SCOTTSDALE, Arizona — Last year the Rockies led the National League in runs scored (845). It was one of the reasons the Rox improved by seven wins over 2015.
Unfortunately, they also allowed the second-most runs in the league, 860. It was the third year in a row, and fourth in the last five, that Colorado’s pitching staff had allowed 800 or more runs.
And therein lies the franchise’s main issue: How do you put together a playoff team when it’s so difficult to pitch successfully at Denver’s altitude? The Rockies’ World Series team in 2007 allowed 100 runs less than that, and their 2009 playoff team allowed 715, which is the franchise’s best in a non-labor-dispute season.
You see the problem here, I suspect. The Rockies return some pretty good starters from last year: Chad Bettis, Tyler Chatwood and Jon Gray. But only Chatwood managed to keep his ERA under 4.00. The next three starters on Colorado’s depth chart, Tyler Anderson, German Marquez and Jeff Hoffman, combined for 28 big-league starts last year (19 of them by Anderson). Anderson and Hoffman are both former No. 1 picks, so they’ve got talent. Hoffman was acquired by the Rockies in the Troy Tulowitzki trade. If those guys can translate their talent into being able to pitch at Coors Field, this could be a pretty good staff.
Colorado has signed former Royal Greg Holland to close. Holland did not pitch at all last year after undergoing Tommy John surgery in September 2015. That should be enough time for him to recover; he was excellent for K.C. in 2013 and 2014, but did not pitch for them in their World Series-winning postseason in 2015, which allowed current Cubs closer Wade Davis to get the W.S. glory.
You’ll notice I haven’t mentioned the Rockies’ hitting at all. You know they’ll hit, this has never been an issue for this team. They have one of the game’s best players in Nolan Arenado, Carlos Gonzalez had another good year last year, and the Cubs were rumored interested in center fielder Charlie Blackmon, who had the best year of his career in 2016. Trevor Story, a great... story early in the season, had his year ruined by injury, but he’ll be back. The only change for the Rox is at first base, where they have signed free agent Ian Desmond. Desmond has played exactly zero games at first base as a professional, so he’ll be learning the position as he goes. He ought to hit well in Denver, though.
On August 3, 2016 the Rockies beat the Dodgers and were over .500 at 54-53, at the time just three games behind the Cardinals for the second wild-card spot. But from then to the end of the season they went 21-34, the worst record in the National League.
So which are the real Rockies? Could they contend as they briefly did last year? They haven’t had a winning season since their franchise-record 92 wins in 2009. They do have a new manager, Bud Black, who has a reputation as being able to work well with pitchers, so perhaps he’s the answer to their longtime pitching issues.
Cubs vs. Rockies in 2017:
May 8-9-10 at Colorado
June 8-9-10-11 at Wrigley