Season the First – The Dream.
All of the talent the Colorado Rockies organization has compiled congeals for the greatest regular season in franchise history. In addition to standout performances from established stars, young players long thought to be on the cusp of breakout deliver on their promise, allowing the Rockies to bring home their first National League West Division title.
It's a banner year for Troy Tulowitzki, who stays healthy and brings home MVP honors. He and Carlos Gonzalez combine to form the most productive 3-4 lineup duo in the National League. But they can't do it alone, and big years from Ian Stewart, Dexter Fowler, and Seth Smith make sure they don't have to. Stewart makes the step forward Rockies fans have been clamoring for, setting career highs in all major offensive categories and joining Tulo and Gonzalez with 30-plus home runs. Fowler starts the fire with an on base percentage near .380 and steals 30-plus bases, while Smith produces a .300 average and 20 homers from the two spot in the lineup.
Though he doesn't get any younger, Todd Helton is able to turn back the clock and put together yet another .300/.400 season at first base, and his back holds up for 140 games. Jose Lopez enjoys hitting at Coors Field and pops 15 homers while splitting time at second base with the dynamic Jonathan Herrera, who proves his fine 2010 showing was no fluke. And behind the plate, Chris Iannetta gets on base often enough to hold on to a starting job for a full season. The Rockies finish second in the league in runs scored and fourth in home runs.
On the mound, Ubaldo Jimenez dazzles, becoming the first Rockies pitcher to win 20 games. He's backed by a rotation that enjoys good health all season and boasts four other double-digit winners, duplicating the feat of the 2009 group. Jorge de la Rosa and Jhoulys Chacin win 15 games apiece, and Jason Hammel and Aaron Cook steady the rotation's back end. The bullpen's collection of hard throwers shortens games all summer. Huston Street snaps sliders past hitters on his way to a 40-save season, and the pen is strengthened even more upon the arrival of Rex Brothers in August.
The Rockies get out to a hot start and win 18 games in the season's first month. That head start propels them to a six-game division lead at the All-Star Break. The Giants have less luck with injuries and journeymen than they did in 2010, and though they make a push, they fall just short. The Dodgers and Padres pitch well but don't hit enough. The Rockies wrap up the division crown on the final Saturday of the season in Houston, making the final series in San Francisco a formality.
In the postseason, the Rockies draw the Wild Card winners from Atlanta and dispatch of them in four games, leading to an NLCS showdown with Philadelphia. Though significant underdogs, the Rockies sneak past the Phillies, with Jimenez outdueling Cliff Lee in Game 7 at Citizen's Bank Park to send the Rockies to the World Series for the second time. There, the Red Sox prove too much for the Rockies and send them to defeat in six games.
Season the Second – The Nightmare.
The Colorado Rockies get standout performances from established stars, but young players long thought to be on the cusp of breakout fall short of expectations and the Rockies fall short of postseason play for the second straight year.
Troy Tulowitzki, who puts up MVP-caliber numbers despite making another freak trip to the DL, and Carlos Gonzalez combine to form the most productive 3-4 lineup duo in the National League. But they can't do it alone. Ian Stewart sets a career high in home runs but continues to frustrate with his approach, killing rally after rally with poor at-bats. Dexter Fowler gets on base at a strong clip but his full potential still seems to lie unfulfilled thanks to struggles from the left side of the plate. And Seth Smith doesn't improve enough against lefties to be a full-time option.
The sun continues to set on Todd Helton. His balky back betrays him and he spends over half the season on the disabled list, and Ty Wigginton and minor league callup Mike Jacobs fail to provide league-average production at first base in Helton's absence. Jose Lopez doesn't hit, and after being handed the second base job, Jonathan Herrera doesn't either, looking more like the player who struggled in the minors than the one who shined in 2010. And behind the plate, Chris Iannetta loses his job again to Jose Morales, who hits .300, but in an empty fashion.
On the mound, Ubaldo Jimenez dazzles, becoming the first Rockies pitcher to win 20 games. But the rotation behind him struggles to maintain consistency. Jorge de la Rosa and Jhoulys Chacin are strong early on but wear down in the late stages of the season as the innings workload takes its toll. Jason Hammel and Aaron Cook are steady but unspectacular at the rotation's back end. The Rockies bullpen is as good as it's ever been, with Huston Street snapping sliders past hitters on his way to a 40-save season, but Matt Belisle, Felipe Paulino, and Franklin Morales disappoint and the Rockies can't replace the expected production from those three.
The Rockies fail to take advantage of a soft April schedule and play .500 ball for the first month. That start has them playing catchup behind a Giants team that's every bit as good as last year's title team and a Dodger club bolstered by an excellent starting pitching staff. The Rockies save their best for last and put together a great final two months, with Tulowitzki again raising his game with the stakes at their highest, but they can't catch either California team, finishing in third place, seven games off the leaders' pace.
Season the Third – The Reality
No doubt, the Rockies have the talent to produce their best season ever. I can't remember entering a season where the floor for the Rockies – their absolute worst case scenario barring extreme injury problems – is as high, just as their ceiling has never been this high. This team's young talent is hitting the age and experience level where things should be just about to click, and if they do, this club could be special.
I do see an MVP for Tulo and 20 wins for Ubaldo. I see a breakout for Dexter Fowler, a return to 2009 form for Seth Smith, and a nifty little season for little Jonny Herrera. I see big power numbers from Ian Stewart, and Chis Iannetta doing enough to soothe the doubters. I like Jhoulys Chacin to establish himself as the second best Rockies starter by season's end and for Jason Hammel to have his career year. I envision the Rockies bullpen being lights out with big fastball pitchers spelling doom late in games.
I like the Rockies to win the National League West, finally, with their 93rd and final win coming in the first game of the season-ending series at San Francisco and clinching the division. I like them to topple Atlanta in a tightly-contested NLDS before defeating Philadelphia in a shocker in the championship series before falling to a better Boston team in the World Series.
Sweet dreams, Rockies fans. This is the year many of them come true.