For the first time since 2009, the Colorado Rockies are heading to the postseason, and to the National League Wildcard Game against the Arizona Diamondbacks in Phoenix. They’re heading there with a wily and deceptively deep group of players, led by NL MVP candidates Nolan Arenado and Charlie Blackmon.
However, as ESPN’s David Schoenfield pointed out, it has not been how everyone expected them to get there, if they were lucky enough to make the postseason in the first place. He notes that, almost despite the club’s offseason plans, they have succeeded.
The big-money move for Ian Desmond failed. The club’s projected starters at the start of the season (Jon Gray, Tyler Anderson and Chad Bettis) have made up a surprisingly small percentage of that statistical category. In fact, at one point, the club’s rotation featured four rookies – Antonio Senzatela, German Marquez, Kyle Freeland and Jeff Hoffman.
Going into October, they seem to be managing some consistency, and that is harrowing for their potential postseason opponents.
Holland is getting back to his early-season form, having now converted 41 of 45 save chances. Carlos Gonzalez is heating up in September too, hitting .365/.478.730, after managing .221/.299./.338 in the first half. Jon Gray is staring to pitch like the ace Colorado hoped he would, going 7-2 the past three months with an ERA of 3.59. Even Desmond is starting to provide some value at first base.
However, what stands out about this team is not how they made the postseason this year, but how they may make it in future years. Plenty of teams around MLB chest-beat about the way in which they’re built for future success (see Washington Nationals, Chicago Cubs, Los Angeles Dodgers). Perhaps the Rockies have not built as impressively, but 80 wins in a pinballing year in baseball’s toughest division is nothing to wash away in the Colorado River.
Arenado has looked like a future or literal MVP since he first stepped to the plate in 2013. He’s every chance to record his third season in a row of +.287 batting average and 40 home runs. Blackmon, the team’s other MVP candidate, has been as advertised and more this season. Last week, he consummated his importance by breaking the RBI record from the leadoff spot with 101. His 37 home runs from that position this season is third all-time.
Gray’s future worth also looks high. FanGraphs have already titled him the club’s best ever starting pitcher, and while Coors Field will likely plague him his entire career in Denver, that only makes him more invaluable.
While Desmond suffered through a fairly torrid first year in Mile-High City, his manager Bud Black pointed to his recent uptick and versatility as important, especially for a young team in the postseason: “One thing Ian and I have always talked about is, he can beat oppositions in a lot of ways,” Black told The Denver Post recently. “With his legs, with his bat, he brings energy to the team. He’s versatile.”
The Rock’s usually maligned pitching is also starting to sprout some depth. Senzatela, Marquez, Freeland and Hoffman all acquired experience this year, while Anderson and Bettis have both risen to the occasion of late, during the most important games of the season. With Jonathan Lucroy catching for this staff next season, how far can they improve?
Others such as Trevor Story and David Dahl are the impressive window-dressing typical of teams with high aspirations. As is 2010 NL Manager of the Year Bud Black, who almost topped that year’s World Series champions the San Francisco Giants for the West title with the San Diego Padres.
Despite finishing third in their division this year, the Rockies’ postseason prospects are surprisingly bright. They went 5-5 in matches at Chase Field this year, the site of the Wildcard Game, and are 10-7 against their likely NLDS opponents, the Los Angeles Dodgers.
Maybe it doesn’t happen for them this year, but like the Cleveland Indians, this Colorado side is built to last. Cleveland may indeed be a lofty comparison for this group, but from what we’ve seen this season, we haven’t even begun to see the best of the Rockies.
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