May Record: 8-21
I was really hoping the Rockies would be most-improved in hitting this month, since it was their worst feature last month. Well, they got worse. The irony is, from an average standpoint they are hitting more. Their team batting average in April was .236, and in May it was .259. But their situational hitting was way too atrocious for me to do otherwise than grade them down. Hits were clumped together in routs like the ones against St. Louis on the 28th (18 hits), Arizona on the 24th (14 hits), and San Diego on the 13th (16 hits). The rest of the time, they frequently had fewer than 5 or 6 hits in a game. And the most deplorable example of bad hitting came on the 30th, when the Rockies recorded 14 hits against the Dodgers and only scored 1 run. That is really bad hitting. And despite the raise in average, they've fallen in relation to their fellows. In April they were 23rd in the majors in average; in May, they're 25th. I'm glad to see them making contact more now than they were in April, and Carlos Gonzalez is no longer slumping worse than anyone else. They're still middle of the pack in home runs (16th) and slugging percentage (14th), so the power hitting doesn't seem to have suffered, at least. Now if only they could get somebody on base ahead of those home run hitters ...
The Rockies stole 11 bases in May, which is even less than April. Besides the lack of stealing, they did so many dumb things on the basepaths this month, it was like watching a circus. To which I did not buy a ticket. There was a time in the early part of May when it seemed like every game somebody tried to take home from 3rd on an infield ground ball. That runner was tagged out every single time. Dexter Fowler especially appeared as though he'd never been taught how to steal a base in his life. There was running when a fly ball was caught by a fielder with a great arm, trying to score on somebody's single, and overrunning bases. There was just too much running, and none of it was very good. Disappointing to see such poor fundamentals from a very talented team. This is an area where I expect to see a LOT of improvement.
Defense is still the Rockies' greatest strength, but even that suffered this month. Part of the problem was a lack of depth that seemed to force Jim Tracy to make some interesting decisions. By the end of the month, the team was so desperate for offensive production that anybody who was swinging the bat well at all got to start, regardless of whether there was a logical position open for him. This culminated in the mess we saw last night with Ty Wigginton in right field. That's not where he belongs. Eric Young is an important member of the team and should be starting as often as possible, but he's struggling to play 2nd base well. The team's fielding percentage dropped two points in May, to .987. This isn't a terrible figure, but it's clear that the defense has become another unintended casualty of the poor offense. That's really too bad, since the Rockies are ordinarily great fielders. The bright side is that Jonathan Herrera is an excellent 2nd baseman, Todd Helton is still smothering ground balls like that's all we're paying him to do, and Troy Tulowitzki still initiates a terrific double play. Carlos Gonzalez makes great sliding catches. (I'm just going to ignore that thing with him and Fowler the other day. An anomaly.) I hope that we'll see the lineup straighten itself out in June so that the best fielders AND the best hitters can be in the game every day. Interleague play should actually help with that; while in Cleveland and New York, EY can hit without having to play defense. There were a lot of shakeups to the roster in May. I see no reason not to believe the Rockies will play grade-A defense in June.
Starting Pitching: C
I hate to downgrade the starting pitchers, but every single one of them did worse in May than they did in April. In fact, the only guy whose ERA improved was Ubaldo Jimenez, and let's face it, he had nowhere to go but up. In May he was still giving up nearly 5 1/2 runs per 9 innings. I like some of what we've seen from him, but I don't feel confident that we'll have him back as our ace this season. Clayton Mortensen, so prodigy-esque in April, has come back down to earth and last night recorded his 3rd loss. Jason Hammel is 0-4 in May. Jhoulys Chacin had the closest thing to a winning record in May, with 2 wins and 2 losses, but was uneven at best. And the loss of Jorge De La Rosa could potentially be very devastating. He was no superstar this month either (1-2, 4.50), but he is still the most consistent pitcher the Rockies have sent to the mound in 2011, and without him the rotation is considerably worse off. And here's a fact for your back pocket: the starting pitchers allowed 54 walks in April. In May, they allowed 86. Bringing joy to our heavy hearts this past Saturday was Juan Nicasio, who skipped straight from Double-A and proceeded to give up zero earned runs in 7 innings pitched to the Cardinals, a tough team to pitch to no matter who you are. We'll see how Nicasio's season unfolds from here. It's certainly not fair to put the success or failure of the team on his shoulders, though, so everybody is going to have to up their game.
Relief Pitching: B-
I gave the bullpen an A- in April and, quite frankly, I expected I'd be able to give them the same in May. At the time they were one of the strongest components of this team, holding leads, saving games, pitching scoreless innings every day. They're still one of the strongest components but, since the team as a whole is measurably weakened, so goes the pen. After recording 8 holds in April, Rafael Betancourt managed only 4 in May. Huston Street slipped to 4 saves in May from 10 in April. For both, there were substantially fewer opportunities, so we can't fault them too much. However, each also contributed his first blown save. Matt Belisle, Matt Lindstrom, and Matt Reynolds are still about as reliable as they ever were, and they've been seeing quite a lot of playing time with the starters struggling to go deep into games. Matt Daley, recently called up from Triple-A, has been uneven, recording a handful of scoreless outings but currently sitting on an ERA of 10.50 after a couple of tough ones. Deadweights Felipe Paulino and Franklin Morales have moved on to greener pastures, and I still believe our bullpen is the better for it. Hopefully the team will give them a chance to get back to A status this month.
I hate giving failing grades. But here it is very much deserved. If the Rockies failed epically at anything this month, it was playing as a team, putting all the pieces together, having a winning attitude, and finding ways to win close games. Those elements are indispensable for contending teams. The Rockies played like anything but a contender in May. Even though most of the components were operating at or above average, in nearly every game the lack of cohesion among them all really hurt the team's ability to win. Most of the time they just seemed lost, on the field, on the mound, and especially at the plate. They looked as though they'd forgotten how to play small ball completely, if they ever really learned how at all. When the pitching was good the hitting was bad; when the hitting was good the pitching was bad. It was just a mess. They are much better than that. The fact is that 8-21 is the third worst record the Rockies have ever had in a month. And the upside is that, surely, June will be better. Surely.
Overall Grade: C-