Jul 31, 2013; Atlanta, GA, USA; Colorado Rockies catcher Yorvit Torrealba (8) is checked on by Atlanta Braves right fielder Jason Heyward (22) after he was hit with a foul ball during the fifth inning at Turner Field. Mandatory Credit: Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

Atlanta Braves Q&A With Colorado Rockies

The Colorado Rockies come into town for a three game weekend series with the Atlanta Braves at Turner Field. The Rockies are currently 26-21 while the Braves hold a 26-20 record. Jordan Lyles takes the mound tonight for the Rockies and has been a spark plug for them. Lyles is a native of Columbus, Georgia and is facing the Braves for the first time in his career.

“I’m expecting to leave 30 or 40 tickets,” Lyles said. “I’ve heard maybe a bus or two is coming. I’m looking for a big crowd from my parts of the woods.”

Our own Brandon Woodworth caught up with Zach Marburger with Mile High Sports to talk everything about this series. Take a look at their discussion.

Tomahawk Take:  The Rockies offense has been absolutely spectacular here in 2014, with huge performances from veterans like Troy Tulowitzki and Justin Morneau. What members performance is most surprising to you?

May 8, 2014; Arlington, TX, USA; Colorado Rockies right fielder Brandon Barnes (1) bats during the game against the Texas Rangers at Globe Life Park in Arlington. Texas won 5-0. Mandatory Credit: Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

Mile High Sports:  So many options. Nobody was expecting Charlie Blackmon to be this good to start the year. Morneau look rejuvenated, and while Tulowitzki has been spectacular, everyone knows he’s a star when healthy.

So I’m going to take a different angle. Brandon Barnes, the former Houston Astro the Rockies acquired in the Dexter Fowler trade, has been great, with a .322/.371/.411 slash line coupled with his usual stellar defense. He’s hitting more line drives than ever (31.7% of batted balls, compared to 19.9% last season), but his BABIP of .446 is definitely going to come crashing down. He’s still given the Rockies way more than anyone expected – coupled with Jordan Lyles, he’s making the trade of Fowler look like a win for the Rockies.

TT:  The Rockies have gotten some good starts from their rotation despite no particularly overwhelming performances. Does the rotation as it stands have what it takes to beat the thin mountain air without overpowering many hitters, or do you see a starting pitching move being made before the year is out?

MHS:  The Rockies aren’t a team that typically makes splashy trades, despite calls here in Denver to go get Jeff Samardzija from the Cubs. But this team does need to upgrade the rotation. Fifth starter Franklin Morales has been up and down, and team ace, Jhoulys Chacin, is still working his way back into form after starting the season on the disabled list.

The good news is, at some point this season, the team should get Tyler Chatwood and Brett Anderson off the disabled list. That should help, though neither can be counted on to stay healthy. The club also has a number of interesting options in the minors. Everyone wants to see top prospects Jonathan Gray and Eddie Butler up with the big club, but Tyler Matzek, a former first rounder, is pitching decently in Triple-A Colorado Springs. He could be the first guy that gets the call if the Rockies need reinforcements.

TT:  LaTroy Hawkins is still the closer at 41, and has given up 22 hits in 16.1 innings with only 6 strikeouts so far this year. Is there any question of his role with the club going forward? Is it time to give Rex Brothers a shot at the job?

MHS:  Hawkins certainly has struggled, but unfortunately so has Rex Brothers. With all that said about the rotation, the bullpen is probably the Rockies weakest link. The plan is probably to move Morales to the bullpen once the rotation gets healthy, but the Rockies can’t afford to waste any games in the meantime.

The guy who might be next in line for the closer role is Adam Ottavino. He’s got a 1.40 earned run average and 18 strikeouts in 19.1 innings this year, and opposing batters are hitting just .146 against his slider this season. I’d like to see him used in the high-leverage situations moving forward, whether than means the closer role or not.

TT:  The NL West is probably the tightest race in the NL this season. What do you think the Rockies have to do to overtake the Giants and fend off the struggling Dodgers?

MHS:  Good question. The Dodgers in particular are scary – they’re just getting Kershaw back, and have the GDP of a small nation at their disposal.

The best thing the Rockies can do is take care of business at home, which they’ve typically done throughout their history. 50 wins at Coors Field should be the goal – if they can do that, the team can play sub-.500 baseball on the road and still stay in the race.

TT:  I guess I would be remiss to not ask about Charlie Blackmon, who has been crushing in 2014. Guy has taken everyone by surprise. Is he for real, and how does the strong play of the entire outfield affect 2013 batting champion Michael Cuddyer‘s playing time?

May 18, 2014; Denver, CO, USA; Colorado Rockies center fielder Charlie Blackmon (19) hits a single in the third inning against the San Diego Padres at Coors Field. Mandatory Credit: Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

MHS:  Blackmon’s legit, though I fear his early season explosion has skewed expectations a bit. He’s always been a guy with tons of tools, and this season he’s cut down on strikeouts enough (K’d in 19% of his AB’s last season, 10% this year) to final take advantage of them.

The Rockies outfield situation is weird, no doubt about it. Corey Dickerson, another young left-handed hitter, is playing even better than Blackmon at this point in the year. Both Barnes and Drew Stubbs had performed well. How does they take a guy hitting .300-plus and tell him he has to head down to Triple-A?

This is why Rockies fans have been clamoring for the team to flip some of that outfield depth for bullpen help. I think that would be a mistake. Cuddyer is on the wrong side of 30 and shouldn’t really be in the outfield anyways, and Carlos Gonzalez is dealing with tendonitis in his knee at the moment. No way is the team sitting Cuddyer, but he might see time at first base, which would free up additional playing time. Eventually, they Rockies are going to have to deal with this logjam, but I think they’re going to let performance dictate what they do. I don’t expect any real changes until the all-star break, at least.

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