For the first time in a while, there is genuine optimism for the Colorado Rockies heading into Opening Day. In fact, there is a realistic possibility that Colorado can make the postseason for the first time in nearly a decade. It is a completely different mindset for fans this season compared to a season ago, when many thought the Rockies would have their worst campaign in franchise history.
A season ago, I feared the worst for Colorado. The team was coming off trading Troy Tulowitzki, had no bullpen and we all were trying to see what Jon Gray was capable of. Add that to ownership not spending money and a lame duck manager in Walt Weiss, there was every reason in the world to think the Rockies would lose over 100 games.
With that said, Colorado surprised many and played fairly well in 2016. In fact, the Rockies were very much in the wild card picture until August. Postseason dreams fell apart when the bullpen imploded during a series at Coors Field against the Miami Marlins, and the team never recovered. Still, the Rockies finished the season 75-87 which was the best season the team has had since 2010.
This winter, Colorado’s front office made it known they were going to try to compete in 2017. The Rockies went all-in on Ian Desmond at the price of a first-round draft pick and $70 million. Colorado also improved its bullpen with the acquisitions of Greg Holland and Mike Dunn. It seems like this is the first winter that the Rockies have spent any money since signing Mike Hampton and Denny Neagle prior to the 2001 season.
I believe these moves, put together with what Colorado had a season ago, will be enough to get this team back into the postseason. The Rockies are loaded with talent at pretty much every position.
Colorado’s outfield rotation will consist of Carlos Gonzalez, Charlie Blackmon, Gerardo Parra and David Dahl. The infield will be Desmond, D.J. LeMahieu, Trevor Story, Nolan Arenado and Tony Walters. Mark Reynolds, Chris Denorfia, Cristhian Adames and Alexi Amarista will also be more than adequate as rotation players and injury replacements.
The pitching rotation is the best it’s been in years for the Rockies. Gray can turn into an All-Star this season. Tyler Chatwood and Tyler Anderson will be solid in the rotation as well. The back-end of the rotation will be a combination during the season of Jeff Hoffman, Kyle Freeland, Antonio Senzatela and German Marquez. Hopefully, Chad Bettis will be able to join the rotation again as soon as this summer.
The bullpen will consist of Jordan Lyles, who I am concerned about. The rest of the bullpen however, looks strong. Carlos Estevez, Dunn, Jake McGee, Adam Ottavino and Holland could all be primed for big campaigns.
The biggest reason I like Colorado to be back in the postseason in 2017 is Bud Black. He has nine years of managerial experience, and is very familiar with the NL West since he has only managed with the San Diego Padres. A former Major Leaguer, Black is a pitching expert and should be able to find the right guys to lock down the back-end of the rotation until Bettis gets back. Black should also help the Rockies have a strong bullpen. I cannot emphasize enough how big of an upgrade Black is over Weiss.
The main obstacles getting in the way of the Rockies and their first postseason appearance since 2009 are injuries, a strong National League and dominance at Coors Field.
Bettis is out indefinitely as he battles cancer, Desmond will miss the first month or so with a fractured hand and Dahl will miss the first week or so with a rib injury. These are all damaging to the Rockies; however, it really could be much worse. I do worry about Bettis not being in the rotation, because of the youth and uncertainty at the back-end of the group.
Another issue that could cost the Rockies a place in the postseason is that Colorado plays in a very tough division, and will likely finish third behind the Los Angeles Dodgers and San Francisco Giants. The Chicago Cubs should win the NL Central and the Washington Nationals should win the NL East. This likely leaves the Rockies, St. Louis Cardinals, Pittsburgh Pirates and New York Mets competing for two wild card spots. Colorado is better than all of these teams top-to-bottom on paper, in my opinion.
Finally, for Colorado to make the postseason, they have to dominate at Coors Field. This team should be able to play close to .500 baseball on the road this season, which means the Rockies need to win around 50 games at Coors Field in order to get in. This is a must, and Colorado has not really been good in recent years at Coors Field. A good start at home will go a long way and give this team a ton of confidence.
There are many questions and many obstacles surrounding the Rockies as we head into Opening Day. Fans should believe in the pitching rotation, believe in the bullpen and most importantly believe in Black. Colorado will be playing baseball well into October again in 2017.