Back in March, I was tasked with writing the 2014 Colorado Rockies' team preview here at Beyond the Box Score. I was excited at being assigned the Rox as there were several storylines coming into the season. They have star power, too, and it has seemed for some time that a breakout could be right around the corner for them as they're not devoid of talent. Yet it hasn't come together. In fact, things have fallen apart completely in Colorado.
A quick glance at the standings forced me to reflect on what I'd written this spring. At a measly 45-70 through June 8th, and 20 games back in a division with only two good teams, the Rockies have clearly fallen on hard times. My team preview was littered with the word "if" and forced me to conclude the piece with these lines:
As you've likely noticed, there are a lot of "ifs" here, which signals some kind of optimism, but nothing that's worthy of betting on at this point... The potential is there, though, and the Rockies could surprise people if things break their way... or they could continue to fight with the Padres to say out of the NL West cellar.
I felt that with Troy Tulowitzki and Carlos Gonzalez in the lineup, and a cast of young up-and-comers around them, the team had a fighting chance. Unfortunately, several batters have failed to live up to expectations.
Front and center in that discussion is former All-Star Carlos Gonzalez. In a list of Rockies position players with at least 50 plate appearances, sorted by WAR, CarGo ranks 12th out of 16, sandwiched between Brandon Barnes and Jordan Pacheco (who doesn't even play for the Rockies anymore). His 84 wRC+ over 70 games hasn't been very helpful, although he's just returned to the lineup from an ankle injury and will be trying to improve on his disappointing season. Add to the mix Wilin Rosario's lack of power and continued poor defense and Charlie Blackmon's return to being Charlie Blackmon and, well, it's not hard to figure out that there's been some disappointment.
The final dagger was Troy Tulowitzki's groin/thigh injury that has finally sidelined him. The oft-injured star was the best player in baseball come the All-Star Break and we were all wondering if this was the season that we'd get to see the real Tulo for 150 games. Unfortunately, he's landed back on the DL and, apparently, isn't happy with the direction of the team. Said Tulowitzki last week:
"I think that's why I came out numerous times and said I want to win," Tulowitzki said. "It doesn't mean I want out of here. It means I'm sick and tired of losing.
"Something needs to change. Hopefully that comes fairly quickly. You can't force it. But at the same time, we're all frustrated with this year - especially me."
Despite the injuries and poor performances of a handful of hitters, the real problem lies with the team's pitching staff, which was predictable. The acquisition of Jordan Lyles and signing of Brett Anderson weren't going to be enough to fix the rotation, although one could see a chance that those moves might have had some kind of positive effect. I noted the problem with the pitching staff in the preview:
The downfall ... is runs allowed as the pitching staff just hasn't changed dramatically enough to brighten the projections. Another healthy and effective year from Chacin is a must and getting 150 useful innings from Brett Anderson would go a long ways in changing that, but that seems like a far-fetched bet. If Tyler Chatwood takes a step forward, that could also be a big plus, but at the moment, there just isn't a lot reason for optimism in the pitching department.
Jorge de la Rosa is the only pitcher to have made all of his starts from the Opening Day lineup, and he's been just okay. Jordan Lyles and his ground balls have been pretty good, but he's made just 13 starts this season and Brett Anderson made just 11 before he was shut down with a bulging disc in his back, likely ending his season. In the preview, I mentioned Jhoulys Chacin who hasn't pitched since June after a shoulder injury. He's on the 60-day DL, and when he was throwing, he wasn't particularly effective. Tyler Chatwood, the team's up-and-comer in the rotation, was shut down after just four starts with elbow trouble that ultimately led to Tommy John surgery. If you're keeping score at home, that's a whole lot of trouble for a rotation that was already thin on actual talent.
After a year in which the bullpen was pretty good, this year the Rockies bullpen been pretty bad. LaTroy Hawkins and Adam Ottavino are the only relievers who have been worth much of anything. The former is going on 42-years old while the latter will be 29 next season, making him the one guy who the Rockies may be able to mold the ‘pen around. But then again, he is a reliever, so there's that.
So how did the Rockies go from hope to hopelessness? A mediocre rotation that has performed worse than mediocre and a bullpen that has imploded while a few guys who could have conceivably improved have not done so. Carlos Gonzalez's time on the DL and poor play on the field has been a big detriment and losing an NL MVP-caliber performer in Tulowitzki sealed their fate.
The question then becomes, what's next? Paul Swydan had some great suggestions last week and I'd echo his sentiments: the team needs pitching and a reliable catcher behind the plate. With Tulo, Cargo, Nolan Arenado and Corey Dickerson in the lineup, the team will score runs. But as I said in March, run prevention continues to plague the organization. Jon Gray can only do so much in the future and the team will need to invest in pitching, as has seemingly been the case for several seasons. Will they do it this time around? With Tulowitzki and the Colorado fan base likely growing more impatient every day, it needs to happen sooner than later if they hope to avoid wasting the remaining peak years of their stars.
Jeff Wiser is a featured writer at Beyond the Box Score and co-author of Inside the 'Zona, an analytical look at the Arizona Diamondbacks. You can find his work on craft beer at BeerGraphs and follow him on Twitter @OutfieldGrass24.