The Coors Effect

July 15, 2010 9:16 AM

Five reasons the Rockies will win the NL West

Eighteen years.  The Rockies have been a Major League team for 18 years, and in that time they've never won a division title.

Granted, winning a division title doesn't mean quite as much as it used to.  Before 1994, winning the division was the only way to get to the postseason; now, there's the wild card, which the Rockies have won three times in their history (1995, 2007, and 2009.)  And the Rockies have even won the National League once, which is better than winning a division title.  In addition, you could argue that winning the division is a smidge easier now that there are only five teams in the division, as opposed to the seven that were in the pre-1994 divisions.

Still, though, it would be a nice accomplishment, to finally do the one thing (aside from winning the World Series) that has eluded the Rockies all these years.  And I think that 2010 is the season for that to finally happen.  Here are five reasons why, despite trailing the Padres by two games, I think the Rockies are the favorites to win the West this season.

1.  The offense.  Among the current starters, only three have been below average in terms of OPS this season.  But two of those are Dexter Fowler and Jonathan Herrera -- the first two hitters in the Rockies' batting order.  Both are seeing their OPS suffer because they don't hit for a lot of power, but they're both good at getting on base, which is more important for a leadoff or number two hitter.  And, I still expect Fowler to improve on his first-half performance, perhaps bringing his average to around .270 or so by season's end -- which, with his propensity for drawing walks, will give him a very strong OBP in the leadoff spot.  While I don't expect Herrera to keep this up (in a full season at Colorado Springs last year, he hit just .268, and he was hitting .286 before getting called up this season), Herrera will only be starting as long as Tulowitzki is out anyway.  Oh yeah, Tulowitzki -- he was having a really good season before he got hurt, and he can only help the Rockies when he returns.

Aside from that, there doesn't appear to be anybody who's obviously playing over their head right now.  Maybe Olivo, in terms of batting average at least -- the highest BA he's ever hit for in the majors is .263, and he's hitting .325 right now -- but the power is real in his case.  This is a team that's so deep that Seth Smith, with an .894 OPS and 12 homers, has started just two games in the last two weeks, and that's even with Brad Hawpe missing considerable time during that stretch.  This team's offense is good, and that's even with Hawpe slumping for much of the season (or maybe just hitting the wall -- as a 31-year-old, "old player skills" guy, he might just be entering his decline phase.)  Carlos Gonzalez is having a full-on breakout year, and again, this offense will only get better when Tulowitzki returns.

2.  The pitching.  Much like the offense is pretty solid from top to bottom, the pitching is solid as well.  Ubaldo Jimenez, of course, is very good, but behind him the Rockies have a few pitchers who can be very good.  Jason Hammel has been very good at times this season, while Aaron Cook and Jeff Francis have been good in the past and Jorge de la Rosa can be very good (though, of course, he can also be very bad...)  And if any of them gets hurt, Jhoulys Chacin might actually be an improvement -- in the first half, he struck out 9.4 batters per nine innings.  And the bullpen is very solid -- Huston Street, when he's on, is as good a closer as any in baseball, while Matt Belisle and Joe Beimel have been very good in their roles this year.  Rafael Betancourt has actually been unlucky this year, with an ERA over 5 despite excellent peripherals, so he could be better in the second half.

3.  The Padres seem due for a correction.  Remember the beginning of the season?  Everybody was pegging the Padres to finish last in the division, for Adrian Gonzalez to be traded by the deadline, and the Padres to be in contention for the number one pick in the 2011 draft, not for them to be in contention for a playoff spot.  While they've certainly looked far better than that, well... let's just say there was a reason why this team was expected to be so bad.

On paper, the Padres don't seem to be playing over their heads.  Their pitching has been legitimately good, while their offense has been just good enough.  Still, though, I watched the Padres play in Houston earlier this season, and, well, I just didn't get the sense that this is a playoff team.  Jon Garland was pitching that night, and while he pitched well, you got the sense that that had more to do with the Astros being bad than anything else.  And the Padres couldn't do anything but scrape out a couple of runs off Felipe Paulino.

And you get the sense that a lot of that has happened this season, as the Padres have struggled against the good teams on the schedule.  The Padres are 4-8 against the Rockies this season, and 1-4 against the Dodgers.  We'll see if their two-game lead in the division can hold up, but right now, color me skeptical on the Padres having the goods to win the division.

4.  The Dodgers' pitching won't hold up.  That's a blanket statement, and the Dodgers do have a very good offense and two good front-line starters in Clayton Kershaw and Chad Billingsley, though Billingsley hasn't been that terrific this year.  And Hiroki Kuroda is solid as well.  Still, outside of Jonathan Broxton, is there anyone in the Dodger bullpen who you can really trust with the game on the line?  Maybe Hong-Chih Kuo.  Other than that, though, you're depending on a lot of guys who, ahem, aren't all that dependable with the game on the line.  And they're going to need to, because none of the three of Kershaw, Billingsley, and Kuroda are exactly a work-horse, innings-eating type.  All three are averaging six innings per start, which isn't bad or anything, but it does mean that it's tough to expect them to go eight innings and hand the ball off to Broxton.  And Vicente Padilla has been good so far, but let's not forget that this is Vicente Padilla we're talking about.

5.  The Giants have been terrible against the contenders.  And 30 of the 74 games remaining on the schedule are against the Padres, Dodgers, and Rockies -- three teams against which the Giants are 6-18 this season.  The Giants will go as far as their pitching staff can take them (which, of course, is a long way.)  Their offense is markedly improved with the trade of Bengie Molina (seriously, how'd they get the Rangers to give up actual prospects for him?) but still not great, and they've essentially been a .500 team for most of May and June.  We'll see how they hold up down the stretch, but they're obviously going to need to start winning some games against the other contenders in the West.  Which they haven't done so far.

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