By WOODY PAIGE
The Rockies are on pace to win 100 games for the first time and the National League West for the only time in the club’s 25-season history.
Wow or Whoa? Is this too good to be true?
Accentuate the positives, but don’t ignore the negatives.
The plethora of positives include:
PAINT IT BLACK – Bud Black has the perfect pulse as manager for the Rockies. He most certainly is the early candidate for Manager of the Year in the National League. Just as we surmised many months ago, the Rockies needed a manager who had a rich background in pitching, especially since pitching always has been the team’s primary problem at altitude, and the Rox always had former outfielders and infielders as their managers.
Black has been a pitcher, a pitching coach, a manager and a special assistant to the general manager. He has won a World Series ring as a player and a coach, and he has been in the major league baseball game for 37 seasons. And, as the Padres manager, he spent enough time in Colorado (even in a play-in playoff game) to understand the idiosyncrasies here.
And he’s stopped the bullpen bleeding and understands how to deal with a rotation featuring three rookies and two other young starters.
THE ARMS RACE – With Greg Holland (13 saves) Mike Dunn added to the back of the bullpen and Antonio Senzatela (4-1) and Kyle Freeland (3-1) to the back of the rotation, the Rox have solidified the staff and overcome the losses of their two strongest starters – Chad Bettis and Jon Gray. Amazing start.
DEE-FENSE – With four former Gold Glove recipients (including newcomer Ian Desmond) on the field, the Rockies lead the N.L. in assists and double plays and are only three percentage points, at (.986), of tying for first in the league.
ROAD WARRIORS – Players have told me constantly over the years they have to win 40 percent of their games on the road. The Roc have won 11 of 16 so far. That’s just below 70 percent.
BAT MAN – Everyone talked Desmond, but the best pickup position play free agent was Mark Reynolds. I loved this move before spring training. Reynold did a solid job offensively and defensively last season for the Rockies when he wasn’t hurt. But he had a one-year deal and wasn’t expected back when Desmond was signed to convert to first base. But general manager Jeff Bridich lured Reynolds back. And when Desmond was injured, Reynold took back his base, and won’t give it up – with 11 homers, 27 home runs, a batting average of .321 and an OPS of 1.040. And he seems to be in the middle of everything.
Nolan Arenaldo is off to another MVP-like year (especially if the Rox make the postseason); Charlie Blackmon is best leadoff hitter in the league; Geraldo Parra has responded from an off-season, and DJ LeMehieu, who won the batting crown in ’16, is picking up at the plate. And Desmond has been a good addition as “Slash’’, the name KMGH sports director Lionel Bienvenu stuck him with.
Now, the negatives:
CARGO A LOAD & ANOTHER STORY – The Rox must get Carlos Gonzalez and Trevor Story back in the offensive mix. Neither is hitting .200, and Cargo is not providing home runs and runs batting in at the third and fourth spots. And Story, who returned from the thumb injury, hasn’t filled the hole in his swing this spring. Both should be sat for a few days, or spend time in Albuquerque to regain their confidence. And Dave Dahl just can’t recover sufficiently from his rib injury (right in his wheelhouse), and he’ll need rehab in the minors before coming back next month. The Rockies have to hit as a group.
HOME SWEAT HOME – In order to be a real contender in the division, or for a wild card, the Rockies have to win 60-plu-percent of their home games. A 9-7 record is not acceptable. They need to establish home rule during this 10-game stand, which started well with 2 of 3 over the chasing Diamondbacks. If the Rockies can win series over the Cubs and the Dodgers and end up 7-3, they can extend the lead in the West.
And, as Neil Young sang, the Rox will “”keep on rockin’ in the free world.’’