Thursday, February 26, 2009

Guide Preview: Colorado Rockies

The Colorado Rockies are the next team up in our guide preview lineup. Two years ago, the Rockies rode one of the greatest hot streaks of all-time into the Fall Classic, before getting swept away by the Red Sox. The immense success of that team led many to predict big things for the Rockies last year. But it wasn't to happen. Troy Tulowitzki, the 2007 Rookie of the Year runner-up, was put on the disabled list early in the season, but was able to pull it together in the second half. The rest of the team was never quite able to put it together though, and the Rockies finished in a disappointing 3rd place. The Rockies and their fans hope that they can re-capture that magic from late-2007.

As before, this preview is meant to be a summary of what the three main baseball preview magazines are saying about the team's 2009 season. I've included quotes and other information from each of the them - Sporting News, Athlon, and Lindy's. I've also included some statistics about each magazines' success at predictions over the last ten years. Be sure to check out the Team-by-Team Season Preview index for other guide previews over the next few weeks.

My original intention was to completely refrain from providing any opinion. I was afraid that I would have too much to say about some teams and too little about others. But, after doing a few of these now, I feel like there's room for some personal commentary. I think it'll add a little bit of personality to the preview. But I don't want to make my opinion the focus of the post, so I'll put it near the end. Please feel free to ignore it; I've never claimed to be the most knowledgeable person when it comes to all 30 teams. With that said, on with the "combined" team preview for the...

Colorado Rockies
Last Year: 74 - 88, 3rd Place, NL West

Since 1999

This YearLast Year
Avg Pred.Avg Finish
Sporting News4



* Sporting News average includes preview guides from these years: 1999 - 2001, 2003 - 2004, 2006 - 2008
** Athlon average includes preview guides from these years: 1999 - 2003, 2006 - 2008

Team Notes

The Rockies are in an interesting position. Only one injury-riddled year removed from a World Series appearance, Colorado has much of the same team in place, but with some glaring differences. Whether they can ever again replicate that 2007 success remains to be seen, especially considering their historic weaknesses.
"As inspirational as 'Rocktober' must have seemed to win-starved baseball bystanders in Denver, the Rockies showed they're not much for encores. An 11-17 April regressed into a 9-19 May in 2008, and it wasn't long before Colorado sports fans began obsessing over the Broncos' attempts to upgrade the offensive line. (Lindy's)"
The biggest move of the offseason for Colorado happened quite early, when they traded Matt Holliday to the A's for Huston Street, Greg Smith, and prospect Carlos Gonzalez. It may have been a tough pill to swallow for Rockies fans, especially after he scored the winning run in the game #163 of the 2007 season, but it was rather shrewd of GM Dan O'Dowd, especially considering how the winter market played out.
"Knowing the free agent market would be glutted with corner outfielders, resourceful general manager Dan O'Dowd moved quickly and traded Holliday, a left fielder, to Oakland in November for pitchers Street and Smith and promising outfield prospect Gonzalez. The latter is the key to the deal O'Dowd made because Holliday can be a free agent after this season, and the Rockies, a mid-market club with a payroll in the $70 million range, weren't going to be able to sign him to a long-term contract. (Athlon)"
But the key to the Rockies season will be how their stars, particulary Troy Tulowitzki and Todd Helton, perform. With a nasty groin injury sidelining Tulowitzki for most of the first half, and with Helton's body beginning to show its age, the Rockies offense suffered. If they can both get back to their peak form, the team may have enough to compete with the Diamondbacks and Dodgers.
"The return of Helton to at least a contributing role is vital. He is a professional hitter and, even though the power numbers aren't there anymore, opposing managers make no bones about the intimidating presence he presents in late innings. Helton is one of the best two-strike hitters in the game, has an ability to fight off quality pitches and can expand his strike zone to drive in runs.
Shortstop Troy Tulowitzki battled a sophomore slump in April and then a groin injury that bothrered him the remainder of the season. He rebounded with a strong second half, however, reaffirming the confidence the Rockies had in him when he signed up for seven years after his rookie campaign. (TSN)"
Spotlight Quote

TSN's "View from the Other Dugout":
"This is an organization that seems to be spinning its wheels. They are always talking about building for the future. What about winning today? They got in a tough situation with Matt Holliday. You know you aren't signing a Scott Boras client to a contract extension. But in this division, if the pitching staff falls in place, these guys could have won this year with Holliday having a big year.

Without Holliday, there's no go-to guy in the lineup. My hunch is Todd Helton is not going to be able to come back from the back surgery - at least not on a 140-game schedule. He's going to be limited, at best, and without him there is nobody in the lineup to protect the other hitters."

It's a pretty common story: a team surprises the world to make a deep playoff run and, as the next season rolls around, it receives loads of praise and optimism. After all, if the team was good enough to do it when it counted only 6 months ago, then it should definitely be able to do it again. Well, that's the rationale at least, and the 2007 NL Wild Card and pennant winners definitely matched this MO. To many, 2008 seemed like a disappointing year. To go from the World Series to a 74-win third-place finish is quite the fall, for sure, but I don't agree.

Those 2007 Rockies were an impressive group, and they proved that by rolling off 21 wins in the month of September to squeeze into the playoffs, including a one-game playoff with the San Diego Padres. They then parlayed that streak into 7 straight postseason victories and a date with the Red Sox in the Fall Classic. It was a fantastic run and proved that the team could get things done when it needed to, but it was a fluke of luck. If any one play in any number of games went the other way (if Tony Gwynn Jr. didn't stroke that triple off Trevor Hoffman with two outs in the ninth inning to tie the game up on the final Saturday of the season, or if Matt Holliday was called 'out' on that play at the plate, for two easy examples), then the Rockies never would have even made it into the postseason, let alone to the World Series.

It seems to me that the 2008 Rockies were much closer to that team that was 76-72 on September 15 than they were to the 90-73 team that claimed the NL pennant only two weeks later. With that in mind, the 2008 season, while disappointing in its own right, was not nearly the epic disappointment that some seem to believe. The 2009 season shouldn't be much different, and may in fact be worse with the departure of Matt Holliday. Luckily for the Rockies, the Padres are also in their division and have a firm hold on the cellar floor. The Rockies don't have to worry about finishing in last place, but, even with a return to form by Tulowitzki and Helton, I doubt they'll be competing with the Dodgers or D-Backs for the crown.

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