term durability is again in question, and it seems to be a foregone conclusion that each season you’ll be looking to get by without “Tulo” for an extended amount of time. The Rockies should look to scoop up a solid two man shortstop that they can lean on for 6 weeks a season. Names that come to mind include: Daniel Descalso from St. Louis (.279/.338/.442), Willie Bloomquist from the D’Backs (a career .270/.319/.346), Ed Lucas from the Marlins AAA (.304/.354/.453), or even the experienced Miguel Tejada in Kansas City (a career .285/.336/.457).
The options are out there, and with a tough stretch of baseball ahead of them, the Rockies need to look to survive to the All-Star Break. Series with the Blue Jays, Red Sox, Giants, Dodgers, and D’Backs leading into the break serve as an opportunity to position themselves in the hunt for a spot in October. Without Tulowitzki, the red hot Rockies offense needs not only a reliable hitting shortstop, but one that can be leaned on frequently. Another injury to “Tulo” means even when he returns in 4-6 weeks, he won’t immediately return to everyday duties. It’s time for the Rockies to shop for a solid short or twist the lineup they’ve got to limit the impact of “Tulo’s” injury. Either way there is a sigh of doubt in Denver.