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Editor's note: Check back on Wednesday to see who Andrew Baggarly considers the third best pitching staff in the NL West.
SAN FRANCISCO – We continue our weeklong rankings of NL West pitching staffs. The San Diego Padres made a lot of changes, and Josh Johnson is an interesting gamble. But they still checked in last at No. 5.
Moving on, we explore the next team in the countdown:
Who’s new: LHP Brett Anderson, RHP Jordan Lyles, RHP LaTroy Hawkins, LHP Boone Logan, LHP Franklin Morales, RHP Tommy Kahnle
Who’s gone: LHP Drew Pomeranz, LHP Josh Outman, LHP Jeff Francis, RHP Roy Oswalt, RHP Mitchell Boggs.
2013 rotation ERA (NL rank): 4.57 (15th)
2013 bullpen ERA (NL rank): 4.23 (15th)
2013 overall ERA (NL rank): 4.44 (15th)
Projected rotation: RHP Jhoulys Chacin, LHP Jorge De La Rosa, LHP Brett Anderson, RHP Juan Nicasio, RHP Jordan Lyles or RHP Tyler Chatwood.
Projected bullpen: LHP Boone Logan, RHP LaTroy Hawkins, LHP Franklin Morales, LHP Adam Ottavino, RHP Wilton Lopez, RHP Matt Belisle, LHP Rex Brothers (closer).
OUTLOOK: It is, like, really, really hard to throw 197 innings in a Rockies uniform. That’s just one clue that Chacin was one of the more underrated pitchers in the league last season.
Chacin was at his best Aug. 28, when he got within seven outs of no-hitting the Giants before Brandon Crawford broke it up with a single in the seventh. It was the longest a Rockies pitcher had ever taken a no-hit bid at Coors Field.
The 26-year-old was 14-10 with a 3.47 ERA, which is a pretty fab season when you throw half your games at Coors. (His ERA was 4.18 in 18 home starts and 2.44 in 13 road outings.) What’s more, Chacin spent a stint on the DL with a bad back in April, and probably wasn’t ready given that he got hammered for 15 earned runs in 17.1 innings over his next three starts. Toss those out and his season ERA falls to 3.05.
The point: You might not think of Chacin as an ace in the class of a Matt Cain or Clayton Kershaw, but he’s become a legitimate front-of-the-rotation presence.
If only the Rockies had four more Chacins. They have a lot of faith in De La Rosa, who came back from Tommy John surgery to go 16-6 with a 3.49 ERA in a season cut short by a thumb injury. And they eschewed free agency while making their biggest rotation addition via trade, acquiring Brett Anderson, Oakland’s one-time opening-day starter, for a package that included Drew Pomeranz – the lefty they got from Cleveland in the Ubaldo Jimenez deal.
Anderson represents an upside play if healthy, but the pitcher with the biggest ceiling is right-hander Juan Nicasio, whose stuff is much nastier than last year’s numbers (9-9, 5.14 ERA) would lead you to believe. He battled knee issues following surgery in 2012 and is expected to be nearer to full strength.
The Rockies aren’t the only team unsettled on a No. 5 starter, but at least they have a couple choices they like. Tyler Chatwood probably has the inside track, but the Rockies covered themselves for innings by getting Lyles from the Houston Astros. It’s hard to understand why Colorado could only get an innings filler for a player with as many skills as center fielder Dexter Fowler, though.
Top prospects Jonathan Gray (last year’s third overall pick) and Eddie Butler represent the best of Colorado’s system and it’s likely that both will make their major league debuts this season. Left-hander Christian Friedrich, a one-time hot prospect, hopes to overcome debilitating back issues and compete for that final rotation spot as well.
The Rockies ranked last in both bullpen and rotation ERA among NL clubs last season, but more length from the starters could give a seasoned group of relievers a better chance to stay within their roles. Colorado got veteran LaTroy Hawkins to shore up the right side, where Matt Belisle also returns as a rubber-armed conributor. But Colorado has more options from the left side after signing Boone Logan to a three-year, $16.5 million contract. They brought back a big-time stuff guy by reacquiring Franklin Morales from Boston, too. And closer Rex Brothers makes it easier to stomach the fact that former fireman Rafael Betancourt will miss the entire season while rehabbing from Tommy John surgery.
ANALYSIS: Chacin will be underrated again, but there will be times the Rockies will want to crank up that humidor. Although they have some pillow-soft spots on the staff, the rise of Gray and Butler give them enough depth and ability to project as a better overall group than the Padres’ collection of arms.
RANK: 4 of 5.