Red-hot Troy Tulowitzki, Justin Morneau help Rockies roll Diamondbacks
As far as imitations go, Troy Tulowitzki and Justin Morneau are doing a pretty convincing one of the surface of the sun. On Monday night, the pair combined to go 4-for-7 with two homers and five RBI, leading Colorado to a 8-5 win over Arizona, the team's eighth win in its last 11 games.
Tulowitzki got the party started early, ripping the second pitch he saw from Wade Miley for a double in the first inning, then coming around to score on a double by Carlos Gonzalez. Two innings later, with two on and two out. Tulowitzki took a Miley fastball on the outside corner and pushed it the other way, smashing a line drive down the rightfield line to score a pair. He victimized Miley one final time in the sixth, launching an inside fastball to the leftfield stands for a solo homer, his sixth of the season. In his final at-bat of the game, he missed a second homer by about two feet, just pulling a ball to the left of the leftfield foul pole. Instead, he settled for a walk, his second of the game, and finished the night 3-for-3 with two doubles, a homer and the two free passes.
Morneau, meanwhile, had a quieter boxscore than Tulowitzki, going 1-for-4, but he made his hit count, launching a Miley slider to Chase Field's pool in rightfield for his sixth homer of the season and a 7-4 Colorado lead. Six homers may not sound like a staggering amount, but for Morneau, it's a big step from where he was a year ago; last season, it took him 77 games to reach the six-homer mark.
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Though it's still relatively early in the season, Colorado is benefitting from a healthy Tulowitzki and Morneau. Injuries have always been the devil dogging Tulowitzki, who managed just 173 combined games in 2012 and 2013. Last season, the Rockies' All-Star shortstop missed 36 games on the season, 25 due to a fractured rib; in that stretch, Colorado went a mere 9-16, forced to give his MVP-caliber at-bats to noodle bats likes of Jonathan Herrera and Josh Rutledge.
But so far, Tulowitzki has dodged the injury bug and is showing off what made him the No. 7 overall pick in 2005. His 3-for-3 night raised his overall line to .366/.476/.720; going into Monday night, his 2.3 bWAR was third-best among all players in baseball, and best among position players (narrowly edging teammate Charlie Blackmon). He's now homered in four of his last six contests, and in that span, he's picked up eight hits and four walks in 28 plate appearances.
It helps that Tulowitzki is demolishing fastballs anywhere in the zone. Two of his three hits Monday came on fastballs; going into Monday, he was hitting an absurd .355 with an .871 slugging percentage on four-seamers, and .333 with a .667 slugging percentage on sinkers. Five of his six homers have now come on pitches classified as fastballs. Tulowitzki has always been a good fastball hitter—last season, he hit .331 with a .608 slugging percentage on hard stuff, and 20 of his 25 homers came on fastballs. But right now, he simply isn't missing them.
As good as Tulowitzki's been, though, Morneau's been perhaps even better. Monday's game extended his hitting streak to 12 games, during which the Canadian slugger has put up a .362/.360/.776 slash line with six homers, six doubles and 19 RBI. For the season, he's now at .351/.376/.628, a far cry from last year's .259/.323/.411 mark for Minnesota and Pittsburgh.
What's changed? For starters, Morneau's new ballpark is doing him favors, hardlyt surprising since it's Coors Field. In 11 games in Colorado, Morneau is hitting .364/.408/.659. But this isn't a Vinny Castilla redux; Morneau had put up a respectable .348/.354/.565 mark on the road going into Monday. Newfound success against left-handers is helping, too. After slashing a mere .207/.247/.278 in 178 plate appearances against southpaws last year, Morneau has bounced back with a .346/.357/.500 line. Granted, that's on just 26 PAs against same-siders, but it helps that he's been able to do more with the breaking ball offerings of lefties that so thoroughly flummoxed him last year. Lefties went slider-heavy on Morneau in 2013, but this year, he's managed to hold his own. Against Miley, he took a first-pitch slider that hung over the plate and belted it, a good sign for a player who too frequently couldn't do anything against that pitch last season (.209 average, .302 slugging percentage, 14 strikeouts and one walk against sliders from left-handed pitchers). Morneau's production has been a big plus for a team that got little out of first base in 2013; the departing Todd Helton hit just .249/.314/.423 in his farewell season at age 39. Whether Morneau can keep it going in his age-33 season remains to be seen, but the hot start is encouraging, to say the least. Last year, he posted just a .688 OPS in the month of April and had only seven homers by the All-Star break. And with Michael Cuddyer currently sidelined, and the health of Tulowitzki and Carlos Gonzalez always in question, a rebound season from Morneau would go a long way toward keeping the surprising Rockies in the hunt for the NL West title.