Three reasons why the Rockies will contend for the NL West — and why they won’t

Jul 11, 2017; Miami, FL, USA; National League third baseman Nolan Arenado (28) of the Colorado Rockies during the 2017 MLB All-Star Game at Marlins Park. Mandatory Credit: Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

The Colorado Rockies kickoff their pursuit of the franchise’s first division title in 2018 with sky-high expectations to match their new, super-sized scoreboard.

For Colorado, who finished 87-75 in 2017, nothing but the postseason would satisfy the team that was left at the doorstep in the wild card game, finishing an successful year on a sour note, but when listening to multiple Rockies inside the Salt River Fields at Talking Stick clubhouse during Spring Training, it’s clear that last year was looked at as a progression year; a year of learning and year of growth.

Now it’s time for Colorado to take the knowledge they’ve learned, the growth they’ve made and execute on the diamond. Here’s three reasons why the Rockies will contend in the NL West in 2018.

An elite bullpen

Colorado smashed open every piggy bank they could find, landing Bryan Shaw and Wade Davis, retaining Jake McGee and spending more cash on the bullpen than any other team in major-league history.

But while pricey, it was all worth it for general manager Jeff Bridich. Colorado will get their money’s worth as they boast one of the best bullpens in baseball and certainly one of the best bullpens in franchise history, with an abundance of flexibility in tight games for manager Bud Black.

Shortening the game by bringing in a lights-out bullpen has been proven successful for World Series teams like the Kansas City Royals in 2015 (Davis was part of that bullpen), and the Cleveland Indians in 2016 (Shaw was part of that group), and Colorado is following in stride. Davis threw 58 innings last year with a 2.30 ERA in 2017 for Chicago. Add in Shaw, who is expected to set him up, and you have a bullpen that is ready to take the ball at any point in the game. Don’t forget about Chris Rusin, who may have been the Rockies’ best relief pitcher last year; flying under the radar with a 2.65 ERA in 85 innings, giving the Rockies flexibility and confidence every single time they needed it.

Progression and growth across the rotation

The Rockies don’t expect to improve at just one starting rotation position. They should see it at four different spots, and perhaps all five.

The young rotation wore down last year, particularly later in the season when the club was forced to cut down on innings for Antonio Senzatela and Kyle Freeland, moving them to the bullpen to lighten the load on their young arms.

But while the rotation is still young and inexperienced, there comes a point in time when players evolve from rookies into experienced veterans — and the Rockies’ youngsters took a crash course last season.

Progression is what Colorado hopes to see in 2018. Two or three more wins from every starter could become the major difference that pushes them away from the wild card race and into a competition for their first NL West title.

An MVP leading a potentially deadly lineup

Nolan Arenado, a perennial MVP candidate, is almost being taken for granted. “Just Nolan being Nolan,” as Rockies fans on Twitter will say, as the third-baseman smacks 130 RBI every single year with ease. But before opposing pitchers even get to Arenado, they face what may be the most dangerous lead-off hitter in baseball in Charlie Blackmon. Looming in the lineup is 2016’s batting champ D.J. LeMahieu, and power bats in Trevor Story and Carlos Gonzalez can do serious damage.

If Colorado wants to contend, smacking starting pitchers around will play a major role. Getting into the opposing bullpen before your own tends to lead to success.

***

Nevertheless, as the season begins, many are skeptical about the Rockies’ status as contenders… and they might be right. Here are three reasons why the Rockies will fail to contend for the NL West crown in 2018.

The Dodgers are just too good

Colorado is a good team. Los Angeles is a better team.

The Dodgers’ payroll and talent is through the roof. There’s too much skill there currently to keep them from the division title. The Dodgers’ only roadblock could be injuries, which they are already dealing with after Justin Turner was hit by a pitch late in Spring Training. Until the team is dealt massive losses all around, however, they will be the cream of the crop and keep Colorado from the NL West — they’re just too good.

Sophomore slumps for starters

If the sophomore slump is real — and it hits the Rockies in the rotation, they’re in deep trouble.

With the young — albeit talented — arms that the Rockies boast, many of them have yet to complete the transformation from ‘thrower’ to ‘pitcher.’ The book is now out and major-league hitters have had time to study Colorado’s kids. How they react to more knowledgeable hitters will be a major piece of the puzzle this year.

The little things

The little things can make all the difference at times, and last season, the Rockies weren’t great at them. Let’s start at the plate, where Colorado finished 19th in base-on-balls.

In a ballpark like Colorado where walks can prove so deadly to pitchers, it’s concerning knowing that the home team doesn’t take many freebies.

The Rockies also finished 26th in stolen bases. Given the Rockies’ lineup, the club has essentially chosen to punt this part of the game — the Rockies would rather smack balls over the fence than play small ball. But the NL West boasts more than a few pitchers who don’t surrender many big flies, and the Rockies are forced to manufacture runs, they get into trouble.

The most concerning, however, is the notion that the Rockies’ power might be a mirage. Colorado finished 21st in home runs in 2017, a stat that puzzles many, and it’s nowhere near the standards that generally can be expected by the boys on Blake Street. If they can’t rake, they won’t win.

Fortunately, the time to ponder all of this is over — starting tonight, the Rockies will have a chance to prove it.

SHARE