The Colorado Rockies will not contend in 2012. The Rockies were not able to assemble a competitive starting pitcher rotation out of training camp. The off-season strategy of stockpiling no. 5 type starters to supplement the holdovers from 2011 (in various classes of health) and organizational prospects not only failed to produce a competent rotation; when ineffectiveness and injury created opportunities, only Christian Friedrich, of whom little was expected, stepped-up.
31 games ago, at the 1/3 point of the season, Colorado had finally heated-up, along with the weather, winning 6 out of 7 on a homestand against the Astros and Dodgers. Whatever optimism that run generated heading into the summer portion of the schedule instantly vaporized as a run of nearly unprecedented dismal pitching ensued. On June 19, after losing 10 of 11 the team announced Jeremy Guthrie was removed from the starting rotation, and that moving forward the Rockies would use an unconventional 4-man rotation, with each starter limited to 75 pitches. The losing and poor starts continued undeterred until July rolled around, when Drew Pomeranz was recalled from Colorado Springs, Guthrie returned to the rotation, and Friedrich delivered a decent appearance to complement the good work of returned-from-exile Jeff Francis.
Amid the losing there were significant developments of note. Jordan Pacheco, Chris Nelson, Rex Brothers, and Wilin Rosario established themselves as bonafide major leaguers, age began to get the better of future Hall of Famer Todd Helton, and Tyler Colvin’s exceptional play elevated him to starter status.
With Colvin in right-field the Colorado outfield is formidable. All-Star Carlos Gonzalez in left and Dexter Fowler in center give the Rockies essentially three center-field-quality defenders, and each sports a batting average of .300 and above. The infield on the other hand is unsettled. Pacheco’s defense, while improved, continues to thwart his effort to secure the third-base job, with Manager for Life Jim Tracy preferring Nelson’s glovework. Nelson meanwhile continues to be nagged by leg injuries, precluding him from securing either the second or third-base jobs. Incumbent second-baseman Marco Scutaro, who had taken-over at shortstop when Troy Tulowitzski’s groin injury re-surfaced, is now back at second due to an apparent sore arm and the availability of Jonathan Herrera to fill-in for Tulo at short. And the MFL appears to be experiencing acute angst over relegating Helton to the bench in favor of Michael Cuddyer at first. Tracy values Helton’s defense, and it can’t be argued that whenever others have filled-in defensive lapses have occurred.
Scutaro, however, who along with Guthrie is signed only through October, is likely to be dealt in the coming days, as is Guthrie, with the Rockies seeking payroll relief and hopefully value in return for two veterans who don’t figure in their long-range plans. Others who could be dealt include bench players Jason Giambi and Eric Young, who haven’t been particularly effective for a team that’s seldom been close-enough late to need the bench, rehabbing catcher Ramon Hernandez, Pacheco, and Cuddyer. Pacheco, a decent-enough story, is maddeningly one-dimensional, a singles-doubles hitter who rarely walks, with little power or speed, and a liability defensively. Cuddyer, if his contract can be moved, has the potential to return significant value, and quality first-basemen are not typically in short-supply on the market, at least for teams that haven’t been spoiled by Todd Helton’s superior defense for a decade.
Hernandez is under-contract through 2013. The Rockies ought to consider hanging-on to the veteran, who’s been out most of the season with a hand injury. Rookie Wilin Rosario, who’s enjoyed a break-out year offensively, has caught a lot of hard innings, learning the game’s toughest position on-the-job with Hernandez out. Rosario has struggled with passed-balls and wild-pitches from Colorado’s erratic pitching, as well as with throwing accurately to second base. The youngster’s defensive foibles have often given rise to ensuing defensive imprudence by the Rockies infield, and the team could benefit from Hernandez resuming the primary catcher role for the remainder of 2012, solidifying the defense and giving the young pitching staff a veteran presence behind the plate as the team seeks to put together a credible second half of the season. In 2013 his and Rosario’s roles could reverse, Rosario assuming the primary role with the steady veteran as back-up, a mentor to the “Baby Bull” who brings some pop offensively.
With Scutaro moving-on the obvious infield alignment would feature Nelson at second, Herrera sitting in for Tulo at short, and Pacheco at third. Might as well play the New Mexican steadily to see if he can master the position defensively. Should Pacheco be moved, Nelson could slide-over to third, giving prospects DJ LeMaheiu and Josh Rutledge opportunities to showcase their worth as second-basemen. No. 1 prospect Nolan Arenado should arrive in September to compete for the 2013 job at third-base.
In the end, however, the key to extracting some merit from a lost season falls-back on getting consistent competent performances out of the starting pitchers. Ironically the hotly debated 4/75 rotation may have resurrected the career of Jeff Francis. The left-hander embraced the concept without question, and it has seemed to enable him to focus on physically and mentally executing for 75 pitches, giving way before fatigue undermines his ability to hit his “spots.” Hopefully the strong appearances continue. Pomeranz is finally on the scene and looks dominating. His emergence could be indispensible. Friedrich has acquitted himself reasonably well considering he ought to be winding-up his first AAA season and pointing to a MLB debut in 2013. Guthrie’s departure ideally should coincide with Jhoulys Chacin’s return to the rotation from the disabled list. But the talent remains alarmingly thin.
The bullpen in contrast has been steady. Brothers, Matt Belisle and Rafael Betancourt comprise effective 7th, 8th, and 9th men. Matt Reynolds provides the situational lefty role, Adam Ottavino the righty. The others, including Guillermo Moscoso, currently in Colorado Springs, mix and match depending on the need for and work-load of the starters’ piggy-back men.
The Rockies’ offense is solid if inconsistent. It’s played frankly like a last-place team, too often pounding the ball but losing 14-10, then wasting the rare well-pitched games by falling 3-1.
So chins-up RWOers! No 100 loss avoidance policies here. 77 games to go. Let’s win 48 of them and finish even.