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Two Hundred Fifty Six

By Chris Jacobson

Baseball is a game of numbers. Football and basketball concern themselves differently; who knows how many yards the NFL’s all time leading rusher has? How about the NBA’s all time leading scorer? Baseball is different, in baseball numbers count. Certain numbers resonate through all of baseball, Nolan Ryan’s seven no hitters, Ted Williams’ .400 season in 1941 or Hank Aaron’s 755 homeruns (sorry Barry but the record is still in Milwaukee). The Rockies, for the 2010 season have to concern themselves with numbers more than ever.

There are simple numbers. Can they come close to the club record 92 wins they had in 2009 and can they continue to be as dominant as Jim Tracy’s 74-42 record as the Rockies skipper? The most important numbers, however, may lie in the hands of the hitters of the Colorado Rockies.

Brad Hawpe started the 2010 season as the Rockies most dominant hitter. He was named an All Star and batted .320 before the break. The problem is that Hawpe hit only .240 after he returned from his first All-Star appearance. He and Ian Stewart combined for nearly 300 strikeouts. Stewart will be taking over third base for Garrett Atkins who is now in Baltimore. Barring strike outs Stewart must concern him more with his batting average (.228) than his home runs (25).

There are certainly more promising numbers on this ball club. Todd Helton led the Rockies by hitting .325 in 2009 and despite his age hit only three points lower than his career average. With the re-signing of Jason Giambi, Helton should be able to keep fresh legs under him and have another “Helton” year. Troy Tulowitzki rebounded from a sub-par 2008 by hitting just under .300 and was the Rockies most important fielder. Tulo led the club in homeruns (32) and RBIs (92). Seth Smith was right with Tulo batting .293 and seems primed to have a good season, unfortunately for Smith he is in a log jam of outfielders and he will do most of his contributing from the bench.

In addition to Hawpe and Smith, the Rockies have a loaded outfield. Dexter Fowler is probably the most fun player to watch around the base paths. He stole 27 bases but must improve on his .266 batting average if he wants to hold off Smith and Ryan Spilborghs from his starting job. Spilly’s average dipped a touch this year but always seems to be ready to contribute in crunch time. The biggest surprise in the outfield, however, had to have been Carlos Gonzales. Carlos came to the Rockies from Oakland as part of the Matt Holliday trade. At the time Gonzales looked like a throw in, but his play late in 2009 said otherwise. Gonzales looks like the real thing, and hopefully a starter for years to come.

Clint Barmes and Chris Ianetta round out the starters and both look to expand on their individual roles with the Rockies. Barmes will have second base but will likely surrender some innings to Eric Young Jr. and to Melvin Mora. Ianetta will give up less innings but when he does it will likely be Miguel Olivo who gets the call but the Rockies are also looking to see what Paul La Duca has left in the tank. Ianetta and Barmes will likely bat late in the order but their successes at the plate will go a long way of telling how close to the top of the division the Rocks will finish.

The most important number this season may be 256. Two hundred fifty six is the number of games the Rockies have won over the last three years. The ninety two wins the Rockies had last season are a Rockies record and got them into the playoffs but 256 suggests longevity. Two hundred fifty six is the most wins the Rockies have had in a three season span. No Rockies team has had success like this, not the Blake Street Bombers, not batting champ Larry Walker, none of them. Dan O’Dowd is looking to long term success in a mid market, and that is no small chore. He has chosen some foreign concepts to try to get there; pitching, fielding and team speed are the tools he has chosen to get from the thin air of Denver to the rare air of baseballs elite. The next season or two should tell us how he has done.


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