I'm not sure exactly where the line is where you can start looking at a season without getting slapped with "SSS" but before the season started I looked at the schedule and thought that today would be a pretty good early checkpoint. We've just been through a 16-game stretch that featured several bugaboos from years past: April, New York, Pittsburgh, cold weather, and (as it turned out) 1-run games. It was a tough stretch early in the season, culminating with a series against the world champions. It seemed like a good test for a team that expected to contest for the division.
I had thought, going into the season, that a 9-7 record through this stretch would be "acceptable" while 10-6 or better would be "good". Actually, the Rockies posted a 12-4 record, which would have to be considered "great".
It's true that most of the 12 wins were against teams most think of as not very good, and we lost 2 of 3 to the Giants. However, last year we didn't win 6 games in New York and Pittsburgh. We do have to beat the Giants at some point to win the division, but getting the early road wins in the books is huge. At this point, if the Rockies play mere .500 ball the rest of the season, they'll end up with 89 wins. Contrast this to years past when we had to have miracle runs just to catch up. The fact is that Rockies fans have only known one season (1995) where they could look in the rearview mirror at their competiton through most of the season. It's great to have a chance to play with the lead.
Before the season started, these seemed like the keys to watch:
- 2 out of 3 of Ian Stewart, Seth Smith, and Chris Iannetta need to step up their game offensively -- Seth Smith has certainly stepped up, bettering his career numbers in just about every category. Iannetta is a mixed bag. His OBP is way up (due to walks), but his average remains at .200 and he's still striking out way too much. He's moved into the job of everyday starting catcher well enough, but there's definitely still room for improvement here. Obviously Ian missed most of spring training and needs a do-over in AAA, but I still think two of those three will be sufficient.
- starting rotation needs to remain healthy -- not so well here, but we've used our pitching depth and have had a few terrific fill-in performances which have limited the damage. This remains my number one concern with the team.
Going forward some of the big questions I see are:
- how do the Rockies fare against the best teams in the league, especially with Hammel and Rogers pitching? (we'll find out about this in May)
- does Todd Helton's back have enough in it to get through a season at the level of production we've seen OR does Ian Stewart make a recovery? (this is important because Wigginton cannot play 1st and 3rd simultaneously)
In the next 9 games (3 in FL, 3 in CHI, 3 at home vs PIT), using the rule of .500 on the road and 2/3 at home, I'd consider 5 wins "acceptable" and 6 or better "good". We'll see where we are on May 2, before heading back into divisional play.
How have things gone so far this season compared to your pre-season expectations? What things are you looking for over the next couple of weeks?