There's so many things I like about this year's version of the Rockies. They are deeper than before, they are better defensively than before, they battle all the way to the end of most every game, and they are extremely resilient after a tough loss.
Unfortunately, I think this club is in for a very rough few weeks as it approaches a stretch of baseball that's setting its sights on destroying what's been a very fun start to the season. This gloomy outlook is only temporary and less about me not trusting the Rockies and more about noting a few facts of life they are going to be dealing with over the next couple dozen games, but in any case, let's explore five of the biggest areas of upcoming concern.
1) The injuries are piling up
We're only in the first week of May, and the Rockies already have five important players on the DL. Two of them are major pieces of the rotation in Tyler Chatwood and Brett Anderson, and the others are last year's batting champion Michael Cuddyer, starting catcher Wilin Rosario, and a very useful bench depth piece in Josh Rutledge.
With Anderson gone until at least mid June and Chatwood now likely on the shelf until at least July, the Rockies are going to be forced to go at least seven men deep in their rotation for a significant amount of time. Jordan Lyles, Juan Nicasio, and Franklin Morales have done a tremendous job so far plugging the holes in what could rapidly become a leaky rotation, but there's a big difference between asking these guys to make up 60 percent of your rotation for a month and asking them to make up 60 percent of the rotation for half the season.
The depth here is considerably better than the last few seasons, and it's a major part of the early success. However, for the Rockies to truly reach their potential, the need to get a few trips around this rotation when it's at full strength, and it doesn't look like that's going to happen any time soon.
2) A long road ahead
After Tuesday, the Rockies play 16 of their next 22 games away from Coors Field; and it's not just the location of these games that are concerning, it's the quality of the opponents. Those 16 road games will take place in six different cities: Four against teams who won at least 90 games last season, another against a team who won 86 games last year, and an additional three game set against a Phillies team who can be tough if you run into the wrong part of their rotation. (Last time against the Phillies, the Rockies got lucky and missed Cliff Lee, Cole Hamels, and AJ Burnett. It's very unlikely they're this fortunate again)
The Rockies have never won more than 41 games on the road in their history, and even the 2009 team, which was able to accomplish that feat, closed the season 5-10 on the road over the last month and a half. In other words, every Rockies team is going to suffer through a rough stretch of games on the road, and this season's squad is probably about to go through that stretch.
3) The offense is likely unsustainable
As awesome as this onslaught from the bats has been, it's not going to continue at this rate. Right now, the Rockies lead the National League with a wRC+ of 117. However, there are several red flags here.
First, the Rockies have never posted a wRC+ for the season higher than 97. This is likely connected to the Coors Hangover effect, but regardless of the reason, the history of this franchise says that the Rockies don't finish the season with a wRC+ this high.
Secondly, the Rockies have the second highest batting average on balls in play (BABIP) of any team in baseball at .331. While the Rockies can naturally expect a higher BABIP than most teams because they play half their games at Coors Field, they should not expect it to continue to be this high. In fact, they've never finished with a BABIP higher than .322, and the average for the club since the humidor was put in place in 2002 is .311.
Additionally, the Rockies are hitting home runs at an unsustainable rate. Since HR/FB ratio started being tracked by fangraphs, the Rockies have never hit home runs per fly ball at a rate higher than 13.6%. So far this season, the team's HR/FB ratio is all the way up at 16.4%. The number is going to come down.
With all that said, I want to make it clear that I think this offense is one of the best the Rockies have ever assembled. They still have Tulo and Cargo in their primes, they've found a replacement leadoff hitter for Dexter Fowler in Charlie Blackmon, they have a budding superstar in Nolan Arenado at third, and they have more bench depth offensively than any Colorado team has had since 2009.
However, as many runs as I expect the Rockies to score, they are not going to continue to score them at this rate (especially when they hit a long road trip). Right now, the Rockies are on pace to score over 150 more runs than the next closest team in the National League. That's awesome in one sense, but it's also bad news in the sense that there's just no way it's going to continue.
4) May (not April) is the cruelest month
This could just be coincidence, but over the last decade, the Rockies have been utterly horrendous in the month of May. Take a look at these records...
In fact, if you go back and dig up the worst 13 months in Rockies history by winning percentage, five of them have come in May, and shockingly, the 10-18 mark in May of 2012 in NOT one of them.
I don't know what it is about this month (maybe it's where the Reverse Coors hangover Effect really sets in), but for some reason, it usually spells trouble for this club. Not surprisingly, May is the Rockies worst month by winning percentage historically.
5) The Rockies are not going to have another month this season where they get THIS much production from Tulo
I may be the biggest Troy Tulowitzki fan in the world, but even I know that the Rockies are going to start getting less production from shortstop soon. According to baseball reference, Tulo right now is on pace to post an 18.0 WAR season. To give you an idea of how absurd of a pace Tulo's on, I'll turn to history.
So far, there's only been one player to ever post a baseball reference WAR higher than 13.0 in a season, and that's Babe Ruth who in his career year in 1923 accumulated 14.0 WAR. I love Tulo, but even he's not that good. If he is, I'll get a tattoo of his final 2014 stat sheet on my back.
If he stays healthy, I think you're looking at season where Tulo posts an OPS over 1.000 and a WAR total that approaches 10.0, but an OPS over 1.200 and the best WAR pace in the history of baseball (!!!!!) is a tall task to maintain.
This is an issue for the Rockies because a large chunk of their success this season can be directly attributed to to Tulo's volcanic April. Even if he produces at normal MVP levels from here on out, it still represents a drop off in production from what the Rockies have received so far, and if the Rockies want to keep winning at their current pace, they are going to have to get production from other sources.
* * * * *
Combine all these things together, and the Rockies may have a tough time staying in the race over the next month. This team is better prepared to take on stormy seas than in years past, but they are sailing straight into a hurricane right now and will do well just to keep their head above water until the skies (hopefully) clear in June.
There is a silver lining to this cloud however. If the Rockies can make it to the first week of June with a winning record, you probably have something special here.
Cuddyer, Rutledge, and Rosario will all be back by that point, Anderson will be close to coming back, and Eddie Butler may not be far away from a call up.
Additionally, by the end of play on June 1, the Rockies will have played 33 games on the road and just 24 at home, so if the Rockies can play winning baseball with that, they REALLY should be able to play winning baseball when the schedule becomes home heavy.
Finally, if some of these outrageous hot starts to the season (particularly on offense) continue for another month, some of them become more likely to sustain themselves as we head into the summer since the sample size will be pretty decent at that point.
It's still early, but we're about to find out if this team is for real; because if this group is not a true contender, there's no way they'll be able to survive the gathering storm.