MLB

MLB: Can the Rockies Stay Competitive in the NL West?

MLB: Can the Rockies Stay Competitive in the NL West?
Nolan Arenado of the Colorado Rockies | Doug Pensinger/Getty Images

The Colorado Rockies are making waves across the National League through the first two weeks of the 2016 MLB season. A team that is accustomed to finishing as one of the worst teams in the majors each and every season, Colorado has won three of their first four series of the year (including one each against NL contenders in the San Francisco Giants and Chicago Cubs) to find themselves atop the NL West in the early going.

Unfortunately for the Rockies, a strong start hasn’t typically led to a successful summer in recent seasons. In every season since 2011, the Rockies have found themselves with a record of .500 or better after the month of April. After the first month of the season, however, the team has fallen apart as the year progresses.

They appear to be on a similar path in April. Can they get rid of their past struggles during the summer months and stay competitive in the NL West? Let’s take a look at what needs to happen if the Colorado Rockies want to be playing meaningful baseball come September.

Remain powerful on offense

If there’s one thing Colorado has always done well, it’s produce runs on offense. They have been top 10 in runs scored as a team in every season since 2009 and are also typically among the leaders in hitting the long ball. So far in 2016, that trend has remained consistent, as the Rockies are fourth in the majors in runs scored and are tied for first in home runs through their first 12 games of the year.

With players like Nolan Arenado and Carlos Gonzalez — who were among the league leaders in home runs last season — as well as the emergence of rookie shortstop Trevor Story, it doesn’t matter whether the Rockies are playing in their hitter-friendly home ballpark in Denver or if they are visiting a park that is better suited to pitching. This team has the firepower throughout their lineup to produce runs and provide a legitimate challenge to opposing pitchers all season long.

Play well against divisional foes

MLB: Can the Rockies Stay Competitive in the NL West?
Buster Posey of the San Francisco Giants | Scott Halleran/Getty Images

While an obvious requirement, it’s critical that the Rockies play well against their NL West rivals if they want to put themselves in a good position by the time August and September roll around. The Los Angeles Dodgers, San Francisco Giants, Arizona Diamondbacks, and San Diego Padres provide a quality crop of opponents, but Colorado has to find a way to win a majority of their divisional games in 2016, something they haven’t been able to do in the past.

In 2015, the Rockies managed a winning record against the Giants, but were well under .500 against their other three NL West foes. They did a little better in 2014 by owning the edge against three of the four other teams, but they struggled so mightily against the Dodgers that it didn’t seem to matter at all. Overall, Colorado hasn’t finished with a winning record against the NL West since their last winning campaign in 2010, indicating the utter importance of finding success against their rivals.

Early in 2016, the Rockies have managed a series victory over the Diamondbacks and Giants while dropping a series against the Padres. That’s a decent start to the season against the NL West, but as the season progresses and the matchups become more intense, the team has to show a strength that they haven’t displayed in several seasons if they are to remain in the race.

Get quality starts out of the rotation

MLB: Can the Rockies Stay Competitive in the NL West?
Tyler Chatwood of the Colorado Rockies | Dylan Buell/Getty Images

The Rockies have the offensive talent to compete for an NL pennant. Anybody who closely follows the game would agree with that sentiment. However, the one thing that has always held the team back is their inability to pitch consistently. We mentioned earlier how Colorado always finished with a top-flight offense, but they support that trend with a pitching staff that almost always finishes as the worst in the majors (which they did by a wide margin in 2015).

While their bullpen usually struggles just as much as their rotation, it’s the Rockies’ starters that are critical to the team’s ability to truly compete in 2016. Things could be looking up for their pitching this year, at least that’s what the early part of the season has indicated. While their staff is still currently dead last in baseball in team ERA, a couple of quality starts must have provided some hope for their rotation.

Both Chad Bettis and Tyler Chatwood have put up solid outings in their first three starts of the year, as each arm holds an ERA under 3.oo and each found victory twice in the early going. If that trend continues for those two and if a guy like veteran Jorge De La Rosa finds his rhythm on the mound, the Rockies could become dangerous.

In reality, a rotation that includes Bettis, Chatwood, De La Rosa, and a variety of other arms should hold the Rockies back once again in 2016, especially with a bullpen that is as terrible as theirs. It’s been a nice start to 2016 for the team and it will be fun to watch their offense produce once again, but the verdict is still out on whether or not they can play well for six months, not just one.

Statistics courtesy of ESPN.com and Baseball-Reference.com.

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