Arms key to getting Colorado Rockies back in the playoffs in 2019

SCOTTSDALE, AZ - MARCH 15: Peter Lambert #78 of the Colorado Rockies delivers a first inning pitch during a spring training game against the Kansas City Royals at Salt River Fields at Talking Stick on March 15, 2019 in Scottsdale, Arizona. (Photo by Norm Hall/Getty Images)
SCOTTSDALE, AZ - MARCH 15: Peter Lambert #78 of the Colorado Rockies delivers a first inning pitch during a spring training game against the Kansas City Royals at Salt River Fields at Talking Stick on March 15, 2019 in Scottsdale, Arizona. (Photo by Norm Hall/Getty Images) /

Nolan Arenado signing a long-term extension with the Colorado Rockies is enough to give this team a morale boost worth 5 WAR alone. The best all-around third baseman in baseball, at 27 years old, has arguably not even hit the traditional prime of his career. His leadership will be even more paramount to this club now that Carlos Gonzalez, the stalwart and emotional leader of this clubhouse, is in Cleveland. Even if Arenado opts out of the contract in three years, by then he could be considered the greatest to ever don the purple and black.

The great news is that’s not all of the good news for this club vying to make it to three consecutive post seasons. The young home-grown rotation is the reason Arenado felt comfortable signing for the long haul in the first place. Of course, Kyle Freeland and German Marquez will be the most important arms in the rotation, but Jon Gray and Peter Lambert are the arms that will tip the scales in favor of the playoffs.

Let’s start with the former. Jon Gray was the number three pick of the 2013 draft for a reason. He still has the best stuff of any pitcher on this staff. Putting that all together will be key to getting through the crowded NL race. He showed signs of a turnaround after a demotion to Triple A in June 2018. He earned eight quality starts of 14 after the demotion and struck out 25 percent of the batters he faced. Part of his power diminished when he got down to 209 pounds but now weights 235 pounds after a weight-room intensive offseason. His fast ball will likely benefit and should be nowhere near the 27 home runs he gave up last season. He’s slated as the number four pitcher in this rotation after Freeland, Marquez and Tyler Anderson. Don’t expect him to finish in that spot though. His fire and determination will give the Rockies a fighting chance to snatch away the division from the heavily favored Dodgers.

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As for Lambert, expect this sensational righty to make the big leagues this season. He might be the most heralded prospect in the Rockies minor league system only behind Brendan Rodgers. He faced the major league club as a member of the Albuquerque Isotopes and struck out five batters in three innings of work. Charlie Blackmon struck out twice. Beyond a fun exhibition game, he has above average fastball velocity (maxing out at 95 mph) but he locates it incredibly well and his changeup and curveball are a compliment because he can throw them all for strikes. He struggled with a promotion after dominating Double-A (2.23 ERA in 92+ innings) but he made Triple A much quicker than projected. If he continues to make the same strides this year as he did last year with the Isotopes, expect him to be in Denver before August. If he does, he may have to compete with Chad Bettis for the fifth spot or the soon to be 30-year-old righty could move to a bullpen that is in desperate need of fortification.

Speaking of which, the bullpen alone will determine if the Rockies will make the playoffs in 2019. It was a refreshing change to see management spending money on the bullpen last offseason. Unfortunately, that wasn’t the same strategy this offseason. Losing one of the greatest bullpen arms and sliders in franchise history is going to be painful. Adam Ottavino is now wearing the more traditional Yankees pinstripes and will be the first ever to wear the number 0 in that franchise’s history. The club did keep Scott Oberg and Chris Rusin on one-year deals. Those were the biggest moves of the offseason for the bullpen and likely won’t be enough to correct the troubles the Rockies had in the later innings last season.

They’ve spent too much previously to spend more. The good news with Jake McGee and Bryan Shaw is that their performances can only go up. If their performances are even average and continued performance from closer Wade Davis, the offense should be able to propel them to another playoff chase.

It was weird watching the Rockies in the playoffs last season. Not because they made it to back-to-back births for the first time in franchise history, but because they only scored four runs in four games. The offense needed to significantly improve for this to happen. With the signings of the offseason, that didn’t bring much hope. Daniel Murphy, the Rockies major signing in the offseason, has primarily been a second baseman in his career and only hit 12 home runs last year. It will be an upgrade from Ian Desmond though. Desmond thankful will be moving to the outfield in a more natural position. He showed signs of improvement in the later half of the season and here’s to hoping the position change brings more consistency.

The same goes for Charlie Blackmon. He could benefit from a change to one of the corner outfield spots. Moving away from the wear and tear of center will help him build off an already great 2018. David Dahl is a candidate for a monster year but that is always dependent on his health. It will be weird not seeing the stability of CarGo and DJ LeMahieu but Garret Hampson had solid stats in the minors (.311 and 11 HRs) and Ryan McMahon was the best player in Rockies spring training so look to see some stability through this change. Nolan will seemingly always be Nolan but to counter balance the deficiencies of the bullpen and to be more competitive if they do make the playoffs, the Rockies may need to add another weapon in their lineup (preferably a righty).

Sports Illustrated has this team projected 11 out of 15 National League teams even behind the Padres. Manny Machado hasn’t made them the second best team in the division. The Rockies have serious concerns in the pen and for the first time aren’t a guarantee to rake at the plate. But one of the best infields in baseball and a rotation that’s best in team history will give them a fighting chance to make it to the playoffs. SI sets the bar at below 84.5 wins.

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I don’t think they will reach 90 wins again but I do think they can reach or even surpass 87 which got them in the playoffs in 2017. Unfortunately, there are just too many good teams in the NL this year. The Dodgers and Brewers will most certainly make the playoffs. The Phillies are much improved beyond Bryce Harper. J.T Realmuto is arguably just as important of a pickup and a real missed opportunity for the Rockies. The Cardinals barely missed the playoffs and added Paul Goldschmidt which the Rockies could have greatly benefitted from at first.

I predict the Rockies will switch places with the Cardinals this year for that last Wild Card spot the way the roster sets up on Opening Day. The need a right-handed bat and a right-handed reliever to make the push for their third consecutive trip to the playoffs.

NL West: Los Angeles Dodgers

NL Central: Milwaukee Brewers

NL East: Philadelphia Phillies

First Wild Card: Chicago Cubs

Second Wild Card: St. Louis Cardinals