Greetings and salutations, fair denizens of Rockies Nation. (Lookit me, changing it up here.) Welcome to the first edition of Rockies Rewind (with Silver!), which means that I am now a name brand. Woot woot. In his introductory primer for new fans, Andrew Martin has given you to expect:
After a long week of Rockies baseball, Silverblood graces us all with a curmudgeonly bard's tale of the week we just witnessed. Expect overreactions, gut instincts, and typically something to laugh at, or at least make you nod your head and say "yeah...YEAH!"
let me see here
/recites Shakespearean sonnet
/shouts, "YOU KIDS GET OFF MY LAWN"
/AARON COOK IS GUNNA BE HURT THE WHOLE SEASON AND UBALL DIDN'T HAVE A 0.00 ERA IN SPRING TRAINING, WE ARE PATENTLY TEH DOOMED
/Carlos Gonzalez is totally gonna win the MVP this year
/ lame knock-knock joke
ROCKIES ARE THE BEST, OFF TO HECK WITH ALL THE REST
If you feel as if this has fit the bill, join me after the jump for a quick recap of Spring Training, and a look ahead to the glorious Elysian fields of the Regular Season (tm) that await us. In only five days. Booya.
I apologize for not doing an edition before this, but there are a few factors that conspired to prevent me. First, I don't think anyone really needs to read about what luminaries like Matt Macri and Eric Stults got up to in their spring tilts against everyone else's B-squads. Second, because my home internet connection remains slightly less reliable than Hannibal Lector, will undoubtedly die at least three times before I finish this post, and generally makes Rowbumming much more of a chore than it should be -- in other words, if you're reading this right now, call the Vatican and report a miracle. Besides, I haven't had time to pay much attention to the Rockies this spring. Not until the games actually matter. By now, I'm sure that we've all had our fill of fake baseball, and are ready to get the real thing on tap.
Not as if spring hasn't been enjoyable. By their split-squad victories today, and with two more games left before their exhibition at Double-A Tulsa, the Rockies achived a 20-9 W/L record, good for best in both the Cactus League and the entire NL. It goes without saying that we would all be tickled pink if they would just bust out the gate like this once the games actually matter, but it equally goes without saying that spring results simply do not. There is no more compelling proof of this than the team sitting atop the AL with an 18-10 mark: those fearsome Kansas City Royals. I don't know about you, but I totally had them down to win the Central this year. Totally. Yep.
Nonetheless, there are certainly grounds to hope that a characteristically sluggish April/May start might finally be overcome. Of course, any list of happy things for a Rockies fan begins with three names: Ubaldo Jimenez, Troy Tulowitzki, and Carlos Gonzalez. U-ball brought his spring ERA down to 3.26 today (come on man, you're slacking) and Tulo and CarGo are hitting .310 and .333 respectively. But even superheroes need sidekicks, and as has been demonstrated for the past two years, the team can't win games by these three alone performing at high levels (although it certainly helps). They're going to need plenty of help from the supporting cast, and as Jim Armstrong pointed out in the Post a few days ago, any road to competitiveness in the NL West starts and ends with an arms race. The Giants won a World Series last year (ugh, that sentence never gets any less annoying) largely on the backs of their hurlers. The Padres have an All-Nasty bullpen (and of course, a park where homers go to die). The Dodgers are never to be overlooked, and Kershaw is only getting better. The D'backs are, well, the D'backs, but the Rockies always seem to have trouble with them for some reason.
Against that, the Rockies' starting five currently stacks up as Ubaldo, JDLR, Jhoulys Chacin, Jason Hammel, and Esmil Rogers. Of these, Hammel looks like Jeff Francis with a 92-93 mph heater; everyone else can dial it up to the high nineties and above. Of course, as Nuke LaLoosh can probably tell you, velocity alone does not equal success, especially if you have no idea where the ball is going (a plague that both Chacin and Rogers are going to struggle with to some degree). But this, combined with a stock of power arms in the bullpen (Paulino, Lindstrom, Betancourt, etc) will hopefully herald a shift away from the conservative pitch-to-contact strategy that has often bedeviled us in the past. However, the 'pen is probably my biggest concern from where I sit here on March 27. Street and Betancourt both had health and efficiency problems last year, Franklin Morales still scares me, and Paulino and Lindstrom are in their first years with the club. Matt Belisle is no longer flying under the radar, of course, but shouldn't be asked to be the only stalwart aboard the Good Ship Bullpen. A lot of games will be won or lost in the early going depending on how quickly the relief is relieving. Fan favourite Matt Daley, in a bit of a surprising move considering he was carrying an 0.00 spring ERA, was demoted to AAA, but will very likely be back up later.
As for position battles, the only two of much note are at second base and backup catcher. Jonathan Herrera has outperformed Jose Lopez by a considerable margin (.415/.592/.362 to .304/.308/.250) but it remains to be seen if he's an everyday player, and the question is whether you want a singles hitter like Herrera against the power of Lopez. Of course, second base isn't generally a premium power position, and there have to be guys on base for the muscle elsewhere in the order to drive home, so if Herrera can carry his impressive Cactus League performance into the regular season, he'll probably get first shot. And then if he flags, Lopez can be rotated in, and vice versa. Hopefully Tracy won't go overboard on the tinkering.
As for backup backstop, Jose Morales has "quietly" managed to hit .391 this spring, handily outstripping former Cardinals second-stringer Matt Pagnozzi's .286. The role of the backup catcher has always been a point of contention (to put it delicately) around here, after Yorvit Torrealba and Chris Iannetta were switched in and out over the past few seasons, but Torrealba is gone and Iannetta is hitting .344, which would be more reassuring if it wasn't, you know, spring. But it is true that new hitting coach Carney Lansford has been fooling with his mechanics, so there could be some lasting improvement in store. Everybody knows, especially Iannetta, that the starting catching job has once more been thrown into his lap and is his for the losing, so we'll have to see what transpires once the calendar hits April. Jeez, this is why I hate spring training. It's so tempting to produce all sorts of conjectures from pretty numbers (or, for that matter, ugly ones) but it's always promptly proved pointless.
Team-wise, my chief worry is health. The Rockies had a disproportionate number of visits from the injury fairy last year, and maybe that's just bad luck that will even out (although I imagine the Cardinals don't want to hear about it after losing Adam Wainwright for the season, and failing to get Pujols extended). So long as the unit stays intact, it has a better-than-average chance of better-than-average performance, but fiddling around with spot starters and AAA replacements is going to bite you in the butt, plain and simple. The days of the NL Worst are long, long gone, and I won't lie, I'm not sure if I see the Rockies as the favorites to start it off. When you have the defending World Series champions in your division (as painful as it is) then you're going to have to swallow that bitter reality pill. They're certainly not "entitled" to win the West, although they have an excellent shot. What the Rockies are also going to have to do is to prove that the days of stumbling under high expectations are behind them. They need to beat weaker teams, they need to beat fifth starters and junkballers instead of getting shut down, they need to win on the road, and they need to win one-run games.
All this stuff has been gone over in exhausting detail, of course. But until the Rockies actually do it, they can't honestly be classified as an elite team. A pretty good one, yes. And considering the amount of talent on this roster, there's no reason to think they can't take that step. Leave it all on the field.
Come this April Fool's Day, I will be wearing Rockies hat, shirt, and whatever else to work. I will feel reborn. Everything will suddenly be a little bit better. The chase will begin. And for the next 162 games, America's pastime will breathe life into a tattered country, and tell its stories one more time.
And what else can you ask for, after all?