‘The Key Is Pitching’ And Other Thoughts On The Rockies 25th Anniversary Season

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<p>Chris Carlson/AP</p>
<p>Colorado Rockies&#039; Chris Iannetta, left, celebrates after his two-run home run with David Dahl, right, and Gerardo Parra during the second inning of a spring baseball game against the Los Angeles Dodgers in Scottsdale, Ariz., March 11, 2018.</p>
Photo: Rockies Spring Ball High Five - AP
Colorado Rockies' Chris Iannetta, left, celebrates after his two-run home run with David Dahl, right, and Gerardo Parra during the second inning of a spring baseball game against the Los Angeles Dodgers in Scottsdale, Ariz., March 11, 2018.

The Colorado Rockies thrilled their fans last season, when the team made the playoffs for the first time since 2009.

It was a short-lived “Rocktober.” The Rockies lost in a wild card game against the Arizona Diamondbacks — who they coincidentally will open the 2018 season against on the road. The Rockies took a lot of insiders by surprise in 2017. Now, fans have high hopes for a team led by a young pitching staff and some position players that have become household names in Colorado.

This year marks the 25th anniversary of Rockies baseball, which began play back in 1993 at the old Mile High Stadium as an expansion team. The move to downtown Coors Field came later in 1995. Over the years, the Rockies have made the playoffs four times, and the World Series once, in 2007.

So what does the new season hold? We asked Denver Post Rockies reporter Patrick Saunders for answers.

What are the expectations for this year’s team?

I think they’re sky-high. There’s a feeling, a quiet confidence is the best way to say it, that the Rockies think they can build off last year. They think their offense can be appreciatively better. The key, though as always is pitching. The Rockies got by last year with some really young starting pitching. Those guys are going to have a tough time repeating what they did last year. But, bottom line, I think there’s reason for fans to be excited. It’s a fun, talented team to watch.

In the offseason, the club spent more than $100 million to shore up their bullpen. What can fans expect from Rockies’ arms?

The idea by Jeff Bridich, the general manager for the Rockies, is to bring in relievers late in the game that can hold leads. Coors Field is notorious for giving up leads… There’s been so many attempts to win baseball [games] at altitude. But Birdich’s game plan is to have some good young starters, then throw in a really veteran, expensive corps of relievers to win games. And that’s kind of the next wave in the evolution of thinking about Rockies baseball.

There’s a potent one-two-three punch here: Reigning National League batting champion Charlie Blackmon, DJ Lemahieu, and Nolan Arenado. How good is this Rockies offense?

Charlie Blackmon hit 37 home runs from the leadoff spot, and it’s very unusual to have that much power at the top. DJ Lemahieu is one of my all-time favorite players on the Rockies… They set it all up for Nolan Arenado, who I think is easily one of the top five players in baseball. But for the Rockies to be as good as people think they have a chance to be, they’ve got to get more offense from other people in the batting order. Yeah, they scored a lot of runs (last year), but they didn’t hit a lot of homers. For where they play, Coors Field, they were not that dynamic of an offense.

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How good is the NL West?

It’s the toughest division in baseball. The Dodgers clearly are the favorite — and I hate ‘em like everybody else hates ‘em. Giants fans are insufferable. They come to Coors Field and take it over. It’s really annoying. The Giants were terrible last year. They’ve been rebuilt, but I think the Rockies are a better team. The Dodgers are the team to beat. If they lose a guy, there’s always somebody else there.

Is there a sense of urgency for this team to win this year, given that guys like Arenado, Blackmon and Lemahieu could be gone soon due to contracts?

For Nolan [Arenado], it’s not about the money. Nolan has told me many times it’s about winning, and I think for the Rockies to be able to keep him, they’ve got to show they’re invested in winning long-term. For small and mid-market teams (like the Rockies), the window is not open very long. For the Rockies, the window is now. The chances of DJ [Lemahieu] coming back is almost none. Charlie [Blackmon] coming back, in my book is pretty, sketchy. The chances of Nolan, after next year, coming back, who knows?

So what’s your prediction for the season?

I think there’s a feeling in that clubhouse that they can go much deeper into the playoffs (this year); certainly into the divisional series, and even into the championship round. Can they make the World Series? I would have to say no. I just don’t think their pitching is quite there yet to make that kind of run. But hey, in 2007 [when the Rockies went to the World Series], nobody saw that coming either.