Home (not) sweet home for Rockies

May 11th, 2016

DENVER -- That raised right-field fence at Coors Field has denied six home runs in the Colorado Rockies' first 14 home games this season.

In the first five instances, the victim was a member of the Rockies -- Trevor Story twice in a 10-6 victory against the Giants on April 13, Story and Brandon Barnes in a 7-5 victory against the Dodgers on April 22, and Nick Hundley in a 6-1 loss to the Pirates on April 25.

And that's the good news for Colorado at home this season.

A team that once enjoyed what visitors considered the biggest home-field advantage in baseball, the Rockies' biggest challenge in their bid to be a part of the National League West race during the opening weeks of this season has been a lack of success at home.

With a 5-1 loss to the D-backs on Tuesday night, the Rockies' record slipped to 15-18. Not only is Colorado now 4-10 at Coors Field, but it has lost seven consecutive games at home for only the second time in the 22 seasons the club has played at Coors Field, and the third time in franchise history.

The Rockies lost a franchise-record nine in a row at Mile High Stadium July 25-Aug. 18, 1993, their first year of existence, and seven in a row at Coors Field July 17-Aug. 1, 2012.

"It's concerning," manager Walt Weiss said. "Historically, this is where we play really well. So it's strange, but I do believe we'll turn it around. As we get deeper into the season, we'll turn this thing around at home and start winning games again."

The fourth-year manager knows the story well. Weiss also played shortstop for the team for four seasons, including the first three seasons of Coors Field (1995-97). A team born of expansion in 1993, the Rockies were a combined 146-88 their first three years in Coors Field, a .624 winning percentage that ranked second among NL teams to an Atlanta franchise that was 150-84 (.641) in the midst of what was a pro sports record 14 consecutive first-place finishes.

Lately, however, things have been different. The Rockies' three worst Coors Field records have come in the past five seasons -- 35-46 in 2012, 36-45 a year ago and 38-43 in 2011.

So why is Weiss convinced things are going to change? Well, he is confident that former closer Adam Ottavino will be healthy and back to work before the All-Star break, along with a pending return of Miguel Castro, the 21-year-old with an overpowering arm who has been out since April 22 with right shoulder inflammation.

That will add depth to a bullpen, allowing those two to step into late-inning roles, along with current closer Jake McGee. It will also move the promising arms of Carlos Estevez and Gonzalez Germen, along with veterans Boone Logan, a left-hander, and Chad Qualls, a right-hander, into earlier bullpen roles, which are critical for success at Coors Field.

And Colorado's success in the past, as much as an explosive offense, has been because of its ability to stay within striking range in middle innings, creating a late-inning pressure on the visiting team.

"We would be down two or three runs in the sixth, seventh inning and we would know we would win," said former Rockies pitcher Pedro Astacio, now a consultant to the team. "And the other team knew we would win, too."

The keys were a lineup with veterans in key spots that could provide a foundation for the confidence, and a bullpen that could keep things in check, give the visiting team reason to worry about protecting a small lead, and give Colorado's offense a chance to have comfortable swings because it was just a home run away from a lead.

That hasn't been the case this season. In the middle three innings of the 10 home losses, the Rockies have given up 42 runs, including a five-run fifth inning on Monday that erased a 4-1 Colorado lead and opened the way for a 10-5 loss to Arizona. On Tuesday, it was a four-run D-backs sixth that ended a scoreless game and sent the Rockies on their way to the loss.

That's not how things were been in the past.

"This has always been a great home for the Rockies, especially their offense," said first-base coach Eric Young, Colorado's original second baseman. "You could feel the mojo. We would grind out at-bats and eventually get the hits we needed. And the other team knew it was going to happen."

The Rockies' all-time record for the 21 seasons at Coors Field prior to this year is 936-763, the fifth best in the NL over that stretch, behind the Braves, Cardinals, Giants and Dodgers.

Colorado has had a winning record at home in 15 of its seasons at Coors Field, nine of the 14 since the humidor was installed in 2002. The club, meanwhile, has had a winning road record only once in its first 24 years of existence, and that was just by one victory, 41-40, in 2009.

Recent times, however, haven't been kind.

Three of the worst home records in Coors Field history have come in the past five years. And this season, among the 30 Major League teams, only the D-backs (5-12) and the Braves (1-16) have a worse home record than the Rockies.

They find themselves battling a home-field disadvantage.