San Francisco Giants: Can the Colorado Rockies Steal the Division Crown?

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San Francisco Giants: Can the Colorado Rockies Steal the Division Crown?
Dustin Bradford/Getty Images
Troy Tulowitzki and Carlos Gonzalez front a powerful offense. But can they stay healthy?

Over a month into the MLB season, there is a surprise contender hovering near the top of the National League West: the Colorado Rockies.

But before the San Francisco Giants and their fans start wringing their collective hands and clamor for a more humid humidor at Coors Field, two questions must be asked and answered:

Are the Rockies really this good? If so, will they still be in the hunt come September and threaten the Giants’ ability to repeat as division champions?

Without a doubt, the Rockies offense is one of the best in the league.  As a team, they rank first in nearly all offensive categories, including batting average (.278), OBP (.343), slugging percentage (.459), OPS (.802) and runs (169). Only the Atlanta Braves have hit more home runs (47) than the Rockies (45).

With a star-studded lineup that features Troy Tulowitzki, Carlos Gonzalez, Wilin Rosario, Dexter Fowler, Michael Cuddyer and young stud Nolan Arenado, it is more than reasonable to expect that the Rockies—should they remain healthy—will be able to maintain their stellar offensive production throughout the season.

But can they remain healthy? 

In six MLB seasons, Troy Tulowitzki has only reached the 150-games-played mark twice. Carlos Gonzalez has never appeared in more than 145 games

If Tulowitzki or Gonzalez miss significant time, do the Rockies have enough firepower to stay afloat in the National League West?

Rosario and Arenado are both great—but unproven—talents. Fowler is off to a hot start, but he is not the type of player who can carry an offense. Cuddyer is a nice complementary piece, but his production would surely drop off if Tulowitzki or Gonzalez were missing from the lineup.

Even if the Rockies do manage to stay healthy, it remains to be seen whether they have enough pitching to carry them through a whole season. 

On one hand, the bullpen has been dominant. 

Thanks to closer Rafael Betancourt and nasty setup man Rex Brothers, the Rockies’ bullpen ranks second in the league (trailing the Giants, of course) with an ERA of 2.69. The bad news, at least for the Rockies, is that they have amassed 124 IP, which is most in the league.

This statistic points to the Rockies' biggest weakness—starting pitching. Colorado starters have pitched only 182.1 innings, an average of 5.1 innings per start. If that trend continues, which it likely will, the bullpen’s effectiveness is bound to regress due to overuse.    

Further, Colorado’s starting pitchers have a collective ERA of 4.34, which ranks 11th in the league.  Besides Jhoulys Chacin and Jorge De La Rosa, the Rockies’ starting staff is full of holes. 

Juan Nicasio has talent, but he has yet to prove that he can be effective at the major league level. Jeff Francis and Jon Garland are nothing more than retreads who do not belong in any playoff contender’s starting rotation.

Even worse for the Rockies, they have no major-league ready talent waiting in the wings. 

Chad Bettis, their No. 4 overall prospect, according to MLB.com, is currently trying to figure things out in Double-A Tulsa. If the Rockies need help in the rotation, which they most certainly will, it will have to come from outside the organization. 

Signing Roy Oswalt, who joins Francis and Garland in the "retread" category, is not even close to being a plausible solution.

As is, Colorado’s roster is not one that is built for success over 162 games.

Even if the Rockies were to piece together a playoff-caliber roster this season, the responsibility of holding it together would fall onto the shoulders of an unproven manager. 

Walt Weiss, a 14-year MLB veteran and winner of the 1988 American League Rookie of the Year award as a shortstop for the Oakland Athletics, has never managed above the high-school level.    

The Rockies are taking a big gamble with an inexperienced manager.

After watching manager Bruce Bochy masterfully maneuver the Giants to two World Series titles in the past three seasons, Giants fans know how pivotal a good manager is to getting a team both to and through the playoffs.

The Rockies' hot start, while not a complete fluke, is not something that will likely be sustained. While they certainly have many good pieces, most notably on offense, their roster is not nearly as complete as the Giants’. 

Until Colorado bolsters their starting rotation and gains the invaluable experience that comes with playing meaningful baseball late in the season, they will not be able to realistically compete for the division title.

For 2013 at least, Giants fans can breathe a sigh of relief.     

 

*Stats are courtesy of MLB.com and Baseball-Reference.com unless noted otherwise.

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