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Rockies enter long road trip with optimism

Rockies enter long road trip with optimism

Rockies enter long road trip with optimism

PHOENIX -- The Rockies began a possibly season-defining, 10-game National League West road trip with leadoff man Dexter Fowler and cleanup hitter Troy Tulowitzki on the disabled list and, at least for one start, without National League home run leader Carlos Gonzalez.

At 2 1/2 games behind the first-place D-backs, the Rockies entered with optimism. The stretch began with Friday's opener of three against the D-backs, and the trip will include three games at San Diego and four at Los Angeles.

The trip is a challenge for a club that has tried to stay even-keeled through hot streaks and cold ones. With five wins in the last 16 games, it's been cold and painful. Fowler has a right hand injury, Tulowitzki a broken rib. Gonzalez suffered a strain to a muscle on the left side of his back, just under the shoulder blade, during Thursday night's victory over the Dodgers.

"You're always aware of who you're playing; it's not like it's you ask us and we don't know," said right fielder Michael Cuddyer, who entered Friday hitting .343 with 15 homers and 52 RBIs, with hits in 29 of his last 30 games. "We know we've got Arizona, San Diego and Los Angeles. We also know that everybody is tight in the standings.

"But when we get between the lines, in inning one, two, whatever inning, we're not thinking about Sunday's game. That's what players mean."

One reason Cuddyer likes the Rockies' chances was the offensive performance in the final two games of the series against the Dodgers, when the Rockies dropped two of three. They were shut down by Dodgers ace Clayton Kershaw in the first game, but that's happened to a lot of teams. But they scored eight runs in the second game and nine in the third, and even with a makeshift lineup, were hit-for-hit with a Dodgers lineup that's one of baseball's hottest.

"We've got a good offense," Cuddyer said. "Right after the All-Star break, maybe even before, we're going to have everybody back at full strength. Obviously, missing Tulo speaks for itself, but missing Dexter -- the leadoff guy and a good defender in center field -- there are very few leadoff hitters with a .390 on-base percentage and he's one of them."

The Dodgers' lengthy period of hot hitting has made them the popular pick to break out in the division.

"They're going through a really good stretch right now, just like we did, the Giants did, the Padres did, everybody did," Gonzalez said. "At some point, they're going to struggle like everybody else. It's not like they're not going to lose a game. They still have to pitch.

"That's how baseball is. You go through a good stretch, then you have to hit the survive button, then battle until you come back again. I don't think Hanley [Ramirez] is going to hit .400 the whole year. I don't think [Yasiel] Puig is going to hit .400 this whole year."

Thomas Harding is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Hardball in the Rockies, and follow him on Twitter @harding_at_mlb. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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