Springtime Storylines: Do the Colorado Rockies have enough offense?

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Between now and Opening Day, HBT will take a look at each of the 30 teams, asking the key questions, the not-so-key questions, and generally breaking down their chances for the 2011 season.  The latest: The … punchless Colorado Rockies?

The Big Question: Do the Rockies have enough offense?

That may seem like a strange thing to ask given that they were third in the NL in runs scored, but with this team, in their home park, the sheer amount of offense doesn’t tell us much. The question is whether they even have a rough approximation of balance, and the answer in 2010 was hell no: only 291 of the Rockies’  770 runs were scored on the road last year, and that lead to a putrid 31-50 record outside of Colorado.

The Rockies didn’t make any big splashes to address the offense from a personnel standpoint — unless I missed that big Jose Lopez welcome party that shut down the city of Denver for a few days — and they seem content to hope for more plate appearances from Troy Tulowitzki and overall improvement from their younger players.

The whole home/road split thing has been vexing Rockies hitters since 1993. I’m not sure that there are any answers to it, really. If Dexter Fowler, Seth Smith, Ian Stewart and Chris Iannetta continue to be overall average-to-below average offensive performers, however, this team isn’t going anywhere.

So what else is going on?

  • I dig this pitching staff. The 1-2-3 punch of Jiminez, De La Rosa, and Chacin only pale only when compared to the couple of otherworldly rotations the Giants and Phillies are sporting. The back end of the rotation is more in flux with Aaron Cook’s recent injury, but the rotation is no cause for concern. How many times have we been able to say that in the history of the Colorado Rockies?
  • The bullpen is solid too, with Huston Street, Matt Belisle and Rafael Betancourt anchoring things.  There are some concerns about how the Rockies match up against lefties in the late innings, but I’m not Tony La Russa so those sorts of things don’t keep me up at night.
  • Holy crap, before looking at their 2010 results at Baseball-Reference I had forgotten that they lost 13 of their last 14 games. Really, they were a game behind on September 18th before that hell-skid began. I don’t think this has any bearing on anything, but anyone who gets on that “the Rockies are a streaky team” kick you hear so often should point out that the streaks go both ways.
  • It should also give pause to those who look at their 83 wins form a year ago and say that it’s just too much ground to make up on the Giants.  That win total was a bit deflated by some bad luck and a late season disaster that may not be indicative of their true talent level.

So how are they gonna do?

Like I said in the Giants recap, I’ve been toying with the idea of picking the Rockies to win the west. Like I did last year!  But the closer I look, the more I worry that this is really a team made up of two stud position players — one of whom still needs to prove that he’s more well-rounded than some past Coors Field creations — an ace and a lot of guys who just can’t carry the day.  The challenges of playing at altitude have changed for Colorado in that the biggest question is no longer “how do we build a pitching staff?”  They have one.  But what I’m not convinced they have are enough bats to justify calling them contenders. Which isn’t to say they won’t contend. Just that, if they do, it will be because, like, five guys all turn up their offensive game at once to help Tulowitzki and Gonzalez out.  And it’s hard to count on something like that.

I’ll give the Rockies the nod for second place in the NL and a place in what looks to be a pretty crowded National League wild card hunt.

Cardinals shut down Adam Wainwright with right elbow impingement

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In the wake of Thursday’s disastrous outing against the Pirates, Cardinals’ right-hander Adam Wainwright will be shut down from throwing for 10-14 days after receiving a platelet-rich plasma injection in his right elbow, MLB.com’s Jenifer Langosch reported Saturday. Wainwright was officially placed on the 10-day disabled list on Friday with a right elbow impingement, though the club doesn’t expect him to sit out for the remainder of the regular season.

It’s been a rough stretch for the 35-year-old righty, whose last two starts have been accompanied by a noticeable dip in his velocity. Thursday’s clunker was the most telling indication of trouble, with a fastball that failed to crest 89 MPH and five earned runs scattered over three innings. It’s another unfortunate downturn in an injury-riddled season that has seen a career-worst 5.12 ERA, 3.3 BB/9 and 7.1 SO/9 over 121 1/3 innings.

Injuries and velocity issues notwithstanding, the Cardinals can’t afford to lose another starting pitcher with the division lead a mere 1.5 games within their grasp. They’ll utilize fellow right-hander Luke Weaver in Wainwright’s rotation spot for the time being and hope that rest, rather than surgery, is the key to their starter’s return.

And That Happened: Friday’s Scores and Highlights

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Here are the rest of Friday’s scores and highlights:

Cubs 7, Blue Jays 4: Friday saw the Blue Jays return to Wrigley Field for their first game since 2005, and in the end, they may as well have stayed away. Jake Arrieta led the charge against Toronto, improving to a 13-8 record with 6 1/3 innings of one-run, six-strikeout ball, and even Kevin Pillar‘s eighth-inning rally couldn’t close the door against the Cubs.

Cardinals 11, Pirates 10: It just wasn’t Trevor Williams‘ night. The rookie right-hander was tagged for a career-worst eight runs in three innings, helping the Cardinals to a six-run lead by the time Steven Brault came in to relieve him in the fourth. Pittsburgh’s bullpen fared little better, propelling the club to their sixth consecutive loss and pushing them 6.5 games back of the division lead and nine games out of the NL wild card race.

Orioles 9, Angels 7: No one did more than Manny Machado on Friday night — and, during a game that saw a cumulative 10 home runs between the Orioles and Angels, that’s saying something. He started off with a two-run homer in the third inning, taking Andrew Heaney deep with a 418-foot blast into the right field stands:

In the fifth inning, with the Orioles trailing 7-4, Machado roped another 398-footer off of Heaney for Home Run No. 2:

The dinger brought Baltimore within two runs of tying the game, but they entered the ninth still down 7-5. Anthony Santander, Ryan Flaherty and Tim Beckham loaded the bases for Machado, who needed just two pitches before finding one to crush for a walk-off grand slam:

Dodgers 8, Tigers 5: The Dodgers made another push to pad their offense on Friday night, trading for Mets’ centerfielder Curtis Granderson following a decisive win over the Tigers. They didn’t appear to need any additional help toppling opposing starter Ryan Zimmerman, however, and racked up seven runs in the first six innings to earn their 86th victory lap of the year.

Marlins 3, Mets 1: Even two hours of stormy weather couldn’t put a damper on the Marlins’ road trip, which started with a bang following 5 1/3 solid innings from southpaw Justin Nicolino and a three-run spread from their offense. J.T. Realmuto stunned rookie starter Chris Flexen with a first-inning, two-RBI home run, setting a new career high with his 50th RBI of the year:

The Mets, on the other hand, extended their streak to five consecutive losses and now sit a distant 13 games out of postseason contention.

Red Sox 9, Yankees 6: The Red Sox moved a comfortable five games ahead of the Yankees on Friday, powering their second straight come-from-behind win with a monster seventh-inning rally from Mookie Betts, Andrew Benintendi and Mitch Moreland. While almost every Red Sox-Yankees matchup has felt like a nail-biter this month, don’t expect Boston to relinquish first place that easily. They’ve won 13 of their last 15 games and taken three of four from their AL East rivals.

Mariners 7, Rays 1: The Mariners picked up their third straight win with a seven-run charge against the Rays, capping their efforts with Nelson Cruz‘s mammoth solo shot in the ninth inning:

It marked the slugger’s 30th blast of the year, making him just the fourth Mariner to record 30+ home runs in three consecutive seasons. More impressively, the homer set a new Statcast record for the longest home run recorded at Tropicana Field, at a whopping 482 feet.

Reds 5, Braves 3: It looked like it was all over for Zack Cozart in the seventh inning, when the shortstop took a fastball to his left shin. He remained on the ground for several seconds before walking to first base, but made his exit after the half inning and figures to be day-to-day while the swelling in his leg subsides. Even without their star infielder, the Reds continued to dominate the Braves, coasting to a 5-3 finish with a handful of home runs from Adam Duvall, Eugenio Suarez and Jesse Winker.

White Sox 4, Rangers 3: Nicky Delmonico is having himself quite the rookie campaign, slashing .382/.452/.691 with five home runs and a 1.143 OPS through his first 15 games in the majors. He padded his big league resume with his first inside-the-park home run on Friday night, clearing the bases on a first-pitch slider from Ricardo Rodriguez for his second home run of the game and the game-winning knock.

Not only did the homer help power the White Sox’ win, but it was the first rookie-engineered inside-the-park home run in almost 15 years:

Twins 10, Diamondbacks 3: Speaking of speedy outfielders legging out inside-the-park home runs, Byron Buxton stole the spotlight during the Twins’ six-homer night with his second career inside-the-parker in the fourth inning:

His 13.85-second charge around the bases set a new Statcast record for the fastest home-to-home sprint, which would be even more meaningful had he not already broken that record with a 14.05-second dash on his first inside-the-park home run last October.

Astros 3, Athletics 1: It didn’t take a big offensive surge to back Dallas Keuchel‘s gem on Friday night. The Astros’ ace held the Athletics to three hits and three strikeouts in seven strong innings, extending an impressive rebound after blowing an eight-run loss to the White Sox earlier this month. Alex Bregman and Jose Altuve swatted a pair of home runs in the third inning, giving Houston just enough of an edge to clinch their 75th win of the season.

Indians 10, Royals 1: The Indians kept spinning their carousel of injured pitchers on Friday, swapping out a healthy Andrew Miller for Corey Kluber after their starter twisted his ankle during the Royals’ attempted rally in the sixth inning. Kluber’s loss didn’t slow Cleveland down for long, however, and they completed their seventh win in eight games after taking a nine-game lead over their division rivals.

Rockies 8, Brewers 4: The Rockies still top the NL wild card standings, and this time, they’re not sharing first place with anyone. They slugged their way to eight runs on Friday night, banking on big shots from Gerardo Parra and Carlos Gonzalez to secure a one-game lead over the Diamondbacks. The Brewers’ Keon Broxton and Domingo Santana, meanwhile, had more modest goals, each reaching 20 home runs in the Brewers’ losing effort.

“All my life, I’ve always wanted to hit 20 home runs,” Broxton told reporters following the loss. “I’ve never done it, and it’s nice to actually do it in the big leagues.”

Nationals 7, Padres 1: We don’t always get to pick and choose our moments in the spotlight, and for rookie right-hander Matt Grace, his moment coincided with an untimely injury to Max Scherzer. The Nats’ ace was scratched with neck inflammation prior to the game, accelerating Grace’s big league debut against San Diego. He turned in 4 1/3 scoreless innings, holding the Padres to just two hits and registering his first major league strikeout against Dusty Coleman to help the Nationals to a cushy 14-game lead in the NL East.

Giants 10, Phillies 2: The Giants could face the rest of the season without closing pitcher Mark Melancon, but at least on Friday, a solid start from Matt Moore and an explosive run by the offense was enough to single-handedly shut down the Phillies. Moore kept the Phillies off the board for 7 1/3 innings, backed by a handful of base hits and home runs from Hunter Pence and Brandon Crawford to establish the club’s first double-digit win in two weeks.