The Baseball Notebook

March 16, 2010 11:00 AM

Colorado Rockies Preview

Colorado made a run to the postseason last year in what proved to be an improbably tough NL West, establishing that the 2007 miracle pennant was no fluke and that this organization is ready to take its place with the Broncos, Nuggets and Avalanche as a consistent contender in this sports-crazy town in the Rocky Mountains.

As befits a team that plays in Coors Field, they are going to have to do it with offense. Todd Helton, Troy Tulowitzki and Brad Hawpe are all major offensive forces. They may have a fourth wheel to go with them in left fielder Carlos Gonzalez. After coming in from Oakland, he enjoyed a breakout year, with a .353 on-base percentage and .525 slugging. Defense could use some work, but at a corner position offense is the primary responsibility and Gonzalez appears ready to keep providing that.

The core four are surrounded by Dexter Fowler, a consistent on-base threat. Then you tack on catcher Chris Ianetta and third baseman Ian Stewart, who chip in with some decent power, and you have an offense whose only weak link is the pitcher’s spot and second baseman Clint Barmes. The latter doesn’t field his position very well either, marking that the biggest problem area on this team.

Colorado’s pitching is serviceable if not great, at least in the starting rotation. Ubaldo Jiminez is the ace, having won 15 games and logged 218 innings last year. The 3.47 ERA isn’t bad for Coors Field, but he’s also facing National League lineups. That ERA would be very good if he pitched in the AL East, but it’s only above average in this context. Aaron Cook slots in behind him, and Jorge De La Rosa gives Clint Hurdle a respectable 1-2-3 to come back too. The wild-card in all this is Jeff Francis. The ace of the 2007 staff, he’s back from shoulder surgery. If he can pitch well, Colorado’s starting pitching upgrades from decent to very good.

Relief help is the problem. The Rocks are relying heavily on castoffs from American League teams to do their setup work, from Juan Rincon (Twins) to Justin Speier (Angels). Both were once among the best in their roles and those are the kinds of acquisitions that would have caught me eye and suckered me into thinking that burgeoning greatness was possible. But after years of seeing names like this wash out (they had ERAs of 6.87 and 5.18 respectively), I’m not ready to think Colorado has anything but serious problems here. They desperately need another AL castoff, Rafael Betancourt (Cleveland) to get healthy and fast. The same goes for Huston Street in the closer’s role. He had 35 saves last year and is experiencing modest shoulder problems. This is the area that will cost Colorado a return trip to the playoffs if they can’t get healthy and effective

Up Next: Tampa Bay Rays tomorrow
Final NL West Picks & Preview: March 31

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