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Staying Afloat - A Colorado Rockies preview

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A look ahead at a team trying to avoid erasing a hot start with a mid-summer swoon

Cincinnati Reds v Colorado Rockies
Come play in Chicago, please.
Photo by Dustin Bradford/Getty Images

Over the offseason, I looked at the strengths of various team “cores” from around the league based on cost relative to production and cited the Rockies as a team to watch, as they had a quality group of inexpensive young players with little deadweight elsewhere on their payroll. They’ve put that group to good use and firmly entrenched themselves among the handful of relevant National League teams. For a team that hasn’t broken 80 wins since 2010, this has to be a sigh of relief for the Denver faithful. The Rockies don’t have a storied history of success and they really don’t have it easy out there. Free agent pitchers seem to avoid Colorado like the drunk smelly guy at the party and when a Rockies hitter performs well, it’s all, “Oh, well that’s just because of Coors Field”. It’s unfortunate, but when most think of the Rockies franchise, the first thought that comes to mind isn’t Todd Helton’s great career or Matt Holliday’s phantom touch of home plate, it’s a park factor.

In 2007, #Rocktober (okay, this was before hashtags caught on) put Colorado on the baseball map for something besides a great place to mash taters and boost stats. A core built around Troy Tulowitzki, Jeff Francis, Holliday, and Helton took the team to unprecedented heights before getting swept out of the World Series by the Boston Red Sox. Though they didn’t take home the hardware, that team was special, and it bears mentioning because the Rockies have yet another very talented group on hand today with potential to avenge its decade-old predecessor.

This group has the benefit of being led by a true superstar, Nolan Arenado. Arenado is a rare breed of two-way player who hits 40 homers annually and actually deserves his annual Gold Glove award. The homers have taken a dip so far this year, but he still leads the National League in doubles and remains the anchor of this team’s potent offense. Center fielder Charlie Blackmon has rounded into a very strong offensive player, hitting for average and power atop the Rockies’ lineup.

The farm has provided some recent help as well. Hard-throwing prospect Jeff Hoffman has stepped into the Rockies’ rotation and acquitted himself very nicely. He combines with fellow righty Jon Gray (who we won’t face) to give the Rockies a nice pair of young power pitchers atop the rotation. Contact-hitting outfield prospect Raimel Tapia has stepped into everyday duty in left field in the absence of the injured Ian Desmond and has provided the team with some singles and speed, though for the time being, he’s under-powered for a corner outfielder and scouting reports of his defense are uninspiring for a guy with his wheels.

The right side of the Rockies’ infield has also stepped up to give them production from surprising sources. DJ LeMahieu was a secondary piece in a trade with the Cubs before 2012. He stepped into regular playing time at second base with the Rockies, started hitting singles, and never stopped. I mentioned three years ago that he had some job security given the dearth of advanced Rockies middle infield prospects, and the extra run he got paid off. LeMahieu has made two All-Star teams in three years; he missed the cut in 2016 but compensated by winning the league-wide batting title. First baseman Mark Reynolds revived his career last year by hitting for a non-terrible average for the first time in forever. Once a man who led the National League in strikeouts four straight years, the new and improved 33-year-old Reynolds has found a way to whiff juuuust a little less and rely on hard contact to maintain a good BABIP without much of a drop-off in power. Neat trick.

On the other side of the coin, a couple of Rockies regulars have really struggled. Arenado’s longtime middle-of-the-order partner Carlos Gonzalez has an OPS in the mid-.600s because of a major power outage. Gonzalez has made his living bashing righties, but he’s hitting too many grounders and the exit velocity hasn’t been there. Shortstop Trevor Story lit the world on fire last April with a barrage of dingers and had a great rookie season, but his strikeout rate has really become a problem. Story’s not even that much of a chaser; he’s one of the worst players in baseball at making contact inside the zone.

In addition to Hoffman, we’ll face rookies German Marquez and Kyle Freeland in this series. On the surface, it looks like Marquez has been doing alright, but Deserved Run Average hates him. I’ll speculate that this is because of all the hard contact and fly balls in Coors Field that haven’t come back to bite him just yet, but what do I know. The lefty Freeland is a sinkerballer who doesn’t share Marquez’s fly ball issues, but he still gets squared up often and he doesn’t strike anyone out, so there could be rough times ahead.

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It’s that starting pitching staff that represents the Rockies’ biggest question mark as they seek to reach the postseason for the first time in eight years. Concerns about peripherals aside, the Rockies’ staff faces significant fatigue risk as we head down the stretch. The three rookies we’ll face in this series are not all great bets to maintain their performance as the season drags on into the fall, and the “veterans” Gray and Tyler Chatwood have never thrown close to 200 innings. If the Rockies could use their considerable prospect depth to bring in a long-term, durable, above-average starting pitcher on a budget-conscious contract to reinforce this group, they’d considerably improve their outlook. Sadly, the idea that such a player would be on the market is ridiculous. I mean, can you imagine?

Probable Starting Pitchers

Friday, July 7: German Marquez vs. Derek Holland

Saturday, July 8: Jeff Hoffman vs. Jose Quintana

Sunday, July 9: Kyle Freeland vs. Carlos Rodon

Key Personnel

Probable Lineup Pitching
Probable Lineup Pitching
1. Charlie Blackmon - CF SP1. Jon Gray - RHP
2. DJ LeMahieu - 2B SP2. Jeff Hoffman - RHP
3. Nolan Arenado - 3B SP3. Tyler Chatwood - RHP
4. Carlos Gonzalez - RF SP4. Kyle Freeland - LHP
5. Mark Reynolds - 1B SP5. German Marquez - RHP
6. Raimel Tapia - LF CL. Greg Holland - RHP
7. Trevor Story - SS RP1. Jake McGee - LHP
8. Tony Wolters - C RP2. Adam Ottavino - RHP
RP3. Mike Dunn - LHP