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CNN/SI Preview: Colorado Rockies
Posted: Wednesday March 17, 1999 04:54 PM
By Adam Levine, CNN/SI
Player to Watch: Darryl Kile, RHP
Everyone knows the Rockies can hit, but pitching is another story. Taking the mound at Coors Field is akin to juggling live grenades in a minefield. When the Rockies lured Darryl Kile away from the Astros in 1998, the team expected him to take the reigns as their premier starter.
With all the pressure on him, Kile responded with a 13-17 record and a lofty 5.20 ERA. Kile, 31, did plenty of heavy lifting, though, leading the Rockies in innings pitched (230 1/3).
Kile's three-year, $24 million deal turned some heads in 1998, but is now practically chump change. Kile is less likely to face the daily scrutiny and pressure of last season, but he still must rebound to prove that his 1997 season with Houston (19-7, 2.57 ERA) wasn't a fluke.
1998 Recap (77-85, 4th place, NL West)
After Atlanta signed Andres Galarraga and Walt Weiss away, the Rockies didn't really blink. Mike Lansing was acquired to add some punch and shore up the infield defense. Newcomer Todd Helton was a solid replacement at first (.315, 25 HRs and 98 RBI), but did not provide the same threat as Galarraga.
Lansing and Helton seemed a good fit in Colorado's potent offensive of Vinny Castilla, Larry Walker, Dante Bichette and Ellis Burks. However, the absence of the Big Cat combined with a series of injuries resulted in fewer home runs for all but Castilla.
Colorado's home-field advantage (47-34 in 1997) vanished as the starting rotation was hammered to the tune of a 5.70 ERA. Opposing hitters feasted with a .302 batting average at Coors. Kile and Pedro Astacio (in his first full season with Colorado) were consistently ineffective as the 1-2 starters.
It wasn't much better on the road, where the Rockies limped to a 35-46 record. Colorado strung together just two winning streaks of more than four games, but managed seven losing streaks of four or more games.
The final shot was fired after the season ended when GM Bob Gebhard fired manager Don Baylor.
The Rockies wasted little time signing former Florida skipper Jim Leyland to take over for Baylor. But Leyland faces an uphill battle in the wake of the Dodgers and Diamondbacks' offseason efforts to bolster their rosters. The NL champion Padres conducted an offseason fire sale, but the Rockies won't soon forget finishing 21 games behind San Diego.
The Rockies will open the season against the Padres in Monterey, Mexico, on April 4. Despite an unimpressive spring training performance by Kile, Leyland has named him the No. 1 starter. Astacio, Jamey Wright, Brian Bohanon and John Thomson will fill out the rest of the rotation.
The Rockies will count on OF Darryl Hamilton, acquired in the Ellis Burks trade, to set the plate for Castilla, Walker and Bichette. Hamilton's presence in the lineup should reduce the pressure on Neifi Perez to perform with the bat.
Curt Leskanic has impressed in spring training and is expected to take over closing duties this season. Leyland will have to work on the right formula of middle relievers to avoid the Rockies' real nemesis -- the big inning. Without consistent pitching support, the Rockies can expect another middle of the pack season.
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