Rockies again taking advantage of home field
Skipper Weiss has club returning to '90's philosophy of slugging, stealing
DENVER -- Hanging on the wall near the door that leads from the Colorado Rockies' clubhouse at Coors Field to the field is a sign that reads, "This is our House."
And in the early days of the 2013 season, the Rockies are giving indications that they're making themselves feel at home, again, finally.
For the better part of a decade, the public focus with the Rockies had been on how to neutralize the offense-enhancing environment of Coors Field. But in this year of celebration of the franchise's 20th anniversary, the Rockies have taken a retro look in both their promotional efforts and the way they approach the game.
The Rockies brought back part of their history by hiring Walt Weiss, their starting shortstop from 1994-97, as the team's manager, and Dante Bichette, a critical part of the middle of the Colorado lineup in the first seven years of the franchise, to be the hitting coach.
More importantly, the Rockies have brought back a mentality that is designed to take advantage of what Coors Field offers instead of trying to neutralize the home-field advantage by trying to make Coors Field more "normal."
Weiss and Bichette were key members of those Rockies of the 1990s, when original manager Don Baylor ran a high-powered offense and visiting teams admittedly arrived at Coors Field intimidated by the task they faced in trying to keep the Rockies under control.
Only 15 games into 2013, and with only six games having been played at Coors Field, it's too early to say that environment of intimidation is back, but there is no question that at least an initial foundation has been laid.
The Rockies not only are 11-4, equaling the second-best start in franchise history, but have won their first six games of the season at Coors Field for the first time in franchise history, sweeping three games from both San Diego and the New York Mets, outscoring the opposition, 48-21, in the process.
"It was one of the things we talked a lot about this spring," Weiss said following Thursday's 11-3 victory against the Mets. "It is part of an identity we wanted to establish. We have a long way to go, but it's absolutely important that we are getting out of the gate like we are."
The National League West-leading Rockies -- a position they hadn't enjoyed since May 17, 2011, -- have a telling part of the schedule lurking. They welcome second-place Arizona to Coors Field for a three-game series on Friday night that kicks off a stretch in which Colorado and Arizona play seven times in 10 days. And the three other games in that stretch are against an Atlanta team that is off to the best start of any team in the big leagues.
Neither the D-backs nor Braves have been kind to the Rockies over time. Colorado has a worse record against Atlanta (60-104, .366) than any team in the NL, and its fifth-worst success level against Arizona (112-147, .432).
But these Rockies are starting to feel good about life at Coors Field again, instead of trying to apologize for the way games can change at altitude. They are looking to rebound from back-to-back losing seasons at Coors Field, where they have suffered four losing records in the past nine years.
Weiss and Bichette were primary players in the days of Baylor Ball, the aggressive approach of those early Rockies teams managed by Baylor, who is now the D-backs' hitting coach. The reputation was based on home runs, but the home-field success they enjoyed was built off a total pedal-to-the-metal mentality.
Yes, the Rockies led the NL in home runs in 1995, '96 and '97, the first three years of Coors Field, but they weren't a slow-pitch softball-type franchise. The '96 Rockies became the first team in history to have at least 200 home runs (221) and 200 stolen bases (201) in the same season. They also had 81 sacrifice bunts that season, second in the NL to the St. Louis Cardinals.
They had seven players with at least 10 stolen bases that year, including team leader Eric Young (53) at second base, outfielders Bichette (31), Ellis Burks (32), Larry Walker (18) and Quinton McCracken (17), first baseman Andres Galarraga (18) and shortstop Weiss (10).
"Walt and I have talked about that attitude," said Bichette. "It's something we want to bring back."
So far, it appears to be working.
The top three hitters in their regular lineup are among the top 10 in the NL in runs scored. Carlos Gonzalez has scored 19 times, four more than any other NL player. Josh Rutledge is tied for second place with 15, and leadoff hitter Dexter Fowler is tied for sixth with 13.
Fowler also leads the team and is second in the NL with seven home runs, and Gonzalez, Wilin Rosario and Troy Tulowitzki are among seven players tied for seventh in the NL with four home runs.
The pitching is also doing its part. The rotation has nine quality starts, two behind the Dodgers and Cardinals, who share the NL league. Last season, the Rockies had only 27 quality starts in 162 games. The staff even ranks ninth in the NL with a 4.11 ERA.
And the Rockies seem capable of taking their approach on the road, where they are 5-4, looking for a winning record on opposing fields for only the second time in franchise history. They were 41-40 outside Coors Field in 2009.
While nine of their 15 games have been on the road, the Rockies lead the Majors with an average of 6.2 runs per game, rank second in the NL in home runs with 25 (four fewer than Atlanta), and are second in the NL with 58 walks. They also lead the NL with 14 stolen bases.
"We want to get that old feeling back," said Bichette.
So far, so good.
Tracy Ringolsby is a columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.