MLB Opening Day: Colorado Rockies’ Hopes Lie in Keeping Stars on the Field

Rockies MLB BaseballAny conversation about the 2014 Colorado Rockies has to begin with keeping stars Troy Tulowitzki and Carlos Gonzales on the field, and off of the disabled list. The conversation may end with finding a starting rotation that can keep just enough of their opponents’ batted balls from flying through the mile-high air of Coors Field and into the outfield bleachers.

Tulowitzki is arguably one of the best shortstops in Major League Baseball, but has played an average of 115 games over the last six seasons. He played in only 126 games last year and batted .312 with 25 home runs and 82 RBI. Gonzales is a 2-time All-Star who played only 110 games last year but still led the team with 26 homers. It’s easy to see that the Rockies will have a much better chance of challenging in the NL West if those two stay healthy for the season.

The outfield looks to be strong this year for the Rockies, with Gonzales in left and Michael Cuddyer in right. Cuddyer won the National League batting crown last year with a .331 average. He also led the team with 84 RBI and scored 74 runs. Center field could be a problem spot for the Rockies depending on how Corey Dickerson works out. Dickerson was recalled from the minors in June last summer and played 69 games, hitting .263 with five home runs and 17 RBI. He had 51 hits on the season and 23 of them went for extra bases. Dickerson has the speed that the Rockies need to cover a lot of ground at his position.

The infield will feature Tulowitzki anchoring the squad at shortstop. Longtime favorite first-baseman Todd Helton has retired, but the Rockies got another All-Star to replace him in 2014. 11-year veteran Justin Morneau was signed in the off-season as a free-agent. Morneau is a career .277 hitter and spent the better part of 11 seasons with the Minnesota Twins before being traded and playing the final 25 games of 2013 with the Pittsburgh Pirates for their playoff push. At 3rd base will be Nolan Arenado who opened some eyes in his first season in 2013 batting .267 with 10 home runs, 29 doubles and 52 RBI.  D.J. LeMahieu, a 4th-year player with a lifetime batting average of .283 is at second base.

There are lots of new faces on the pitching staff in 2014 for the Colorado Rockies, starting with Brett Anderson, a former phenom with the Oakland A’s in 2009 who underwent Tommy John surgery in 2011 after injuries to his forearm, knee and elbow in 2010. The Rockies seem convinced he can return to his old form, signing him to a $5.75 million contract in the off-season. The injury bug has already started to hit the Rockies pitching staff, as projected opening-day starter Jhoulys Chacin was shut down in February with inflammation and straining in his shoulder. His estimated return is early May. Jorge De La Rosa is next best, but he has had trouble staying healthy for a full season too. Juan Nicasio, in his fourth year, has a career ERA of 4.92, but has solidified his position in the starting rotation with a 2.86 ERA during the spring. If there is one pitcher on the Rockies staff that the fans and opposing teams should be keeping an eye out for it is Tyler Chatwood. The 24-year old right-hander from Fontana, CA showed promise last season, going 8-5 in 20 starts with an ERA of 3.15. His groundball rate, though, was the third-best in baseball at almost 59 percent—a very important stat, especially at Coors Field. In the bullpen Colorado is expected to get some help from Boone Logan, a left-hander acquired from the Yankees, and Franklin Morales from the Red Sox. This is Morales’ second time around in Colorado. The Rockies will use another new/old face as their closer this year. LaTroy Hawkins, who was with the Rockies for their World Series in 2007 and saved 13 games for the Mets last season, is back in Colorado. His acquisition has sent last year’s closer, Rex Brothers to the role of setup man for Hawkins.

Finally, there is another factor that might contribute to Colorado’s success in the pennant race this season. Manager Walt Weiss had never coached professionally before he took the reins of the team last year and, with a year under his belt, things can only get easier. Weiss was given a three-year extension through 2016 after his team won 74 games last year, which was a 10-game improvement over the previous season.

For the Colorado Rockies to pull themselves out of the NL West cellar this season, first and foremost, they must have their stars, Tulowitzki and Gonzales, on the field for at least 145 games. Several more things must go their way to contend for a post-season appearance, like the continued improvement of Chatwood, the return to form of Anderson and the takeover of the team leadership role by Morneau. It seems like forever since the World Series of 2007 but with experience, health and a little bit of luck, the Colorado Rockies can makes strides toward turning back the clock a bit in 2014.

Commentary by Chuck Podhaisky, Guardian Liberty Voice Sports Writer for the Colorado Rockies

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