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Cargo returns, but the Rockies will go as far as their pitching will carry them

Coming off their first playoff berth since 2009, the Colorado Rockies had a quiet offseason. The Rockies want to save their payroll flexibility for next offseason when they have three important free agents – Charlie Blackman, DJ LeMaheiu, and Nolan Arenado – to re-sign. The Rockies have a strong bullpen to provide support for a young starting rotation, but will it provide enough pitching to be competitive in the National League Western Division?

Although the Rockies lost to the Arizona Diamondbacks in the National League wild-card game, getting there was an accomplishment for the Rocky organization. From 2012 to 2015, the Rockies finished in the cellar of the NL Western Division. It was pitching problems, and the organization didn’t appear to have a clue how to solve their pitching problems.

Manager Walt Weiss, a former Major-League shortstop for the Oakland A’s, the Rockies, and the Atlanta Braves, tried to win in Colorado, but unfortunately, it was obvious that he didn’t know much about handling a pitching staff. After the 2016 season, the Rockies didn’t renew Weiss’ contract and hired an experienced manager Bud Black, a former Major-League pitcher and pitching coach for the Angels.

Black, finishing second in the NL Manager of the Year, brought an incredible pitching knowledge to the Rockies, something that the organization has lacked since they came into the NL in 1993. He told his young starting rotation to keep the ball low in the strike zone, and sometimes at Coors Field, he would ban his rookie Kyle Freeland from using a curveball.

Jon Gray highlights the Rockies’ starting rotation. Having a healthy Chad Bettis, a testicular cancer survivor, for the entire 2018 season will help the rotation. Freeland will improve after a year of Major-League experience.

Like usual, the Rockies’ success in 2018 depends upon how well they pitch. They lost their best starter Tyler Chatwood as a free agent to the Chicago Cubs. The Rockies haven’t re-signed their fantastic closer Greg Holland, still an available free agent. Having a reliable closer Holland, who was returning from Tommy John surgery last year, was the main difference between 2017 and previous seasons. Obviously, Holland is asking for too high a salary for today’s Major-League free-agent market where many traditionally high-spending teams don’t want to give free agents lavish long-term contracts since they want to avoid luxury taxes set at $197 million.

The Rockies probably will re-sign Holland after they discover they don’t have a reliable closer. However, if Holland demands a multi-year contract, he might sit out the entire season unless he is willing to play with an independent team.

To replace Holland, the Rockies signed right-handed closer Wade Davis, a nine-year veteran who played for the Tampa Bay Rays, the Kansas City Royals, and the Cubs. Although Davis with the Cubs had 32 saves during the regular season, during the 2017 postseason, he imploded, causing manager Joe Maddon to lose confidence in his ability to hold the lead in the ninth inning. The Rockies don’t know which Davis they will have in 2018.

Most baseball-knowledgeable people think the Rockies have a great bullpen. Mike Dunn, another nine-year veteran who recently pitched for the Miami Marlins, will be a left-handed reliever for the Rockies. The Rockies believe their bullpen can provide adequate support for their rotation. The question is if the bullpen can handle the tremendous workload at Coors Field.

The Rockies didn’t re-sign first baseman Mark Reynolds who had a tremendous 2017 season after signing a Minor-league deal with them. This may damage the infield defense, a mainstay for the Rockies. LeMaheiu, Trevor Story, and the perennial NL Gold Glove third baseman Arenado rely on having a superb defensive first baseman when they make low throws from awkward positions on the infield. Their fantastic, sometimes breathtaking, defense bail out the weary pitching staff from having a long multi-run inning against them.

During the 2016-2017 offseason, the Rockies signed Ian Desmond to a lavish five-year contract to play first base. Desmond never played first base before coming to Colorado, but the Rockies liked his offensive production. During last spring training, a pitch struck and fractured Desmond’s hand. When he returned on April 30th, he played left field because of superior performance by Reynolds. Desmond never performed up to lofty expectations in 2017.

This year Desmond will be the Rocky first baseman, blocking a promising minor leaguer from joining the Rockies. While learning to play a new position, most players make errors and struggle offensively. The Rockies hope this isn’t the case with Desmond.

During spring training, the Rockies re-signed Carlos Gonzalez to a one-year deal giving the Rockies a discount to stay with them. The ten-year veteran helps his team to maintain superior outfield defense though they play in the largest outfield in baseball. Blackman might be the best centerfielder in the game. Coming off hand surgery, Gerardo Parra gives the Rockies a quality left fielder.

Playing half their games at Coors, the Rockies figure to have one of the elite offenses in baseball. The top of their lineup of Blackman, LeMaheiu, Gonzalez, and Arenado is the envy of most Major-League teams. If Story decreases his strikeouts while maintaining his amazing power, he will give the Rockies a force to be reckoned with in the middle of the lineup. The return of Chris Iannetta to Colorado gives his original team a good defensive catcher with power, something the Rockies have lacked since he left.

If their pitching will hold up to the rigors of the season, the Rockies will be a major factor in the National League Western Division race. If it can’t, it will be another long year in Colorado watching high-scoring affairs where the Rockies mostly lose.

This article was originally published on sports