Despite another heartbreaking loss to the Milwaukee Brewers in extra innings, the Colorado Rockies seemed to be all smiles as they said goodbye to fans at Coors Field for the final time of the 2016 season. There seemed to be an air of relief that it was time to start over as the team now feels that they have the tools to be in the playoffs next year, and even after the loss, there is plenty to be excited about for next year.
However, to truly be a playoff contender, the Rockies will have to keep up the hard work in the areas that are working well, while simultaneously making some big changes to the team’s rough edges.
The veteran players of the Rockies’ infield and outfield continued to be dominant this season, both behind and in front of the plate. Nolan Arenado was revelatory, as he led the league with a career record 133 runs batted in (RBIs), tied for the league lead for home runs with 41 knocks and kept up his trend of making seemingly impossible fielding plays at third base.
DJ LeMahieu quietly secured the league batting title with an insane .348 average, while Charlie Blackmon grew exponentially as a hitter this year, leading the league in leadoff home runs (10) while hitting 29 total and boasting a fantastic .324 average. Carlos Gonzalez also continued to hit well, with a .299 average and 25 home runs, all while showing off his signature defensive skills in the right field.
The veteran group was instrumental in powering an incredible offense, one that placed the team second in the league with overall batting average and RBIs, as well as first in the league in batting average with runners in scoring position. If the veterans stay put and continue their phenomenal play, they will continue to put the team in positions to win.
As if the veterans weren’t solid enough, the mighty impressive rookie roster also put in fine work this season. The heir apparent to the legacy of Troy Tulowitzki, shortstop Trevor Story, was the story of the year until a thumb injury derailed his home-run strewn season and run for Rookie of the Year. The injury took the steam out of a team that arguably looked like playoff-bound contenders in the initial weeks after the All-Star Break.
Story’s buddy from the minors, David Dahl, was also called up to play left field. While not exhibiting as much of the power of Story or his fellow outfielders Blackmon and Gonzalez, Dahl boasted an efficient .315 batting average and a rocket arm that made life a nightmare for baserunners.
The front office took a chance bet on catcher Tony Wolters that paid off, as he looked excellent behind the plate and came alive as a hitter in the second half of the year.
In the pitching world, rookies Jon Gray and Tyler Anderson were dominant throughout most of their starts, with both looking like future aces when pitching with their best stuff.
Despite a slew of positives, which has become the norm for the Rockies since their last playoff run in 2009, the cons drowned out the pros this year. While the rookie pitchers are settling in nicely with veteran starters Chad Bettis, Tyler Chatwood and Adam Ottavino returned for a mostly dynamite second half, but the bullpen continued to plague the team.
While the front office tried to build the bullpen this past offseason, injuries plagued the veteran players and the rookies seemed to implode as the season progressed. Part of the blame also seems to be on starting catcher Nick Hundley, up for release this year, who doesn’t inspire much confidence in pitchers when compared to Wolters and other catching rookie Tom Murphy.
Not to mention, new management is inbound as manager Walt Weiss stepped down on Oct. 3. While popular with the players, Weiss was disconnected from the front office and lacked foresight when it came to preparing the team for subpar clubs (the Rockies were mostly dominant against teams above .500 this year, while struggling against those who were below .500).
With solid players at nearly every position and a new catching duo on the rise, the Rockies need to focus almost all of their resources on rebuilding the bullpen this offseason and finding a strategically diverse manager in order to propel the team back into the Rocktober that seems within reach next season.