Rock solid

Rockies one of several early season surprises

The Major League Baseball season is roughly one-fifth of the way through and surprises abound.

In the American League the Boston Red Sox, one of baseball’s worst teams least season, lead in the East. The Kansas City Royals, one of baseball’s worst for as far back as we can remember, lead in the Central.

Two of the big favorites to battle for World Series berths, the Toronto Blue Jays and Los Angeles Angels, may already be ready to auction players.

The National League has seen the Atlanta Braves gain control in the East, and Clint Hurdle’s Pittsburgh Pirates are battling with perennial power St. Louis in the Central.

And shock of all shockers, the Colorado Rockies survived the snowstorms of April to lead in the West over the defending world-champion San Francisco Giants and a scrappy Arizona D-Back squad.

It should also be mentioned the Los Angeles Dodgers, complete with its $200 million payroll, are below .500.

Yes, it’s a long season, but it’s not too early to take notice of the underdogs who, to this point anyway, are having their way.

As for the Rockies, how are they competing in the West after almost losing 100 games last season?

First, the Rockies returned from their recent West Coast road swing as the best-hitting team in baseball, averaging .283 with a gaudy OPS (on-base plus slugging percentage) of .811.

Leadoff hitter Dexter Fowler has a team-leading eight home runs, and young catcher Wilin Rosario has seven. Shortstop Troy Tulowitzki has six, and outfielder/first baseman Michael Cuddyer and left fielder Carlos Gonzales each have five.

Tulo has 24 RBI, and Cuddyer has 20, both on pace to finish with more than 100.

Gonzales has scored 23 runs, the third-best total in the bigs.

What is impressive about these offensive figures is the fact the team hasn’t done it all at home, having played more than half of the games on the road where team bats normally go into hibernation.

Another difference has been the starting pitching, which has been, for the most part, respectable. The bullpen has been awesome and not been overworked, a huge factor down the road.

Jhoulys Chacin, who recently missed a couple of turns with a muscle strain in his back, has gone 3-0 with an ERA of 1.46.

John Garland has been a solid addition after signing as a free agent in late spring, and Jorge De La Rosa looks as if he can again be a reliable part of the rotation after his missing-in-action stretch from Tommy John surgery.

That makes three. You need five.

Juan Nicasio has struggled despite returning to his 93- to 94-mph fastball ways, with secondary pitches still a problem. And Jeff Francis just can’t get it done on a regular basis throwing his “fastball” in the mid to even low 80s.

A bright spot has been Tyler Chatwood coming up from Triple-A and impressing in two starts for Chacin. Chatwood has looked the part of a major league starter and should now step in for Francis.

Drew Pomeranz has dazzled at Triple-A Colorado Springs and likely will switch spots soon with Nicasio.

Another nice problem to have, as I have mentioned previously, is the Rockies’ depth.

There are a number of players ripping the cover off the ball in Triple-A: outfielders Tyler Colvin and Charlie Blackmon and infielder D.J. LeMahieu.

None of those players will see significant time with the Rockies with the possible exception of Colvin, who can also play first base. And that would come only at the expense of Todd Helton, who is showing his age at an ever-advancing rate both in terms of production and injuries.

Yes, the Rockies have been a nice surprise, one of many so far.

But to continue to contend, they still need veteran help in the rotation that can only come by offering up some of those assets and seemingly giving up more than what you are getting.

They may have to look no farther than some of those preseason picks: the Blue Jays, Angels or maybe even the Dodgers.

Starting pitchers who could help the Rox include Mark Buehrle and Brandon Morrow from the Jays, Jason Vargas and Joe Blanton from the Angels, and Ted Lilly, Josh Beckett and Chris Capuano from the Dodgers.

Any of those pitchers could help and shouldn’t cost more than an arm and a leg — and the decision to finally bite the bullet, hike the team’s payroll a bit and pay existing contracts.

Oh yeah, I forgot, this is the Rockies.

Rick Jussel is a former Daily Sentinel sports editor (think Dark Ages) and Grand Junction High School journalism teacher who belongs in the Armchair Quarterback Hall of Fame, if only there was one.

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