If rest of Rockies play like Gonzalez, look out NL

Aug 12th, 2010 | By sportsnews | Category: Sports

NEW YORK — Carlos Gonzalez is going to need some help.

He doesn’t need his Rockies teammates to rave about him (they already do). He doesn’t need them to come up with another nickname for him (he already has two).

He just needs them to win some games. He just needs them to get going on one of those streaks the Rockies are known for.

They don’t need 21 of 22 this time. They don’t need 72-38 over three months.

“We don’t have to play .800 baseball,” manager Jim Tracy said.

But they can’t keep following every 8-2 homestand with a 2-9 road trip. They need to be better than that if they’re going to make themselves a serious playoff contender. …

And make their 24-year-old outfielder into the true MVP candidate he should be. And allow people to recognize him for what he already is: One of the best — and most exciting — players in the National League.

“He may win the Triple Crown,” one scout said, after watching Gonzalez and the Rockies in a recent series. “He’s a legitimate ‘tools’ guy who can play. He has no negatives. Everything you grade him on, it’s either average or positive.”

He hits (an NL-leading .326 batting average). He hits with power (his 25 home runs are five off the league lead). He hits in the clutch (his 77 RBI are seven off the lead). He is, as Tracy says, a graceful outfielder. And he can throw.

Over the past month, he’s hit .398 with 12 homers, 29 RBI and a 1.216 OPS. And in those 31 games, the Rockies have gone 14-17.

You watch them, and you come away thinking that they should be better.

“We’ve got the best starting pitcher in the game right now, and the best position player in the game,” right fielder Brad Hawpe said, referring to Gonzalez and 17-game winner Ubaldo Jimenez.

But Hawpe and Ian Stewart haven’t been consistent, the rotation behind Jimenez has been spotty, and shortstop Troy Tulowitzki missed more than a month because of a broken wrist. And Todd Helton looks so bad at the plate that a scout compared him to Ken Griffey Jr.

“He has slipped like Griffey slipped,” the scout said. “He’s not Griffey, because he’s still good in the clubhouse, but he’s got to cheat to get to the fastball, and when he hits the ball, it just doesn’t go anywhere.”

When Gonzalez hits it, it’s the opposite.

“He doesn’t hit balls soft,” Tulowitzki said.

Tulowitzki said Gonzalez is having the best season of any Rockie he’s seen.

“And I was here when Matt Holliday finished second for the MVP,” Tulowitzki said.

Holliday, of course, was traded for Gonzalez, in a deal that may go down as one of the A’s general manager Billy Beane’s worst trades. Gonzalez was actually traded twice before he played a full big-league season, going from Arizona to Oakland in the Dan Haren deal.

The second trade didn’t bother Gonzalez the way the first one did, he says now. The Diamondbacks were family, while Oakland was only a quick stop.

Besides, it was the second trade that brought him to the Rockies, where the engaging young Venezuelan has found a home.

The Colorado fans like him. They know him as “CarGo.”

The Rockies players love him. To them, he’s the “Little Pony.”

“You know how a lot of the Latin [American] players call guys ‘caballo’?” Hawpe said. “Well, he’s too young to be a horse, and he’s so graceful. So ‘Little Pony’ just fit.”

Gonzalez smiles, and says he doesn’t mind either nickname. But he’d rather stick with “CarGo” in public, and let “Little Pony” remain in the clubhouse.

And as for “MVP,” which more and more Rockies fans are starting to call him?

“The awards are for after the season,” he said. “I think I can do a lot of good things in this game. My goal is to try to improve every single year. I know some day I can get something like that, maybe an MVP.”

His coaches believe the improvement will continue to come, as Gonzalez matures even more and learns how to swing at more strikes, especially from left-handed pitchers.

“I don’t want to take away his aggressiveness,” Rockies hitting coach Don Baylor said. “But if you look at his walks and strikeouts (19 and 100), they’re just really out of whack. The left-handers have been responsible. He hits left-handers when they’re throwing strikes (a .329 batting average).”

Tracy says that Gonzalez “hasn’t yet reached the tip of the iceberg” of what he can accomplish.

“He’s already a dynamic player,” Tracy said. “But he’s going to be a household name, one of the best players in the game, period.”

With a little help from his teammates, maybe he even gets there this year. After what happened in 2007 (that 21-1 run) and last year (that 72-38), it’s easy to believe the Rockies can do it again.

“We were 61-50 a year ago,” said Tracy, pointing out that the Rockies were only three games worse at the 111-game mark this season. “But we had to go 30-10 just to get to 61.

“We’re legitimately alive, five games [out of the wild card] with a third of the season left. I’ve seen five games disappear over the course of two weekend series.”

They don’t have to play .800 baseball, and Carlos Gonzalez doesn’t have to hit .800.

But these are the Rockies, and maybe they will play .800. The way he’s going, maybe Gonzalez will hit .800, too.

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