Rockies enter 2019 with chip on shoulder

March 25th, 2019

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- The offseason had a decidedly different feel for the Rockies. Frankly, it felt worse than the one before. But ultimately, could it be better?

The Rockies made the postseason for the second straight year -- something they had never done before. They beat the Cubs in the National League Wild Card Game, so they went a step beyond their 2017 finish.

And yet the sweep at the hands of the Brewers in the NL Division Series kicked up a remarkable level of bitterness, and the angst has fueled some significant moves.

The Rockies reached an eight-year, $260 million contract with star third baseman Nolan Arenado, and spent much of spring showing batting orders with him in the No. 2 spot instead of the more familiar third or fourth (a move that may or may not show up in the regular season). They moved longtime center fielder Charlie Blackmon to right, and shuttled Ian Desmond to center. They signed just one free agent, Daniel Murphy to play first base, but his presence is expected to transform an offense that struggled with big at-bats. It seems like every pitcher that struggled to any degree (starters Chad Bettis, Jon Gray, Jeff Hoffman and Antonio Senzatela and relievers Jake McGee and Bryan Shaw) last season made a beeline to Driveline -- a performance center in suburban Seattle.

And with the regular season starting this week, the Rockies enter the season about as healthy as can be expected, with only Senzatela (infected right heel blister) and lefty reliever Chris Rusin (upper-back tightness) on the injured list -- but on the mend.

During Spring Training, MLB Network’s 30 Clubs in 30 Days examined a Rockies club longing for more.

Can a team this homegrown win a World Series? The Rockies darn sure will try. While other teams do their big spending on the open market, the Rockies tend to reward their own guys such as Arenado and Blackmon, who's heading into the second season of a six-year, $108 million deal. A new contract for shortstop Trevor Story could be next if he continues his path to stardom. The Rox prefer shrewd Deadline moves to game-changers. They’ve ushered in former first-round pick David Dahl with the expectation that he’ll replace Carlos Gonzalez’s outfield production, and are counting on youth to replace DJ LeMahieu at second base. All this is not to retool for some future year, but to win now.

For all the big dollars and, at times, big stats of the hitters, the Rockies are winning with starting pitching. Manager Bud Black’s idea is to push his starters, especially at home. The Rockies did not have a complete game last season, yet their starters led the NL in innings pitched. Kyle Freeland, who finished fourth in the NL Cy Young Award race, and German Marquez, whose park-adjusted and advanced numbers were among the most impressive in the NL, drive a staff that carries the team’s hopes. Also, with Gray looking to regain his lofty 2017 performance, lefty Tyler Anderson possibly positioned for a breakout, Bettis healthy after troublesome blisters affected him following a strong 2018 start, and Senzatela and Hoffman looking for consistent work (they’d be in the rotation on many teams), there is depth.

Yes, there is starting-pitching depth. But the Rockies have had an uncanny run of health; trouble comes if that changes.

While Black has been adept at determining which bullpen members to lean on with leads -- and which strugglers to stay away from -- even he can’t manage through too many slumping relievers.

Closer Wade Davis earned a club-record and career-high 43 saves last season, but struggled at times, especially at Coors Field. He must find the answers to keeping bad outings isolated.

Many project Murphy to put up monster numbers at Coors. But after a month and a half, when the percentage of home games increases, does he succumb to the same issues that have affected players throughout the team’s history? If he struggles, it’s possible the Rockies slip into the same up-and-down/home-road bipolar offense that threatened last year's success.

Dahl becoming a big run producer would not shock the Rockies; they drafted him 10th overall in 2012, and patiently waited out an injury-affected early career. But the Rockies aren’t often seen by a national audience. Most would be surprised to learn that his numbers are equal to, in some cases better than, Arenado, Gonzalez and even Todd Helton after the same number of games played in purple pinstripes.