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MLB Preview: Is This the Year the Rockies Compete With the Dodgers and Giants in the NL West?

David Zalubowski/Associated Press

The Rockies are on a positive trajectory in recent years, having gone from 66 wins in 2014 to 68 in 2015 and 75 in 2016. They hope to continue that trend in 2017, but that might be complicated by a rash of injuries that will leave the team short-handed to begin the season. 1B Ian Desmond, the team’s big offseason acquisition, underwent surgery to repair his broken left hand earlier this month and will start the season on the DL, but with a four-to-six-week timetable, he could be back before the end of April. It’s expected to be a similar timetable for C Tony Wolters, who has a hairline fracture in his right forearm. And OF David Dahl suffered a rib injury early in spring training, but he has optimistically said that he thinks he could miss as little as one to two weeks of the regular season. Although none of those injuries appears to be serious enough to require an extended absence for the player, having all the players out at the same time could put the team in a hole early in the season. In a more serious situation, SP Chad Bettis is out indefinitely after announcing that his testicular cancer, with which he was diagnosed in November, has spread and he will be starting chemotherapy treatment.

The Rockies had the best batting average in the National League — and second best in Major League Baseball — last season with a .275 mark. They hit 204 home runs, which ranked 10th in the majors, and their .794 OPS was also tops in the NL and second in the majors. Among the offensive leaders was 3B Nolan Arenado, who hit .294 with 41 home runs — which was tied for the most in the NL and sixth in MLB — and a .932 OPS, which was 10th-best in the majors. His 6.5 WAR ranked 10th among all position players in the majors. OF Charlie Blackmon had a career year, hitting .324 with 29 home runs and a .933 OPS, which was ninth in the majors, and he posted a WAR of 4.4. The offense continued with OF Carlos Gonzalez, who hit .298 with 25 home runs and a .855 OPS. SS Trevor Story came out strong in his rookie season, hitting .272 with 27 home runs in 97 games before being shut down after undergoing thumb surgery. 2B DJ LeMahieu led the majors with a career-high .348 average and a 5.2 WAR, which ranked eighth among position players in the NL.

The pitching wasn’t as successful as the offense last season, with the staff’s 4.91 ERA tied for third-worst in the majors. The pitchers compiled 1,223 strikeouts, which was seventh-worst, and the bullpen racked up only 37 saves, tied for sixth-fewest in MLB. SP Tyler Chatwood was one of the better starters with a 3.87 ERA, but he only struck out 117 batters in 158 innings. SP Jon Gray led the team with 185 strikeouts in 168 innings, but he had a 4.61 ERA. SP Tyler Anderson only made 19 starts, but he led the rotation with a 3.54 ERA and had 99 strikeouts in 114.1 innings. In limited time in the majors — eight games, including six starts — prospect Jeff Hoffman posted a 4.88 ERA with 22 strikeouts in 31.1 innings. RP Jake McGee got most of the save opportunities, going 15-for-19, but posted a 4.73 ERA with 38 strikeouts in 45.2 innings. RP Adam Ottavino pitched most of the second half of the season after returning from Tommy John surgery and recorded 7 saves in 12 opportunities to go along with a 2.67 ERA and 35 strikeouts in 27 innings.

Offense isn’t an issue for the Rockies, it’s the pitching that is questionable. The starting rotation, in particular, needs help and since the team didn’t acquire any starters this winter, it’ll be up to young pitchers like Hoffman and German Marquez, who is expected to make the rotation out of camp, to pick up some of the slack of the veterans who aren’t exactly aces. RP Greg Holland, who the team signed in January, is expected to get the first shot at closing out games. The former Royals closer hasn’t pitched in about 18 months while recovering from Tommy John surgery, but the last three seasons he pitched, he recorded 47, 46 and 32 saves in 2013, 2014 and 2015, respectively. It might be unreasonable to think he can return to that type of performance, but if he can save about 30 games with decent peripheral numbers, it would improve the bullpen. If he isn’t able to pitch at the start of the season, Ottavino should get another shot at the closer’s role.

The Rockies are on the verge of competing in the NL West, if they can just get some better pitching. Unless they trade for a starter during the season, I don’t think they’re there yet. I think they’ll win more than the 75 games they won last year, but I think they’ll be a .500 team at best so they’ll still trail the Dodgers and Giants in the division.

Source: http://www.rockies.comhttp://www.baseball-reference.com

Scott Jenkins
I am a writer who enjoys writing about sports, with a focus on baseball. You can read more of my writing on my blog at http://thoughtsfromscottj.wordpress.com
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