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Lack of depth, road struggles derailed Rockies in 2013

Bright spots included Cuddyer's batting title, Tulo finishing strong, Helton's farewell

DENVER -- Three All-Star Game starters, including the National League batting champion, and the best 1-2-3 starting pitching performance in club history in terms of ERA turned out to be not nearly enough in 2013.

Injuries to key personnel that exposed a lack of depth, poor performance at the back of the starting rotation and an offense that struggled on the road and with situational at-bats were culprits as the Rockies went 74-88 and finished last in the NL West. It marked the first time since the expansion year of 1993 that the Rockies turned in a second straight basement finish.

Still, there were accomplishments in 2013.

One of the key questions turned out to be moot. Manager Walt Weiss came to the club fresh off his first year as head coach at Regis Jesuit High School in Aurora, Colo., but he proved to be big league caliber. Despite beginning the year with four starters who had missed all or most of the previous season, Weiss' Rockies were tied for first in the West on May 24. On July 5 they entered the day just 2 1/2 games off the pace. In the final months, with a pieced-together lineup and bullpen, the Rockies remained competitive.

It was also a year when Michael Cuddyer went from an underappreciated player to a front-burner star. Cuddyer put together a club-record 27-game hit streak May 28-June 30, and ended with a .331 batting average to become the sixth batting champion in club history.

In most years when the Rockies don't achieve, the finger can be pointed at the starting pitching. But that wasn't as true in 2013. Jhoulys Chacin (3.47 ERA), Jorge De La Rosa (3.49) and Tyler Chatwood (3.15) all finished with a sub-4.00 ERA -- the first time in club history that three pitchers with 20 or more starts accomplished the feat.

So the Rockies ended up with some positives, but also much to improve.

Here's a look at some key mileposts in the Rockies' 2013 journey:

Thursday the 13th: The Rockies awoke on Thursday, June 13, two games off the NL West pace, needing a win to take the three-game series with the Nationals.

A sunny day at Coors Field began turning ominous in the first inning.

Jordan Pacheco fouled off a pitch that screamed right into the left ankle of star outfielder Carlos Gonzalez, who crumpled to the turf behind the backstop. Luckily nothing was broken, but it was a sign of pains to come. Gonzalez limped through the next several weeks, then suffered a sprained right middle finger in July and saw his season severely curtailed.

Later in the game, Nationals pitcher Ross Detwiler fired a pitch inside to Dexter Fowler, who had squared to bunt. The ball hit Fowler on his right index finger. Fowler, headed for a career year before the incident, would play with diminishing effectiveness until July 2, when he went to the disabled list with a bone bruise on a right hand weakened by the finger injury. That injury and a twisted left knee limited him to 45 games after the All-Star break.

In the eighth inning of the 5-4 loss, the Rockies found themselves in real trouble when shortstop Troy Tulowitzki -- who would be elected as an All-Star starter for the first time (Gonzalez and Cuddyer each ended up starting for the NL at Citi Field) -- dove for a grounder and wound up with a broken rib on his right side. Tulowitzki missed 25 games and return to a club in a free fall.

It was a bad day of bad luck.

The biggest pains of them all: One reason the Rockies held in the race for as long as they did was the performance of the trio of starters. De La Rosa and Chacin were stellar from the beginning, and Chatwood gave the rotation a lift in May when he was called up from Triple-A Colorado Springs.

But when the Rockies have won in the past, the bullpen has been a major factor. The relief staff was in good shape in 2013 until closer Rafael Betancourt suffered a right groin strain at the end of May. Rex Brothers became closer and kept the relief staff productive for a month until Betancourt returned. But in late July, Betancourt was felled by an appendicitis attack that cost him another 27 games during which the Rockies went 12-15.

Believing Betancourt could give the Rockies a lift when healthy, the club decided not to pursue bullpen help. But a week after returning in mid-August, Betancourt suffered a right elbow sprain that would lead to season-ending surgery. With its anchor missing and the rest of the bullpen forced into different roles, the Rockies' bullpen simply was not strong enough to lift the team into relevance late in the year.

Offensive letdown: It was hard to fathom that FOX Sports' Joe Buck would announce to a national TV audience the names of three Rockies in the All-Star starting lineup, yet the offense would end up a major culprit in the poor finish.

The Rockies' .270 batting average led the National League, and they were tops in slugging percentage and OPS (on-base plus slugging percentage). Yet just about all of that accomplishment occurred at Coors Field. The Rockies scored just 272 runs and hit .246 on the road, which wasn't nearly enough even with the decent pitching. In their history, the Rockies have three postseason appearances but just one winning road record (41-40 in 2009). However, there was no way to overcome the 29-52 road record -- the same mark they had in 2012.

Super September so-long: Todd Helton revealed Sept. 14 that he was going to retire at the end of the season. Then he had a final homestand to remember.

In the nine games at Coors Field, Helton hit .342 (13-for-38) with six doubles, two home runs and nine RBIs. It was the kind of production Helton, who had celebrated his 40th birthday, provided for much of his career, before injuries reduced his numbers.

Helton went out in style. After Rockies ownership presented him with a horse -- of course -- before the final home game, he homered off Jake Peavy in his first at-bat and went 2-for-3 with three RBIs.

The homestand conjured memories, but it also had the Rockies wondering if they could find a first baseman through free agency who could provide similar production over the course of a full season.

Tulo on his toes: The games didn't mean anything in the standings, but seeing Tulowitzki finish the season healthy made the end of the season a little happier for the Rockies.

Tulowitzki ended up ninth in the NL in batting at .312 and finished tops in the NL in fielding percentage among shortstops. Yes, he did dial back on the diving, in part because of the rib injury. But he was on the field, productive and, most positive of all, moving smoothly.

Tulowitzki's history is full of leg muscle incidents. He had one early in the year, when he crashed awkwardly into the D-backs' Miguel Montero on a play at the plate in late April, and Weiss rested him frequently to prevent it from becoming worse. But there were no serious pains beyond that.

By going into the offseason healthy, Tulowitzki was able to have a rehab-free offseason, which should allow him to come back stronger in 2014.

With additions to the starting staff (lefty Brett Anderson from the Athletics, righty Jordan Lyles from the Astros, possibly lefty Franklin Morales from the Red Sox, who could also pitch relief), to the outfield depth (right-handed hitting Drew Stubbs from the Indians) and the bullpen (free-agent signings LaTroy Hawkins and Boone Logan), and with Justin Morneau signed to take Helton's spot, the Rockies also plan to be stronger in the new year.

Thomas Harding is a reporter for Follow him on Twitter @harding_at_mlb.

Colorado Rockies, Rafael Betancourt, Jhoulys Chacin, Tyler Chatwood, Michael Cuddyer, Dexter Fowler, Carlos Gonzalez, Todd Helton, Jorge De La Rosa, Troy Tulowitzki