Carlos Gonzalez Emerging as Bona Fide Superstar at Heart of Rockies’ Potent Lineup

Carlos GonzalezRed Sox fans can be forgiven if they don’t know a whole lot about the Colorado Rockies.

After all, this week’s two-game set in Boston, which begins Tuesday night, marks the first time the boys from Denver will take the field at Fenway Park since Game 2 of the 2007 World Series.

Just three players from Colorado’s lone pennant-winning team remain on the roster (Troy Tulowitzki, Todd Helton and Yorvit Torrealba), and with the team receiving little coverage on national television, few Rockies are household names around New England. They come into Tuesday night with a record just one game above .500 (39-38) and with a pitching staff that leaves much to be desired, but this team is elite in one way: they tear the cover off the ball.

At the center of that power surge is Carlos Gonzalez, a free-swinging left fielder in the prime of his career and an early favorite for the National League MVP. In his sixth major league season, Gonzalez leads all NL hitters in home runs (21), ranks fourth in RBIs (57), second in slugging percentage (.621) and OPS (.992), and — if you’re a fan of advanced metrics — third in WAR (4.1). And, with two Gold Gloves under his belt and a team-leading 13 steals this season, he’s far more than just a power hitter.

The first qualm with Rockies hitters who put up big numbers — as Helton and Larry Walker did in the past — is the advantage they have of playing 82 games a year in the thin air of the Rocky Mountains. That is often a valid complaint. Gonzalez’s OPS at Coors Field from 2009-12, as Joe Lemire points out in his piece on SI.com, was nearly 300 points higher than his OPS away from home.

This year, however, that discrepancy has disappeared. With a nearly 50-50 split between home and away games (148 home at-bats, 145 away), Gonzalez has actually put up better numbers on the road, hitting more home runs and posting a better average, slugging percentage and OPS. He does seem to like running at Coors, though, as all six of his triples and 10 of his 13 steals have come at home.

Tulowitzki’s broken rib, which will sideline him for at least a month, allows Boston to avoid facing two of baseball’s top 3-4 tandems in consecutive series (after seeing Detroit’s Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder over the weekend), but even without the All-Star shortstop, Colorado’s lineup features no glaring holes.

Michael Cuddyer, whom the Red Sox saw plenty of during his 11 years with Minnesota, has quietly been putting together one of the best seasons of his career. Cuddyer, who, at 34, would be the elder statesman of the Rockies order were it not for the 39-year-old Helton, ranks third in the NL in both slugging percentage (.573) and OPS (.968). The two ahead of him in both categories? Tulowitzki and Gonzalez.

Five players in Tuesday night’s starting nine of the Rockies come in with averages above .290, and Wilin Rosario, despite hitting a rather pedestrian .259, has tallied 11 home runs so far after leading all catchers with 28 homers last season.

So, if you’re a fan of offense, you’ve come to the right place. Don’t be surprised if these two teams give the scoreboard operator a workout Tuesday night.