2009 COLORADO ROCKIES PREVIEW
The Rockies were very disappointing last year. After getting hot late in the 2007 season, they ran roughshod over the National League and found themselves in the World Series. While they fell short, expectations were high going into 2008 and their subsequent 74-88 finish was a bitter pill to take. Since the end of the season, the Rockies have been very active, dealing superstar outfielder Matt Holiday to Oakland for young pitching and have also said goodbye to former closer Brian Fuentes.
This season could be a step back in the right direction for the Rockies, though Holiday’s extremely dangerous bat will be missed. The Rockies will have to find consistent starting pitching to field a winning team and their offense must find a way to replace Holliday’s excellent production.
The Rockies have a fairly solid top end of their rotation, led by Aaron Cook (16-9. 3.96 ERA, 32 starts, 211 IP). Ubaldo Jimenez (12-12, 3.99 ERA, 34 starts, 198 IP) is also a solid young starter but doesn’t have a long track record. Jason Marquis (11-9, 4.53 ERA, 28 starts) had a bounce back year after coming over from Chicago and Jorge De La Rosa (10-8, 4.92 ERA, 23 starts) was the most consistent he’s ever been in his career. Expect both to produce fairly similar numbers this season. The Rockies look like they could play the 2009 season without Jeff Francis (4-10, 5.01 ERA, 24 starts), who may needs season-ending surgery. However, young lefty Greg Smith (7-16, 4.16 ERA, 32 starts, 190 IP) should definitely be a solid starter after coming over from the A’s in the Holliday trade. The Rockies don’t really have an ace in this group, though Cook is very good, and despite the introduction of the humidifier, pitching at Coors Field is still quite difficult. The Rockies have a good, but not great, rotation.
The bullpen was given a major upgrade in the offseason with the arrival of Huston Street (7-5, 3.73 ERA, 18 SV in 25 SVO) from Oakland. The original intent for the Rockies was to deal Street but he now enters Spring Training competing with Manny Corpas (3-4, 4.52 ERA, 4 SV in 13 SVO) to be the team’s closer. Corpas was excellent in 2007 but struggled last season. Expect one of the two to step up and provide consistency in the ninth inning. Fellow relievers Ryan Speier (4.06 ERA, Jason Grili (3.00 ERA) and Taylor Buchholz (2.17 ERA) provide solid depth for what should be a much improved bullpen.
The Rockies’ infield is all but set entering 2009. After struggling with injuries most of last year, first baseman Todd Helton (.264, 7 HR, 29 RBI, .391 OBP in 83 Gm) is expected to return to his usual high level of play. Up the middle, second baseman Clint Barmes (.290, 11 HR, 44 RBI, .322 OBP, 13 SB) re-established himself as an everyday player in the major leagues while shortstop Troy Tulowitzki (.263, 8 HR, 46 RBI, .322 OBP) struggled mightily compared to his excellent 2007. Expect both players to improve their 2008 stats this fall. Third baseman Garrett Atkins (.286, 21 HR, 99 RBI, .326 OBP) was also solid last season but he did struggle with strep throat and other nagging ailments throughout the season. Expect an even better year from him this year. Catcher Chris Iannetta (.264, 18 HR, 65 RBI, .390) completes a very solid infield and should again provide the Rockies with good run production and defense. Backup Jeff Baker (.268, 12 HR, 48 RBI, .322 OBP) also performed well in Helton’s absence last fall and is a solid role player. This is a very good infield which compares well to any in the division.
The Rockies also boast a pretty good outfield. Right fielder Brad Hawpe (.283, 25 HR, 85 RBI, .381 OBP) is a very good run producer and will find himself hitting in the heart of the lineup. Centerfielder Ryan Spilborghs (.313, 6 HR, 36 RBI, .407 OBP) is an excellent leadoff hitter and covers the expansive center field in Coors Field very well. Left field is up for grabs between Seth Smith (.259, 4 HR, 15 RBI, .350 OBP in 67 Gm) and former Athletic Matt Murton, who struggled with injures last year. Speed Scott Podsednik and prospect Carlos Gonzalez (yet another product of the Holliday trade) could factor in as well. The Rockies have a very good outfield.
The Rockies are pretty stereotypical for the franchise’s history: Good hitting and questionable pitching. While this year’s rotation won’t be confused with some of the bad units that the Rockies have trotted out in the past, there are still a lot of questions about the depth in the starting rotation. Can Jimenez and De LA Rosa continue their excellent play? How will Smith react to a move to Denver? Do they have enough depth to overcome the likely loss of Francis? While Aaron Cook’s talent is unquestioned, the entire rotation behind him leaves a little to be desired.
Overall, the Rockies will dearly miss Matt Holliday, who is one of the elite hitters in all of baseball. Their offense is still very good but it won’t be enough to compensate for an average rotation, especially away from Coors Field. Their bullpen is also much better but if the Rockies break .500 it will be a surprise. A good prediction for the 2009 season is 75-80 wins and a 4 th place finish in the NL West.
By Matt Baxendell
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