Resurgent Rockies Prepared for Another Playoff Run

Resurgent Rockies Prepared for Another Playoff Run As we count down the days until Opening Day, it is time to look at each
of the teams on the Red Sox' 2010 schedule. Our 16th installment
examines the Colorado Rockies.

2009 record: 92-70, second in NL West

Manager: Jim Tracy

Key additions: C Miguel Olivo, 3B Melvin Mora

Key losses: 3B Garrett Atkins, C Yorvit Torrealba, SP Jason Marquis, SP Jose Contreras, RP Matt Herges, RP Ryan Speier, RP Joel Peralta, RP Josh Fogg

Outlook: There was a time last year when the Rockies were 10 games below .500 and in dead last in the National League West.

The way the season was progressing, it appeared as if 2007 — when Colorado soared into the playoffs and made it all the way to the World Series before falling to the Red Sox — was a complete aberration.

The Rox were en route to their eighth losing season in nine years and their clubhouse was in disarray. Enter Jim Tracy, the club’s bench coach who was promoted to the managerial position when Clint Hurdle was fired May 29.

Over the last four months of the season, Tracy guided a revitalized unit to a 72-41 record. Once 15 1/2 games out of first, Colorado crawled to within a game of first-place Los Angeles before settling for the wild-card spot in the NL.

Unlike 2008, when the World Series run failed to carry over any momentum and the Rockies plummeted to 74-88, last year’s success has some staying power.

Not only did Colorado flirt with Philadelphia for the best offense in the NL, a pair of young pitchers made major strides in 2009. One, Ubaldo Jimenez, may become the best pitcher in the franchise’s history.

With a fastball that reaches triple digits and an increasing grasp on how to actually pitch, Jimenez saw improvements across the board last year and enters 2010 at only 26 years of age. He was 15-12 with a 3.47 ERA and ranked sixth in the NL with 198 strikeouts.

Jorge De Le Rosa, 28, also made the leap, going 16-9 and fanning 193. If both can curb their occasional bouts of wildness, the Rockies will have a true ace and a potential No. 2. De La Rosa was a Boston farmhand that was shipped out in the Curt Schilling trade. Colorado is his fifth organization.

Jeff Francis, who won 17 games in 2007 before missing most of ’08 and all of ’09, is finally recovered from shoulder surgery. And veteran Aaron Cook and young Jason Hammel are more than capable rounding out the rotation.

The bullpen is another story, especially with the recent news that closer Huston Street will have an MRI on his right shoulder. He sat out a portion of 2009 with biceps tendinitis and lost the closer’s role in Oakland after injuries in 2007 and ineffectiveness in 2008.

There are some arms to replace Street if needed, namely Franklin Morales, who saved seven games down the stretch last year, and standout set-up man Rafael Betancourt. But if there is uncertainty again (Colorado’s bullpen ranked 13th in the NL with a 4.53 ERA in 2009), the bats may have to steal some games late.

There isn’t a weak spot in the lineup, from speedy young outfielders Dexter Fowler and Carlos Gonzalez at the top, to 23-home run man Clint Barmes at the bottom, to star shortstop Troy Tulowitzki (32 home runs, 92 RBIs, 20 steals) in the middle.

Improved seasons are also expected from right fielder Brad Hawpe, catcher Chris Ianetta and third baseman Ian Stewart, who had 25 homers and 70 RBIs and is just 24.

What it means to the Red Sox: Boston’s first visit to the scene of their last World Series triumph takes place June 22-24. The Sox are 4-5 against the Rockies, not counting the postseason. We know their record against Colorado in the playoffs.

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