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Paul Klee: One subtle lineup change can lift scuffling Colorado Rockies into playoffs

By: Paul Klee
August 30, 2017 Updated: August 30, 2017 at 8:06 pm
Caption +
Colorado Rockies' Charlie Blackmon grimaces as he fouls a ball off during the eighth inning of a baseball game against the Atlanta Braves on Friday, Aug. 25, 2017, in Atlanta. Blackmon visited by the trainer and left the game. The Braves won 5-2. (AP Photo/John Bazemore)

DENVER — Don’t move Chuck. Don’t touch a hair on Blackmon’s chinny chin-chin — or the Missouri-approved mullet, for that matter.

When fire burns as hot as Blackmon, let it burn. If I’m the Rockies, crawling to the finish line after losing a bad series to the Detroit Tigers, I let the MVP candidate continue to be an MVP candidate right where he is, in the leadoff spot, four RBIs shy of the National League record for a leadoff man, eight home runs shy of the home run record for a leadoff man. But something has to change. It just must.

The highlight Wednesday at Coors Field was swimsuit model Kate Upton taking her seat behind home plate with the common folk. (See, they’re just like us!) In a 6-2 loss to the Tigers, perhaps the Rockies were caught looking.

More likely, the sample size on a subpar offense is plenty big enough to scream the uncomfortable, nagging truth: once you sneak past the All-Stars at the top of the lineup — Blackmon, LeMahieu, Arenado, oh my! — the bottom is a leisurely dog walk through Wash Park. The lineup needs a subtle tweak.

That brings us to D.J. LeMahieu. Helluva player, that guy. Woefully underrated, too. If he’s not winning Gold Gloves, he’s winning National League batting titles. Two seasons ago, David John became the first Rockie to hit in all nine spots in the batting order. So try this: Blackmon, Gerardo Parra (a plate setter, not a run producer, before 2017), Nolan Arenado, Mark Reynolds, Carlos Gonzalez, Trevor Story (whose glove, not his .230 bat, has kept him in Denver), LeMahieu, Jonathan Lucroy, pitcher TBD.

Would I prefer to see LeMahieu remain in the 2 spot and score as many at-bats as possible? Of course. Guy’s a weapon, the definition of a tough out, and the numbers nerds would crush this idea with a millennial membership card.

But this power outage can’t go on. Since Aug. 6 — not that long ago, even if it feels like months — the Rockies have scored three runs or fewer 15 times. They've scored four runs (roughly the MLB average) or fewer in 18 of their past 22 games. Three-run deficits are the new 10-run deficits. The Rockies lineup doesn't frighten anyone. They finished 12-15 in August, their first month this season with a losing record, a blip on the road to the postseason or a sign of scarier things to come, depending on how much purple you own.

Are they Rockies ready to forget about August?

“I’m looking forward to September,” manager Bud Black said.

That’s the spirit. But wouldn’t it be a crying shame if the Rox missed out on a playoff spot due to stubbornness? Ironic, too, since these are hardly the same ol’ Rockies. They’re staying afloat, three games up in the wild card, by their pitching. At some point their bats must come around. When Tigers catcher James McCann unloaded a three-run homer in the fifth, handing the Rox a 5-0 deficit that felt much worse, a solid chunk of the locals seated behind home plate turned their attention to Justin Verlander’s fiancé. Meantime, Verlander struck out nine Rockies batters and allowed only a single run.

“He’s a legit, No. 1-type pitcher,” Black said.

Blackmon hit another home run. He’s hit 32. Chuck’s still on one of those tears where you can’t really pitch to him, lest you witness the water fountain shoot skyward beyond center field. The latest Blackmon bomb was another solo shot. Wouldn’t it be nice to have someone on base when “The Outfield” jams through the night air as Blackmon touches home plate?

Twitter: @bypaulklee

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