As April dawns, the boys of summer begin their annual trek north from the cacti of Arizona and palm trees of Florida to their respective homes, keen to ply their dusty trade through a simmering July and, hopefully, into October’s chill, where the fortunate few will realize their childhood dreams of playing for the hallowed World Series trophy while reminding us all of the youthful glory that is America’s grand old game, and…
OK, enough with that saccharine Rockwell crap. Baseball’s back, and in Denver that means it’s time for what’s become our (read: my) annual spring ritual: picking apart the Rockies.
Last week, co-owner Dick Monfort inspired raised eyebrows, if not peals of laughter, when he told the Denver Post’s Mark Kiszla that he thought this year’s team has a realistic shot at 90 wins. (They’ll have to go 89-69 to hit that lofty goal after dropping three of four this week to the Florida Marlins, whose record last season was a subterranean 62-100.)
The core of Monfort’s prediction involves keeping stars Carlos Gonzalez and Troy Tulowitzki healthy: When they’re both right, the team isn’t half bad, with a winning percentage—.528—that translates to about 86 Ws over a full season. (Monfort told Kiszla he thought the figure was 60 percent, or 96 wins. It’s not.)
Unfortunately, these two all stars have combined to miss almost 290 games during the past three campaigns, a primary reason the team has finished in fourth or fifth place in the National League West in that span. Hopefully, they can stay on the field in 2014, but no one would bet the ranch on it happening.
Another explanation for the Rockies’ recent struggles is as old as the team itself: pitching. The franchise finally seems to realize that no sane top-line free agent hurler will ever agree to pitch half his games at this altitude; ergo, they’d better develop their arms from within. For the first time in memory, the Rockies actually possess two young starters, Jon Gray and Eddie Butler, who any team would love to have in the pipeline. Both are currently pitching for AA Tulsa, and Butler is expected to reach the big leagues first, maybe even this year.
They can’t arrive soon enough, because Jorge De La Rosa, the Rockies’ purported “ace,” delivers a quality start—at least six innings pitched while allowing three or fewer earned runs (which, by the way, still leaves you with a mediocre ERA of 4.50)—less than half the time and has his own history of injuries.
The bullpen isn’t much better. Despite revamping its relievers with regularity, the Rockies’ pen has been one of the worst in baseball the past few years and is off to a rough start in 2014, allowing 11 runs in its first 12 innings. The group is led by closer LaTroy Hawkins, 41, who hasn’t been in this role over an entire season since 2004 and has been around so long he once played with the late Kirby Puckett, who was inducted into the Hall of Fame 13 years ago.
To top it off, the Rockies are looking up at an NL West that features the rejuvenated Padres, the always-scrappy D-Backs, the (recent) two-time World Series champion Giants, and the Dodgers, who have chosen to take the Yankees route for the foreseeable future by spending everyone else into submission. (Their payroll this year is an obscene $235 million-plus, almost two-and-a-half times the Rockies’ $95.8 million.)
No one expects the Monforts to keep pace with that kind of spending, nor would we want them to. It would be much more sensible (and rewarding) to follow the small- and mid-market blueprint of franchises like the Pirates, A’s, and Rays and build from within. But given that these hopelessly loyal owners have once again handed the keys to Dan O’Dowd—he of the two playoff appearances in 14 years as GM—it would be foolish to assume they’ve finally figured out the magic formula.
Monfort has said many times that he wants to make Coors Field one of the crown jewels of Major League Baseball. Well, mission accomplished and mazel tov: You did it. It doesn’t change the fact that we current and would-be Rockies fans are still waiting for the quality of play on the field to even approach, let alone match, the sparkling amenities in the stands.
—Image courtesy of Shutterstock