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Altitude With an Attitude: A Colorado Rockies Preview

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A look ahead at the second opponent on this road trip

"You don't even know who I am."
"You don't even know who I am."
Doug Pensinger

Offense: Charlie Blackmon - CF, Michael Cuddyer - RF, Carlos Gonzalez - LF, Troy Tulowitzki - SS, Justin Morneau - 1B, Wilin Rosario - C, Nolan Arenado - 3B, DJ LeMahieu - 2B

Thanks to Charlie Blackmon's performance in Colorado's home opener, "Alex Rios" is no longer the answer to the question of which major league player was the last to go 6-for-6 in a game. He has shared playing time with Drew Stubbs and Corey Dickerson thus far, but that game will certainly help his case as he looks to lock down the full-time center field job. The lefty established a foothold in the majors last season by hitting over .300 in 258 plate appearances. Blackmon's knack for hard contact is nice, but he's a bit of a free swinger and is a tad stretched in center field. While you were sleeping through the back half of the White Sox' 2013 season, minding your own business and not paying attention to the Rockies, Michael Cuddyer was busy winning the National League batting title. Let me say that again more slowly to give you time to digest. Michael. Cuddyer. Won. A. Batting. Title. At age 34. After never hitting .300 in any prior season. This ranks pretty high on the Master List of Fluky Things, and you don't even need to race over to FanGraphs to know that he sported an unsustainably high BABIP. When that batting average crashes back down to earth, the Rockies will be left with a DH right fielder with 20-homer power that can't compensate for putrid glovesmanship.

Carlos Gonzalez is an absolute monster of a hitter that took a big leap forward last year in the power department, slugging .591 without the damning stereotypical home/road split that comes with analyzing Rockies players. The only thing stopping the three-time Gold Glove winner from perpetually chasing MVP awards is his lack of ability to stay healthy, as various parts of his body have failed him over the past three seasons. I am highly tempted to copy and paste a lot of that material for the next man up, Troy Tulowitzki. In another world, CarGo and Tulo would be cannibalizing each other's MVP votes every year, but that's only happened once in the five years they've been teammates because they're both china dolls. The best shortstop in baseball when healthy, Tulowitzki plays great defense and can hit 30 home runs over a full season. The problem is that a "full season" for him is on average 120 games.

A move to first base would have been a good thing for Michael Cuddyer, but the Rockies blocked that transition (and created an outfield logjam) by signing Justin Morneau. After being acquired by the Pirates last August, Morneau didn't hit a single home run the rest of the season (92 PA). He should still be good for a home run total near 20 in his new environment, but he absolutely needs to be platooned as he's deteriorated from "sub-par" to "unplayable" against lefties. He's also responsible for this scene from during the peak of my Twins ire, which made me die a little inside.

What do you get when you completely sell out for offense at the catcher position? You get Wilin Rosario, a guy that can hit for a good average while swatting his way to mid-20's homer totals. Rosario took a big step forward with his pitch blocking last year; he's no longer the worst in baseball by a gigantic margin and can now be proudly referred to as "pretty bad". He's just so-so at controlling the running game and gets poor marks for pitch framing, so Rosario gives back a lot of the value generated from an .800 OPS. Nolan Arenado's offensive numbers don't really jump off the page, but if you want to get an idea of how good he is on the other side of the ball, consider the following. In 2013, Arenado slashed .267/.301/.405 while playing a corner position and half his games at Coors Field, but was worth 2.7 WAR per FanGraphs and 3.9 WAR per He earned every finger of that Gold Glove and at age 23, he could be a serious star if the bat comes around. Between Tulowitzki and Arenado, there will be very few ground balls getting through the left side of the Rockies infield.

Former Cubs farmhand DJ LeMahieu started 95 games for a major league team last year. Ninety-five! LeMahieu was the benefactor of a Josh Rutledge flameout as he took over the starting role in late May and slapped his way to a pretty empty .280 batting average in 2013 while playing solid defense at the keystone. If this guy screams "bench player" to you, your powers of perception are working properly. Problem is, Colorado has no good alternatives to him on the roster and there aren't any middle infield prospects of note in their system that have played above High-A before this year, so LeMahieu and his singles actually have some job security for the time being.

Bench: Jordan Pacheco - C, Charlie Culberson - INF, Corey Dickerson - OF, Drew Stubbs - OF, Brandon Barnes - OF

Pitching: Jordan Lyles - RHP, Franklin Morales - LHP, Juan Nicasio - RHP; Closer - LaTroy Hawkins - RHP

Woof. This is a little unfair because the Rockies have two starters on the disabled list (Jhoulys Chacin and Tyler Chatwood) and we're missing Colorado's best two active starters in this series (Jorge De La Rosa and Brett Anderson). But still, woof. Jordan Lyles has started 65 games across three seasons for Houston and wound up with an ERA over 5.00 each year. He's had some major gopher ball problems, but the Rockies brought him to Coors Field anyway in the Dexter Fowler trade. There's not much positive to say about him besides his birth certificate; a small subset of major league players get the opportunity to have this much experience under their belt before turning 23. Then again, a small subset of major league players play for the Astros.

Franklin Morales left Coors Field for lower pastures in the middle of the 2011 season, but the Rockies acquired him right back this December after a few seasons of respectable work in relief in Boston. Morales isn't generally counted on to start games because right-handed hitters own a career .370 OBP against him and he needs to be spotted effectively to be useful. His velocity dropped last year, but this probably had more to do with fighting through injuries than a decline in stuff. It feels like Morales has been around forever because of his role in the Rockies' 2007 World Series run, but he's still just 28. Juan Nicasio lasted the entire 2013 season in the Rockies' rotation after neck and knee injuries sidelined him for big chunks of the previous two seasons. Despite making 31 starts, Nicasio only threw 157 innings due to some efficiency issues that showed up in his walk rate. He's not as bad as last year's 5.14 ERA indicates and has the ability to stick as a back-end starter.

If you pick a random major league team, you have a one-in-three chance of picking one LaTroy Hawkins has pitched for. He's still trucking along somehow at age 41 and still averages roughly 93 mph on his fastball. Last year, he rode a career-low walk rate to a pretty good season with the Mets, and there's no reason to think that he won't continue to be reasonably effective this year since his velocity still appears to be intact. Hawkins' career has been a fascinating one. He's thrown over 850 career innings as a high-leverage reliever with a strikeout rate of just 6.5 per 9 innings. White Sox fans will always remember him best for the headaches he caused during his peak with the Twins in the early part of this millennium, when he worked as Everyday Eddie Guardado's set-up man.

Outlook & Prediction: Due to the pitcher alignment, the Rockies are better than the team we'll see this week, but they still are facing an uphill road to get into the playoffs. Health will go a long way towards determining where they wind up in September. Predicted record and finish: 79-83, 3rd place, NL West