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NL West: Recognize the Rockies
Let me begin with a disclaimer: I have a soft spot for the state of Colorado. I'm a sucker for its mountains and mountain air, its entire outdoors-infused, breathmint-fresh way of life. The most mundane activity takes on a cleaner, crisper feel when I picture it at Rocky Mountain High.
Colorado's baseball team has been sort of a reality-check to this travel-brochure fantasy. The Rockies have begun most baseball seasons DOA. It has been more than six years since their last winning season and more than 11 since their one and only playoff appearance, which immediately went downhill when Don Baylor's managing left Colorado with pitcher Lance Painter (10 career hits) striking out as a pinch-hitter with the bases loaded at the end of a 5-4 defeat in Game 1 of the National League Division Series.
Look around the Internet, and few expect the Rockies to put an end to their misfortune in 2007. But there's a wind blowing out of Denver -- one that perhaps should send a little shiver down the spines of the Rockies' National League West rivals.
As Rockies blog Purple Row pointed out over the weekend, the Rockies have a middle of the lineup that people should take notice of. Garret Atkins (.310), Todd Helton (.291), Matt Holliday (.304) and Brad Hawpe (.287) form the only foursome in the division with park-adjusted equivalent averages last season of .285 or better, according to Baseball Prospectus. For the uninitiated, that's a fancy way of saying these guys can hit, and that it's not just Coors Field souping up their numbers.
So why isn't that enough to put Colorado in the prognosticators' pockets? Well, there's uncertainty at the top of the lineup, where Willy Taveras and Kazuo Matsui inspire little fear, and at the bottom, which is dependent on promising but unproven rookies Troy Tulowitzki and Chris Iannetta. And though Aaron Cook and Jeff Francis form an underrated front of the starting rotation, the back is shakier than the ground beneath an avalanche.
In all likelihood, the Dodgers, Padres, Diamondbacks and Giants can probably hold their breath as they push through the heart of the Rockies' batting order and exhale by most games' ends. But when SI.com asked me to pick a surprise story of the year, my thoughts soon landed on those rugged Rocky peaks. If Atkins, Helton, Holliday and Hawpe can just get their good games in sync with the pitchers, I can't help thinking that long-suffering Colorado, which actually found itself tied for first place on Independence Day last season, might finally follow through on its promise to bring us the most frigid October baseball we've ever seen.
Some other Opening Week notes:
Jon Weisman is an SI.com columnist and founder of Dodger Thoughts.
Labels: NL West
posted by SI.com | View comments |
I've been attending 40-50 Rockies games per year since I was in High School, and this is the most excited I've been for a team at the onset of the season.
Remember when the Rockies lost to the Braves in the '95 wildcard series? John Smoltz had said it was "the scariest lineup" he had ever seen. This year's lineup has potential to be as good, if not this year.
Pitching, as usual is suspect, but if Hurdle can get minimize the time the bullpen has to pitch before Fuentes closes, the Rockies have a great shot at winning 85+ games... I'm a huge homer, but it wouldn't surprise me if the Rox finish second in the NL West and in the running for a wild card.
AL East blog (Monday)
NL West blog (Monday)
AL Central blog (Tuesday)
NL Central blog (Wednesday)
AL West blog (Thursday)
NL East blog (Thursday)
Wild Card (Friday)