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Sunday, September 26, 2010

R.I.P. 2010 Rockies?

Most obituaries for the Rockies season will probably lead with the fact that coming off a 13-2 stretch which helped them climb to within a game of the division lead, they dropped three in a row to the Arizona Diamondbacks, a last place team that is playing without their best hitter (Justin Upton) and has a decimated starting rotation (having lost Brandon Webb to injury and traded away Dan Haren and Edwin Jackson).

This is certainly a logical place to begin, however, I'm going to focus instead on the stretch in mid-July, just following the All-Star Break when the Rox dropped 11 of 13.  At that time, they had also just completed a hot stretch which had moved them to within a game of first place, but they proceeded to lose four straight series, not only to good teams like the Phillies and Reds, but also to bottom-feeders like the Marlins and Pirates.  We are reminded ad nauseum this time of year that "every game counts," and the Rockies will probably be haunted by that axiom this winter as much as any team.

When they were still hanging around .500 at the end of July, we were reminded again and again of the team's propensity for late-season heroics.  And, sure enough, when September began they reeled off a ten-game winning streak.  But, alas, that wasn't enough.  What really doomed the Rockies was not the D-Backs sweep or this past weekend's tough losses in a hard-fought series with the division-leading Giants.  What doomed the Rockies were those eight blown saves they posted in April and May while they were waiting for Huston Street to come off the D.L.   Also of crucial importance were those 15 starts that got handed to Greg Smith (6.23 ERA) and Esmil Rogers (6.47 ERA) while Aaron Cook, Jorge De La Rosa, and Jeff Francis were on the shelf.   We might also point out that losing streak in July corresponded with Troy Tulowitzki's rather serious wrist injury.

So, the Rockies, who many, including myself, favored to win the NL West this season, will not be returning to the postseason.  Still, there are some good things to take away from their 2010 campaign:

Carlos Gonzalez and Ubaldo Jimenez may qualify as the two biggest breakout players in the National League.  CarGo threatened to make a run at the Triple Crown before Albert Pujols took a commanding lead in homers during the final month.  He'll get MVP consideration, but will likely lose some votes to his teammate, Tulowitzki, and be penalized by some voters for his drastic home/road splits.  Nevertheless, he became a star during his age 24 season and won't even be eligible for arbitration until 2012.

Jimenez, who the Rockies wisely signed to a long-term deal prior to the season, will also get considerable support during the awards voting.  Presumably, those that believe that Coors Field was too friendly to Gonzalez will be mighty impressed by Ubaldo's 9-1 record, 1.26 WHIP, and 3.23 ERA in the thin air.  He was even better on the road (10-6, 2.81 ERA, 1.12 WHIP).

Tulowitzki is still making a run at the all-time record for homers in the month of September.  He's currently two back of Babe Ruth and Albert Belle (17).  His spectacular hot stretch - 1070 OPS, 18 HR, 61 RBI in 54 games since returning - must be a major relief to the Colorado brass, as wrist injuries often leave hitters sapped of their power for several seasons after they are fully healed (i.e. Derrek Lee, David Ortiz).  Tulo's was mild by comparison and he is clearly no longer feeling any ill effects.

Colorado has also found a solid young starter to plug in behind Jimenez and De La Rosa.  Since being promoted to the rotation permanently at the beginning of August, Jhoulys Chacin has gone 4-2 with a 1.98 ERA in 50 IP.

This was probably the first year that Colorado fans truly expected their team to be contenders, so it can't help but be disappointing to see them falling short in September, especially to teams with considerable flaws like San Diego and Atlanta.  However, there are many competitive season left for this incarnation of the Rox.  I expect to see them playing postseason baseball again very soon.  

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