Alex Gallardo/Associated Press
Overshadowed by the Los Angeles Dodgers and San Francisco Giants in the National League West, the Colorado Rockies might actually be the scariest team in that division.
While the key continues to be keeping star players Carlos Gonzalez and Troy Tulowitzki off the disabled list, their health has only been part of the reason for the team's 17-13 start, which is good for 3rd place in the division but only one game behind the 1st place Giants.
With the top two leading hitters in the game—Tulowitzki is leading the majors with a .370 batting average; Charlie Blackmon is second with a .369 batting average—and the resurgent Justin Morneau 8th with a .340 batting average, the Rockies lineup is shaping up to be a nightmare for opposing pitchers.
Michael Cuddyer, once he returns from a disabled list stint with a strained hamstring, gives them another .300 hitter while Nolan Arenado (.311 BA, 4 HR, 7 2B) is proving that he can do damage with the bat, as well as play Gold Glove-caliber defense at third base.
Filling in for Cuddyer has been Corey Dickerson (13-for-34, 2 HR, 3 2B, 3B) and Brandon Barnes (.810 OPS), while backup infielder Josh Rutledge (7-for-22, HR, 2B) has made the most out of his minimal playing time.
When catcher Wilin Rosario (49 combined homers in 2012-13) heats up, this lineup could be one of the best in the game. They might be already, if the numbers are any indication (1st in R, BA, OPS, HR, 2B).
Getting through a 162-game season is difficult for any team, but it's a much more challenging task for one playing 81 games at hitter-friendly Coors Field. And yet, the Rockies pitching staff is built to succeed.
The depth provided by two offseason trades—Jordan Lyles (pictured), along with Barnes, was acquired from the Houston Astros for center fielder Dexter Fowler; Franklin Morales, along with reliever Chris Martin, was acquired from the Boston Red Sox for infielder Jonathan Herrera—has helped to fill the gap left by an injury to another trade acquisition, Brett Anderson, who is out for at least another month-and-a-half with a fractured finger.
While the trade was an unpopular one, the play of Lyles and Barnes are quickly proving the doubters, including myself, wrong. The 23-year-old Lyles, who is viewed as a back-of-the-rotation starter, has posted a 2.70 ERA in six starts and has been brilliant in his two Coors Field outings (13.2 IP, ER, 10 H, 3 BB, 6 K).
Morales hasn't been nearly as good, though he does have a 3-1 record with a 4.55 ERA in his five starts. He'll likely end the season in the bullpen, where he'll provide the team with a hard-throwing lefty veteran who can pitch multiple innings.
At full strength, the team could have a starting five of Jorge De La Rosa, Jhouly Chacin, Tyler Chatwood, Lyles and one of their top two pitching prospects, Eddie Butler or Jonathan Gray.
Not only are Butler and Gray the Rockies' top two pitching prospects, they are two of the top prospects in the game. Both are in Double-A, profile as top-of-the-rotation starters and are close to being major league ready.
Even the bullpen looks strong with veteran LaTroy Hawkins getting the job done as the closer, but the bridge to the 9th inning is strong with Rex Brothers, Adam Ottavino and Boone Logan. Anderson could move to the 'pen later in the season and former Reds setup man Nick Masset (6.2 IP, 0 R, H, 0 BB, 8 K), who hasn't pitched in the majors since 2011 because of injuries, could also be up to help soon.