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‘ROCKY MOUNTAIN HIGH’ STAKES AS BASEBALL 2011 BEGINS

The Colorado Rockies are hoping to improve on a solid 2010 season facing the usual challenges of playing baseball at 5280 feet above sea level. Colorado finished with an 83-79 record, good for third in the NL West but will have to do better on the road if they want to challenge for the postseason. As usual, the Rockies were strong at Coors Field posting a 52-29 mark that ranked among the MLB’s best. Away from home, however, they were just 31-50 which obviously isn’t good enough for a team looking to contend.
On the plus side, the Rockies finally have some good pitching talent in the starting rotation led by staff ace Ubaldo Jimenez. Jimenez was downright unhittable at several points during the 2010 season finishing with a 19-8 record and a 2.88 ERA. He’s joined by young righthander Jhoulys Chacin who has a 90 MPH fastball and sick breaking stuff—he’s only got one full year of big league experience but has all the makings of a dominant pitcher. Jason Hamel was somewhat inconsistent but was the only Rockies’ starter besides Jimenez to finish with a double digit win total going 10-9 with a 4.81 ERA. If he can improve upon that, he’ll be a valuable third starter in the Colorado rotation. Veteran Aaron Cook will likely be the #4 man in the rotation and will be looking to bounce back from an injury plagued 2010 season. Lefthander Jorge De La Rosa will also be part of the Colorado pitching staff.
The Rockies also locked down the cornerstones of their everyday lineup--Troy Tulowitzki and Carlos Gonzalez—to long term contract extensions. They’ll be joined by former Seattle Mariners’ infielder Jose Lopez who’ll return to second base after playing at third last season. He’s expected to provide a boost to the Rockies’ offense in the bottom half of the batting order. He’s not as good defensively as the player he replaced, Clint Barnes, but brings some solid pop—he hit 25 homers and 96 RBI for the Mariners in 2009 and Colorado hopes he can produce similar or better numbers in the thin air of Denver. Todd Helton and Ian Stewart are back and both are also good offensive producers. The Rockies added depth with the acquisition of utility man Ty Wigginton who can play several positions as well as deliver at the plate with 20+ home runs in four of his last five campaigns.
The bullpen is something of a concern—Huston Street will likely be the closer but was sidelined with injury at a couple of points during the 2010 season. The Rockies brought in veteran closer Matt Lindstrom who’ll work in a set up capacity and provide some insurance in case Street is unable to stay healthy.
Overall, the Rockies have plenty of upside potential—if Jimenez and Chacin can reprise their strong work of 2010 and they get some contribution from the rest of the rotation they could be a contender in the division. Colorado has plenty of offense throughout the lineup and if the Rockies are able to pick up their performance on the road they could be back in the playoffs.