I know everyone else is doing the courtesy of posting their predictions in the comments section of RMH’s article. But as you all know, I can’t say anything in less than a book length post, so I am posting my prediction here, not least so that when this team turns out a lot worse than I predict you can all make fun of me (or if it is better than expected based on comments below, I can be smug and refer people back to this).
This is my 40th year of following baseball (I was a five year old playing TBall and in a family of Big Red Machine fans and so my first World Series was arguably the best). I have been following the Rox since 1993 like most of the rest of us. I tend to be far more optimistic than just about everyone in the world, not least of which because baseball is a great game to watch regardless of how bad your team is but also because this game can surprise us. Some years I know in my heart it is going to be a long year (2005 for example). Some years should have been a lot better than it turned out (2011). And some years are just hard to figure out (2008, 2010, and 2014 come to mind). This year as we get ready for opening day is a mix of all those feelings. In my gut I feel like this could be the year they lose 100 games. But I also look at a team that has more talent than almost anyone in the writing or following baseball in the media or fandom realizes. Sadly it just isn’t in the rotation. So with that….
As I have read seemingly every outlet the Rox are universally picked for last (based it seems on the fact that Arizona has to be better because they have Tony LaRussa as team president). The best win total I have seen is 75. The worst is 62. No one sees this as a .500 team. And no one, not even the drunkest of gamblers, is going to place money on this team playing in October. So, if all the smart people see nothing but doom and destruction, does a person with permanently glued on purple-tinted glasses see a playoff race?
IN A WORD, NO! VACATIONS IN OCTOBER WILL NOT BE AN ISSUE FOR ROCKIES FANS
Last year at this time we were looking at a starting 5 that included three guys coming off years with sub-4 ERAs (DLR, Chacin, and Chatwood), with Chacin having had the 2nd best season in Rox history. The 4th man had been the As opening day starter in 2013 (Anderson), and there was hope that the talented Nicasio was finally going to get it all together. On the farm we had Jordan Lyles, a former top 25 prospect, as well as the group of Butler, Grey, Anderson and even an interesting strikeout machine named Daniel Winkler. The bullpen had the potential to be among the best in the NL with Hawkins and Brothers closing and Ottavino and Boone Logan full of experience in close games. And of course a lineup featuring bashers like CarGo, Tulo, and Rosario had to be great. I said 84 games +/- 10 depending on injuries. Can I take that back, how about +/- 20 based on injuries.
What we learned last year is not only do injuries matter, what matters more is the quality of your depth (as the old but often incorrect statement goes, everyone has injuries). Look at the list of long-term DL stint players – Tulo, CarGo, Arenado, Cuddy, Rosario, Rutledge, Chacin, Chatwood, Anderson, Logan, Lyles, and Bergman. Look then at their replacements – Rutledge, Barnes, Culberson, Stubbs, McKenry, Parker, Flande, Jurjens, and Martin to name a few. That group of replacements was not “league average.” Aside from surprises (Stubbs and McKenry are about it) most of those guys just were not ready for prime-time. Interestingly only Stubbs and McKenry are going to break camp in 2015. What was a potentially competitive team in September had to work hard to avoid becoming the first Rockies team to lose 100 games.
Which brings us to this year. Is the talent that starts Opening Day as good as last year? Not even close. Among the current starting rotation (the four of them), none has ever had an ERA under 4 for a season. Three of the four will be under 25 (not a bad thing but a challenge in the near-team). They already have their best pitcher on the DL (DLR), have dumped Chacin, and are scrambling to find time to allow the young gun to develop (and really do need to be scanning the waiver wire for another starter as I said here: http://jaredb17.sg-host.com/2015/04/04/as-season-nears-time-for-the-rox-to-go-dumpster-diving/). Their offense should be better, but the road issues are only going to get worse now that San Diego is improved, LA is younger, the Cubs are better, the Mets are better, and the Nationals look like the best team in baseball. With all that, can the Rox even avoid losing 100 games in year 5 of the Valley of Despair?
REASONS TO BE POSITIVE
As I recently reviewed the past 5 years I believed that the bullpen was the key to failure or success. That turned out to not be the case, but in most years a strong bullpen does play a outsized factor in Rockies success. I happen to believe the bullpen the Rox will run out there this year is pretty good. It is also the deepest I have seen in quite a long time. LaTroy Hawkins opens as the closer but will likely be a steadying influence wherever he pitches. Boone Logan is finally healthy and has proven in New York he can be a solid late-inning piece Then you have two very nasty right-handers in John Axeford (if he isn’t wild) and Adam Ottavino (who seems to understand pitching at a degree that makes his prepared for whatever happens). Those 4 aren’t exactly the Kansas City Royals bullpen, but are a nice little end-of-game group. Christian Friedrich who proved late last year he can dominate righties as well as lefties from the bullpen and is going to be a strikeout machine. Brooks Brown, throwing over 95, adds another power arm for the 6th-8th inning group. Add in veteran and feel-good comeback story Rafael Betencourt and this has the makings of the best bullpen since 2011 (a group that might have been the best ever despite the large number of no-names). And of course they have help on the way from the minors (Diaz, Kahnle, and Brothers to start with and more good pen arms to come).
The offense should be great at home (not always true these past 5 years). Can they score on the road? A full-season from CarGo and/or Tulo would go a long-way to get there, and it is likely that both Nolan Arenado and Corey Dickerson have not yet their full potential, so both bats could have a great year. The solid defense around the horn, the use of platoons in the outfield and 1B and the addition of Nick Hundley should help the pitching staff as well as spread the offense out more.
If I had to give a pre-season grade to the parts of the team I would give the bullpen a B (with the chance to be a B+) and the offense/defense a B (with the chance to be an A-). Those make two of the three areas of the team look like they have the ability to be good-to-great units. They have a chance to score runs and stay in games late with this bullpen.
THE REASON TO DESPAIR IS NO SURPRISE
And so for the 21st of 22 seasons, the question comes again to the starting rotation. Going with 4 men until DLR is ready is probably wise, allowing them to keep at least one pitcher down on the farm to develop. They also should have a good set of help coming later in the year in Tyler Anderson, Jon Grey, and maybe Tyler Chatwood and Kyle Freeland. And of course there is also Chad Bettis, a wildcard as another website called him.
But the fact is that the Rockies are notoriously slow starters and had they not gotten a month of pure fire from Charlie Blackmon and Tulo last April they would have easily lost 100 games. And this year they must go to battle with Kendrick, Lyles, Butler (too early I fear), and Matzek. None of those 4 has indicated they can be streak-stoppers. They simply don’t have the firepower in the rotation to stay close through Mid-May when help might be coming. As I have argued, they need to bring in someone via the waiver wire or trade to even give the team a chance to be decent the first 60 days. Without that I doubt even an A bullpen and an A offense/defense group will make a difference.
IS THERE ANY HOPE?
I like this team. I really believe in the bullpen (as crazy as that sounds). I like the depth of the team, with athletes like Stubbs, Desclaso, Ynoa and Rosario providing solid bench play. I just don’t see how they can get to June 1 within striking distance.
Yes, the Dodgers may get fooled by what they have and in fact be worse than last year (so much depends on Joc Pederson, Jimmy Rollins and Clayton Kershaw as they transition). The Giants likely aren’t going to be as good this year after losing Panda and having logged so many innings during the playoffs on their pitching arms. San Diego added a lot of talent, but as the Yankees from 1979-1995 will tell you, talent does not a team make and pulling them altogether to be a consistent winning force I still doubt (not sold on Wil Myers and wondering how Matt Kemp handles so many log fly outs, will all the mileage on James Shield finally show up among a number of issues I see with the Pads ). The Dbacks are going young and maybe about half-a-season ahead of the Rox, but nothing great. So on paper the division looks great, but I believe the NL West may be more up in the air than most think (and could make the season more fun for the Rox than we might think). We will learn a lot the first month. Maybe there is hope.
In the end, I like where the team is going. I like the team when healthy. But with all the current challenges I cannot state they are going to be a winning team.
WINS and LOSSES? MY PREDICTION IS….
My Prediction – 78-84, but if they stay healthy and get any help from their farm system (and can keep the core together by not making trades), I can see them going +10 (yes, as high as 88, but that would take a lot going right and I would give that about a 5% chance of happening). Can I see going -10 games (68-94)? Yes, if they have injuries or trade away CarGo, Morneau, DLR, or Tulo. But we will be far more positive at the end of 2015 than at the start (about a 20% chance of happening).
I think this will be afar more interesting team, a harder playing team, and a more hopeful team than we have seen in the past 4 years. They really are going in the right direction (despite those analysts who don’t see a “direction” for the team). But they will need a little luck and a hot start to beat .500. Can it happen? Well, I can hope. Lets see if they are within 5 games on May 20th. If yes, then then things could get a lot more interesting. That is why we get to see Jon Grey, maybe a healthy Eddie Butler finally. Who knows what player in High A or AA is so hot and progressing so fast they aren’t pushing for a call-up by late July or early August. If this team is at all competitive the mood in the entire organization can finally change. They want it as bad as all us fans.
So here is to realistic hope, and a year where we get to see talented ballplayers at every position for the whole season. After the past 4 years that alone would be a huge step in the right direction.