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Rockies undergo an overhaul in 2015

Arenado becomes franchise's face, as Tulo deal gives team pitching infusion @harding_at_mlb

DENVER -- Sometimes change takes a while.

The Rockies entered 2015 with a bright first-year general manager in Jeff Bridich, and the very beginning looked new and different. Righty Kyle Kendrick threw seven scoreless innings in a shutout victory in the opener, and Colorado swept Milwaukee.

DENVER -- Sometimes change takes a while.

The Rockies entered 2015 with a bright first-year general manager in Jeff Bridich, and the very beginning looked new and different. Righty Kyle Kendrick threw seven scoreless innings in a shutout victory in the opener, and Colorado swept Milwaukee.

Not long afterward, the same old reality of pitching struggles and injuries, rough road trips and lower-division finishes set in.

:: 2015 Year in Review | 2016 Outlook ::

However, 2015 could be seen as the starting point for a new beginning. The trade that sent star shortstop Troy Tulowitzki to the Blue Jays was not merely a break from the past, but the crystallization of a new reality. Young pitchers -- like the ones obtained for Tulowitzki and in previous deals and Drafts -- are the Rockies' hope for a winning future.

But sometimes a team has to endure some dark days to get to brighter ones. The Rockies entered 2015 hoping pitching would quicken their timetable and offer winning support to a solid lineup. It proved too much to hope for, as the 68-94, last-place finish in the National League West illustrated.

Here is a review of storylines from 2015 -- a tale that was more bleak than bright, despite the presence of third baseman Nolan Arenado, the Rockies' new shining star:

5. The best of all worlds never materialized: With Kendrick representing the only veteran free-agent signing, the Rockies were left hoping other vets were healthy and effective and younger hurlers would hit their stride ahead of time. Lefty Jorge De La Rosa delivered more the same results, which was good. He overcame a slow start, battled various injuries and turned in a solid season (9-7, 4.17 ERA in 26 starts).

But righty Chad Bettis (8-6, 4.23 ERA) was the only younger starter who could call 2015 a campaign of anything other than growing pains.

Video: SF@COL: De La Rosa allows one run over seven in win

Lefty Chris Rusin had lights-out performances and struggles in a nine-start trial at season's end. Righty David Hale saw a strained left oblique cost him a spot in the season-opening rotation, and spent the year not only playing catch-up but correcting a delivery flaw. Righty Jon Gray, Colorado's top pick in 2013, ranged from dominant to awful during a nine-game, season-ending trial during which he encountered the difficulty of pitching at Coors Field. In each of those cases, there were lessons that could lead to future success.

But there were also cautionary tales. Lefty Tyler Matzek, who pitched well in late 2014, struggled so badly in 2015 that he was sent down after five starts and didn't return. Righty Eddie Butler didn't show the progress the Rockies had hoped for in two early-season stints and finished his campaign at Triple-A Albuquerque. Add in the left big toe injury that cost righty Jordan Lyles most of the season, and the result was a starting staff that trailed the Majors in most categories.

The season-ending right elbow injury to closer Adam Ottavino a month into the season threw the bullpen into scramble mode, as well.

4. CarGo returns: After two years of battling injuries (to fingers on each hand and to his left knee), right fielder Carlos Gonzalez made some changes. Once he was fully healed, he changed his workouts and eating and began the season considerably lighter. But for two months, he was also weaker, as his batting average fluctuated above and under .200 for nearly two months. But by late May, Gonzalez said he was playing with confidence and joy. Most importantly, his legs were starting to feel strong again. It was a warning to those writing him off.

Video: COL@ARI: CarGo cranks his 40th homer of the season

From May 23 to season's end, he hit 36 homers to bring his final total to 40, and put up a .293/.341/.607 slash line to earn a Silver Slugger Award and re-establish himself as an offensive force.

3. What happened to 'home, sweet home?' The Rockies went 32-49 on the road -- not good, but for what it's worth, it was their best road performance since 2011. While the Rockies have had exactly one winning road record in their history, they have been to the postseason three times. So a poor record away from Coors Field isn't breaking news.

But 36-45 at home? Whoa.

This is where the poor starting pitching was more damaging. The Rockies were worst in the Majors at home in first-inning runs yielded (55) and runs yielded in the first three innings (184). Quite simply, playing from behind so often was simply too taxing for the offense.

2. Watching Tulo go: The July 27 game at Wrigley Field was thrilling, but it turned downright strange at the end. In the top half of the ninth, Daniel Descalso homered, Tulowitzki drove in a run on a groundout and Gonzalez clubbed a two-run homer to give the Rockies a one-run lead. But Kris Bryant's two-run shot to left-center off John Axford gave the Cubs a walk-off 9-8 victory.

Video: COL@CHC: Tulo grounds out to bring home Blackmon

But do any Rockies fans remember any of that?

The odd turn of events began with Tulowitzki not going out to short for the bottom of the ninth. What?

Not long after the game, the blindsiding news broke that Tulowitzki and reliever LaTroy Hawkins had been shipped to the Blue Jays for Jose Reyes and pitching prospects.

Video: COL@CHC: GM Bridich discusses the Reyes-Tulo trade

Colorado ended up with righty starter Jeff Hoffman, the ninth-overall pick in the 2014 Draft; righty reliever Miguel Castro, who pitched in the Majors at the start of the season and had a brief cameo with the Rockies after the trade; and righty starter Jesus Tinoco, who would go 5-0 with a 1.80 ERA in seven regular-season starts for the Rockies' Class A Asheville affiliate.

The trio of pitchers will be asked to turn the shock of that night in Chicago into joy.

1. A new face: Sure, there's a great argument for the Tulo trade as the biggest storyline of 2015. But the Rockies' world didn't end then. Besides, enough sadness occurred. Why not end on a happy note? And third baseman Nolan Arenado caused many happy dances in 2015.

When the Rockies have struggled, national sports shows have reduced them to highlights from a top player -- Larry Walker, Todd Helton, Gonzalez, Tulowitzki. Arenado holds that special place, thanks to his numerous exhibitions of defensive acrobatics.

But in 2015, he checked off all the superstar boxes.

Power? How about 42 homers to tie the Nationals' Bryce Harper for the National League lead?

Video: Nolan Arenado wins third straight Gold Glove Award

Overall damage? He had 130 RBIs, which led the Majors and were 20 more than any other NL player. Arenado's 89 extra-base hits eclipsed the Major League record by a third baseman (Chipper Jones had 87 in 1999).

Stereotype debunking? Arenado hit 22 home runs on the road, two more than he hit at Coors Field, which cuts off any argument that his power is a thin-air mirage.

Stat-geek appeal? Not only did he win his third Rawlings Gold Glove in as many seasons in the Majors, but his campaign was as pleasing to the calculator as it was the eye. His season held up well enough to satisfy the mathematical requirements for The Fielding Bible and Wilson Defensive Player of the Year Awards, so he took home both of those, as well.

Thomas Harding is a reporter for Follow him on Twitter @harding_at_mlb, listen to podcasts and like his Facebook page.

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