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As spring training looms, there’s more optimism around the Colorado Rockies than ever before. It’s as if almost a quarter-century of baseball in Denver is coming to a head, with the promise of the playoffs—and maybe even something in the mold of another Rocktober—well within reach.
The Rockies preseason hype is well-deserved. The team boasts one of the most potent lineups in baseball, with star third baseman Nolan Arenado headlining an offense that led the National League in runs scored, hits, RBIs, slugging percentage, and batting average last season.
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Arenado, winner of four straight Gold Gloves and the 2016 National League co-leader in home runs with 41, is surrounded by phenom sophomore shortstop Trevor Story, reigning MLB batting champion DJ LeMahieu, and perennial All-Star outfielder Carlos Gonzales. Those lynchpins, alongside solid role players such as outfielders Charlie Blackmon and David Dahl, assure there will be no shortage of runs at 20th and Blake this summer.
Adding to the confidence is the arrival of a few new faces. Skipper Bud Black, who took over in November for the departed Walt Weiss and managed the San Diego Padres from 2007–15, brings a pitching background that includes 15 years as a big league hurler.
Plus, key offseason additions of Ian Desmond—who’s projected to fill the void at first base thanks to a five-year, $70 million contract in the largest free-agent deal ever for a Rockies position player—as well as righty reliever Greg Holland, lefty reliever Mike Dunn, and veteran slugger Mark Reynolds round out the Rockies where they need it most.
Still, a certain skepticism will hang over Salt River Fields in February, when the team heads to Scottsdale for training, that will likely follow them to Coors Field. Come spring, the Rockies will have to attempt to prove they have shored up their pitching enough to contend in the ultra-competitive National League West.
The team’s starting rotation is young but talented, as Jon Gray, Chad Bettis, and Tyler Chatwood have the capability to carry the team into October. Gray in particular has shown flashes of brilliance, as he becomes the farm-grown ace the team desperately needs. Whether all of that will be enough to overcome a bullpen that boasted an MLB-worst 5.13 ERA last season remains to be seen, and reversing that ugly trend will largely be up to the efforts of Holland, Dunn, and closer Adam Ottavino.
But even amid all the remaining question marks, a certain confidence should be felt among the palm trees of the Cactus League. The Rockies should play like a team that doesn’t just know it can win, but expects to win. Whether those expectations can match outcome depends on whether Black’s team rises to the hype, or—as so many Mile High teams have before—succumbs to it.