If you've been following the Colorado Rockies in their spring exhibition games so far in Arizona, chances are that you're on the verge of being hopeful — if not excited.
Entering this week, the Rockies had won seven and tied two with just one loss in their past 10 games. Perhaps even more impressively, in their most recent eight games through Sunday, Colorado's pitchers only had allowed 17 total runs, which comes to 2.13 runs a game.
All the team's key everyday players appear healthy, with shortstop Troy Tulowitzki and outfielder Carlos Gonzalez again full of promise, and first baseman Justin Morneau — who did win the National League batting title last year — also looking good.
This all sounds familiar, of course. For the past three years, the Rockies have come out of spring training full of optimism that has carried over for a month or so into the regular season. Then, for all kinds of reasons, they have crumbled and gone down the tubes.
Here's a review, painful though it may be:
• 2012: Colorado was 12-12 and in good position in early May, then finished 64-98, which sent manager Jim Tracy to the unemployment line.
• 2013: New manager Walt Weiss debuted with a 13-4 start, and the Rockies still were hanging close at 19-13 in mid-May, before they faded to 74-88.
• 2014: Another good start, 22-14 at one point and 26-20 in later May, couldn't last as Colorado again capsized and free-fell to 66-96.
Now let's remember that the Rockies still are playing in the National League West against the defending World Series champion San Francisco Giants, the obvious division favorite Los Angeles Dodgers, the obviously improved San Diego Padres and the aggressively revamped Arizona Diamondbacks.
That's why Colorado currently is rated a 65-to-1 longshot to win the NL pennant and a 125-to-1 longshot for the World Series. And if you're a fan in Colorado Springs, you probably aren't paying quite as much attention because the Sky Sox now are affiliated with Milwaukee, which means those deep Sox-Rox roots and injury rehabs are gone.
Nevertheless, one positive sign is suggesting to this longtime observer that these Rockies might be on a better track toward a decent season. There isn't as much urgency, and that's a good thing. Colorado doesn't have dozens of guys pushing themselves to the max throughout March just trying to make the team or earn a lineup spot, leading to fast starts and May collapses.
Probably the biggest lineup question is where and how catcher Wilin Rosario fits in, given his defensive troubles. You still have to wonder if he might wind up being traded to the American League, where he could be a designated hitter, leaving the Rockies with veteran Nick Hundley and journeyman Mike McKenry behind the plate. If Rosario hits well enough to stay, he likely would back up Morneau as well. Otherwise, the only uncertainty in the field will be backup and utility roles.
The Rockies' pitchers also are exuding a more relaxed aura. The staff's best starters, Jorge De La Rosa and Jhoulys Chacin, are pacing themselves slowly and confidently — not to be at their peak in April, but rather to last the whole season. It's the same with others like Tyler Matzek, Jordan Lyles and new acquisition Kyle Kendrick. Sure, any of them could have to compete against prospect Eddie Butler or Christian Bergman, but nobody is being pushed to the big leagues too quickly.
Even the bullpen seems more stable this year, thanks in part to veteran arrival John Axford as well as Rex Brothers returning to his 2013 form.
Nobody is pretending Colorado might be the surprise of Major League Baseball in 2015. But if the Rockies can rise from 66-96 to even 81-81, everyone would call it big progress. And that just might be possible.
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