Monday, February 20, 2006

Rockies Will Provide Fun This Season
By DinoCosta
February 20, 2006
82 wins.
80 losses.
The Rockies will finish the season with that record and be a very pleasant surprise to many people in Colorado who have forgotten that Denver is the home to a Major League baseball organization.
Last year that record would have won the NL West.
This year it won't.
But the Rockies will be in it right until the final few weeks of the season - in fact I'm picking the Rox to finish in second place this year to the division champion Los Angeles Dodgers who will win 88 games to take the West flag.
Yes the Rockies will have to score more runs this season to win more games (and they will), but the key for me is a pitching staff that has an opportunity to be better than just about anyone in their division.
What I like about the Rox pitching staff is that every guy in the starting five could finish the season with double digits in victories.
Jason Jennings could end up with the ball on opening day at Coors versus Arizona - but the best pitcher on their staff is Aaron Cook.
Still Jennings is a guy that I like to mature into a pitcher this season who should show more of what he did in winning the Rookie Of The Year award by going 16-8 back in 2002 - than in finishing 6-9 during an injury plagued season last year.
I expect Aaron Cooke to pick up this year where he did last season - after coming back form a life threatening injury to finish up at 7-2, and sometimes overpowering opposing hitters.
With Jeff Francis and BK Kim slated for the 3 & 4 spots in the rotation, I like the Rockies being able to throw a lefthander with a deceptive delivery, followed by a submarining righthander who has showed flashes of brilliance since leaving the bullpen for the starting rotation.
What's more, Rockies followers should be very encouraged that the top three pitchers in the starting rotation have a combined 47-26 career record at Coors Field, clearly evidence that these pitchers aren't intimidated by throwing the ball in the mile high air.
The Rockies have never had a 20 game winner, but the potential exists with at least two guys this season in Jennings & Francis.
The number 5 spot is up for grabs and any one of a number of candidates could claim the spot with a solid spring in Tuscon.
Zach Day, Sunny Kim, and Josh Fogg, are the three primary pitchers thought to have a shot at securing a rotation spot - and whichever ones don't get it will only add to the Rockies bullpen depth, which again, has the potential to be very good.
I know you are reading this and thinking that I'm looking at this through purple colored glasses folks, but even the most objective observer would have to be encouraged by the Rockies potential to have a group of guys that can offer a lot of depth from the starters through the last guy in the bullpen.
Jose Mesa arrives in camp in excellent shape and still has plenty of pop left on his fastball. Mesa is an experienced hurler who should give Clint Hurdle a few less anxious moments this season in getting through the 8th inning and then on to Brian Fuentes in the 9th. 
I'm more confident in Mesa succeeding than I am in Ray King - but the veteran lefthander knows his role will be as a situational lefty, who will need to get key outs in big spots against the likes of players like Barry Bonds, Luis Gonzales, and other tough lefthanded hitters.
The sleeper in the Rockies bullpen is righthander Scott Dohmann - who possesses nasty stuff and a bulldog personality. Dohmann could be a future closer and his work in middle innings this season will obviously be a huge factor int he Rockies success.
Other reasons the Rockies will definitely be a much better club this year than many are predicting:
>They got off to a 6-15 record through 21 games last year. During that stretch Colorado's bullpen was tagged with seven of those losses - including 5 blown saves. These things are very unlikely to repeat themselves two years in a row.
>Last season they didn't discover their closer out of the pen until the end of May with Fuentes, who was their lone all-star representative. This season of course Fuentes arrives to spring training as the shut the door specialist the Rox didn't have for the early part of last season.
>The development of Matt Holliday should be fun to watch. Provided he stays healthy Holiday has an opportunity to finish with 30-100-290 numbers. I expect Holliday to finish the season with better offensive numbers than any other left fielder in the NL West...including you know who.
>Garret Atkins will also get better because he's not even close to being satisfied with where he is right now. Right now Atkins is pretty decent - and played a much better defensive third base than anyone in the Rox front office could have hoped for a season ago. At the plate Atkins, much like Holliday, is only scratching the surface of his ability.
>Corey Sullivan. Not only did Sullivan prove he could chase fly balls down on a par with anyone in the National League a season ago - but in addition, Sullivan has showed glimpses of being able to be the table setter the Rox very much need him to be. The Rockies will encourage Sullivan to concentrate on making more contact this season, hitting the ball more on the ground, and taking advantage of his above average speed.
>Clint Barmes is healthy. He could eventually wind up at second base by the end of the season, but a healthy Barmes with his winning and fiery personality is what the Rockies need in the middle of their infield. Barmes played winter ball and concentrated on shoring up his glove work - Barmes will be counted on for a full season of being the quintessential number two hitter in the Rockies lineup.
>Todd Helton is back. He's re-energized. He's primed to have a monster season. This year with the injuries behind him, don't be surprised at all to see the real Todd Helton re-emerge onto the scene at 20th & Blake. Helton is hungry, he's excited about the quality of what he perceives to be some young players with some real ability, and the opportunity to be the key cog in the Rox resurgence.
Helton's professional work ethic will only make the other guys around him push themselves to be better.
>The NL West. Like the Nuggets playing in the NBA Northwest, the Rox are in a division with no clear cut favorite. No team in the division enters the season with a roster that is guaranteed to run roughshod over everyone else. The Giants are old and creaky, and beyond Jason Schmidt & Matt Morris have question marks with their starting staff. The Dodgers head into the season with a middle infielder playing first base, an outfield full of unanswered questions, and a starting rotation with no pitcher having won more than 12 games a season ago. The Padres aren't scaring anyone out of their cleats, although Jake Peavey could throw a no-hitter anytime he takes the mound. San Diego has a questionable offense, a catcher who can't throw anyone out, and a suspect bullpen. Arizona is in the midst of still remaking their team, they're bullpen is very inexperienced, and they have more than a suspect starting five.
The Rockies haven't arrived yet, they are still very much a work in progress, and the best Rockies baseball will be played in the years 07,08, 09.
The Rox played much better on the road the second half of last season and I expect that theme to continue this year. In addition I think they'll play much better in their home park than they did a season ago.
The maturation process of everything connected to the Rockies should allow them to make significant improvements in all areas this year.
Provided they don't begin the season by falling off a cliff like they did last April - I have a good feeling about this years edition of Rockies baseball at Coors Field.
I sense 82 wins, and a second place finish in the NL West.

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