The Rockies, predicted by many to win the NL West in 2011, struggled out of the gate and fell to an almost empathetic 73-89 record.
Now, standing on the doorstep of the 2012 season, and seemingly staring at a roster filled with promise, the Rockies are again expected to fulfill huge expectations, as predictions pile up for recovery from a disappointing 2011 and win the NL West this year.
Although the Rockies have definitely managed to field a competitive team on paper, several things have to fall into place in order for them to hit their late 2007 dream season stride (has it been that long?)
The indefinite commitment to Jim Tracy settles things at the managerial level, but performance needs to reflect the monetary endorsement Tracy has received. A continuous regression back to 2011 form will put the Rockies in a difficult situation after a strong backing of the Cargo, Tulo, Tracy trio.
Five factors will need to work to expectations in order for the Rockies to reach the playoffs and hopefully, beyond.
Juan Nicasio will need his A game to propel the Rockies
Jeremy Guthrie has been inked as the opening day starter. While he has all the tools, including a wicked 95 mph fastball, Guthrie has not seen a winning season since 2007, his first year as a starter.
Granted, Guthrie pitched for the Baltimore Orioles in the monster AL East, facing a frequent plethora of good hitters from feared lineups (Yankees, Red Sox, Rays anyone?), and his run support has never been that strong, but he will have perform well to earn the trust instilled by the front office.
Guthrie definitely has the power to go long into games, logging 200+ innings in each of the last three seasons, and remain healthy throughout the season, but his performance will need to shine at the top to keep the Rocks in the hunt.
With Jorge De La Rosa not expected back until mid-season, the Rockies have some young talent will need to step up.
Juan Nicasio shows unlimited promise with his velocity, and Jhoulys Chacin should remain a constant as a crafty right-hander. Rookie Drew Pomeranz also shows a lot of potential as a lefty starter.
The bottom of the rotation looks to be filled by Jamie Moyer, who continues to baffle baseball gurus and hitters at 49 years old, complete with an, at best, 80 mph fastball.
This rotation has nice experience (especially Moyer) mixed with good young talent, but can they put the whole package together for a complete season? As long as they stay healthy, this could actually prove a surprise come mid-summer.
If Moneyball showed us anything this spring, it's that getting on base is a major component of a successful team.
That formula needs to start at the top, and for the Rockies, this may be troubling.
Fowler exploded after the All-Star break with a .381 OBP, but thus far has struggled mightily in spring training. The high-on-base Fowler is the player the Rockies need everyday in the trenches—the most vital component for the Rockies as the tone-setter. No one can argue that once Fowler gets on base, his speed makes him a force to be reckoned with.
However, the if seems to cast a cloud over the extremely talented center fielder every spring.
Potential is only used as a phrase up to a certain age, and while Fowler contains an enormous amount of it, eventually it needs to be seen to fruition. His glove is invaluable in the chasm that is center at Coors Field, but his bat should set the tone for the lineup. If he can face his batting struggles head on, the Rockies have the punch to drive him in, and they will score a lot of runs.
Look for early struggles, but by mid-season, Fowler will provide the ignition.
CarGo needs an explosive first half of the season
Speaking of Moneyball, did any other Rockies fans, or baseball fans for that matter, think of Carlos Gonzalez during that movie?
Dan O'Dowd virtually picked Billy Beane's pocket when he traded a loaner Matt Holiday for CarGo and Huston Street. Proof positive that obviously that strategy does not work every time.
Gonzalez's slow start to 2011 was one of the major reasons that the Rockies struggled and eventually disappointed. A fast and consistent season can ensure that the combination of CarGo and Tulo strikes fear into opposing pitchers as it did in 2010.
There's no question that, when in form, Gonzalez can easily be a .300, 30 HR, 100 RBI, 30 steals guy, he just needs to stay focused and realize that potential again. A strong season from CarGo is definitely expected and this will inevitably put the Rockies on track for a late-season run.
Nelson platoons the void left at the hot corner
The Casey Blake experiment fizzled, as it appears he has nothing left in the tank.
Enter Chris Nelson, who has served in spot duty over the last few years.
Although this looks bleak, Nelson actually appears to be a better third baseman than advertised. His glove and athleticism could serve well in the field, and when given an opportunity, look for Nelson to seize it.
Jordan Pacheco serves in the backup role, but he's even more raw than Nelson. Having served as a catcher in the minor leagues over the past three seasons, Pacheco brings no experience to the position, but since Nelson should embrace his new starting role, and combined with his speed and his glove, the Rockies should get more than expected on the field and in the lineup.
Tracy's leadership and Giambi's experience need to be spot on
Intangibles: The complex, virtually indescribable aspects of a clubhouse that either puts clubs over the top, or over the edge.
The Rockies are loaded with these.
Signing Jim Tracy to a long-term deal was a bit of a surprise, but knowing full well that Tracy can be an excellent manager, O'Dowd and company decided not to let the expiring contract linger over a potential break out season. This was a smart move and now it is down to work, with no room for excuses.
That being said, the rest of the clubhouse will need to fall in line, and here's saying they do.
The Rockies have a good mix a wily veterans, (Todd Helton, Jason Giambi and 49 year old Jamie Moyer) and young, focused talent (Troy Tulowitzki and Carlos Gonzalez) to provide depth and leadership. And after a disappointing 2011, the Rockies will come out guns-a-blazin' from all directions and seize the top spot in the very winnable NL West.
An early surge will be required for momentum to progress, but with the nice mix in both the rotation and the lineup, the leadership qualities of the vets and Jim Tracy at the helm, the pieces are in place for the Rockies to make a run, hopefully into October.
Otherwise, major retooling may be required for 2013.