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Colorado Rockies and six questions for the 2017 second half

The Rockies are in a good position, but they still face some pressing second-half questions

Here’s what we know about the 2017 Colorado Rockies. Their 52-39 record at the All-Star Break is the best in team history. Despite going 5-13 leading up to the break, the Rockies have a 7.5 game lead for the final Wild Card spot, and they had four players selected for the All-Star game. All of us who watched this team limp into the opener in April should take a minute to reflect on how truly unexpected this run has been.

However, the Rockies brass is going to have to answer a number of major questions that loom large over the second half of the season. What Bridich, Black, and co. decide will determine whether we will have baseball past October 1.

So here is what we don’t know.

What to Do with the Starting Rotation

The rookie quartet of starters is largely responsible for the first-half record. But their success has created an eight-arm jam. Antonio Senzatela has already been sent down, leaving Jon Gray, Kyle Freeland, Jeff Hoffman, Germán Márquez, and Tyler Chatwood in the rotation. Sooner than later, Tyler Anderson and Chad Bettis will both be back. And Senzatela could be back in short-order, too.

So who goes? Gray is an ace in the making. Freeland just came one weak single away from throwing a no-hitter and has been the most consistent rookie pitcher. Chatwood’s stuff and relative experience will probably keep him in the rotation despite the inconsistencies.

That leaves two spots for four pitchers. It’s difficult to make an argument that Anderson should replace either Márquez or Hoffman. Here are Anderson’s numbers in 62.1 innings before the injury:

  • 6.21 ERA
  • 1.54 WHIP
  • 0.1 WAR

Compare that to what Márquez (who will probably be the one left without a chair) has done in his 76 innings this season:

  • 4.36 ERA
  • 1.40 WHIP
  • 1.6 WAR

What about Hoffman? Despite the 9-run dumpster fire against the D-backs, Hoffman still has solid numbers after 56 innings:

  • 4.15 ERA
  • 1.15 WHIP
  • 1.4 WAR

Plus, Márquez and Hoffman both have the stuff to be top-of-the-rotation starters; Anderson is probably a career fourth or fifth starter. He could return to last year’s form when he was the Rockies’ best pitcher during the second half of the season. That is possible. It’s also possible that Hoffman or Márquez has an even better second half. On the other hand, neither Hoffman nor Márquez has pitched the amount of innings in a season that would be necessary to make it through September. The Rockies probably don’t want to take a chance on two promising young arms.

Then there’s Bettis. Everyone is rooting for him to return at full strength and contribute to a playoff run. But inserting him into the rotation will necessarily push someone like Hoffman or Márquez out.

Granted, these are good problems to have. But we will see a lot of shuffling over the coming months as Bud Black figures out how to sort out the arms.

What to Do with the Bullpen

A related question, of course, is what to do with the bullpen. Any one of the starters who gets sent down will be a welcome addition. But what about the rest of the relievers not named Chris Rusin or Greg Holland? The bullpen looked like a strength for the Rockies through the first two months of the season, but the last 30 days should have the Rockies scouring the league for reinforcements.

Here are some unnerving ERAs for the Rockies middle relief since June 7:

  • Ottavino: 13.50
  • Oberg: 6.35
  • Dunn: 6.23
  • Lyles 5.68
  • McGee: 5.25

Chris Rusin has been reliable, as usual, but the only other reliever besides Holland to have a sub-5 ERA is Senzatela, who is pitching for the Isotopes at the moment. (The Rockies claim to be “stretching him out,” but it seems highly unlikely he’ll return to the starting rotation this year. So who knows what they have in mind.) The bullpen has a 3-6 record combined with a 5.82 ERA during this span, resulting in a disastrous -0.6 WAR.

While Jake McGee and Adam Ottavino should get things straightened out moving forward, Mike Dunn and Scott Oberg are shaky, and Jordan Lyles simply needs to go.

The Rockies are aware of the bullpen issues, which is why they are consistently coming up in trade rumors over the last few weeks. The Marlins’ closer AJ Ramos, White Sox closer David Robertson, and Padres reliever Brad Hand would be a big help. And the Rockies have the prospects to make one or two deals like that happen. But will they?

What to Do with the Outfield

Even bigger questions surround the offense. Much of the offensive woes this season stem from the corner outfield positions, specifically Carlos González and Ian Desmond. The first and third highest paid Rockies players have a combined -1.5 WAR and a grand total of 11 home runs.

The Rockies have to be realistic about what CarGo can do over the second half. He currently has the eighth worst slugging percentage in all of baseball. His .299 on-base percentage is good for 147th; he has the 11th worst OPS. It’s bad. Really bad. In fact, it’s not hard to make the argument that CarGo was literally the worst player in baseball the first half of the season.

While Desmond’s .283 average seems respectable, other numbers tell a different story. He’s slugging well below league average and getting on base below league average. His -0.5 WAR is a career worst and not what the Rockies were expecting when they signed him to a 5-year, $70 million deal in the offseason.

Fortunately, the Rockies have gotten outfield production elsewhere. Here’s what Gerardo Parra and Ramiel Tapia have done in limited time:

  • Parra (52 games): .335 BA / .864 OPS / 6 HRs / 33 RBI
  • Tapia (36 games): .323 BA / .375 OBP / .865 OPS

David Dahl is finally rehabbing, too, so the Rockies have a third promising option. As a reminder, here’s what he did in the second half last year:

  • Dahl (63 games): .315 BA / .859 OPS / 7 HRs

It’s hard to imagine the Rockies benching CarGo. It might be even harder to imagine them benching their major off-season acquisition after just half a season. Are the Rockies going to ride out CarGo’s extended slump and wait patiently on Desmond’s power to return? Or are they going to make a bold decision and run with the hot bats before it’s too late?

What to Do at First Base

Mark Reynolds had a great first half. He was a borderline All-Star. No doubt about it. But there are some indications that he won’t be putting up similar numbers during the second half. His BA, SLG and OPS this season are all career highs, and his on-base percentage is the second highest of his career. But after 11 seasons, Reynolds’ average production is well established; it’s unlikely he’ll shatter those averages in his age-33/4 season.

He’s already cooling off. Since June 7, Reynolds has a .258 BA and just three of his 19 homers. Like all Rockies fans, I hope he keeps it going. He’s a pro, a good teammate, a defensive asset, and a great story. But can the Rockies assume they have first base covered for the remainder of the season? Reynolds is one more month of slumping away from becoming a liability. Do the Rockies have a legitimate replacement if he falls off? Desmond? CarGo?

What to Do at Shortstop

Trevor Story has shown some signs of life lately, but his .224 BA and .303 OBP are well below league average and the production we saw from him in the first half last year. Even after spending time on the DL, Story has the 11th most strikeouts in baseball. His defense could keep him on the field for the rest of the season, but with Pat Valaika showing he can be a productive alternative, maybe some time in Triple-A would help Story tighten up his swing.

The Rockies could also look to trade for a shortstop like the RedsZack Cozart who is rumored to be available. Cozart would be a rental, but he would allow Story to work on his swing in Albuquerque while bolstering the struggling offense. What the Rockies do in the coming weeks will give us some indication of whether they see Story as a long-term anchor at shortstop or a placeholder for Brendan Rodgers.

What to Do at Third Base

Nolan is a stud. What we don’t know is if the Rockies are willing to pony up the cash needed to keep him long term. Arenado will almost certainly fetch at least a 5- to 8-year deal of at least $200 million. Some estimates have that number even higher. With CarGo and José Reyes coming off the books next year, will Dick Monfort go all in to make Arenado the face of the franchise?

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These are team-level questions, and the answers could move the needle. Ultimately, the Rockies are in a good place, and the most pressing question is whether or not what the team does or doesn’t do can lead to a second half that results in at least a .500 record. If the Rockies go 35-36 the rest of the way, they’ll end up with 87 wins, which would put them in position for their first playoff appearance since 2009. Really, that’s the only question that matters.