If you watched the Colorado Rockies at all during spring training, you almost couldn't help but like them.
How could fans not be pulling for shortstop Troy Tulowitzki to regain his All-Star form? Who wouldn't enjoy seeing whether catcher Wilin Rosario can duplicate his superlative rookie numbers (31 homers, 79 runs batted in)? And wouldn't any purist be glad to continue appreciating the constant, all-out effort of veteran Michael Cuddyer, not to mention watching to see how the ever-popular Walt Weiss fares as Colorado's manager? And despite Todd Helton's recent stumble, being arrested for driving under the influence, how could anyone not want the veteran first baseman to end his Hall of Fame-worthy career on a positive note?
All that, and we haven't even mentioned outfielders Carlos Gonzalez and Dexter Fowler, infielders Josh Rutledge and Chris Nelson, and the return of backup catcher Yorvit Torrealba.
That's an everyday lineup of position players good enough to hold their own against most of the National League.
But not good enough to make up for Colorado's starting pitchers (and weak bullpen). In fact, not even close.
The rotation starts with Jhoulys Chacin, who has slid from promising to disappointing and now a lackluster spring after starting just 14 games in 2012 amid shoulder troubles. Making him the No. 1 starter is a huge gamble, if not a setup for failure. He's followed by Jorge De La Rosa and Juan Nicasio, both coming off injuries and better suited to be Nos. 4 and 5, not 2 and 3.
From there, the Rockies start the season with veterans Jeff Francis and Jon Garland, with Francis having won six, six, four and four games in recent years. Garland was out of baseball in 2012, after going 1-5 in 2011 for the Los Angeles Dodgers. I'm trying to remember any major-league team with such a disparity between its regular lineup and its pitching rotation.
Nothing comes to mind. Let's put it this way: Assume that all five of those starters come through this year, at least reaching their expectations. In other words, Chacin and De La Rosa tally perhaps 12 wins each, Nicasio and Francis close to 10, Garland with six or seven. That would add up to about 50 victories for the rotation.
Now consider the San Francisco Giants. Their starters combined for 73 victories last season and 93 quality starts (at least six innings, allowing no more than three earned runs), and they should be around 70 wins this season. As for the Los Angeles Dodgers, with two strong additions in Zack Greinke and South Korean star Hyun-Jin Ryu, it's not unrealistic to think their starters could produce 70 victories as well.
That puts Colorado about 20 games behind the Giants and Dodgers, before we even talk about bullpens. (And the Rockies' relievers failed them on their Opening Day loss at Milwaukee.) That's why the outside world views the Rockies as having no chance to challenge in the National League West.
Some forecasts have put Colorado fourth in the division, ahead of San Diego. Others have the Padres fourth and the Rockies at the bottom.
There's another way to assess the year ahead, coming off that terrible 64-98 disaster of a year ago, finishing 30 games out of first in the NL West. This team could improve by 12 wins, with a record of 76-86, and still have no chance.
Expect a lot of 8-4 and 10-6 games this summer. And a lot of unhappy endings.