For at least a month now, we've heard the steady drumbeat of baseball observers expecting great things from the Colorado Rockies in the 2010 season. It became trendy this spring to label the Rockies as favorites in the National League West, and strong contenders to reach their second World Series in four years.
But the theme here this week has to be more realistic:
Not so fast, all you blind optimists.
Don't fall into the same trap as Colorado and its fans did two years ago. Coming off the National League pennant in 2007, the Rockies believed they were over the hump. They, and their loyal followers, cruised into 2008 expecting to rule the sport. Instead, reality struck them in the face, and Colorado stumbled to a frustrating 74-88 record.
Two years later, the setting looks painfully familiar, with predictions ranging up to 100 wins. So it becomes my duty to provide the more likely outlook.
That would be absolutely no better than 86-76, perhaps closer to 81-81. Still good enough, in all likelihood, to challenge for that elusive NL West title, which the Rockies have never earned in their 17-year history. Such is life in an average division, with the National League's hierarchy (Phillies, Mets, Cardinals, Braves) scattered elsewhere. More likely, though, the Rockies will be watching come October, not playing.
They, and their followers, instead will spend that time looking back on what might have been, if not for several mistakes made during the past offseason.
1. Jeff Francis. Once again, Colorado's front office staked much of its hopes on the lefthander who won four games in 2008 and never pitched a major-league inning in 2009. Once again, general manager Dan O'Dowd would not take the bold move of spending the money or making the trade to bring an established, healthy, top-quality starter to bolster Colorado's staff and, in particular, the starting rotation. Francis came tantalizingly close to making the front office look smart, but now he's back on the disabled list — not a good sign.
2. Huston Street. After Street ran out of gas late in 2009, missing most of the stretch run and failing to return with the form and consistency he had shown during the summer, many expected the Rockies to deal their closer. But they brought him back for another try — and now he's already having the problems that didn't surface until August last year. It's still possible that Street might make his way back, and Colorado is lucky enough to have Franklin Morales as well as, perhaps, Manny Corpas, to carry the bullpen. But Morales hasn't shown he can make it over the long haul, and Corpas never has matched his 2007 performance.
3. Todd Helton. As great as the first baseman has been for so long, he was tired at the end of last summer. And on Opening Day this week, when everyone should be his sharpest, Helton already looked weary. His only backup is Jason Giambi, who's fine pinch-hitting and filling in occasionally at first, but not too regularly. This might well become Helton's drop-off year, but there's no heir apparent in Colorado Springs.
Everything else that might hold back these Rockies will probably trace to one of those three.
The starting rotation, without Francis, is lacking a solid No. 2 guy — or a workhorse lefty (if you're thinking Jorge De La Rosa, think of someone else). Nobody is doubting Ubaldo Jimenez as the main man, Aaron Cook looks worthy and Jason Hammel should be OK as the fifth starter. But that's just three out of five, which isn't enough for Colorado to be talking about another World Series.
And if you really believe the Rockies have enough offense, you must be conveniently forgetting how often they couldn't produce clutch hits last year. And you're forgetting that Ian Stewart and Chris Iannetta hit .228, Clint Barmes finished at .245 and Brad Hawpe hit just .240 with 27 RBIs after the All-Star break.
So let's hold off on those rosy predictions, and get real. Then, if the Rockies surprise us, we can admit we were wrong.