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Rox off to record start, with room to improve

MLB.com @harding_at_mlb

During a first half full of key personnel losses, the Rockies won enough to establish the best record in franchise history at the All-Star break.

Righty Chad Betts, who went 7-2 with a 3.75 ERA after the All-Star break last season, was diagnosed with testicular cancer during the offseason and has yet to make his 2017 debut. Righty Jon Gray recently returned after missing 11 weeks with a navicular stress fracture in his right foot. Lefty Tyler Anderson has been on the disabled list twice with a left knee injury. First baseman-left fielder Ian Desmond has been on the DL twice -- first with a broken left hand, now with a right calf strain.

During a first half full of key personnel losses, the Rockies won enough to establish the best record in franchise history at the All-Star break.

Righty Chad Betts, who went 7-2 with a 3.75 ERA after the All-Star break last season, was diagnosed with testicular cancer during the offseason and has yet to make his 2017 debut. Righty Jon Gray recently returned after missing 11 weeks with a navicular stress fracture in his right foot. Lefty Tyler Anderson has been on the disabled list twice with a left knee injury. First baseman-left fielder Ian Desmond has been on the DL twice -- first with a broken left hand, now with a right calf strain.

:: 2017 Midterm Report: Complete coverage ::

Yet, the Rockies -- 52-39 with a 7 1/2-game lead for the second National League Wild Card spot -- have gone a long way toward ending a string of six losing seasons and returning to postseason play.

WHAT WENT RIGHT
Righty Antonio Senzatela and lefty Kyle Freeland made their Major League debuts in the rotation, and righties German Marquez and Jeff Hoffman joined them after making only brief appearances last season. They have pitched aggressively and effectively and shown an ability to learn quickly from growth moments. Center fielder Charlie Blackmon, already a feared leadoff hitter, stepped into star category alongside third baseman Nolan Arenado. Second baseman DJ LeMahieu and shortstop Trevor Story have been special defensively. Mark Reynolds' early-season power made up for Desmond's absence. Closer Greg Holland, who missed last year because of Tommy John surgery, snapped back into the form he displayed while helping the Royals to a World Series appearance in 2014 and the Series title in '15. He leads the Majors with 28 saves. Also, key to the Rockies' strong overall record was a 22-11 start on the road. Outfielder Gerardo Parra shook off a rough, injury-filled '16, and rookie outfielder Raimel Tapia provided a spark in the month-plus leading to the break.

Video: CWS@COL: Freeland dominates, takes no-no into 9th

WHAT WENT WRONG
Right fielder Carlos Gonzalez has struggled more than he ever has while healthy, Story has seen a dramatic dropoff from his 27-homer rookie season, Desmond hasn't gained offensive traction and LeMahieu started slowly before bouncing back to earn an All-Star nod. The bullpen, although strong, has shown some cracks because righty Adam Ottavino has had control issues and lefty Mike Dunn hasn't been the same since suffering back spasms in April. A 1-9 performance on the last road trip brought back memories of a Rockies past full of struggles away from Coors Field. Recent results have been better, but walks have held back righty Tyler Chatwood from being consistently effective.

Video: CIN@COL: Gonzalez sneaks RBI single into right field

WHAT WE LEARNED
General manager Jeff Bridich appears to have hit on a winning strategy by finding multiple young and talented starting pitchers, rather than spending big on a proven veteran. First-year manager Bud Black and his coaches are trying to quicken the young starters' learning curves, and they are displaying aptitude. Most importantly, there seems a confidence that there is enough talent to turn around the Rockies' 5-13 performance going into the break. The mystery, though, is Gonzalez. For months, the Rockies have been expecting him to return to form. Until that happens, can they ride it out while also feeding playing time to those hitting better?

FIRST HALF TOP PLAYER
This is a fun one. Blackmon, with 20 home runs and 61 RBIs, is having an eye-popping All-Star season. But Arenado, whose cycle against the Giants on June 18 was the highlight of the Rockies' first half, gets the nod here because of his all-around performance. Even with a couple of slumps he is at .301 with 17 homers, and his 16 defensive runs saved (DRS), according to Fangraphs, lead third basemen.

Video: Must C Cycle: Arenado gets cycle with walk-off homer

FIRST HALF TOP PITCHER
By going 28-for-29 on save chances, Holland provides an air of confidence for a club that couldn't depend on its bullpen last season.

FIRST HALF TOP ROOKIE
This one is tough. Top three pitchers in wins above replacement (WAR), according to Fangraphs, are rookies -- Marquez at 1.6, Hoffman at 1.5 and Freeland at 1.3. Baseball Reference has Freeland as the WAR leader at 3.4. And, for those who observe, Senzatela and Freeland are tied for the wins lead with nine. We'll go with Freeland, who has a 3.77 ERA in 18 starts. Thanks to his 8 1/3-inning one-hitter on Sunday in the final start before the beak, he has a solid 3.23 home ERA.

Thomas Harding has covered the Rockies since 2000, and for MLB.com since 2002. Follow him on Twitter @harding_at_mlb, listen to podcasts and like his Facebook page.

Colorado Rockies