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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 4/27

Masterson goes to 5-0 for the Tribe

Zach Britton won his 4th game for the Orioles as they beat the Red Sox 4-1 on Tuesday night. The game’s loser, Clay Buchholz, continued to struggle as he dropped to 1-3 with a 5.33 ERA.

Justin Masterson won his 5th game and Jack Hannahan hit two homers for the Indians in their 9-4 win over the Royals. Grady Sizemore continued his blistering start that began late due to his recovery from knee surgery. In 8 games, Sizemore has 3 homers, 6 doubles and is hitting .406. Unfortunately, less than 10,000 fans saw the Indians go to 8-2 at home on the season.

Gavin Floyd pitched really well for the White Sox and Rafael Soriano struggled again in the 8th inning for the Yankees in the Sox 3-2 win. Floyd is now 3-1 and Sergio Santos picked up his second save in as many nights.

The Mets won their 5th straight game 6-4 over the Nationals on Tuesday night. Ike Davis had 3 hits and Francisco Rodriguez saved his fifth game. Wilson Ramos hit two homers in the loss for the Nats.

The DodgersAndre Ethier extended his MLB record hitting streak for April to 23 games with a double in the first inning against the Marlins on Tuesday night. But Clayton Kershaw struggled and the Marlins won 4-2.

The Blue Jays stopped Michael Young‘s hitting streak at 15 games and beat the Rangers 10-3 on Tuesday night. Adam Lind blasted two homers, scored three times, and drove in five the Jays. Jesse Litsch got the win after being recalled from AAA for the start.

Todd Helton hit two homers for the Rockies in their 4-3 win over the Cubs. Jorge De La Rosa won his fourth game and lowered his ERA to 2.61. Alfonso Soriano hit his 7th homer of the season in the 9th innning for the Cubs.

Bill Hall drove in the winning run with a single in the bottom of the 9th for the Astros in their 6-5 win over the Cardinals. Cards closer Mitchell Boggs blew his first save opportunity of the season. Lance Berkman went 2 for 5 with a RBI in his return to Houston.

Rickie Weeks‘ go-ahead solo homer in the 8th inning provided the margin of victory in the Brewers 3-2 win over the Reds. Ryan Braun hit his MLB leading 9th homer earlier.

The Diamondbacks beat the Phillies again, this time 7-5 on Tuesday night. Roy Oswalt struggled for the Phils as he only lasted 3 innings and gave up 5 runs. It was Oswalt’s first start without a strikeout since getting injured against the Nationals on July 11, 2008 while with the Astros. There was speculation after the game about his back.

The Angels 6-7-8-9 hitters (Howard Kendrick, Hank Conger, Peter Bourjos, and Alexi Amarista) went 9 for 15 with 6 runs and 6 RBI as they beat the Athletics 8-3. If those young hitters at the bottom of the order continue to hit, the Angels might have the best team in the AL.

Thanks to the 13 inning game on Monday night, the Braves used David Ross instead of Brian McCann at catcher on Tuesday night. All Ross did was hit two homers and drove in four runs in the 8-2 win over the Padres. Jair Jurrjens went the distance to win his 2nd game and lowered his ERA to 1.23.

 

What Happened (!!)Yesterday?

Out of the 8 players who started in the field for the Padres, only Nick Hundley ended the night with a batting average over .250.

The Pirates drew 9,832 to their game against the world champion Giants on Tuesday night. The first place Indians drew 9,650 to their game against the second place Royals. Four digit attendance figures are disappointing, even in April’s bad weather.

 

AL News/Notes

The Twins aren’t sure when Joe Mauer will be able to return. Mauer’s eligible to return on Thursday, but he still is working on his legs and might need a minor league rehab assignment.

Evan Longoria is on track to start a minor league rehab assignment on Thursday and return to the Rays next Tuesday. The Rays have done a pretty remarkable job of staying close in the AL East standings without their best everyday player for most of the season.

The AthleticsJosh Willingham missed Tuesday’s game with back stiffness. Also, catcher Kurt Suzuki is going on paternity leave on Wednesday and should only miss that game.

Phil Hughes underwent his tests on Tuesday and is still waiting on the results. The Yankees righty underwent tests on his elbow, shoulder, and also a circuit of vascular tests.

The Angels expect to activate starting pitcher Joel Pineiro by the weekend. Early speculation is that Pineiro would replace Matt Palmer from the rotation.

 

NL News/Notes

Despite last year’s Chris Coghlan postgame celebration that ended with Coghlan’s season over, Logan Morrison joined in with his teammates after the Marlins Monday night’s walk off win. Morrison had just gotten his cast off of his foot earlier in the day and manager Edwin Rodriguez wasn’t happy.

Xavier Paul has been claimed by the Pirates off waivers from the Dodgers. Paul is another former prospect that the Pirates have claimed this week. A few days ago, the Pirates claimed Brandon Wood from the Angels.

Lance Berkman, now a member of the Cardinals, returned to Houston on Tuesday night where he was met by criticism by the Astros‘ radio announcer. Berkman had injury problems in his final few seasons with the Astors and there were questions about his commitment to conditioning.

Jose Contreras is out for up to a month with his elbow problem for the Phillies. Good news for the Phils is that Dominic Brown will begin a minor league rehab stint in Clearwater on Wednesday.

Dodgers’ embattled owner Frank McCourt will be in New York on Wednesday to meet with MLB officials about his proposed TV deal with Fox.

The Mets GM Sandy Alderson is a former Marine who thinks that war clichés are overused in sports. Oorah.

The Padres have been using Cory Luebke out of the bullpen and he’s beginning to learn how to pitch out of the pen. Having a manager who experienced a similar role when he broke in has to help.

 

Streaks of the Day

  • Dodgers Andre Ethier extended his hitting streak to a MLB record for April 22 games
  • Royals Alex Gordon extended his career long hitting streak to 19 games
  • Royals Jeff Francouer extended his hitting streak to 15 games

 

Top Wednesday Matchups

12:10 EDT Dodgers (Billingsley 2-1, 4.13) at Marlins (Sanchez 1-1, 3.55)

3:35 EDT Braves (Hanson 2-3, 3.21) at Padres (Latos 0-3, 5.94)

7:05 EDT Red Sox (Beckett 2-1, 1.93) at Orioles (Guthrie 1-3, 3.12)

7:05 EDT Royals (Francis 0-2, 4.06) at Indians (Tomlin 3-0, 2.33)

7:05 EDT White Sox (Buehrle 1-2, 5.40) at Yankees (Colon 1-1, 3.50)

 

Yesterday’s Balks: 0

Biggest Early Season Concerns for MLB Teams

The season is only two weeks old, but there’s already some major issues brewing for teams who expect to be contenders for the World Series this season. While many of the pundits like to magnify the season opening minor slumps by superstars (think Albert Pujols and Derek Jeter), there are real issues that teams will need to deal with to ensure a trip to the postseason.

White Sox Closer

This is easily the most alarming situation for a potential World Series team. The White Sox bullpen has already blown 6 of 7 save opportunities in the Sox first 12 games. Ozzie Guillen is already creating memorable YouTube moments and it might only be a matter of time before he attacks one of his relievers on the pitcher’s mound. So far, the White Sox bullpen has surrendered 7 homers in less than 40 innings of work. Something is going to have to change for Guillen and the White Sox if they are to make the postseason.

Former closer Bobby Jenks is now in Boston and it appears that last year’s first round pick, Chris Sale, isn’t ready to assume the 9th inning duties. Matt Thornton appears more suited to an 8th inning setup role and former Twins setup man Jesse Crain doesn’t have the kind of dominating stuff needed to be a top closer.

The White Sox currently trail Cleveland and Kansas City in the AL Central standings by only a game. The current standings along with the Twins slow start and injury problems probably give the White Sox more time to pursue an in-house solution to resolve this issue. Hopefully for the Sox, one of their relievers (Sergio Santos?) will step up and claim the job. But if the problems persist and the White Sox continue to lose winnable games, then GM Ken Williams might have to make a trade.

If the White Sox do pursue a trade, there are a few options that might be available. The most easily obtainable target for any team needing a closer would have to be the Mets Francisco Rodriguez. The problem with K-Rod is that he is due $11.5M this season and has a vesting option for 2012 for $17.5M if he finishes at least 55 games this season. The Padres Heath Bell is a pending free agent and the Padres would be foolish not to secure a king’s ransom in return for the elite closer. With these two, it comes down to whether Williams wants to pay for a closer with money or prospects? The Sox hope it doesn’t come to that.

Red Sox Pitching Staff

While the entire baseball establishment focused on the Red Sox offensive firepower, their pitching staff remained a question mark coming into the season. Last year, the Red Sox only two reliable starters were Jon Lester and Clay Buchholz. They came into the season hoping that a pair of right handers (John Lackey and Josh Beckett) in their early 30’s who hadn’t pitched consistently at a high level since 2007, would revert to their previous all star forms. While Beckett seemed to find the fountain of youth on Sunday night against the Yankees, Lackey continues to struggle along with everybody else in the rotation besides Lester.

The Red Sox won 85 games last season and were the presumptive World Series champions coming into this season after acquiring Adrian Gonzalez and Carl Crawford to replace Adrian Beltre and Victor Martinez. While they didn’t lose any offense, their ability to score runs wasn’t an issue last season. They LED all of MLB in runs scored. The reason why they only won 85 games and missed the playoffs was because of their pitching.

The only pitcher of significance that they added during the offseason was Bobby Jenks. That should shore up the 7th and maybe 8th innings. But the Red Sox have a gaping hole in middle relief when their starters consistently get knocked out in the 5th and 6th innings, if they make it that far. While the White Sox closer remedy is probably easier; they can just make a trade, the Red Sox have their hands tied because they are fully committed financially to their mediocre starting staff.

While everybody in Boston will be trotting out trade propositions for King Felix daily on the radio and internet, the fact is that Seattle has no motivation to trade the best young pitcher in baseball who is under contract for affordable money through 2014. The Red Sox pitching issues will almost have to be addressed in-house through the hope that their pitchers turn things around and maybe by inserting top prospect Felix Doubrant into the rotation.

No matter what the resolution might be to the Red Sox problems, we don’t even really know yet how Jonathan Papelbon is going to bounce back from last season’s off year. That could be an entirely different issue and won’t be discovered until the starters begin to give him save opportunities.

Dearth of Quality First Basemen for Contenders

First base production is shaping up as a potential problem for a number of contenders and could ignite a bunch of trade rumors and player movement as spring turns to summer. The Rockies with Todd Helton, Braves with rookie Freddie Freeman, Giants with Brandon Belt, Rangers with Mitch Moreland, Indians with Matt LaPorta, and the Angels with Mike Trumbo(filling in for Kendrys Morales) are all relying on questionable production out of a traditionally offensive position.

Helton continues to suffer from back issues and the Rockies can’t rely on him to produce in the middle of their order anymore. Freeman is a rookie in a lineup with other question marks and the offensively challenged Braves might need to upgrade first base if they are to generate enough offense to return to the playoffs. The Giants have other pieces that can replace Belt if he continues to struggle or gets sent down. But can the world champs rely on the smorgasbord of castoffs and role players to hit enough over the 162 game season again to make it back to October?

In the AL, the Rangers are relying on Moreland and can fill-in with other players, but with a potential championship in their sights, could they look to make a major upgrade at first? The Indians weren’t expected to contend this season but sometimes the future is now. How long can they continue to go with the annually disappointing LaPorta at first? The Angels have top prospect Trumbo filling in for the injured Morales but they could look for an upgrade if Morales doesn’t return to form.

What this means is that there should be a seller’s market this summer for first basemen. It’s difficult to contend for a championship with an offensive hole at a typically productive position like first base. Right now, there really isn’t any all star talent available to these teams. If someone doesn’t have a prospect playing first and wants to give one a chance, the Reds have former first round pick Yonder Alonso stuck in AAA behind last year’s NL MVP Joey Votto. Alonso could end up being a shrewd addition to a team looking for production at first if he can live up to his potential.

The most intriguing possibilities as the summer goes on, however, are a pair of NL Central first basemen. Both Albert Pujols and Prince Fielder are going to be free agents following this season and while Pujols is a 10-5 guy and can’t be traded without approval, Fielder isn’t and could become available if the Brewers fall out of the race or decide to preemptively make a move before Fielder leaves following the season for only draft pick compensation.

For obvious reasons, Fielder is the more likely of the two all stars to be traded, but if the Cardinals were to be at least 10 games out at some point and it continued to appear unlikely that they would be able to sign Pujols, then he could conceivably waive his no-trade at the end of July to go to the right team and the Cards would be able to reap a windfall in a trade. Atlanta, for example, would have no problem submitting a package that included Freeman for a chance to win a World Series this season with Pujols.

It’s early in the season and some of those teams might fade away or start to get production from their current players, but first base isn’t a position where most teams are willing to make the stretch run with players who need to hit at the bottom of the lineup.

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.