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SAN FRANCISCO – Last week’s tour through the NL West looked at the arms race between the five division rivals, with the Dodgers emerging as the strongest on paper ahead of the experienced Giants.
This week it’s all about the O. And the Padres, who scored the fewest runs among NL West clubs last year, checked in Monday at No. 5 in our rankings. We’re continuing the countdown with the projected No. 4 offense in the division:
Who’s new: 1B Justin Morneau, OF Drew Stubbs, IF Paul Janish, OF Brandon Barnes.
Who’s gone: 1B Todd Helton, OF Dexter Fowler, IF Jonathan Herrera, C Yorvit Torrealba.
2013 average (NL rank): .270 (1st)
2013 on-base percentage (NL rank): .323 (5th)
2013 slugging (NL rank): .418 (1st)
2013 runs/game (NL rank): 4.36 (2nd)
2013 home runs (NL rank): 159 (5th)
Projected lineup: CF Drew Stubbs, RF Carlos Gonzalez, SS Troy Tulowitzki, RF Michael Cuddyer, 1B Justin Morneau, C Wilin Rosario, 3B Nolan Arenado, 2B D.J. LeMahieu.
The Rockies led the NL in average and slugging percentage last year, they hit the most home runs among NL West teams and they did it all despite missing Carlos Gonzalez for two months with a finger injury.
So why does their offense rank fourth out of five entering the spring?
Well, uh … Coors Field.
A look at the Rockies’ road production gives you a clearer picture. They scored exactly two runs per game fewer away from Coors (3.36 away, 5.36 at home). Their 272 road runs was good for 12th in the NL, and the fewest among the five NL West teams.
Yep. Coors Field is good for the ol’ BABIP.
But on the upside, there is the thought of having a healthy Gonzalez and Troy Tulowitzki over a full season. Yes, that would substantially upgrade the picture. Unfortunately for the Rockies, it’s become a purple-tinged hope that CarGo and Tulo can combine for 300 games.
They came closest in 2011, when they played in 270 between them.
Gonzalez only had 37 at-bats after the All-Star break last year because of the finger, which he opted to rehab instead of address with surgery. He isn’t off to a great start in 2014, either. He had an emergency appendectomy a few weeks ago. Not even full-body bubble wrap could have helped the Rockies on this one.
Let’s not forget that the Rockies also bring back the defending NL batting champion, though, and raise your hand if you knew Michael Cuddyer quietly claimed it with a .331 average. We’re hoping he had Melky Cabrera’s blessing, too.
(Cuddyer’s splits, because I KNOW you’re wondering: .356 at home, .311 away.)
Wilin Rosario is capable of 30 home runs – and 30 passed balls, but we’ll leave that analysis for another week. Third baseman Nolan Arenado, a rookie last season, looks like he could be an above-average offensive player, in addition to a premium defender.
But former AL MVP Justin Morneau is on the downslide, and don’t underestimate the effect playing at altitude might have on a guy who has missed significant time with concussions. Here’s guessing Rockies fans will miss Todd Helton in more ways than one.
The Rockies’ biggest issue is atop the lineup. They curiously dealt maddening but highly skilled outfielder Dexter Fowler to the Houston Astros for what amounted to innings filler, then replaced Fowler with strikeout artist Drew Stubbs. Corey Dickerson and Brandon Barnes will push him for playing time. The Rockies need someone to push the pedal and get on base for CarGo and Tulo … assuming they aren’t in the trainer’s room.
ANALYSIS: The Rockies made the most lineup changes among NL West clubs, but I’m not sure they improved in any measurable sense. That’s not what Rockies fans want to hear when their team was 29-52 on the road last season. At least they don’t have the Seahawks on their schedule.
RANK: 4 of 5.