Colorado Rockies: After One Week in 2011, Five Reasons They'll Make the Playoffs
One week into the 2011 season, those expectations don't seem too out of reach.
With all the positives that this season could potentially bring, there are, of course, some things the team still needs to work on.
The Rockies have one of the league's best records in 4-1 and that is a good representative of how they've performed this past week. Rockies fans were quick to find the panic button after Ubaldo Jimenez's less-than-stellar outing on Opening Day against the Arizona Diamondbacks. He suffered through six hard innings, giving up six runs on seven hits while striking out one and walking one.
Rocktober dreams seemed to dim before they even started.
The Rotation is Successful All the Way Through
Coming into the season, the pitching rotation was one of the major concerns the national media and Rockies fans had. One cycle through the rotation, those worries have turned into high expectations.
Jorge De La Rosa had a brilliant outing and looks to continue the dominance he had last season, Jhoulys Chacin could be as good as Jimenez, Jason Hammel looks to continue the success he found in 2010, and Esmil Rogers surprised many with his gem Thursday in Pittsburgh.
How Many Wins for the Rockies in 2011?
Pitching has never been a strong point for Colorado since their inception in 1993. If Jimenez can return to form after his stint on the disabled list, this rotation has the chance to be the best the Rockies have ever seen, bar none.
The Bottom Third of the Lineup is Producing
Another concern that Rockies brass had was how well players like Chris Iannetta, Ian Stewart and Seth Smith could hit. All three had a disappointing year at the plate last season and many say that the success of the Rockies' offense hinges on the success of these three at the plate.
Stewart is still looking for his first hit of the year, and while he hasn't been benched, he has seen decreased time at the plate while the Rockies have opted to go with infielder Ty Wigginton, especially against left-handed pitchers.
Smith is currently hitting .412, as of Friday before the Rockies' matchup with the Pirates. He has responded well to increased pressure to perform offensively. He hit left-handers well in spring training, which was something the Rockies' coaches wanted him to improve upon.
Iannetta is the biggest success story coming out of spring training. He is currently hitting .313 with one home run and two RBIs so far in 2011. He has embraced the catcher's role, instead of babysitting it for someone else like last season. Chris Iannetta, if he keeps hitting like he's proven he can, could be the key to the bottom third of the Rockies' lineup.
Tulowitzki is Off to a Good Start
The odds-on favorite for the National League MVP has never gotten off to a hot start in April. This April, Rockies fans thought that wouldn't change. His 0-for-10 stretch to start off the season was not a good sign for the team, but he broke out against the Dodgers last week. Since April 5th, Tulowitzki is hitting .500 with three home runs, six RBIs, and one double.
Since the two-game sweep of the Dodgers, Tulowitzki has been on fire. The question is whether or not he can keep up the offensive production. He can't keep up the .500 pace he's on now–no one is asking that of him. But for this to be considered a successful April, Tulowitzki will need to hit at least .270 before May rolls around.
All Signs Point to a Healthy Todd Helton
Mr. Rockie has been up and down the past two years. In 2009, he had a very successful year, hitting .325 with 15 home runs and 86 RBIs, finishing 13th in the NL MVP race. In 2010, however, he hit a paltry .256 with eight home runs and 37 batted in.
This offseason, he noted that a combination of healthier eating and P90X have made his ailing back feel young again. Thus far in 2011, it seems to have paid off. Through five games, Helton is hitting .294 with one home run and four RBIs. He'll be spelled at first base by both Ty Wigginton and Jason Giambi, but if he can keep up the pace like he did in 2009, a successful year for Helton might be the key to another postseason berth.
Can the Team Stay Healthy?
The Rockies' biggest problem the past few years has been avoiding the injury bug. Entering his sixth year in the bigs, Troy Tulowitzki has only played in 150 games twice. Todd Helton needs to regain his 2009 form, instead of what he looked like last year.
The pitching rotation, once Jimenez returns, needs to stay healthy and dominant. A strong bullpen can help alleviate some of the pressure on the rotation, but there needs to be a fine line between the two, instead of overusing one or the other.
Barring any major injuries and a complete shutdown by the pitching staff, Colorado looks to be the team to beat in the NL West. Once they hit the playoffs, everyone knows that they're capable of anything. If these five things ring true, Rocktober 2011 is all but in the bag.
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