Springtime Storylines: Are the Rockies the best team in the National League?

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Rockies logo.jpgBetween now and Opening Day, HBT will take a look at each of
the 30
teams, asking the key questions, the not-so-key questions, and generally
breaking down their chances for the 2010 season.  Next up: The Rockies.


The
big question: Are the Rockies the best team in the National League?

I’m going to say no for now, but that they just might be by the end of the season.  A disappointing 2008 and a mad dash to make the playoffs in 2009 causes most people to think of this team as plucky overachievers or something, but the fact is they’re loaded.

Troy Tulowitzki is the best shortstop in baseball, having hit .297/.377/.552 with 32 bombs at age 24. With the exception of Brad Hawpe in right, the Rockies are a pretty fantastic defensive team. Todd Helton is past his days as an elite power hitter, but he is enjoying a nice resurgence as an average/on-base god. Ubaldo Jiminez emerged as an ace last year. They probably have the best bench in the NL. They also have a pair of outfielders in Carlos Gonzalez and Dexter Fowler that possess speed and patience, giving them a nice 1-2 combination at the top of the order.

While there are a couple of weaknesses/concerns going into the season (see bullet points below) the Rockies have a deep system from which they can draw new talent either to help the club directly or to trade for some help during the season.

The upshot: there just isn’t much not to like about this team, and I think the chattering classes sleep on their chances at their peril.

So
what
else is
going on?

  • Huston Street’s shoulder problems this spring are one of those causes for concern. Street converted 35-of-37 save opportunities last year and, obviously, the Rockies would be better with him than without him. But let’s not overstate his value either: He missed a big chunk of September
    last year with biceps tendinitis. The Rockies went 18-9 in September.
  • Jeff Francis is back after missing 2009 for shoulder surgery and he’s looking sharp as spring training comes to a close. The Rockies don’t necessarily need Francis to be an ace again to win the division inasmuch as they did just fine without him last year, but if he is back and even moderately effective their rotation is catapulted from merely good to pretty damn good. Jiminez-Francis-Cook-Hammel-De La Rosa? I’d take that.
  • Brad Hawpe and Clint Barmes are the weak links on this club, with Hawpe swooning terribly in the second half last year (and being a defensive liability) and Barmes posting a totally unacceptable .294 OBP.  There are replacements available for Hawpe as the Rockies are loaded with outfielders, but the Rockies may have to convert some of their considerable organizational depth into a second baseman if Barmes continues to struggle, because I’m not really sold on Eric Young, Jr.
  • Scariest thing about this team if you’re the Dodgers, Giants, Padres or Diamondbacks: how young they are. Helton, Barmes and Hawpe are the only regulars over 30 and, as discussed above, Barmes and Hawpe may not be long for the Rockies’ world. I don’t think they’re necessarily a stone cold lock to win the division this year — stuff happens — but I can see them dominating it for the next 3-5 years.

So
how
are they gonna do?

On paper, the Rockies are the best team in the NL West. The only way I see them not edging out the Dodgers is the injury bug flies around Denver.  I won’t get to my awards picks until Monday, but I’m toying with Tulowitzki as my MVP choice in the NL (forgive me Albert).  I don’t expect them to go on tears where they win 21 games in a month like they did last season, but I don’t think they’ll have to either.

Prediction: First place in the NL West and a lot of commentators pretending that they came out of nowhere even though they clearly have not.

And That Happened: Monday’s Scores and Highlights

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Here are the scores. Here are the highlights:

Astros 5, Rays 4: That’s 12 in a row for Houston, with this one ending dramatically. Down 4-0 early and still down 4-3 in the bottom of the ninth, Marwin Gonzaelz drew a leadoff walk, Max Stassi singled, Tony Kemp bunted the two of them over to second and third, George Springer reached on catcher’s interference to load the bases and then Alex Bregman doubled in two in walkoff fashion. The Astros have won two games with walkoffs this year, both coming off the bat of Bregman.

Diamondbacks 7, Angels 4Paul Goldschmidt hit a two-run homer and Zack Greinke was solid, as the Dbacks won by three. It could’ve been a different outcome if it were not for this play from Jarrod Dyson — made when Justin Upton was batting with the bases loaded — which may very well have saved four:

The Diamondbacks have won 12 of 16. The Angels have lost 7 of 8 and have gone from 3.5 back in the AL West to 10.5 back in that stretch. Mike Trout reached base four times. Over the last seven games, he has reached base in 24 of 33 plate appearances. The Angels are 1-6 in that stretch.

Indians 6, White Sox 2: Trevor Bauer tossed seven shutout innings allowing only three hits and would’ve gone longer if it wasn’t for a rain delay. Jason Kipnis homered and drove in two and Roberto Perez knocked in two with a ground rule double. The White Sox have lost five in a row. Matt Davidson homered. He’s like a poor man’s Mike Trout insofar as the “he does well, the team loses lots” thing goes.

Pirates 1, Brewers 0: Jordy Mercer‘s seventh inning RBI double plated the game’s only run. Trevor Williams allowed only one hit in seven shutout innings for the Buccos, outdueling Jhoulys Chacin. The Brewers notched only two hits all game long. Or all game short, as this one lasted only two hours and thirty-two minutes.

Phillies 6, Cardinals 5: Phillies starter Nick Pivetta struck out 13 while allowing only two runs in seven and a third, but the bullpen blew it and the Cards to tie things up in the ninth on, of all things, a dropped third strike that allowed a run to score. On to extras, where the Cardinals took a one-run lead in the 10th. In the bottom half the Phillies rallied, however, putting two men on. With two outs, Aaron Altherr lined one into left field. Rather than keep the ball in front of him, limiting the damage and giving his team a chance to end it with one more out, Marcell Ozuna tried to dive for the ball and . . . missed. It trickled past him and the Phillies won it in a walkoff:

Nationals 5, Yankees 3; Yankees 4, Nationals 2: The first game was the resumption of a game from May 15 that was suspended due to rain. Juan Soto of the Nationals was in the minors on May 15, but played in the resumption, hitting a two-run homer which gave the Nats the win. Technically he is considered to have done so on May 15 even though he did not make his big league debut until May 20. He also happened to go 3-for-4 with an RBI for Double-A Harrisburg on May 15. Some day you can look up stats online and win a bar bet with that, at least if you find websites that don’t put asterisks on such things. In the game actually scheduled for last night Sonny Gray allowed two over five, Aaron Hicks hit a two-run homer and Giancarlo Stanton drove in two.

Rangers 6, Royals 3Adrian Beltre hit a three-run homer, Shin-Soo Choo went deep and Bartolo Colon earned his 244th victory, passing Hall of Famer Juan Marichal for the most by a pitcher born in the Dominican Republic. The Royals — who just before the game, traded away closer Kelvin Herrera to the Washington Nationals — have lost seven straight and 13 of 14. The Rangers have won three in a row.

Mets 12, Rockies 2: For the first time in ages Jacob deGrom got some dang run support. Most of it came late, as New York scored nine of their 12 runs from the seventh inning on, but that’s better than what deGrom has been getting. For his part, he allowed two runs — one earned — over eight innings of work and likely enjoyed the heck out of himself watching Brandon Nimmo hit an inside-the-park homer to lead the game off AND hit a conventional bomb in the seventh. Wilmer Flores and Devin Mesoraco went yard too. Here are Nimmo’s heroics. Come for the long drive, stay for the Rockies’ awful defense which allowed the inside-the-parker to happen:

Marlins 5, Giants 4: San Francisco had a 4-0 lead as late as the fifth inning and still led 4-2 in the ninth when Hunter Strickland tried to close it out but didn’t. Brian Anderson led off with a walk and the next man up, J.T. Realmuto, doubled him in. Then Justin Bour walked, Cameron Maybin erased him with a fielder’s choice and took first base followed by Lewis Brinson singling in Realmuto. The next batter up, Miguel Rojas singled in Maybin to complete the rally which held up.

Dodgers vs. Cubs — POSTPONED:

Now I will stand in the rain on the corner
I watch the people go shuffling downtown
Another ten minutes no longer
And then I’m turning around, ’round
And the clock on the wall’s moving slower
Oh, my heart it sinks to the ground
And the storm that I thought would blow over
Clouds the light of the love that I found, found
Light of the love that I found
Light of the love that I found
Oh, that I found