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Springtime Storylines: Are the Rockies the best team in the National League?

Apr 2, 2010, 9:00 AM EDT

Rockies logo.jpgBetween now and Opening Day, HBT will take a look at each of
the 30
teams, asking the key questions, the not-so-key questions, and generally
breaking down their chances for the 2010 season.  Next up: The Rockies.


The
big question: Are the Rockies the best team in the National League?

I’m going to say no for now, but that they just might be by the end of the season.  A disappointing 2008 and a mad dash to make the playoffs in 2009 causes most people to think of this team as plucky overachievers or something, but the fact is they’re loaded.

Troy Tulowitzki is the best shortstop in baseball, having hit .297/.377/.552 with 32 bombs at age 24. With the exception of Brad Hawpe in right, the Rockies are a pretty fantastic defensive team. Todd Helton is past his days as an elite power hitter, but he is enjoying a nice resurgence as an average/on-base god. Ubaldo Jiminez emerged as an ace last year. They probably have the best bench in the NL. They also have a pair of outfielders in Carlos Gonzalez and Dexter Fowler that possess speed and patience, giving them a nice 1-2 combination at the top of the order.

While there are a couple of weaknesses/concerns going into the season (see bullet points below) the Rockies have a deep system from which they can draw new talent either to help the club directly or to trade for some help during the season.

The upshot: there just isn’t much not to like about this team, and I think the chattering classes sleep on their chances at their peril.

So
what
else is
going on?

  • Huston Street’s shoulder problems this spring are one of those causes for concern. Street converted 35-of-37 save opportunities last year and, obviously, the Rockies would be better with him than without him. But let’s not overstate his value either: He missed a big chunk of September
    last year with biceps tendinitis. The Rockies went 18-9 in September.
  • Jeff Francis is back after missing 2009 for shoulder surgery and he’s looking sharp as spring training comes to a close. The Rockies don’t necessarily need Francis to be an ace again to win the division inasmuch as they did just fine without him last year, but if he is back and even moderately effective their rotation is catapulted from merely good to pretty damn good. Jiminez-Francis-Cook-Hammel-De La Rosa? I’d take that.

  • Brad Hawpe and Clint Barmes are the weak links on this club, with Hawpe swooning terribly in the second half last year (and being a defensive liability) and Barmes posting a totally unacceptable .294 OBP.  There are replacements available for Hawpe as the Rockies are loaded with outfielders, but the Rockies may have to convert some of their considerable organizational depth into a second baseman if Barmes continues to struggle, because I’m not really sold on Eric Young, Jr.
  • Scariest thing about this team if you’re the Dodgers, Giants, Padres or Diamondbacks: how young they are. Helton, Barmes and Hawpe are the only regulars over 30 and, as discussed above, Barmes and Hawpe may not be long for the Rockies’ world. I don’t think they’re necessarily a stone cold lock to win the division this year — stuff happens — but I can see them dominating it for the next 3-5 years.

So
how
are they gonna do?

On paper, the Rockies are the best team in the NL West. The only way I see them not edging out the Dodgers is the injury bug flies around Denver.  I won’t get to my awards picks until Monday, but I’m toying with Tulowitzki as my MVP choice in the NL (forgive me Albert).  I don’t expect them to go on tears where they win 21 games in a month like they did last season, but I don’t think they’ll have to either.

Prediction: First place in the NL West and a lot of commentators pretending that they came out of nowhere even though they clearly have not.

  1. Steve-O - Apr 2, 2010 at 9:14 AM

    Hanley Ramirez might argue that he’s the best shortstop in baseball…Just sayin’.

  2. Craig Calcaterra - Apr 2, 2010 at 9:25 AM

    Um, good point on Hanley. These previews are starting to fry my brain.

  3. Christian - Apr 2, 2010 at 10:13 AM

    Yeah, Hanley is better than Tulo no question.

  4. Jaybird - Apr 2, 2010 at 10:37 AM

    Good call on Tulowitzki, the guy has un-believable range and a bazooka for an arm. When he starts clubbing the ball like he did in the second part of last seaason, he definately can carry a team offensively & also defensively.

  5. Dave - Apr 2, 2010 at 10:39 AM

    Hanley is a better hitter than Tulo but Tulo has the best glove in the NL. I would still give the MVP award to El Hombre.

  6. Jeff - Apr 2, 2010 at 12:22 PM

    Tulo was horrible last year in the playoffs. He overswung in every key at bat during the season. Given the huge fluctuation in his annual numbers, it’s pretty clear this guy was Juiced-up last season. Are we going to see .250 or .300 Tulo this year? Depends on how good his ‘roids were in the off season.
    Regardless, he has proven he is horrible in the clutch.

  7. OldNo7 - Apr 2, 2010 at 12:28 PM

    Good overall analysis, especially concerning Hawpe/Barmes. Seth Smith is the fourth outfielder, a terrific hitter and a big defensive upgrade over Hawpe. I think the best scenario for the Rockies would be a hot start by Hawpe, followed by trading him to someone who needs a left-handed bat. That would allow for an OF alignment of Smith in left, Fowler in center and Gonzalez in right (his glove, wheels and arm are somewhat wasted in LF).
    They could also use a better RH bat off the bench than Melvin Mora, but that’s picking nits. This lineup is vulnerable to power lefties, as Philly showed in the playoffs last year. If Jermaine Dye were willing to A) ride the pine and B) accept less than a million clams, you’d turn this lineup from merely fearsome to devastating.
    Whatever weaknesses exist on the pitching staff are mitigated by serious organizational depth. There are quality arms in both Tulsa and Colorado Springs available to either fill holes or fetch help in midseason trades. The biggest question I see here is the franchise’s committment–will they move a prospect or take on salary in order to overtake the Dodgers and make a move? The opportunity is there, with the team in place and the various self-imposed hurdles the Dodgers face.
    “do pawnshop”

  8. Chip - Apr 2, 2010 at 1:00 PM

    Best team in National league????
    Anyone heard of the St. Louis Cardinals?
    Give me a break.They are likely sporting the most in depth lineup in both offense and defense in the league.
    VIVA EL BIRDOS
    CL

  9. Pipes - Apr 2, 2010 at 1:58 PM

    Cardinals…yeah, I’ve heard of them. Unfortunately, they’re not even the best NL team that wears red.

  10. kelsos38 - Apr 2, 2010 at 2:04 PM

    This article right next to the one saying the Phillies will take it all.
    Opinions are just that. Opinions.

  11. Charles Gates - Apr 2, 2010 at 2:08 PM

    Are you making statements so you can cite them later as a means of being unqualified for jury duty?

  12. phillies girl - Apr 2, 2010 at 2:15 PM

    Rockies? Best in the NL? Really? No, really?
    Ditto with the Cardinals–they are for sure not the best NL team that wears red! They can’t seem to get away from reading their own press to realizing they have to actually PLAY the games. That’s been their epic flaw, and always will be!

  13. Wayne Ripel - Apr 2, 2010 at 3:04 PM

    The Rockies might be the best in the west, but they still won’t get past the Phillies and the Cards. Remember, they were the hotist team in baseball last year when the playoffs started and were demolished by the Phillies. What do you think has changed this year except that the Phillies improved their roster in the off season. Good luck with that thought.

  14. OldfNo7 - Apr 2, 2010 at 3:46 PM

    I’m not disagreeing with you, Wayne, I too think that the Phils are the team to beat in the NL. But it’s not a given that Philly will be better, or even as good, as they were last year.
    Subbing Polanco for Feliz is certainly an offensive upgrade, but Polanco’s 36 and hasn’t played 3B regularly in years. The bench is diminished now that Stairs is gone, and the Phillies have been pretty darn lucky with injuries during this run.
    I love Halladay and feel he’ll win 24+ games and the NL Cy Young. But aside from that, who can you count on to get outs? Will Hamels show up this year? Will Blanton come back? You can’t expect J.A. Happ to have another year like ’09. And all the same questions with the bullpen remain, only Chan Ho Park is gone.
    It’s a stretch to predict that the Rockies can overtake the Phillies, the Cards, or even the Rockies in their own division. But to say that the NL is a foregone conclusion is to ignore a number of issues that Philadelphia faces.

  15. joe schmoe - Apr 2, 2010 at 4:17 PM

    rockies will win world series. all philly fans are butt pirates.

  16. Truthman - Apr 2, 2010 at 4:27 PM

    I know a team that won 83 games with their entire team on the DL in 2009, a team that also had to put up with Milton Bradley flinging pop flies into the stands with 2 outs. This team, as you might have guessed, is the Cubs.
    And this off season? Added new guys that rock, made other guys that rocked rock harder, and brought in the hit-guru: Jaramillo.
    Basically they took an Abrams tank and made it float, go 150 mph, hover, and loaded it with super laser-bazookas. Cards? They’re like a bb gun. Get ready out there all you Cub fans!!!

  17. Troy - Apr 2, 2010 at 5:42 PM

    Sure Hanley has a better bat, but when it comes to shortstop give me glove over bat. That’s why Tulo is the best at his position.

  18. phillies girl - Apr 2, 2010 at 6:07 PM

    But–let’s not forget the most important part: IT’S FINALLY BASEBALL SEASON!! Just a couple of days until OPENING DAY!! Woohoo!
    Good luck to you all! Enjoy the season, and regardless of who we’re all rooting for, this is going to be a GREAT season of baseball.

  19. azphotogirl - Apr 2, 2010 at 6:53 PM

    Those scrappy little Dbacks are going to blow everyone’s minds and win the whole enchilada. Never underestimate the power of the underestimated.

  20. johnnynewguy - Apr 3, 2010 at 2:08 PM

    I don’t know how you guys can be getting on the case of this article. Say what you will about the Cards and the Phillies but neither of their rotations are as solid as the Rockies. Hell the Phillies don’t even have the best rotation in their own division much less the NL. (See Atlanta) I mean the three best rotations in the NL are probably Atl, Col, and the Dodgers. All three of those teams have way more depth and good pitching is what wins in the playoffs. Say what you will about the Phillies being world beaters but I’m calling for them to not even win their division.

  21. turd fergunson - Apr 3, 2010 at 4:17 PM

    i laugh at all of you clowns the cardinals are the best team in the nl this year. you people need to get your head out of your buts and smell the sweet smell of realty. haaaaa i laugh at you.

  22. TURD FERUNSON - Apr 3, 2010 at 4:20 PM

    cubs and cubs fans I LOATHE YOU!!!!!

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