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Colorado Rockies Opening Day Primer

2011 Record: 73-89 Manager: Jim Tracy

The Rockies started last season with some lofty expectations. But injuries and disappointments in the pitching staff led to the season unraveling early as they only won 8 games in May. With a loaded lineup and a younger (mostly) and retooled starting rotation, the Rockies could be a surprise playoff participant if things go well.

Player in the spotlight: Troy Tulowitzki SS

Tulo is always going to be in the MVP race, especially if the Rockies are competing for and making the playoffs. Write him down for his .300, 30, and 100 with the potential for more. No worries here as the Rockies have the best shortstop in the game.

Biggest question mark in the lineup: Todd Helton 1B

Todd Helton looked like his career was coming to an end a few years ago with his chronic injuries that seemed to keep him out of the lineup all of the time. But playing most of last season, getting spotted occasionally, Helton continued to hit over .300 and have an OPS over .850. But he’ll turn 39 in August and his creaky body will eventually give out. The Rockies just hope it isn’t this year. They also signed Mike Cuddyer to play right field, but he’ll likely spot Helton against many lefties.

Pitcher in the spotlight: Rafael Betancourt   Closer

The Rockies traded Huston Street to San Diego and gave the closer’s role to Betancourt. Betancourt has been really good since coming over from Cleveland in 2009 and should transition seamlessly to the 9th inning. In all likelihood, Betancourt is holding down the closer’s role until lefty flamethrower, Rex Brothers, is ready for the full-time role.

Biggest pitching question mark: Drew Pomeranz

Pomeranz headlined the Ubaldo Jimenez deal with the Indians last summer and the 2010 1st round pick is going to be expected to pitch well this year. The Rockies have a number of young starters and their playoff aspirations lie with the ability of Pomeranz and the others develop over the course of this season. The earlier they have success, the more likely the Rockies will be playing important games in September.

Prospect with a chance to make an impact this year: Nolan Arenado 3B

Arenado starts the season in AA and should be on the fast track if he continues to mash like he did in A ball last year. If he masters AA quickly, Arenado could find his way to Denver before August.

Prediction: 3rd in NL West

The Rockies are competing in a winnable division as the Giants lack great hitting to run away with the division and the Diamondbacks have some holes as well. So if the Rockies can get some early, sustained success out of their young starters, they have the best lineup in the NL West and should be able to remain in the hunt all season long. But that young rotation is the key and Coors Field is a tough place to develop pitchers which is why they are predicted to be 3rd here. With slightly below average starting pitching this is a 78-80 win team, but can get to 85 wins with average starting pitching and stay in the race to the end.

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MLB Daily Balk Morning Rundown 4/21

It's not quite as cheery now in LA

Best of Yesterday April 20

It was a great day of baseball for our favorite umpire call, the BALK. Check at the bottom for Wednesday’s impressive total.

Placido Polanco drilled a 3-run homer in the 6th inning and Shane Victorino hit a solo shot in the 8th to keep the Phillies from being swept at home by the Brewers on Wednesday afternoon. The Phillies had to overcome Ryan Howard‘s cold streak since his great start. Howard is hitting .171 in the past 10 games.

Reed Johnson hit a walk off homer in the 11th inning for the Cubs to win the first game of their doubleheader with the Padres on Wednesday. Cubs pitcher Matt Garza finally showed why they traded a boatload of talent to get him. Garza threw 6 shutout innings and had 9 K’s.

Padres offseason acquisitions Aaron Harang and Cameron Maybin both paid dividends in the Pads nightcap winner against the Cubs. Harang gave up 2 in 6 innings to win his 4th game and Maybin hit his 3rd homer. Maybin’s development could become a huge coup for the Padres this season.

Jorge De La Rosa got the Rockies off the hook with 7 solid innings and only 2 runs allowed to avoid the three-game sweep against the Giants. De La Rosa is now 3-0 on the season.

Wade Davis of the Rays pitched 7 innings and gave up only one run to get his record even at 2-2 by beating the White Sox 4-1 on Wednesday night. The Rays have gone from 0-6 to 9-9 and are looking like they are going to be contenders again in the AL East.

Rookie Zach Britton reportedly pitched through sickness  and won his third game of the season for the Orioles against the Twins on Wednesday night.

Bartolo Colon‘s MLB revival continued as he won his first game since 2009 with the White Sox. The Yankees are crossing their fingers that Colon can keep this going for the next 6 months. Don’t discount his value to this team as the Yankees try to work through their rotation problems.

Ricky Nolasco of the Marlins is trying to prove that they have more than Josh Johnson leading their rotation. Nolasco struck out 8 and walked 1 while giving up no runs over 7 innings. Nolasco is now 2-0 on the season after taking out the Pirates 6-0.

Jared Weaver of the Angels has been the best pitcher in baseball so far this season. He’s now 5-0 with a 1.23 ERA after shutting down the Rangers 4-1 on Wednesday night. The AL Pitcher of the Month award for April is in the safe hands of Weaver now.

Justin Masterson went to 4-0 for the Indians as the Tribe moved to a 2 game lead after beating the Royals on Wednesday night. Masterson’s ERA is now at 1.71 on the season.

In their loss, the Royals Luke Hochevar‘s streak of retiring 31 in a row over two games was two short of Steve Busby‘s club record. Unfortunately, Hochevar ended up giving up 6 runs in the 6th and 7th, but that’s the kind of overall progress that has the Royals four games over .500 on the season. With the Twins struggling all around, the White Sox bullpen a mess, and the Tigers inability to put it all together, the Royals and Indians should be in play in the AL Central all season.

Jon Garland went the distance against the Braves to give the Dodgers a 6-1 win on Wednesday night. Garland won his first game in his return to the Dodgers and provided a nice diversion to the madness going around the organization.

 

What Happened (!!)Yesterday?

Commissioner Bud Selig pulled the plug on Dodgers owner Frank McCourt‘s control of the club. Last year’s MLB controlled club, the Texas Rangers, lost in the World Series. The Rangers were even allowed to add payroll while under MLB control. It should be interesting to see if the Dodgers are handled likewise and can achieve similar success. One rumor has former owner Peter O’Malley taking over in the interim.

 

The Daily Balk’s Take

Joel Sherman writes about the Mets miserable early season start, the plausibility of cleaning house and embarking on making moves for the future.

  • The Mets are in a troublesome spot with their underwhelming early season performance. Carlos Beltran and Jose Reyes are both free agents following the season and Francisco Rodriguez becomes one if he doesn’t finish 55 or more games this season. Those players make about $23M this season and the Mets already have around $20M in dead money committed to castoffs like Luis Castillo and Oliver Perez. The question that arises is whether a 20 game or so snapshot of the season is enough to pull the plug? Only Reyes, making $11M, could be traded without the Mets eating more money. Nobody is going to pickup Beltran’s prorated $20.7M or the potential of K-Rod’s 2012 option. Also, unless they receive MLB-ready prospects in return, the quality of play on the field would suffer more and the mediocre attendance would be guaranteed to not improve. A complete overhaul might become necessary later in the season, but the Mets need to play this out to at least Memorial Day if not the end of June before eating more money

Sherman expands on his thoughts in this piece.

  • Those are some very good points that Sherman makes and the Mets definitely have some important decisions to make. The one point that I would disagree with is that trading Beltran would be most valuable to the Mets if they were able to unload his salary without picking up any of the tab. That might require the Mets to almost give him away, but considering the ownership’s financial problems, that would be the fiscally responsible thing to do even though the team wouldn’t benefit from the acquisition of talent in return. As for Wright, during the season isn’t wise if they want anybody to come out to the park. Revisiting Wright’s status in the offseason makes more sense.

 

AL News/Notes

Injured Athletics closer Andrew Bailey is getting closer to going on a rehab assignment. It looks like he could be able to return to the A’s in the first weeks of May.

The Orioles are still unsure about the return dates of pitcher Brian Matusz and shortstop JJ Hardy. Robert Andino has been solid in limited playing time replacing Hardy. Matusz is probably needed back sooner because of his projected impact on their starting rotation.

Indians manager Manny Acta isn’t stressing the early season troubles of Shin-Soo Choo and Carlos Santana. Of course, there’s no reason to overreact when you’re in first place by two games.

The Angels give up on former first round pick Brandon Wood and designated him for assignment on Wednesday. If the rumors are correct, then the Pirates could be claiming Wood off of waivers.

 

NL News/Notes

Zach Greinke‘s first rehab outing in A ball on Tuesday night met the Brewers expectations. Also, LaTroy Hawkins will be activated before the Brewers game on Friday night.

Rick Ankiel of the Nationals took out an ad in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch to thank the Cardinals fans. Ankiel’s still appreciative of the support that he received from the fans during his wild ride from phenom pitcher to outfielder.

The Nationals Ian Desmond will be taking paternity leave when his wife gives birth any day now.

Nationals starting pitcher John Lannan is preparing to start on short rest on Sunday against the Pirates after Wednesday’s win in the first game of the doubleheader in St. Louis.

The Rockies are sending 3B Ian Stewart to AAA to get his game up to speed. Stewart battled injuries during spring training and hasn’t really gotten into the flow of the season. He should be recalled when he proves that his timing has returned.

The Giants make it official and send Brandon Belt down to AAA Fresno. Manager Bruce Bochy wants Belt to play every day and work on a few things before coming back to the majors.

Andrew McCutchen has received permission to leave the Pirates to attend to a personal matter.

The Reds injured starter Homer Bailey has experienced some soreness and fatigue in his shoulder and will have his next start pushed back a few days. With the Reds starting pitching depth, there’s no reason for them to rush Bailey back and could even leave him in the minors for another month or so.

The Diamondbacks first baseman of the future, Paul Goldschmidt, is hammering the ball at AA and has to be on the D’backs radar for a possible summer call up if he continues to dominate in the minors.

Bobby Parnell has struggled in his 8th inning role so far this season for the Mets and now could have some blood clotting problems. This is going to move Jason Isringhausen into Parnell’s setup role.

 

Streak of the Day

The Royals Alex Gordon extended his career long hitting streaks to 14 games and the Dodgers Andre Ethier dominated last night by coming a triple away from the cycle and extending his hitting streak to 17 games.

 

Top Thursday Matchups

3:10 EDT Braves (Jurrjens 1-0, 1.00) at Dodgers (Kershaw 2-2, 2.96)

10:05 EDT Red Sox (Beckett 2-1, 1.80) at Angels (Chatwood 1-1, 3.75)

10:05 EDT Phillies (Oswalt 2-0, 2.50) at Padres (Latos 0-2, 5.84)

10:10 EDT Athletics (McCarthy 1-0, 2.45) at Mariners (Hernandez 1-2, 4.33)

 

Last night’s balks: 5

  • Collin Balester of the Nationals against the Cardinals
  • Jorge De La Rosa of the Rockies against the Giants
  • Rafael Betancourt of the Rockies against the Giants
  • Luke Hochevar of the Royals committed 2 against the Indians

Colorado Rockies Opening Day Overview

Colorado Rockies Opening Day Overview

Manager: Jim Tracy         GM: Dan O’Dowd

Lineup:
CF Dexter Fowler
RF Seth Smith/Ryan Spilborghs
LF Carlos Gonzalez
SS Troy Tulowitzki
1B Todd Helton
3B Ian Stewart/Ty Wigginton
2B Jose Lopez
C Chris Iannetta
Pitcher

 

Fowler is the catalyst to this high powered offense and the Rockies will need him to utilize his base stealing abilities more, especially on the road where the offense sometimes stagnates. He also needs to improve his OBP for this offense to reach their potential.

Smith and Spilborghs will probably platoon again unless Smith doesn’t get his average back over .270. The Rockies need Smith to hit like 2009 and Spilborghs to hit like last year. If it’s reversed, they might have to turn to Eric Young or Wily Tavares and move CarGo to RF.

CarGo was phenomenal last season finishing 3rd in the MVP voting. He got a new $80M contract over 7 seasons and will earn every penny if he continues to hit the way he did last year.

Tulowitzki is the game’s best shortstop and might be the best player in the game as long as he’s healthy. The Rockies will need Tulo to remain healthy and if he does, he has a chance to produce numbers only seen at SS by A-Rod in Texas.

Two of the last three seasons have been mediocre for Helton. He’s going to need to produce if he is to continue hitting in a run producing spot in the order. This could be a position where Wigginton gets some at bats if Helton struggles again. Jason Giambi is around as well if Helton gets hurt and they want a lefty bat in there.

Stewart might start the season on the DL and needs to improve his average this season if he’s to convince O’Dowd and Tracy that he’s the long term answer at 3B. Wigginton should provide a solid glove and a steady bat at 3B or any other position he plays.

Lopez comes over from Seattle and could have a great year if he gets back to his 2009 form. Remember, Safeco might be the best pitching park in the AL and he’s now hitting in Coors. He could be a major surprise.

Iannetta needs to start hitting at least .250 to justify his place in the lineup. Top catching prospect Wilin Rosario isn’t expected to arrive until next year, but could be called upon if Iannetta continues to struggle andhe convinces management that he can outperform Iannetta with his production in AAA.

The Rockies really struggled to hit on the road, with their worst run production in almost a decade. The top of the lineup talent is great, but they might need to add a corner infield bat if Helton and/or Stewart struggles. The ability of Iannetta and Lopez to bounce back and for Lopez to adjust to the NL will play a critical role in the Rockies offensive success.

  Pitching Staff
1 RHP – Ubaldo Jimenez
2 LHP – Jorge De La Rosa
3 RHP – Jhoulys Chacin
4 RHP – Jason Hammel
5 RHP – Esmil Rogers/RHP – Aaron Cook

 

Jimenez was unbelievable before the break last year, but struggled right after the break and then finished strong. As long as he’s pitching well, this team should be in the hunt for the postseason.

De La Rosa got a nice contract, but is going to need to stay healthy and produce like he did in 2009 to justify the money. His 185 innings in 2009 is over 50 more than any other season.

Chacin had a great debut season and might be the second best starter the Rockies have. He’ll need to do it for 10-12 more starts than last season and improve his walk ratio. But most pitchers usually improve their control as they gain experience and become more comfortable pitching to big league hitters.

Hammel was very similar last year to 2009 and will be counted upon to provide those 175+ innings again this season. He’ll need to keep his ERA around 4.50 or better to be effective.

Cook is out until at least May and he’ll need to improve his K-BB ratio if he’s to be counted on for quality innings. Rogers gets a chance to prove himself over the first month or so of the season and pitch much better than last season. A couple of starts pitching like his over 6 ERA from last year and the Rockies could turn to Felipe Paulino who was with Houston last year.

  Bullpen
CL RHP – Huston Street
SET RHP – Rafael Betancourt
  RHP – Matt Belisle
  RHP – Matt Lindstrom
  LHP – Matt Reynolds
  LHP – Franklin Morales
  RHP – Felipe Paulino

 

Street was the victim of injuries from the start last season and the inability of the bullpen to consistently close out games hurt them in the first half of the season. He is expected to be fully healthy and the last inning situations should be better this season for the Rockies.

Betancourt doesn’t mess around as he comes right at hitters with strikes. That’s a great trait to have pitching at Coors and the Rockies have as good as a setup guy as they’ve had.

Belisle pitched well last season and a similar showing would be great. Lindstrom has closed with Florida and Houston and throws hard. His problem can be control which could be a major issue in Coors.

Morales started last year as the fill-in closer for Street and then spent over a month in AAA to work on control issues.

  Farm Prospects who could help in 2011
1 LHP Rex Brothers
2 LHP Christian Friedrich
3 C Wilin Rosario

 

The pickings are slim for the Rockies as far as major league readiness goes. Brothers could be a future closer but still needs some AAA seasoning before getting called up. Friedrich is a starter who struggled a little in AA last year and has battled health issues. Rosario tore his ACL last summer but has a good bat and might get a chance later this summer if Iannetta continues to struggle at the plate.

Three Questions:

1. Can the Rockies get improved production from the group of Helton, Smith, Stewart, and Iannetta?

  • They need to get better numbers from at least 2, if not 3 of these four. Helton and Iannetta especially need to outperform last season’s numbers for the Rockies to overcome the weak part of their rotation.

2. After Ubaldo, will the Rockies starters pitch well?

  • Steady improvement by Chacin and a full season from De La Rosa will be huge for the Rockies this season. They can’t afford to be in the bullpen in the sixth inning every game if they want to be in contention in September. Rogers, filling in for Cook, could wreak havoc on the pen early in the season if he’s not effective.

3. Can their bullpen be as good as it looks on paper?

  • Street is a very good closer and should have a great year if he stays healthy. Betancourt gives them a solid arm for the 8th inning and those two can make it a 7 inning game for Jim Tracy if they’re consistently effective at the back end of games. That would leave the rest of the bullpen to take care of the 7th inning and earlier.

 

Projection

The Rockies should be contending all season. One thing that hurts them is their lack of high level farm talent. With their best prospects appearing to be a few years away, they might not have talent to either plug in the lineup in case of injury or be able to make an impact trade if necessary. If their Chacin and De La Rosa can stay healthy and continue to get better, then the Rockies can push 90 wins for the season.