If you subscribe to the three act structure of storytelling, we're well into the season's second act - or "rising action". After two and a half months of the season, we have a much better idea of who the characters that define the 2013 Rockies' success or failure are. We've seen the team get off to a hot start, then cool off, then settle into a decidedly average team. Now it's time to see if Colorado can maintain or improve their position (just one game back in the NL West) entering the season's post-trade deadline third act.
Just how good Colorado's playoff chances are is somewhat up in the air. If you look simply at run differential and current record, as ESPN does (linked above), Colorado has about a 60% post-season chance. If you take into account Colorado's expected talent level and pre-season projections, as Baseball Prospectus does, it's closer to 30%. Though I'd like to be optimistic, I think the Rockies are closer to 30% than 60% to make the post-season - which still would make this season a resounding success from my point of view.
Here's a few ways that the Rockies can improve their chances:
End the Eric Young Jr. experience
Over the past few years, the Rockies were roundly criticized around these parts for using up a roster spot on a one-tool player...and they're doing it again in 2013. Jason Giambi had power (and good OBP) with zero defensive flexibility, while EY2 has speed...and enough flexibility to be a bad outfielder at every spot. At least Giambi didn't play much in 2012 - this year Young's 180 plate appearances rank him 6th on the team. Those plate appearances help make Eric Young Jr the league's least valuable position player thus far with -1.2 rWAR (2nd least valuable in the major leagues).
The sad thing is that I was really looking forward to what EY2 could do this year, given his excellence in a 196 plate appearance stint in the Year That Shall Not Be Named, in which he hit .316/.377/.448 with 14 steals. Unfortunately, he's also had two other seasons that resembled 2013 much more than last year. At this point, he is what he is - a 28 year-old reserve player with a career .261/.329/.342 line, below average defense, lots of strikeouts, and above average speed.
Colorado has a glut of outfielders in the high minors. It's time to move on from EY2 and bring up a player like Charlie Blackmon, who will bring speed and some better defense to the table, to improve the bench production.
Bring back Josh Rutledge
DJ LeMahieu started off strong, then slumped for a little bit, then has gotten a few hits recently to improve his line this year to .270/.341/.365 in 83 PAs. Perfectly reasonable production for a second baseman, especially one with the defensive skills LeMahieu brings to the table. He should definitely be on the big league roster.
So should Rutledge. He's one of the fastest players on the 40 man roster, he's got some pop, and his defense is acceptable at the position (albeit a little below average). Both Rutledge and LeMahieu are 24 and both are still developing players, though one could argue that LeMahieu is more polished and Rutledge has a higher ceiling. Either way, both players belong on the roster if Colorado is serious about contending this season.
Jonathan Herrera, believe it or not, is starting to grow on me as a part of this team with his great contact ability, positional flexibility, and black magic...but he's still not the best player for a middle infield reserve spot on this team. The 28 year-old's had 971 plate appearances in the big leagues and he's been a career replacement level player. It's time to see what Rutledge and LeMahieu can do in a platoon situation.
Make some sense of the starting rotation
Colorado has to make a decision on Roy Oswalt within the next six days, even while they have five healthy starters plus Drew Pomeranz in queue. Jeff Francis is the current weak link in the Rockies rotation - but as Bryan noted yesterday, there is no guarantee that Oswalt will provide better production than Francis did - and unless the club sticks Francis in the bullpen, they'll lose the depth he provides. Similarly, Pomeranz has the talent and the stuff to succeed at the big league level, but he continues to be somewhat inefficient in AAA.
Unless Jorge De La Rosa's injury is serious enough to merit a DL stint (or if Francis gets put in the bullpen), something's going to have to give. There's no great answer, but my move would be to stash Francis in the pen (not that he would be especially effective there, but I'd rather not lose him if we don't have to) long enough to give Oswalt a couple of turns in the rotation, after which the situation could be re-evaluated. And Pomeranz...well, if a slot opens up due to injury, the Rockies need to give him a chance at the major league level.
Stop sacrifice bunting with position players so much
Seriously. It's a negative move in almost every situation with a position player at bat (and often even with a pitcher). I get how when EY2 and Dexter do it, it could be a hit with their speed. I'd still rather have them swing the bat. Stop giving away outs!
Those are hardly ground-breaking changes - the biggest determinant for Colorado's success is really keeping the star players healthy and effective - but in a playoff race every little bit helps.
The Rockies already made a move necessary to max out the team's playoff chances in calling up Tyler Colvin - and he's already made a big difference. Colvin is glad he's back and is ready to contribute.
Grant Brisbee wrote a couple of things. One about a few draft picks you should root for (including the Rockies' 3rd rounder) and another about organizational droughts in developing star center-fielders.