I recently had the chance to speak with Greg Stanwood from Purple Row. Here's what he had to say about Colorado so far this season.
DAVID: Easy question to start this off, well, kind of easy. Have the Rockies surprised you at all this season? The Dodgers haven't played to their potential due to injuries, the Diamondbacks are in a slump but have played very well, the Giants aren't playing like defending champs, and the Padres are playing better than people expected.
GREG: Coming off a season where your team put up their worst record in franchise history, it's hard to feel good about your squad's chances in the near future. There was a lot of understandable doom and gloom around Rockies nation. I had said in the offseason that while I wasn't optimistic going in, a .500 team would not be that much of a surprise. With us hovering right around that mark right now, I can say that the total collected results of the Rockies' season is on the upper end of "not surprising". However, the fact that we're in a division where .500 is a contending record is a big surprise to me.
DAVID: If you could pick right now, who would be Colorado's Cy Young and MVP?
GREG: There have been a lot of positive stories coming out of the season this year. Troy Tulowitzki was having an MVP caliber season before his injury. Dexter Fowler is proving that last year's success wasn't an anomaly. Michael Cuddyer is making people feel a lot better about that contract. Jorge De La Rosa's slow rehabilitation from surgery has been long forgotten, as he's as stable and effective as ever. Jhoulys Chacin was slowed by injury in May, but has put up the best Colorado starting pitcher performance in April and June since 2010 Ubaldo Jimenez. But my honest answer to both may come as a surprise: Rex Brothers. Brothers has been nails in the bullpen, having matured into just about everything we had hoped he could. He responded well in his brief time in the closer's role while Rafael Betancourt was injured. Having now returned to setup, Brothers continues to be a big part of the Rockies' late-game success, even as the rest of the bullpen has hit a rough patch. His strikeouts are down, but so are his walks, and he's cut his hits/9 down by a full hit and a half this year. At the time of me answering this question, he's only allowed his second run of the year.
DAVID: What exactly was the deal with the Rockies' starting pitchers' pitch limit last season? Is it still in effect this year?
GREG: The team's front office was not expecting such a total crash and burn performance last year, and as player after player began to drop to injury, the team began to panic, wondering whether some of the nightmare theories they had developed about pitching at altitude over the past decade were being realized. Apparently, the idea of moving to a "two-step" rotation had been in their back pocket for some time, and a season as unsuccessful as last year's made for as ideal a time as any to give it a go. Essentially, the Rockies built a second "hybrid" rotation underneath the traditional starter rotation. Starters would have a strict 75 pitch limit (often giving them just four innings on the mound, even if they were good) with the hybrids kicking in afterward to bridge to the end of the game.
GREG: I'm all for experimentation in baseball management, and I actually found the idea intriguing. That said, I criticize the team's implementation of the system last year. Being that it was only at the MLB level, was constantly being tooled with and the players involved never settling into consistent roles, we learned almost nothing from it. A terrible pitching staff was still terrible, and it didn't seem to help the injury bug.
GREG: For all intents and purposes, that system is no longer in place in 2013, but the philosophy behind it is still key in this year's pitching management. Starters have a strict, but much more reasonable, 100-pitch limit, and while not strictly hybrid starers, our bullpen is built out of a lot of guys that can throw 2-3 innings if necessary. So while you probably won't see starters dropping out in the fourth very often anymore, we still have some starter longevity issues, problems with efficiency, and a somewhat overpowered bullpen. But it doesn't feel quite so much like a house of cards in a windstorm anymore.
DAVID: How do you think Walt Weiss has done in his first season as Colorado's manager? With the division this wide open, he has a shot at taking them from last to first.
GREG: To be honest, I've never felt myself a great evaluator of managers in general. I often feel that their contributions are frequently minimal compared to others. While a manager can definitely be "the wrong guy for the job", is a manager ever "the right guy for the job?" So with that said, Weiss' first season as a manager has flown somewhat under the radar with all of the player-related stories around the team. He's done... fine, and as simplistic as that is, it's the most apt description I can think of. He's neither an embarrassment nor a godsend, and it's hard to gauge exactly how much of the team's success or failure can be laid at his feet. I think if the Rockies finish on pace with where they are now, playoffs or not, he probably gets a contract extension.
DAVID: Carlos Gonzalez was incredible in 2010, and then faded in 2011 and 2012. This year he seems to be "back." Do you think his success is crucial to Colorado?
GREG: Gonzalez is definitely key to the Rockies' success, perhaps less so with Cuddyer and Fowler playing the way they are this year, but with Tulowitzki only about half way to returning, his importance to the lineup is far greater. More on this question below.
DAVID: Troy Tulowitzki is still out with a broken rib. What does this team need to keep doing to stay competitive until he comes back?
GREG: Last year, when Tulowitzki went down in May and was unable to be healthy enough to return for the rest of the season, Carlos Gonzalez's performance suffered incredibly. That can't happen again. This lineup is more complete than last year's, but still has some frustrating weaknesses and we need Gonzalez to adjust to being the lynchpin in there. Fowler is currently nursing a hagging hand injury, and it would be great if that gets sorted over ASAP. Most importantly, the team needs to not worry about rushing Tulo back. Last year, they sent him on a rehab assignment that aggravated his injury and sent him back to square one. Make sure Tulo is healthy before worrying about bringing him back. Two extra weeks without him is a lot less dire than two extra months.
DAVID: Michael Cuddyer was out a lot at the end of last season, and a little bit earlier this season. Now he is on fire with a 27-game hit streak. How do you think that's happened? Did you expect this out of him when the team signed him?
GREG: You could look at Cuddyer's 2013 as just a sort of extended return to the mean, correcting for his underperformance in 2012. Cuddyer seems like the kind of player who responds to a positive environment, and last year's chaotic series of disappointment after disappointment could easily have had a negative effect on this type of player. I didn't expect a season this good when we signed him, but I didn't expect one as bad as 2012 either. After this season is over, his numbers will probably reflect something closer to the window we expected. 2014 will likely be the real deciding factor on whether his signing was a good idea or not.
DAVID: The All-Star Game is coming up. Who do you think on the Rockies deserves to represent the team more than anyone else? Also, on a more Dodgers' related note, do you think Yasiel Puig should be playing in the game?
GREG: Even though he wouldn't be able to play, Troy Tulowitzki has to be the guy. And yes, Puig deserves a nod.
DAVID: Series prediction?
GREG: Ooph. I'm going to say that the Rockies drop game 1 to Clayton Kershaw, and come back to win games 2 and 3. But you guys have been surging, while the Rockies are only just beginning to maintain average again. I think either team is capable of winning all three.