For the past couple of years I have been doing this weekly sports rant. Now is usually the time of year when I write about how good the Rockies are going to be and predict a World Series appearance. This year I don’t have to do that as this may be the first time in Rockies history that a number of baseball experts are picking the Rox to win it all. Believe it people, the Rockies are as good now as they ever have been.
Never has Colorado seen the kind of depth Rockies Manager Jim Tracy has put together. They have a solid-looking starting rotation with Ubaldo Jimenez, Aaron Cook, Jorge De La Rosa (baseball’s winningest pitcher after June 1 last year), Jason Hammel, and hopefully Jeff Francis, upon his successful return. In the bullpen, the Rox have Franklin Morales, Manny Corpas and, hopefully before mid-season, the return of the injured closer Huston Street.
Francis, unfortunately is not having the return to the rotation he had expected after spending a season rehabbing a torn labrum. The left-hander, who was scheduled to start the Rockies second game last Tuesday, has been placed on the 15-day disabled list because of soreness and his inability to play flat-ground catch last week.
At the plate the Rockies have found a leadoff hitter worth putting on base with Carlos Gonzalez. After coming from Oakland as part of the Matt Holliday deal, he has stolen 16 bases in 20 attempts. Oh yeah, he also became a clutch hitter at the plate during last year’s Division Series against the Phillies when he hit .588.
Following Gonzalez at the plate, we will more-than-likely see a lot of Seth Smith in the No. 2 hole followed by Papa Smurf Todd Helton batting third and Troy Tulowitzki batting cleanup. The first-half of the Rockies batting order is made to score runs. A hidden little offensive gem in the Rockies lineup will be Ian Stewart, who batted in the seventh spot in Monday’s opening-game win against the Brewers. Stewart, according to ESPN.com, has been seriously working the mechanics of his swing lately and if spring training has showed us anything, he is swinging smarter, not harder. His strikeout total has greatly improved since last season when he had 138 strikeouts in 425 at-bats. In the 49 at-bats he had in spring training, he had just five strikeouts. Stewart will be a big part of some late-inning wins this season.
And if Tracy has to go to the bench at the bottom of the ninth to pull out a win, he’s got Smith, Ryan Spilborghs and the grizzly veteran Jason Giambi. What is there not to like about this lineup?
All of that said, ESPN’s baseball know-all and front-man for anything baseball, Buster Olney, has already called it. The Rockies will beat the Yankees in the World Series, with Tulowitzki winning MVP honors. “This will be the fall that Troy Tulowitzki climbs to the next level of stars,” Olney writes.
The New York Time’s Tyler Kepner has a bit of a different story but the same outcome: “It’s all coming together for the majors’ deepest team,” Kepner wrote last weekend. “The Rockies have power, speed, exceptional defense, and a sturdy rotation. Their bullpen is a concern with Huston Street starting the season on the disabled list, but that’s something they can fix on the fly.” Keptner’s season prediction: Rockies over the Rays in the World Series.
Lastly, I wanted to collect a little Western Slope flavor in Rockies predictions so I contacted former Mesa State catcher and bullpen ringleader Dan Vollendorf for his thoughts. “The Rockies lineup is stacked,” Vollendorf said. “Francis, who won 15 games in 2008, is back. They have very good, young prospects in the minors and if Ian Stewart doesn’t strike out as much and stay hot as he was in the minors, then the Rockies are going all the way.
“The big question marks are Street, Morales, Francis coming off his injury and Hammel,” Vollendorf said. “Also, we are solid up the middle defensively – no matter who is catching – and that’s how you win in the big leagues, my friend.”
Don’t take it from me. The experts have spoken.