As the Rockies put the wraps on the 2011 home season yesterday afternoon with a 4-0 shutout loss at the hands of San Diego, the purple-pinstripe faithful are left to wonder what exactly went wrong at 20th& Blake this year.
Local pundits and national analysts alike pegged Colorado for a strong showing—some had the team advancing to, or even winning, the World Series. So why are the Rockies closer to the NL West cellar than an NL playoff sell out as the season draws to an end?
Yes, the Rockies can point a finger at injuries, as the likes of Jorge De La Rosa, Aaron Cook, and Carlos Gonzalez all spent decent-to-substantial time on the shelf. However, if the organization wants to be a perennial contender (as it claims), they need to find alternatives, not excuses.
At the heart of Colorado’s struggle this season is a lack of depth. Troy Tulowitzki and Carlos Gonzalez were inconsistent from time-to-time, but still performed well. Ian Stewart, Dexter Fowler, Chris Iannetta, and a host of other complimentary players did not. The starting pitching was occasionally strong, but mostly subpar. After looking good early, Jhoulys Chacin has struggled down the stretch while everyone else who started more than 10 games has an ERA over 4.00.
But the personnel issue should be solved easily enough, right? After all, the Rockies have a reputation for developing talent internally. The only problem: as of late, Colorado is either 1) not developing the talent it possesses or 2) lacking talent to develop.
A painful parallel is starting to form between the team at 20th& Blake and their cross-sport brethren who call Sports Authority Field at Mile High Stadium home. The Broncos are undergoing their own form of Generation R (as in “Rebuilding”) largely because they haven’t drafted effectively for the better part of a decade.
While the Rockies made two playoff appearances in recent years with a team primarily built through the draft, the organization seems to have missed greatly in recent attempts. In 2006, Colorado passed on Evan Longoria, Clayton Kershaw, and Tim Lincecum in selecting Greg Reynolds second overall. Supposed blue chips Christian Friedrich and Tyler Matzek have regressed over the past 12-18 months, while the jury is still out on alleged big-bats-in-waiting Wilin Rosario and Jordan Pacheco.
Bottom line, in Yoda-speak, two standouts does not a contender create. The Rockies need consistent output from positions like third base, centerfield, and catcher. And with the economic realities surrounding the club, they need to find answers via internal, "home-grown" talent. Rather than loudly promoting the next-big-thing (Stewart, Iannetta, Eric Young, Jr, and Garrett Atkins and Brad Hawpe back in the day), the organization needs to produce some solid everyday pieces that can occasionally step up when Tulo and CarGo don’t.
The Rockies also need to create a starting rotation that doesn’t need every chip to fall perfectly to be effective. For example, Jhoulys Chacin is good enough to be a strong number three starter for a contender. Due to injury (De La Rosa) and ineffectiveness (the now-departed Ubaldo Jimenez), Chacin became the de facto ace and, under the pressure, started to struggle. Colorado needs to quit asking too much of the young & developing and too little of those whose time has come.
Based on preseason expectations, this year’s Rockies have produced one of the most disappointing seasons in the history of the Mile High City. If the team is going to be relevant come October 2012, an honest look in the mirror will need to commence in October 2011.