Introducing You to Baseball’s Most Surprising Team in 2013
We challenge you to name one pundit who accurately predicted what the landscape of the National League West division would be at this point in the season. You can’t, because no one did.
The San Francisco Giants are the defending World Series champions. They have returned basically the same team from a year ago, so they were supposed to be the prohibitive favorites to take the division crown. The Los Angeles Dodgers spent more than $200 million in payroll to build a roster loaded with All-Star talent. They were supposed to be the lone challenger to the Giants in the West. All of the remaining clubs were considered by most to be nothing more than also-rans. They didn’t have the talent or experience to make a real run at the playoffs.
The Colorado Rockies must have missed that memo.
To the surprise of most of Major League Baseball, the Rockies sit alone atop the National League West with a 13-6 record through the first 3-plus weeks of the 2013 season. Colorado has a half-game lead on San Francisco while Los Angeles finds itself 4.5 games out of first place.
ESPN ranked the Rockies 28th out of 30 teams in its week 1 Power Rankings. The only two clubs ranked below Colorado were the lowly Miami Marlins and Houston Astros, who were fully expected to finish last in their respective leagues and remain on pace to do just that.
The Rockies have climbed all the way to number 8 in ESPN’s Power Rankings, jumping a whopping 11 spots this week alone. However, they still find themselves one spot behind the Giants, whom it actually leads in the division, so it’s obvious there are still many who doubt the club can maintain similar success through the duration of the regular season.
So how have the Rockies done it?
First, Colorado’s offense has been nothing short of outstanding.
The Rockies have scored the third most runs (104) and posted the highest team batting average (.282) in all of baseball.
Dexter Fowler has emerged as one of the best center fielders in the National League, in large part as a result of an increase in his power numbers. Through 19 games, he has already hit an astounding seven home runs. In 454 at-bats last season, Fowler hit just a total of 13 homers. He has 10 RBIs in 2013; he had 53 all of last year. He is posting a career best .981 OPS, but has not sacrificed his speed for power. Already, Fowler has accumulated three stolen bases.
He has been supported by a healthy Troy Tulowitzki and a reenergized Carlos Gonzalez. Tulowitzki is hitting at a .302 clip, and has six homers and 17 RBIs. Gonzalez is batting .343 thus far, has four home runs and 12 RBIs, and boasts a .420 on-base percentage and four stolen bases.
But Colorado was expected to be able to hit the baseball, especially playing at Coors Field. Located over a mile above sea level, the air the Rockies play in is considerably thinner than in other ball parks, which history has shown helps the ball fly further than usual. Numbers produced at Coors Field generally appear inflated when compared to those put up in other ball parks.
What’s good for the offense usually is equally bad for the pitching, and it was Colorado’s pitching staff that was supposed to be its Achilles heel in 2013. That hasn’t been the case so far.
Rockies pitchers have posted a team ERA of just 3.87, ranking them 15th in the MLB, despite rolling out a rotation of unknowns and career underachievers (the rotation consists of starters Jhoulys Chacin, Jeff Francis, Jon Garland, Juan Nicasio and Jorge de la Rosa). Their performance thus far has provided enough of a buoy to allow the offense to carry the club to first place.
That all may change once the weather warms up. Yesterday’s Braves-Rockies game was postponed due to snow. Today, the thermometer read 23 degrees when the two teams took the field – a record low for a game in Denver.
Coors Field has become a hitter’s haven because the air density is less at higher altitudes, allowing the baseball to travel further. When air warms up, it expands, which results in an even lower air density. As a result, we could see the Rockies’ mid-level team ERA begin to rise along with the Colorado temperatures.
To have a chance at the playoffs, Colorado’s pitching staff has to maintain its current level of statistical competency. The team’s offensive production already outranks that of all other teams in baseball, so there is no real room to improve in that area of play. If pitching numbers begin to dip, so too will the Rockies’ overall record.
Regardless, Colorado has established itself as a team to watch in the here and now. If nothing else, their high-powered offensive attack is worth the price of admission, and deserving of the rest of the baseball world’s attention.