Fast Start Buoys Rockies’ Hopes

DENVER—Considered a sleeper in the National League West when spring training opened, the Rockies began the season with four key members of their projected Opening Day roster on the disabled list, and added Opening Day starter Jon Gray to the list of injured three starts into the season.

Inexperienced as they may be, as shabby as their recent track record in the NL West has been, none of the misfortune bothered the Rockies. They made a statement in the opening weeks of the season that they want to be a factor in the division.

In their 25th season of play, the Rockies have yet to win a division title. They did claim the NL wild card in their third year, 1995, making a playoff appearance quicker than any expansion team before them; advanced to the World Series as the NL wild card in 2007 and claimed a third wild card in 2009. Since then . . . Well, let’s just say times have been tough.

The Rockies hired Jeff Bridich as general manager after the 2014 season. He replaced mentor Dan O’Dowd. Now, in the third year of the Bridich era, calmness and direction have returned to the franchise that has spread through the clubhouse, where manager Bud Black is now in charge, having been hired last fall to replace Walt Weiss.

And it doesn’t hurt that longtime scouting director Bill Schmidt and his staff have created a supply line of talent that has created a foundation the Rockies believe will give them a chance to become a contender on a consistent basis.

It’s evident with a lineup in which center fielder Charlie Blackmon has become one of the game’s top leadoff hitters, and third baseman Nolan Arenado contends for the title of best player in the NL.

The Rockies have harvested a mother lode of talent from their farm system, all of which helped them deal with the fact they opened the season with a disabled list that included offseason free agent signee Ian Desmond (broken left hand), left fielder David Dahl (stress reaction in his upper back), catcher Tom Murphy (hairline fracture in his right forearm) and righthander Chad Bettis, who had testicular cancer surgery in the offseason and then was diagnosed in spring training with the cancer have spreading into his lymph glands. That prompted an extended chemotherapy treatment. Then Gray went down with a stress reaction in his left foot.

Homegrown Talent Fuels Early Success

By the late days of April, the Rockies were not only sitting atop the NL West, but they had also won six of seven games from the Giants, sweeping a three-game series at Coors Field for the first time since 2002 and taking three of four at San Francisco’s AT&T Park, marking the first time they had ever won a four-game series in the City by the Bay.

Now that doesn’t guarantee anything, but given the youth of this Rockies team—particularly a rotation that skews younger than 25 years of age and considers Tyler Chatwood, at 27, the old man of the group—it at least provides an early reason for confidence.

This is, after all, a franchise that has suffered six consecutive losing seasons, during which time it has the worst combined record winning percentage (.432) in the NL.

Despite the hitter-friendly nature of Coors Field, the Rockies owe their early success to their rotation—and a bullpen fortified with the offseason additions of closer Greg Holland and lefthander Mike Dunn. Last year’s closers, Jake McGee and Adam Ottavino, operate as setup relievers.

The Rockies’ bullpen ran up the worst ERA in the majors the last three years (4.87), but it has been one of the game’s elite groups in the opening weeks this year.

The route to success really isn’t new. It is merely being rediscovered. It’s all about a homegrown influence. Thirteen of the first 26 players to appear in a game for the Rockies came out of the farm system. That includes the likes of starting pitchers Gray, Tyler Anderson, Kyle Freeland and Antonio Senzatela, plus Blackmon and Arenado.

They also got lifts to compensate for injuries from a couple players who struggled last year but were among the most productive hitters in baseball in April this year—veteran first baseman Mark Reynolds and left fielder Gerardo Parra, who was brought back only because he had two years remaining on a three-year deal.

Yes, it is early.

For the Rockies, however, it is encouraging.

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