The worst winning percentage in franchise history warranted a managerial change for the Colorado Rockies.
Former major leaguer Walt Weiss gets his shot for a Rockies team that has the potential to raise a few eyebrows. Health, of course, is always an issue and nobody understands that more than Rockies two-time All-Star shortstop Troy Tulowitzki. Tulowitzki was limited to just 47 games last season because of a nagging groin issue, but enjoyed an injury-free spring training.
Tulowitzki is not the only one Colorado has to keep an eye on in order to shock the baseball world and notably the NL West. Aging veteran first baseman Todd Helton could be in the final season of his career, second baseman Josh Rutledge and catcher Wilin Rosario have question marks as productive leaders and the rotation is debatable after Jhoulys Chacin and Jorge De La Rosa.
Weiss is not walking into a very intriguing situation with the Rockies. A lot of work has to be done and he has the players to do it. Tulowitzki, Helton and Carlos Gonzalez are the big three of the ballclub and will be expected to carry the load and set an example for the younger crop of players.
"I have to get a club to play hard and play the game right," Weiss said back in November. "That's all I'm focused on."
Colorado has missed the playoffs in each of the previous three season, recording just one winning record in that time (2010). The Rockies are pegged to finish last in a division which is expected to be a two-horse race between the Los Angeles Dodgers and defending World Series champion San Francisco Giants. The Arizona Diamondbacks could turn a few heads, but the Rockies and San Diego Padres are slated to share basement duties in the division.
Below we take a capsule look at the 2013 edition of the Rockies, with a personnel evaluation and prognosis included therein:
Rockies Projected Lineup
De La Rosa
(64-98) - Fifth Place (NL West)
Key Offseason additions
1B/3B Ryan Wheeler, IF/OF Reid Brignac, OF Kenneth Williams, RHP Wilton Lopez
Key Offseason subtractions
1B Jason Giambi, 1B Mark Tracy, RHP Josh
CAN THE ROCKIES' ROTATION KEEP UP IN THE NL WEST?
Jonathan Sanchez would have helped this rotation, but he left after making just three starts with the Rockies last year after a trade with Kansas City. The Dodgers, Giants and Diamondbacks all possess problems with their rotation, leaving the Rockies and Padres grabbing for straws.
Jeff Francis led the starters with six wins (6-7) and 113 innings pitched a season ago in a team-best 24 starts. But Francis isn't the one garnering most of the attention among the starters. That title belongs to Jorge De La Rosa. The left-hander was expected to return early on after undergoing Tommy John surgery, but came back in September, making three starts and going 0-2 with a 9.28 earned run average. De La Rosa worked the kinks out in spring training and is slated to follow Jhoulys Chacin in the rotation. Chacin, who will start Opening Day, battled through a shoulder issue to make 14 starts and the righty went 3-5 with a 4.43 ERA.
Again, health will be the underlying issue for this team. Francis, Juan Nicasio and newly signed Jon Garland are expected to complete the five-man rotation. However, there are others who will try to crack the rotation such as Edwar Cabrera, Tyler Chatwood, Wilton Lopez and Christian Friedrich. Rockies' starters went a combined 29-68 with a 5.81 ERA and averaged just under five innings per start. The ERA was the worst in the majors among starters and the second-worst in club history.
On paper, the Rockies' staff doesn't compare to the likes of Clayton Kershaw, Matt Cain, Tim Lincecum, Ian Kennedy and many others in the NL West.
INJURIES ASIDE, DO THE ROCKIES HAVE A DANGEROUS LINEUP?
The Rockies' lineup is a dangerous one when it's clicking on all cylinders. Helton can still get the job done in the twilight of his career and may hang up the spikes at season's end. In early February, Helton was arrested for driving under the influence in the Denver suburb of Thornton, but that won't hinder his play both at the plate and on the field. Helton, who is 80 hits shy of 2,500 for his career, played in 69 games in 2012 and batted a career-low .238 with seven homers and 37 runs batted in.
Tulowitzki and Gonzalez are the studs of the lineup. When at full strength, Tulowitzki can be one of the best in the business. He had played at least 100 games in five straight seasons until the groin problem and is 30 RBI shy of 500 in his career. Gonzalez can run down balls in the outfield, score runs, steal bases and hit for both average and power. CarGo busted out on the scene in 2010 and his numbers have dropped slightly in the past two seasons. Both Tulowitzki and Gonzalez will be key to Weiss' first season as manager.
Weiss, though, has Dexter Fowler, Michael Cuddyer, Chris Nelson and Rosario in his lineup. Fowler and Cuddyer are proven commodities in the majors, while Pacheco and Rosario have exemplified much promise. Don't be surprised if the Rockies' lineup is one of the league leaders in hitting early on.
HOW IMPORTANT IS IT TO HAVE A HEAVY NUMBER OF PITCHERS?
It's actually vital since the high altitude in Colorado cause balls to leave the yard at a rapid pace. So expect to see several hurlers make their way to the mound before closer Rafael Betancourt settles in for a possible save.
The Rockies didn't do much to bolster both the rotation and bullpen, and are relying on a mix of veterans and youth. Some hurlers such as Tyler Chatwood, Christian Friedrich, Wilton Lopez may head to the bullpen or the minor leagues if they can't crack the top five. Matt Belisle, Rex Brothers, Adam Ottavino, Josh Outman, Daniel Rosenbaum, Chris Volstad and Rob Scahill could all be a lock for Colorado's rotation. Volstad also has starting experience.
Weiss was asked about the possibility of carrying extra arms.
"It's possible," Weiss said. "A lot of that will be play-it-by-ear stuff and a lot of it will depend on what's going on. There is nothing predetermined going into the season. There may be times when we carry 13 pitchers and times when we carry 13 position players. It just depends on the circumstances."
X-FACTOR: JHOULYS CHACIN: The Rockies' pitching staff was so poor last season that a reliever led the team in wins. Rex Brothers had a team-best eight wins in 75 appearances. That can't happen again if the Rockies plan on surprising a few teams this season. Chacin was tabbed as Opening Day starter and, along with Jorge De La Rosa, has plenty to prove for the upcoming campaign. Francis will start the home opener on April 5. Still trying to work out some mechanical issues, Chacin, who was bothered by a shoulder issue last season and started 0-3 with a 7.30 ERA, came on strong at the end with a 3-2 record and a 2.84 ERA. The right-hander won a career-high 11 games in 2011 and is hoping to make a strong return two years later.
Unless the Rockies can make a strong September push like in years past, they will not be expected to do much in 2013. They do have a talented lineup, depth on the bench and a few strong arms in the rotation. Will that amount to a winning record? An 80-plus win season could be in the cards in Weiss' first stint as a major league skipper. However, the Dodgers and Giants will be shooting for 90-plus wins and that will leave Colorado literally out in the cold since a wild card scenario is unlikely.