The Rockies are 5–21 in extra-inning games, including 2–15 on the road, since the 2002 All-Star break.
Manager Clint Hurdle started at least one rookie in all 162 games, two or more in 147 games, three or more in 101 games and four or more in 42 games. Hurdle also started five or more rookies 14 times, including a club-record six rookies four times.
In his failed attempt to make the transition to closer, Shawn Chacon appeared in 66 games and retired the side in order just eight times. His 35 saves included just six when he retired the side in order. The Rockies, as a team, blew 34 saves, a major league single-season record previously held by the 2002 Texas Rangers. Colorado also set a record for most relief losses (39) in a single season. That record, too, was held by the ’02 Rangers.
First inning woes
The Rockies were outscored 122–81 in the first inning, including 78–52 at Coors Field.
In his first season with the Rockies, Joe Kennedy had more success at Coors Field (6–1 with a 3.59 ERA in 14 starts) than on the road (3–6, 3.73 in 13 starts).
The Rockies lost their first nine games on Friday, then won their next nine games on Friday before finishing the season by losing their final seven Friday night games.
Colorado was the last team in baseball to commit an error in 2004. The Rockies went the first nine games, 80.2 innings and 340 chances without a miscue.
The Rockies were young last year and expect to be younger still this season as they emphasize developing from within. After losing 94 games, just one short of the franchise record set in their 1993 expansion season, the Rockies seem headed for a fifth straight losing season and their seventh in eight years. But there is hope. The starting rotation should be a strength, and the bullpen, which was deplorable last year, could be formidable once the back end is sorted out. This shapes up as a transitional season for the Rockies where young players gain experience and the farm system continues to push prospects toward the majors.
The rotation has depth and could be the best in team history. Joe Kennedy, Jason Jennings, Shawn Chacon, Jeff Francis, Jamey Wright and Aaron Cook will compete for the five spots. Cook, who survived blood clots in both lungs and underwent surgery to remove his upper right rib, likely will open the season on the disabled list and join the Rockies in May. Chacon returns to the rotation where he was successful after a disastrous attempt to become a closer. Francis, selected as the 2004 Minor League Player of the Year by Baseball America and USA Today, showed poise in seven starts and has outstanding fastball command. Jennings topped 200 innings for the first time, and he and Pedro Astacio are the only pitchers in franchise history to win at least 10 games in three consecutive seasons. Kennedy adapted well to Coors Field and got his career back on track in his first season with Colorado.
After setting single-season records for blown saves (34) and relief losses (39), the Rockies have added power arms that were lacking in last year’s woeful bullpen. Newcomers include Aaron Taylor (acquired from Seattle), David Cortes and a pair of Rule 5 draftees, Matt Merricks and Marcos Carvajal. Holdovers Chin-hui Tsao, Allan Simpson and Scott Dohmann all throw hard. The only finesse pitcher in the bullpen is lefthander Javy Lopez, and he provides a contrast to lefthander Brian Fuentes, who has averaged 10.3 strikeouts per nine innings in three seasons with the Rockies. Because he throws strikes and has above-average stuff, Tsao seems destined to close, although the Rockies would prefer he not begin the season in that role.
After spending nine years in the minors, second baseman Aaron Miles took advantage of his opportunity with the Rockies last year and led all NL rookies with a .293 average. The switch-hitting Miles does not walk much — his on-base percentage was just .329 — and isn’t a prototypical leadoff hitter, but he keeps the ball out of the air and makes consistent contact. The Rockies believe Clint Barmes, who will start his first full season in the majors, is ready to be their regular shortstop. A solid defender, Barmes is coming off a second season at Class AAA, where adjustments at the plate enabled him to use the entire field and thrive offensively.
In addition to being one of the game’s elite hitters, first baseman Todd Helton won his third Gold Glove last season. He is the cornerstone of the Rockies, a marquee player on a franchise that, to some degree, begs for identity. At 31, Helton, who is signed through 2011, is still very much in his prime and is being counted on to be a veteran presence as the Rockies break in younger players. After spending the winter working on his agility, Garrett Atkins must show that his defense at third base has improved to claim the job. Desi Relaford and Luis Gonzalez can spell Atkins. Other alternatives are Andy Tracy or Greg Norton, who are both fighting for roster spots.
Left fielder Matt Holliday was a pleasant surprise last year, considering he had never dominated in the minors. He worked hard to improve his defense, which is now average, and has developed a short, quick batting stroke. Knee troubles limited center fielder and cleanup hitter Preston Wilson to 58 games last year. If he’s fully recovered, Wilson will return to that position, where he excelled in 2003. Given Wilson’s $12 million salary this season — in the final year of his contract — a trade is possible, assuming no questions exist about his health. Seeking a veteran outfielder, the Rockies signed Dustan Mohr, 28, who figures to start in right field. Mohr is a good defender who can play all three outfield positions and has a little power.
J.D. Closser, 25, is one of the centerpieces of Colorado’s youth movement. The switch-hitter has limited power but makes steady contact. His throwing can be erratic, but Closser’s catching skills are solid and he has a good feel for calling a game. He will get help climbing the learning curve from veteran Todd Greene. Greene doesn’t throw well, but he is adept at the other phases of the position and is a decent hitter with power.
Both Gonzalez, a pleasant surprise last year after being selected in the Rule 5 draft, and Relaford are very versatile. Relaford can play second, short, third and all three outfield positions. Gonzalez can play left, right and all four positions in the infield. Gonzalez’s decent power — 12 homers in 322 at-bats last year — is complemented by Relaford’s ability to run. Greene also provides power off the bench, as will either Tracy or Norton. Right fielder Brad Hawpe has greatly improved his defense and possesses tremendous natural power. He’ll have a chance to make the team in spring training, as will center fielder Choo Freeman, who needs to be more consistent on offense.
General manager Dan O’Dowd has done a decent job bottom-fishing for inexpensive free agents like Darren Oliver, Shawn Estes, Royce Clayton, Jeromy Burnitz and Vinny Castilla, all of whom proved to be capable short-term fill-ins. They were never signed to be part of the long-term fix and wisely were allowed to leave when their salary requests stretched the club’s budget. O’Dowd and manager Clint Hurdle, both signed through 2006, have taken heat from restless fans. But owner Charlie Monfort has absolved them and taken responsibility for the expensive contracts given to Denny Neagle and Mike Hampton in December 2000 and the subsequent payroll cuts that have resulted in a series of nondescript seasons.
The Rockies will have more money to work with after this year, allowing them to do more than search for bottom-rung free agents. Meanwhile, their farm system has improved greatly in recent seasons and now features players and pitchers capable of making an impact in the big leagues. The hope is Barmes, Closser, Holliday, Francis and Tsao will be the first wave of homegrown players to make a mark in the majors. It is very much a process, and a slow one, but the Rockies are adhering to their plan.