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Back home, can Arenado find his swing in time?

September 24, 2018

DENVER -- Rockies third baseman Nolan Arenado has gone from the subject of National League Most Valuable Player Award argument to -- after a rough 10 days -- being in a fight for his offensive success, on a team in a fight for its postseason hopes.Arenado hit .171 (6-for-35) as

DENVER -- Rockies third baseman Nolan Arenado has gone from the subject of National League Most Valuable Player Award argument to -- after a rough 10 days -- being in a fight for his offensive success, on a team in a fight for its postseason hopes.
Arenado hit .171 (6-for-35) as the Rockies went 4-5 on a road trip to San Francisco, Los Angeles and Arizona -- one that conceivably could have produced nine wins with better offense from Arenado and, to be fair, many of his mates.
But the Rockies return home Monday night to face the Phillies in the regular-season-ending seven-game homestand 1 1/2 games behind the first-place Dodgers in the NL West, and the same distance behind the Cardinals for the second NL Wild Card. Colorado swept Arizona in the last three games of the road swing, with Arenado showing better selectivity in the final two games, while delivering an RBI single in Sunday's 2-0 victory.
Can now-or-never time be Arenado time?
Before Sunday's game, Arenado described feeling the weight of being a star who wasn't coming through at a crucial time. Importantly, his description suggests he feels the pressure at the right time -- after not coming through. The belief that he will get the job done is still there, and that's a start.
"At times, I feel it -- I think you feel it more when you're not doing anything," Arenado said. "I think there are times where there are guys in scoring position and I don't get the job done, and I feel it. I feel I should have got the job done. I can't rely on everyone else. I do rely on this team to pick me up, just as we pick each other up. But I've got to get the job done, like I always have.
"I feel very confident in those situations. But this game's hard. Sometimes it doesn't work out the way you planned it. But I'm going to continue to work hard and continue to find a way."
The return of Arenado's pitch recognition (which began to show with the walks Saturday and Sunday) and a modicum of health (questionable since he suffered a right shoulder strain in August) will help. So will better luck.
The Rockies moved into first place during a 7-3 homestand Sept. 3-13. The first four games, Arenado went 1-for-14 and was removed from the starting lineup for a game. In the last five games, he sizzled, going 8-for-20, three home runs, four doubles and seven RBIs.
Then came the road trip. It started with a 2-0 loss at San Francisco, when the Rockies managed just two hits in the Giants' Chris Stratton's first career complete game. A key moment was Arenado's scorched liner that Gregor Blanco leaped to catch at the left-field wall. It was an omen.
According to Statcast™, Arenado had a weighted on-base average (wOBA) of .104 at San Francisco (two shutout losses and a 3-1 win where pitcher Antonio Senzatela delivered the key two-run single). But Arenado's expected wOBA, based on the quality of his contact, was .338 -- a -.234 gap.
• What is weighted on-base average (wOBA)?
Then Arenado came out of his swing at Los Angeles -- a .203 wOBA but an expected wOBA of just .214. He struck out five times in the final two games. And Arenado's ninth-inning hit in the final game was emblematic -- he looked skyward as if he had popped up, but the ball rolled softly past first base.

At Arizona, Arenado had a .323 wOBA and a .391 expected wOBA -- better contact, not great luck. But if the contact continues, Coors may reward him when it's needed most. Manager Bud Black has reminded Arenado not to force it.
"I just talk to him and try to say, 'Relax, Nolan. You're doing fine. Keep at it. Let your talent show,'" Black said. "I liked the fact that he took walks. That tells me he's seeing the ball. All hitters when they're going good, they're swinging at strikes and taking balls. They'll draw their walks because pitchers are afraid to throw them strikes."
Arenado is not thinking he must carry the team alone.
"I've never thought about it like that," he said. "I've always just wanted to be a good player. That's all I've wanted to do. I've learned a lot about myself this year. I have a lot of room to get better, from the mental part of the game -- from at-bat to at-bat, and the adjustments of the game.
"If anything, that gives me a little more excitement, because I'm still having a pretty darn good year. I know it feels like I'm not, but I am. I think that's an exciting thing that gives me excitement, gives me confidence going into the offseason. But until then, I can still do something here -- and in the postseason."

Thomas Harding has covered the Rockies since 2000, and for MLB.com since 2002. Follow him on Twitter and like his Facebook page.