Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Know Thy Enemy: Colorado Rockies

Today in Know Thy Enemy we wrap up the NL West previews with a look at the 2007 World Series runner-up Colorado Rockies. Do the Rox have what it takes to make another magical run? Drew Bienhoff of Up in the Rockies discusses the defending National League champs.

Ah yes, the very welcome burden of heightened expectations. After going six straight seasons under .500, the Rockies shocked the National League in 2007 by overcoming an 18-27 start and taking both the Wild Card and eventually the pennant in stunning fashion.

Of course, any time a team goes on a streak like the Rox had in September and October when they won 21 of 22 games, they’re going to be expected to do big things the following season. Although their sights are set on the franchise’s first division crown, Colorado knows it won’t be easy. It’s going to be a battle all year long in the National League West with four legitimate contenders (sorry, San Francisco) beating each other up in intradivisional play.

Despite the fact that the Rockies didn’t make any impact additions over the offseason, choosing instead to focus on locking up the core of this National League champion squad with several long term extensions, they’re looking better than ever headed into 2008. With a lineup that boasts maybe the best two through six hitters in the National League and a rotation that is expected to get full seasons for the first time out of its top two young power arms, no one is going to enjoy facing these Rockies in 2008.

Projected Lineup
CF Willy Taveras
SS Troy Tulowitzki
1B Todd Helton
LF Matt Holliday
3B Garrett Atkins
RF Brad Hawpe
C Yorvit Torrealba
2B Jayson Nix

Nix is the only new face in the lineup, having inherited the job vacated by Kazuo Matsui’s departure for Houston. Losing Kaz’s speed at the top of the lineup will be tough to deal without, but his bat is far from irreplaceable. Don’t be surprised if Nix performs better than the seemingly low expectations that have been placed on him.

If Taveras can stay healthy and be fleet of foot as usual while Torrealba and Nix are at least average to slightly above average, this is one of the most dangerous lineups in baseball. They’ll need to be, as the Rockies starting rotation has the usual question marks toward the back end:

Projected Rotation
Jeff Francis
Aaron Cook
Ubaldo Jimenez
Mark Redman
Franklin Morales

Much will be riding on the young arms of Ubaldo Jimenez and Franklin Morales this year. After encouraging debuts towards the end of 2007, these two have been handed crucial roles in the return of this team to the postseason. If they can both stay healthy and effective, it will be a huge boost for the Rockies (not to mention a speed boost on the radar gun). If they don’t, it will mean Kip Wells and Josh Towers may see some starts throughout the season…yikes.

The bullpen and bench were solid yet unspectacular in 2007, so expect more of the same in this new season as the personnel remains pretty close to the same. Scott Podsednik will try to make an impact as a fifth outfielder, but I don’t see his addition panning out to have much value, as his legs have seen their best days go by.

All in all, the Rockies are facing some stiff competition in the West this year, but they’re more than prepared to rise to the challenge. As usual, the traditional problem of hitting consistently well away from Coors Field stands in the way of greatness, but this offense has the talent to hit anywhere, a mile high or not. Look for the Rockies to follow up their first playoff appearance in 12 years with a second one in 2008.

Drew is a displaced Rockies fan (living in Kansas City) who is glad that he no longer hears the question, "Why are you a Rockies fan? They suck!" He currently writes at Up in the Rockies and is probably still the biggest Larry Walker supporter west of the Mississippi.

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