The Colorado Rockies won 13 out of 15 games in what appeared to be the makings of yet another improbable September playoff push before falling flat, losing 13 out of their final 14 games. When the dust finally settled, the Rockies were 9 games back of the San Francisco Giants with an 83-79 record and a 3rd place finish.
As if often the case, the Rockies’ offense ranked near the top of the National League in most relevant categories. Troy Tulowitzki (once he got healthy) and Carlos Gonzalez combined to form one of the nastiest hitting duos in all of baseball in 2010 and there is no reason to expect that to change over the next several years. Both players hit .315+ and combined for 61 homers, 200 runs, 212 RBI’s, and 37 steals. An entire offense can be built around just these two guys. Taking note, the Rockies locked them both up long term this offseason along with underrated LHP Jorge De La Rosa.
As also is often the case, the Rockies’ pitching staff ranked near the bottom of the National League. The Rockies, by way of their hitter friendly home park, don’t need a pitching staff to be in the top 3, just in the upper half. With Ubaldo Jimenez and De La Rosa in tow, the future looks bright but they’re going to need some help. They need Jhoulys Chacin to be legit along with significant help from the overpaid Aaron Cook (6-8, 5.08 ERA in ’10). The Rockies also require stability from their bullpen. Between Huston Street and Manny Corpas’ inability to stay healthy, the back end of the staff struggled in 2010. The Rox let Corpas go and brought in Matt Lindstrom from Houston to help shore up the ‘pen but he’s not exactly a nails closer or setup man for that matter.
Teams bursting with potential are always fun to analyze. Let’s take a look at 3 positives and 3 negatives that face the 2011 Rockies.
Best case scenario for 2011
The Rockies have proven that they have the goods to win the NL West from time to time and 2011 will be no different. The Rockies will be gunning for a championship, plain and simple. For this to be possible, Tulo is going to need to stay on the field for 160 games. He has battled injuries in the past but showed the world late in 2010 just how influential he can be to his team’s success. Colorado plays in one of the more fluid divisions in all of baseball, where seemingly any team can rise up from one year to the next and take the crown. With the pieces that Colorado signed to long term deals this offseason, combined with adding some upside players like Ty Wigginton, Jose Lopez, and more, they have made their mission clear; win or bust.
Most Valuable Rockies
Offensively, no one is more important to the Rockies’ success than Troy Tulowitzki. The guy is quite simply amazing. He’s just 26 years old, plays the most important position on the infield, and can do it all. If he can keep his body healthy, he will push the Rockies win total in 2011 to another level all on his own. An MVP year is in the works for Tulo. Ubaldo Jimenez is a work horse, and a pretty good one at that. 15 wins at the All-Star Break had fans talking foolishly about 30 wins. While that chatter quickly died down, Ubaldo still posted a 19-9 record with a solid 2.88 ERA and 214 K’s in 221.2 innings. Every team needs an ace, and he fits the bill for the Rockies.
Potential Breakout Players
The Rockies have been waiting and waiting and Dexter Fowler might finally be ready to reward them for their patience. He has shown signs of growth in each of his 2 full seasons, most notably finally hitting from the left side of the plate late in 2010. If he can repeat that and become a legitimate leadoff man for Colorado, hitting in front of CarGo and Tulo, his numbers could soar rapidly. If the stars align for Dexter, think a .275 average, 10 homers, 95 runs, and 35 steals. A quiet acquisition by Colorado that could pay big dividends in 2011 was that of RHP Felipe Paulino from Houston. Paulino has serious upside and can strike out opposing hitters with the best of them. He has battled injury trouble for big chunks of his professional career but if he can find consistent health in his power right arm, he could win a job in the Rockies’ rotation and burst onto the scene.
Worst case scenario for 2011
With the impressive seasons turned in by San Francisco and San Diego in 2010, the competition in the NL West is stiff. The Rockies were not pleased with their 3rd place finish last year but if they don’t get the production they’re expecting from their new additions and more goodness from Jimenez at the top of the pitching rotation, they could finish in the same slot in 2011. They have added nice pieces on offense and retained top free agent Jorge De La Rosa but the bullpen remains a significant question mark. If Street can get healthy and stay that way for a full season, it should lead to good things for Colorado. If he lands on the DL like he usually does, it could spell big trouble in the mountains.
Biggest areas of concern
The bullpen and the back end of the rotation are the biggest question marks heading into 2011. The offense will hit and score runs. They are deep and full of special talent all around the diamond. If Street and Lindstrom struggle with injury and/or command and Cook and Paulino or whoever earns the 5th spot can’t get the job done, it could be shades of the old Dante Bichette/Larry Walker-led Rockies, full of 10-8 final scores and a wild ride whose destination will be impossible to determine until the season’s final pitch is thrown.
Who needs to rebound from a rough 2010
The newly acquired Jose Lopez (Seattle Mariners) will most likely shift from 3rd back to his more natural 2nd base position for the Rockies. He fell off the map in 2010; hitting just .239 with 10 homers and 58 RBI’s as part of an awful Mariners offense. In ’08 and ’09, Lopez hit .297 and .272, combining for 42 homers and 185 RBI’s. Considering he put up those numbers at the cavern, Safeco Field, and will now call Coors Field his home, speaks volumes to his renewed potential. If he earns his keep in camp and gets the starting gig, he could put up some solid rebound numbers. After two productive years in a row, Aaron Cook’s efficiency was nowhere to be found in 2010. A 5.08 ERA and 1.56 WHIP belie the fact that contact pitchers are not ideal in Coors Field. If he can refine his approach and come anywhere near his 16-win season in 2008, the Rockies team as a whole would instantly elevate into a pennant favorite in the NL West.
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