Between the end of our brief World Series appearance last fall and today, everything that's been said about the moves made by the Rockies should have included a caveat, such as in theory or well, that's what I'm seeing, anyway tagged to the end. Jayson Nix' defense will make us say, "Kaz who?" in theory. Kip Wells will blow chunks. Well, that's what my numbers are seeing, anyway. It could be anything like that, but you get the drift. Before today, it's all speculation. Some of the speculation has more secure footing in data analysis and observation, some of it comes from a horse's backside. As of now, it doesn't really matter, the words are empty and the actions start counting.
While some NL West pundits outside the organization are at least a bit concerned about us, many still have us on the outside of the division's top trio for 2008. Something of an anomaly that they aren't quite sure how to deal with, yet. That the numbers don't favor us right now, shouldn't be a concern. They didn't last season either, and we know how that worked out. Having the opposition's fanbase be cautiously skeptical beats the situation we were in last season when we were flat out ignored. The Rockies just need to go out now and show that they are the force to be reckoned with that we expect them to be.
I think what we have to pay attention to early this season are the following:
- Jason Hirsh's recovery needs to progress smoothly. Mark Redman and Franklin Morales are operating without a net right now, and whether that net becomes Hirsh being ready to come back or if it's Wells unexpectedly showing the command he needs to step up, we need some sign that indicates that our rotational depth is still there.
- Similarly, pay close attention to Greg Reynolds and Brandon Hynick in their minor league starts. We probably won't need them to be ready right away, but a progression to being ready by August will be crucial for the stretch run. It should be considered no coincidence that the three teams with the best records in the majors after August 1 last season, the Yankees (Phil Hughes, Ian Kennedy) Indians (Aaron Laffey) and Rockies (Morales, Ubaldo Jimenez), had critical contributions from fresh from the farm rookie pitchers.
- The bottom of the lineup in crucial situations. This ventures into the realm of luck, it's not a skill or predictable at all, but let's face it, luck will have a lot to do with how the season plays out -particularly in a clustered division like ours- and if the breaks don't fall our way, we could be in trouble. If they do, more pressure will be put on our opponents. With that in mind, watch how Torrealba/Iannetta and Nix respond in close and late and RISP situations. If the bounces go our way early, we shouldn't need to pray for another run like last season late in the year.
- Stadium to stadium performance. I had a post this offseason about measuring team offense that actually surprised me with the normal distribution pattern that appeared in teams' stadium to stadium performances in a given season. One part of what this indicated to me was that early season road trips could be more informative of a team's overall strength than I would have guessed. The Rockies will get one chance to perform in St. Louis this year, taking advantage of it -or not- might be an important sign of what's to come for the team in 2008. Maybe Jeff Francis is right to be nervous. Anyway, I'll be measuring our series in St. Louis and the D-backs go in Cincinnati as important early season barometers of team strength.
I'll have more up today about the series and the game thread, obviously, but this should do for now.